We each have a "belief system" that arises in part from what we've been taught combined with other aspects of our environment, including the influence of relationships we value. When we consider that everyone does not grow up with identical influences, even within a single extended family group, it's no surprise that we stumble over so many areas of potential conflict between these belief systems. Add in-laws from entirely different cultures to the mix and the potential for fireworks becomes almost limitless. In this guest post, Ruth Nemzoff offers a perspective that can help us focus on the strengths, rather than the weaknesses, of our family relationships.
Best friends forever, as in, "This is Ellie Sachse, we've been friends forever." I've known her since I was 17 when Barnard College randomly placed us together as freshman roommates. At first we merely lived well together. She was kind, considerate, and could sleep with the lights on. We shared the births of our children and the deaths of our parents. She helped me write my books. But it turns out forever was only 54 years.
This summer, it was a time to comfort. I gave the eulogy and talked of her accomplishments—first woman division chief at the World Bank, board member par excellence, loyal friend and photographer. Last week, I traveled to her home for the first time since her death, and it was a time to enjoy some of the wonderful people she added to my life: her husband, her daughter, her grandson, and her son-in-law.
Her husband graciously handed me some of her photos. Their subject matter offered me a time to mourn. They depicted what we had shared: cups of coffee, bottles of wine, and exquisite scenery. The song in my head was "Seasons of Love" from RENT. In cups of coffee, in activities shared, in miles walked, how does one measure forever?
Best friends yes, but forever, no. So this holiday season, despite all the stress, enjoy your friends and family whatever they believe or don't believe or whatever lifestyles they practice. Let the petty annoyances roll off your back, because time is rolling on and forever is just a moment and the moment is now. It is your time to enjoy and to treasure.
Books by Dr. Nemzoff
Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008)
Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, September 2012)
"Do You Take This In-Law . . . ?" An Interview with Ruth Nemzoff
In-Laws and Outliers
If We Could Talk Like the Animals