Dear Captain Awkward:
I’ve been reading your blog and I really like your answers. Hopefully you can help me with a problem I’m having. I have no perspective.
I recently remarried (about 5 years ago), and my (second) husband’s parents treat me, and most especially my kids, as though we aren’t family. They don’t even really treat us as guests. It’s more that we’re accompaniments to my husband. He has two brothers, one remarried (but both wives provided ‘actual’ grandchildren), and one married for like 25 years; they, and all of their kids, are obviously all ‘family.’
But my kids and I aren’t. My husband’s mom, when my husband brought this up with her (that I was sad visiting because we weren’t talked to, and because I hoped we’d be part of the family), consisted of: “I’m not going to lose any sleep over (my sadness / my children’s isolation at their house)” and “blood is thicker than water.”
For the first few years, my kids would come with us when we visited, and were basically ignored (they might be asked a question, but then their answers were ignored). Their cousins were talked with, asked about school, etc, conversations ensued. My kids, on the other hand, weren’t treated overtly meanly, they were just ignored. My husband said to me, when I’d say it made me upset: “they don’t care about your kids, they just met them” and “it will take time” (yeah, forever, since nobody talks to us).
So, eventually, I told my kids they didn’t have to go when we go up (they are now 15 and 18, and my mom lives with us, so they can stay here). But honestly, I don’t want to visit either, since I also get ignored; I don’t want to leave my kids behind to be with people who don’t want anything to do with us. (I think this is because my husband is very close to my kids, they see my kids as a threat to the place of his daughter, since she’s ‘really’ family.) Pennsylvania is very different from Virginia in the concept of hospitality and family welcomes, I’m finding.
My husband will say “why do you NEED to belong?” like it’s selfish to want to be a part of the conversation. He says I want it to be “all about me”, but that’s not true, I only want it to be as much about me as it is about everyone. (Normally, he’s wonderful and supportive, but when we get around his family, suddenly he sees the sense in everything they do, and I’m crazy, and I should just be there to support him, and not care if anyone talks to me. He once told me to get out a “puzzle or something interesting” and hope somebody asked me about it as I sat and worked on it alone. He says me bringing up my kids is “pushing them onto people who don’t care.”).
Every Thanksgiving we’ve pretty much always gone to his parents, because my kids are with their dad, and I want my husband to be happy. But it’s harder and harder, after being married almost 5 years, to just sit and be ignored, and then have people be mad at me for not just sitting there contentedly. They’re happy to talk with me as long as I ask questions about them, but they won’t talk about me or my kids with me at all. Not true – they will ask one question about my kids, and when I answer, they change the subject. Like their duty was done, time to move on. So I don’t want to go.
To make matters worse, my husband’s 20 year old daughter, who essentially stopped seeing him once she became 18 (though happily kept taking his money) is going, and I’ll get to watch everyone be so happy to see her, even though she treats her dad so terribly, but then watch nobody ask about my kids, who treat my husband like a dad. I keep going hoping each time will be different, but it never will. I don’t miss my ex, but I sure miss feeling like a part of the family I married into.
So my options are:
a) stay home alone and let my husband and his daughter go be with ‘their’ family (this is the one I’m leaning towards) … sucks because I’d like a nice Thanksgiving with my family too, to begin to create our own traditions;
b) go, and feel isolated (we’ve tried the talking about it, it doesn’t work, this isn’t a family that talks about issues, or I’d want to just talk about it; my first in-laws, I’d talk about problems with them, we’d resolve them) – this is a “put up with it or don’t, but nobody’s changing”; or,
c) ask him not to go (but not really an option; they’re in their 80s, and I’m not going to keep my husband from seeing his parents when they don’t have too much time left).
Can you please help? Just give me a point of view other than mine or theirs? Thank you!
I’d like to suggest a modified Option A, where you absolutely stop submitting yourself and your children for an audition to belong at someone else’s shitty holiday while also finding an alternate tradition of your own.
I think your husband’s comments are hurtful and that he should do/should have done a better job of standing up for you and not make it feel like your failure to enjoy his family’s crappy hospitality is a character failing. You could with great fairness and justice on your side ask your husband not to go anywhere that you are not welcome on the holidays, but as you said, his parents are old, his relationships with them and with his daughter are complicated, and how much energy do you really want to expend on this battle? You could also keep sucking it up and going, but that means agreeing that your Thanksgiving holiday will be ruined every time. Who needs that?
So this year, what if husband & daughter went up for Thanksgiving Day and you and your mom and kids celebrated by eating a nice brunch and then going to the movies and then hung out together at home in your pajamas eating pie for dinner and reveling in the fact that you don’t have to make perfunctory small talk with people who suck? Or what if you volunteered somewhere together? You could give them some options and let them pick how they want to spend the day. Then what if maybe on that Saturday or Sunday y’all had whatever traditional Thanksgiving (observed) celebration you want to with your husband and kids and whoever else you like when he gets back? I know it sucks on some levels, like your husband’s family is “winning” by getting him & daughter unencumbered, and he is “winning” by not having to deal with all of it (and eating 2 feasts), but maybe it’s okay if they feel like they are winning and you get the victory of not looking at their cold faces that have nothing for you.
I know it’s not a perfect solution. I know it doesn’t address the feelings of wanting to be seen as someone’s wife by their family, or the horrible irony that now his mom will probably make it all about how you’re the one being cold and exclusionary. Just…I don’t think there is a perfect solution here, so maybe try this one this year and see if it feels better. Don’t adopt this strategy for every holiday, for example, if you say to your husband “Go have a great time” on Thanksgiving I think it’s worth saying “Please stay home with us (or come to my family) on Christmas/Winter Holiday – let’s take turns” and expecting your husband to break the news to his folks and manage his relationship with them without leaving you alone or pressuring a command performance at Dysfunction Junction, PA.
Edited to Add: I’m with the commenters who say that the husband’s attitude is the real problem here. LW has tried talking to him about it, she has tried going along to “support” him, and I think this is a good year to just drop the other end of the rope and stop trying to make the holidays work on his terms. “I’ve decided not to subject myself to that b.s. this year, you go and have fun” is a powerful step that hands his family baggage back to him in a neatly tied bundle. Also I love you all for being so smart and insightful.