Photo copyright Daruma Doll Musuem
Aging parents and parents-in-law is a major challenge! Try as we might, we don’t always deal with them as well as we’d like.
I don’t feel I managed things too well over the last few days. Just as my husband and I were getting ready to go get our “new” car from the dealers, fraught enough with tension, my mother-in-law’s next door neighbour rang to say she’d fallen over in the drive. No serious injuries, but bruised and shaken up. Our plans for the afternon changed to going over and check she was all right. Not a big deal.
The problem was my husband’s reaction to the situation, and my reaction to his reaction. We got in a spiral of anger and it wasn’t helpful or comfortable or good for our relationship. All we did was increase each other’s stress levels.
I can’t change how he reacts to his mother. He may always react with anger, resentment, and little boy whinginess. What I can change is how I react. Getting angry, resentful, and whiny little girl myself is not useful!
I need to stay calm and focused on what needs to be done. Acknowledge his right to be angry. Acknowledge that I am angry too. Calmly ask him to stay focused on the current situation and not to bring in past events, instead of making things worse by yelling at him. Ask him not to vent his anger at her the way he does, so I feel it’s directed towards me, while validating that it’s okay and appropriate to feel angry. His mother has no risk perception, and won’t take advice. She chooses to put herself in unsafe situations, and is oblivious to the worry and bother her actions cause others. I can see why he feels angry with her. I feel angry too. My day is wrecked just as much as his.
But I need to react to his anger with calm acceptance. Not with more anger. My putting more anger into the mix is what makes it spin out of control and get ugly. I need to stay calm and centred and balanced, and not allow what is going on to push me out of that. I can’t recall the exact line, but there’s a sentence in A Course in Miracles that Marianne Williamson quoted, something about when two of you are angry, whoever is sanest in that moment needs to stop. When it comes to parents and parents-in-law, that’s seldom the person whose parent it is who can be sanest, so I guess that makes me the person responsible for keeping things calm here.
Getting angry and resentful in a reactive way helps no-one. It’s hard to have to always be the grown up, when the child in me wants to throw a tantrum and yell and drum her feet and cry about how unfair it is too.
But it is what it is. I chose this situation. I chose to marry my husband, for better for worse. I chose to stay in the UK rather than move back to Australia, solely so we could support my mother in law.
Now, I choose to stop seeing myself as a martyr. I choose to embrace the gifts in this situation.
The chance to learn calm and focus and equilibrium. The knowledge that in staying to help her, we are doing the right thing. The chance to grow more in patience and compassion. The chance to support my husband as he hopefully works through his feelings about his difficult relationship with his mother. Being here in this situation is his choice too.
It’s hard. She’s nasty and selfish and totally can’t see why she shouldn’t just do what she wants. She doesn’t appreciate what my husband does for her, because she wants more or other things from him. He feels unloved, has always felt unloved. His fragile self-esteem takes a massive hit every time he sees her. She’s far from being a good mother, though I know she does the best she can. While we were there, after rearranging totally our afternoon’s appointments and plans to be with her, she still sniped criticism at him, in a deliberately hurtful way. I tried to stop her, but it didn’t reduce the effect on him.
It’s easier for me with her. I don’t have all that history with her. It’s always easier with someone else’s parent, not our own.
Where I have the problem is with my husband. I want him to be grown up about her. But he can’t. The child in him is too wounded and hurt.
And when I react with anger to his anger or resentment, I’m wounding that child even more. I need to validate his right to anger while not feeding it. I need to make it clear I don’t accept feeling like the target of that anger, when he says to me all the things he wants to say to her. I need to remind him that he has a choice.
I need to remember that I have a choice.
I need to be a grown up, even more so. I need to find resilience, my place of calm and focus, and I need to stay there, refusing to be knocked out of my equilibrium. I need to be a daruma doll, a roly-poly, a round-bottomed doll with weights in it that you can’t push over. Try, and it bounces back up again.
If my weight, my focus, is on what’s most important, on why I’m choosing to do this, I’m a daruma doll. I can help my mother in law. I can help my husband. I can help myself.