In today’s article, we’re tackling disagreements. How often you disagree isn’t as important as HOW you resolve them. What patterns are healthy? What patterns are toxic?
“Babe, I want to go to church with my mom this weekend.” I was in the kitchen getting breakfast ready for the kids, and it was Friday morning.
Right away, I could feel tension in the air.
“I don’t want to go to your mom’s church,” Jono replied.
I couldn’t help letting a tiny bit of stubbornness creep into my voice as I responded, “That’s fine, but I’m still going.”
“You’d rather go to church with your mom than for us to be together and happy?” I could hear the hurt in his voice.
And just like that, I was caught in the middle between my husband and my mom. Again.
I gritted my teeth and silently counted to five as I slowly exhaled. I didn’t want this to become an argument, and I wanted him to understand where I was coming from. So I tried again.
“My mom’s working on Christmas, so I wanted to spend some time with her and give her a chance to see the kids for the holiday.” I did my best to keep my voice calm and matter-of-fact as I explained.
I could tell that he still wasn’t convinced, but he didn’t bring it up again the rest of the morning as we continued getting the kids ready for school and the day ahead.
We walked outside together to my car and he strapped the kids into their car seats. “So you’re not upset that I’m going to church with my mom?” I couldn’t help asking as I slid behind the wheel.
He shrugged his shoulders, “It’s your life, I can’t tell you what to do.”
Great, I thought to myself as he walked away. He wasn’t coming with us.
It seemed like no matter what choice I made, I would be letting someone down.
I could understand my husband’s feelings about the situation. We’re usually the ones that make the effort to go see my mom; she’s prefers to be in her own house and rarely goes to anyone else’s. So when the kids get to see her, ninety-nine percent of the time it’s because we go to her.
At the same time, I feel like it’s unrealistic to expect her to suddenly change her ways, even for us. It’s exhausting to keep trying to convince her to come over to our house more often. And I’m close to my mom (as close as you can be to a Caribbean mom that is), so I end up giving in to her most of the time, which creates tension between Jono and I. He’s adamant that we stop trying to be the ones that always make the effort, and let her decide to come over more.
So Saturday morning I got up and started getting the kids ready for church, resigned to our family being separated for the next few hours while I went to church alone with them.
I was standing over the stove, stirring oatmeal when Jono came up behind me and slipped his hands around my waist. “I’ll come to church with you guys,” he whispered in my ear. “I know that’ll make you happy.” I smiled up at him as he kissed my neck.
Later that day as we sat in church, I watched as Vivian and my mom made faces at each other and giggled to my left while Jono sat on my right, holding Josiah on his lap. I was caught in the middle of my mom and husband again, but this time in a way that made me feel good. Jono reached over to squeeze my knee and I put my hand over his in response. I was glad that our love for each other kept us united even when we saw things differently when it came to spending time with my mom.
One thing that has helped was to have a conversation with my mom where I explained to her how important it was that she makes an effort to come over to our house instead of us always being the ones to initiate the visits. Since then she’s made more efforts to come over; she’s even gone so far as to catch an Uber to come have dinner with us.
At the same time, it’s important for each married couple to realize that you can’t make your parents be happy. For a long time, I was making things so hard on myself, and straining my relationship with Jono, because I was trying so hard to make my mother happy. I figured that since she and my dad were divorced, her kids were her last hope for happiness. So I threw all my energy into making sure that she never felt lonely or sad…. I would go over to her house almost every day when I had summers off. I would go to her house for dinner every week after church, even postponing plans that my husband and I had made in order to make sure I was there for her. After a while though, it became taxing.
I had to realize that no matter how much I loved her, I couldn’t spend all my spare time with my mom. I had a family now, with kids to raise, and sometimes the things we wanted to do as a family went against traditional Caribbean culture. The values and traditions we wanted to establish for our kids weren’t always things she would agree with, and that was okay. I wasn’t going to let her opinions dictate our decisions, especially if they were things Jono and I had already agreed to do.
So….yeah, being caught in the middle is not a great place to be, but there are ways to minimize that conflict.
1. Have regular routines established for spending time with extended family (grandma/grandpa, aunts, cousins, etc) in order to make sure those relationships are nurtured and the kids get to know their other family members.
For example, it would’ve prevented a lot of conflict if we just had a standing appointment with my mom so that she knew when to expect us, and when we can expect to see her. She’s divorced, an empty nester, and my siblings and I are scattered over Florida and have our own families. Even though she doesn’t say it, I know she’s lonely sometimes. So I know the interaction with us is important to her, even though she’s too proud to admit it.
2. Have boundaries for those relationships. Your family members don’t need to know every single detail of your lives. If there’s something they disagree with, some of them may feel inclined to let you know that. In Caribbean culture, sometimes your family may be very vocal about what they think about you and your spouse’s decisions, and end up influencing your decisions. So be wise about what you share.
3. Preserve unity between you and your spouse. Your family will always be ready to forgive you eventually, but getting into conflicts with your spouse because you’ve allowed the opinions of others to influence you is a sure way to make your spouse feel unimportant and more like a third wheel than a partner. Remember your loyalty is first to your marriage!
Until next time!