ME & YOU, YOUR MAMA AND YOUR COUSIN TOO: DO I REALLY HAVE TO LIKE HIS FAMILY?
By Toya Sharee
Parents don’t like me. Let me be more specific with it: Mothers and sisters don’t seem to like me. When I started dating during my teens I had some less than favorable “meet the parents” moments. There was the boyfriend I was in love with in 9th grade whose Haitian mother always sounded like she was in the middle of a domestic revolution whenever she answered the phone. That summer, a paid internship painting over graffiti placed me with a guy who started off as a good friend who eventually grew into more. When we started dating, his family’s issues came bubbling to the surface and I figured out that the problem was more about his mother’s personal substance abuse issues than any imagined conflict with me. Then there was the first “mature” relationship I really had with a young man from the suburbs. When I first met his mother and sister, the look they gave me would have you think he brought the entire ‘hood with him, and in their eyes he probably had. I was from Philly (didn’t matter what part of Philly, it was just bad enough that is was Philly for them) so of course they assumed I was trying to trap their college-educated son, make him my baby’s daddy and probably be the reason he would fall victim to inner-city violence in a tragic First 48-style love triangle.
So after that point in my life, I’d given up on trying to be anyone’s daughter-in-law of the year. I am not a demure doll with a painted expression that agrees with everything my man’s family says because I don’t want to rock the boat, but at the same time I don’t think I’m one who brings drama and ruckus just because I can. In my experience with dealing with mothers and their sons or sisters and their brothers, it hasn’t seemed to matter what kind of person I am. All that matters is that I’m another woman in their loved one’s life and I have to be assigned some test to be granted membership in their circle of trust. In my experiences, the thing I never understood was why they had to be so nasty about it. There’s a difference between wanting the best for your son or brother and just wanting to be difficult.
I sympathize with the fact that it can be a hard transition for mothers and sisters who are accustomed to being the only women in a young man’s life and then suddenly feeling like their role of mama bear is threatened. The good news is, I am not looking for a son or a brother. I am looking for a boyfriend. All I’m asking is for mothers and sisters to lighten up and not make assumptions about a woman whom you know nothing about. Remember, you once were in my shoes too. There comes a time when a woman has to let a man be a man and make his own decisions, and that doesn’t mean that he’s being disrespectful. If you trust that you’ve, in fact, raised him right, then you should know that you can trust his judgment and respect his choices.
So ladies, do you have to like your man’s family? Not necessarily, but I have to warn you that your love life will be a whole lot easier if you do, especially if you’ve met the man you want to start a family with. There’s a certain discomfort that accompanies having to leave your kids with someone who obviously can’t stand you. So while you may not want to take his mom to church, it is important that you respect her, even if she isn’t acting very respectable. All implied insults and subliminal contempt will only place the man you have in common in the middle and when folks are fighting and fussing, that’s not a fun place to be.
Admittedly, some couples create their own problems. It’s all about creating boundaries, so you can’t call your mother-in-law complaining that her son is trifling and selfish but tell her to mind her business when she offers a slice of bitter advice that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You can’t run home to your folks whenever you have a disagreement and then wonder why your mother is meddling in your personal affairs. It’s important for couples in a serious commitment to learn how to solve problems without back-up. You can’t call everyone crying about how your man dogs you and then wonder why your cousins want to lay hands on him at the cookout, although you’ve decided you’re back in love again. You don’t have to fake a perfect relationship, but you can’t invite family into thebedroom so you can broadcast your partner’s flaws and not expect them to receive some backlash. If brother tells mama and his sister how allegedly crazy you are, don’t be surprised if they want to get crazy with you in return.
You can’t choose your in-laws, but you can choose how you handle your interactions with them. Since I’ve gotten older I try not to over-analyze making a good first impression with a man’s family. All I can do is be respectful and trust that if I’m with a man who I genuinely love, then we’ve already got something in common and sometimes that’s enough. When two families are forced to join together it can take time for everyone to adjust to different personalities, values and lifestyles. It’s not your job to make anyone like you if they can’t accept you as you are. Try to maintain perspective; there’s only one person you have to sleep next to every night…and it isn’t his mama.
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