Friday, July 13, 2012

Save the Drama for you Catholic Mama (in law)


Hello all.  I want to start this probably long drama-filled post with an observation.  When it comes to somewhat devout Catholic mothers, I have noticed that they seem to fall into one of two categories.  The thing they share is the traditional Catholic guilt, but what divides them is how they apply it. 

Catholic mothers in Group A live and internalize their guilt.  It governs their behavior and makes them kind to a fault.  Despite the resulting kindness, it’s not particularly good for them because they agonize over every small possible mistake that they may have made, and they pass the guilt on to their children who learn from this behavior.

Catholic mothers in Group B use Catholic guilt as a weapon.  They purposely infect their children with it and then use it throughout to control their children throughout the children’s lives, meanwhile never actually feeling it themselves (though perhaps they themselves were infected and controlled by their parents, so they seek to control their own children in a similar way). 

My future Mother-In-Law is of the Group B type.

As some of you (or the one or two people that peruse this blog :D) may or may not know, the Mid and Southern East Coast got hammered by thunderstorms a couple weeks ago, followed by two days of stifling 90 degree heat.  The storm got so bad up at Fiancé’s house that he insisted we sleep downstairs for fear of the tree out front or those out back coming down into the house.

Through it all, we never lost power.  Meanwhile, relatives in other areas of our state and the two adjacent ones lost power, including both our sets of parents.  Their situations without power are very different.  My parents (and right now myself as well) live in a somewhat rural area.  They have well water.  This has always meant that when the power goes out, you lose water too (i.e, no flushing toilets and no water coming out of the tap).  Growing up, the power grid was a lot weaker, so the power would go out at least once a month if not more, and if there was a storm, it always seemed that we were the last ones they got too when they were fixing things. 

My soon to be parent in-laws live in a suburb townhouse with city water.  They also happen to be in a rather wealthy area with much more funding for public services and infrastructure.  Judging by their reaction to the storm, I don’t think they’ve ever gone without power.

On Saturday, I called my folks to check up on them.  I offered them hot showers if they needed it, but they declined.  One of the nice things about having a mechanic for a Dad is that he figured out a few years ago how to use his welding torch generator to power the house.  He’d managed to get them limited running water and electricity (he turns it on for a few hours at a time to keep the refrigerator going and for them to take showers and flush the toilets) which was all they needed.  They were still dealing with the 90 degree heat, but they’re hardy folks (despite being 10 years older than my in law parents.

Sunday, Fiancé was working and I was at his place doing school work.  He called me to let me know that his folks were expecting to be out of power for another seven days.  We decided to invite them up to the house, and I gave them a call and left a message offering the master bedroom (Fiancé works 24 hour shifts and would not be home).  An hour later, my Mother In Law got back to me. 

I noticed she sounded annoyed when she was talking to me, which I attributed to the heat.  She told me that their power had come back on.  She then went into a long explanation about how uncomfortable they had been and how her coworker had brought them some ice yesterday.  I tried to keep it positive and kept repeating that I was happy that they still had power and mentioning that my parents weren’t so lucky.  After about ten more minutes of the horror story of what it’s like to be hot, I somewhat rushed her off the phone so I could get back to school work. 

Well, of course, having not gotten what she wanted from me, she attempted to make her anger known by refusing to respond to Fiancé’s calls and texts.  When he finally managed to get him on the phone, she told him he was an awful son for not inviting them down on Saturday and leaving them to languish without power for a full 36 hours.  She used the words “incredibly hurt” to describe how he made her feel.  She threw in his face the fact that her coworker had brought her ice rather than her own son, and spoke the words, “You say that you are going to take care of us when we’re older.  How can I trust you when you won’t take care of us now.”  Yes readers, my soon-to-be mother-in-law, who is completely able-bodied, told Fiancé he was a terrible person for inviting his parents to stay with him when it looked like they were going to be out of power for a long time. 

Now Fiancé tried to defend himself.  He brought up some valid points about how he can’t always think of everything and that she should have been adult enough to tell him she needed a place to stay on Saturday.  But, he might as well have been talking to a wall.

Well, the whole guilt trip eventually worked.  I tried to keep it in perspective, but he felt guilty all the same.  Seeing him hurt when all he’d done was try to help infuriated me.  I already find his mother to be a selfish, controlling, manipulative woman.  And her relationship with Fiancé is a rather toxic one in my opinion.  Yes, there is love there, but there is also a willingness on his mother’s part to be vengeful and hurt him if he does bow to her demands as he did when he was a child. 

Other’s I’ve told of her behavior see it as a woman who feels like she is losing her son because of our upcoming wedding and who overreacts in fear.  I see it as a woman who has always held the position of highest authority in her family and who is scrambling to maintain that power now that the last child she could easily control is finally breaking away from her grasp. I also see what I interpret as a struggle on her part to find a way to dominate the new member of her family (me).  But then again, the one time I accidentally upset her (by doing something she gave me permission to do) she viciously attacked me and told Fiancé not to marry me, so I may be a little biased.

Since then, things have calmed down a bit.  My mother-in-law has told Fiancé not to tell me about their arguments (this is the second time she has tried to undermine our marriage in a major way), which he has refused to do (I’m so proud of him! :D).  She fears that by hearing about her behavior, I will get the wrong impression of her. 

Part of me wishes he would tell her the truth: I have seen enough inappropriate behavior on her part and heard enough of the things she’s said about me, others, and to him directly from her mouth that I believe I have the right impression of her.  I also wish someone would come out and say that because of her behavior, I’m trying as much as possible to keep her away from the wedding so I don’t have to deal with her drama.

So that is where things stand now.  But, I’m sure that I’m not the only bride that looks at her mother-in-law with constant suspicion.  So I’ll just keep swimming and see if things will get better on their own.  If nothing changes, I might just have to be the person who stands up and starts pointing out the inappropriate, bullying behavior, regardless of the consequences.  I’m not one to tolerate a bully, no matter who is their target is.

-Susan