Monday Notes: Practice What You Preach

It’s easy to write opinions of life: no judgment, more compassion, allowing people to be themselves. However, it’s quite another to put those words into practice. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had ample opportunity to do just that. Kesi’s graduation brought family and friends into our space. The celebration offered me the chance to fine tune myself within specific relationships.

My Mother-In-Law

I’ve written before about how my mother-in-law rarely visits. Well, we invited her to come down for Kesi’s graduation, and to each of our surprise, she accepted the invitation.

I began to worry.

Will she judge any and everything as she has in the past? Will the house be pristine enough for her? I thought about all of the encounters we’d had where my sense of inadequacy overshadowed her presence. After a couple of weeks of fretting, something finally dawned on me. I have to allow her to be herself. If she judges the girls, our home, or me, then so what? I’m confident with who I am and it matters not what she or anyone else thinks.

The other shift I had to make was to recognize the year. It’s 2017. I needed to function with her the way we both are in this year, not 2008 when she called Kesi fat every day, and I held back from saying much. Not 2012 when she had to shorten her visit with us because she’d double-booked herself elsewhere. It’s 2017.

Once I made those two changes, I was a much calmer person ready to receive company.

We had a wonderful time. My in-laws and I picked Desi up from school early. We shopped for groceries. We laughed and talked about all sorts of things. It really was a pleasant time. My MIL helped me by cutting all the fruits and vegetables for the party. Ultimately, it was a pleasant visit. But I realized I still have a little growing to do.

“Don’t go in the house and clean everything up,” I ordered at eleven o’clock at night.

“Why not?” she asked.

I shook my head, “Cause that’s what you’re about to go do.”

“You trying to stop people from being themselves again?” Dwight asked.

He was right. In that moment, I was doing it again, not allowing her to be her. After it was brought to my attention, I let it go. She cleaned all of the dishes and the kitchen. I went to sleep. And both of those actions were perfectly fine.

img_4078Buddy

While I was functioning with my MIL in the present, my cousin’s husband, let’s call him Buddy, was interacting with me in the past.

Buddy has a history with crack-cocaine, drinking, and physical abuse. Because of this, Buddy hasn’t been welcomed in my home or around my family for over 20 years. He recently began rehab, so Dwight and I agreed that it was okay for him to re-enter our family’s functions.

Everything was going well. My cousins, Buddy, and I played Spades. He drank the Paul Masson Brandy that he’d brought. He devoured the case of Corona he’d lugged in. We laughed. We talked. They won the game.

The night wore on. A corner of brandy sat in the bottle. Three Coronas remained.

“You know I think God sent her to me,” he said pointing to his wife, “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”

“I agree, Buddy. She’s the only one who could be with you.”

What did I say that for? Buddy went into a tirade.

“Kathy, you know you never did like me,” he started.

“That was the past. I thought we were cool now?”

“Naw. Naw. You never did like me,” he continued.

I don’t want to bore you with the rest of the story. Basically, I tried to convince him that it is 2017. He’s in rehab. We are getting along today, and that’s all that matters.

But that wasn’t all that mattered. He hobbled off to complain about my family and me to anyone else who would listen. About an hour later, he got into a verbal altercation with my aunt, his daughter, and his wife. His thirteen-year-old daughter’s eyes were beet red. Everyone’s lips were tight. Pursed.

His inebriation cut the thick silence, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE HAD TO DEAL WITH FROM THIS FAMILY!” he yelled.

And so there it was.

It didn’t matter how nice I was to him or how great of a time I thought we’d had that day. Buddy lived in a past of hurt and functioned from that past that weekend. I don’t want to ignore the fact that alcohol also exacerbated the situation. I’m not sure why he felt the need to get uncontrollably drunk. And I don’t want to guess.

The next day, he stayed at the hotel and didn’t emerge until it was time for them to return home. Even when he did come by the house to say good-bye, Dwight had to coax him out of the Expedition. Even when he did come in the house, he averted eye contact. He was embarrassed. We all hugged him and thanked him for coming.

There it is, one happy ending and one work in progress. But that’s how life is, right? Everything isn’t always tied up nicely with a bow. Flawed and traumatic relationships take time to heal. That’s just the nature of the human condition.

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Mrs. Little from The Unhappy Wife book

unhappy-wifeMrs. Little was the second wife that I’d interviewed. Although she’d given me quite a few details about her marriage, what kept resurfacing were small anecdotes and feelings about her mother-in-law. She was voiceless, but in a much different way than either Jasmyne or Gina.

Her comments reminded me of Steve Harvey’s movie, Think Like a Man. In it he approaches how so-called “Mama’s boys” affect relationships, but I thought this was different because the mother-in-law’s actions were subtle, or like people like to say nowadays: petty.

Concept: Her husband, Mark knew how Mrs. Little felt, but she’d never really expressed herself to the mother-in-law. Quite honestly, I have issues with my own MIL that I’ve never shared, so I began to wonder what it would be like if Mrs. Little could tell Ms. Little everything she wanted to say over the past two decades. Then, I thought wouldn’t it be great if she wrote her a letter? Wouldn’t we all like to do that with someone, in a way where they don’t get to respond, but just read?

I also had fun using the epistolary format. It seemed that would break up the monotony of reading traditional narratives, yet still explain the past and present challenges with the relationship.

Commentary: I’ve never been a mother-in-law, but I have one and I’ve talked to a few. What seems to be challenging (sometimes) is accepting that their son is no longer a little boy, but rather a man with his own responsibilities. Essentially, it’s an issue with transitions and change that manifests through marriage. From my perspective, it seems that mothers want to still “mother” their sons, while either not embracing the daughter-in-law, or ignoring her altogether.

That doesn’t work.

And there was a twist for this story. Mark was using his military salary to pay his mother’s bills before he married. The mother-in-law had to not only deal with a new woman in her son’s life, but also not being financially taken cared of anymore. She’d lost a lot all at once. I’m not sure they’d ever discussed a plan for this change.

I tend to believe that conversations can heal all things. People underestimate the importance of sitting down, airing grievances, setting the stage to move forward, and then actually moving forward with a clearer understanding. I’m not saying this always works, but I do know that unacknowledged issues are rarely solved.

unhappy-wifeLet me know what you thought about Mrs. Little and Mark, what I’ve said here, or anything else that you felt was important. Next month, we’ll move on to the next section, The Detached Wife. Thom’s wife signed a waiver that doesn’t allow me to discuss the story in this format, so on to the next chapter we’ll go..

Interested in purchasing a copy and getting caught up to discuss the rest of the wives? Order here.

Saying “F*ck you” versus Releasing Expectations as a Way to Deal with Rejection

I was introduced to rejection when I was born. My schizophrenic mother abandoned me in an apartment when I was five months old. As a result, I had implicitly learned that sometimes people give up on you when they are incapable and life is unbearable.

When I was seventeen, the cycle repeated. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t belabor the point. But, in 1990 my dad gave up his parental rights, once again teaching me the same invaluable lesson: people give up on you when they are inept and life is too much.

Like many people, I developed some coping mechanisms. I began to read people and interpret their actions. Any slight rejection equaled an abandonment warning sign, and warranted a preemptive, “F*ck you” before I thought the other person would pack up and leave.

You don’t want me in your life? So. I don’t want you in my life. Deuces!

You’re rejecting me and my personality? Nope. I’m rejecting you and your personality.

aloneFor a very long time, that’s how I functioned. It was unhealthy. It was immature. And it left me by myself in some ways, because eventually, when you hand out a round of unwarranted “F*ck yous,” you’re bound to be left standing in a circle by yourself.

I had to change.

About six years ago, I learned to release expectations instead. Many people have wondered how I can release expectations of people with whom I share a relationship? The answer is not easy.

First, I recognize that people can reject parts of my personality, but that doesn’t mean they are rejecting me. Next, I write these words: I release expectations of name-of-person, until I feel liberated from the situation. Then, I remind myself of these things:

Saying “F*ck you” means leaving a person alone, forever and ever. Releasing expectations requires letting go of who you think that person is supposed to be.

For a long time, I thought my mother in-law would be like an extended family member for me. I envisioned her visiting every year and doing grandmotherly things with the girls. Listen. That hasn’t happened. In fact, I can count on one hand how many times she’s come to see us. It feels a lot like rejection. Now, of course I would never disrespect my MIL. But a former me would’ve just left her alone. Instead of doing either of those, I have released my fairy tale like expectations of our relationship. When she calls, I’m happy to hear from her and if she doesn’t, that’s okay too.

Releasing expectations means allowing people to be who they are.

This might seem to be the same advice, but I see it a little different. Allowing people to be who they are means less judgment on my part. For example, during much of my marriage, I wondered, Why doesn’t my MIL call? Why does she need a personal invitation to visit? Why won’t she just act like my grandmother and schedule a visit? These are all judgments about how she interacts with us. And it’s quite simple, if I’m judging, then I’m not allowing. Who my MIL is, is who she’s shown herself to be. That’s perfectly fine. At this point, I allow her to be who she is, free from my criticism. I don’t expect her to be someone she is not. Think about it. Don’t we all want to be accepted for who we are in this moment?

Saying, “F*ck you” means the door is closed and locked. Releasing expectations symbolizes an open invitation.

My former self would’ve definitely perceived her actions as rejection, and then met it with a closed heart. But not today. My MIL is welcome to visit our family anytime she’d like. I have no ill feelings and I hope that she will. But again, I don’t expect an action either way.

Let me know what you think. Is there ever a time when releasing expectations just isn’t good enough? You know I’m happy to hear your thoughts!