In-laws and outlaws

You know the difference between in-laws and outlaws? Outlaws are wanted.

In-laws are like an arranged marriage. You didn’t pick them – they were picked for you. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. It is great when it does, but it is horrible when it doesn’t.

You can’t drop them like you can drop a new friend.

With a new friend, one you are trying out, things might not work out the way you both hoped. You can just stop calling and making dates with each other.

Family is different. You are stuck with them. All the major holidays, all the big celebrations, you are expected to spend with your family. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Weddings. Funerals.

The most important days of your life, and you are stuck with people you didn’t pick.

This makes no sense.

The only thing that will make bad in-laws go away is divorce. Either you leave, or they do.

Or, better yet – re-invent the idea of holidays. Don’t make it mandatory to spend time with people you don’t like. Create new traditions. Invent your own ideas.

Being stuck with people you didn’t pick doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps this is why people hate holidays so much. They are expected to spend time with people they think, by society’s rules, that they have to get along with.

Why fake it anymore?

Art project as a distraction.

 

          So I started an art project.  Some people would call it redecoration.  It was an intentional plan to distract myself, and to give myself something that I could focus on and see progress.  I can’t fix what is going on with my parents-in-law, so I wanted something that I could fix.

          It started off as a need to fix a problem.  We had some ugly grout-tape in the bathroom.  Instead of caulk to bridge the area between the shower surround and the tub, we had this stuff that was in a long strip and it stuck to both things.  It kind of worked, until it didn’t.  It was peeling apart from the shower surround, and mold was developing.

          I was a little afraid to deal with it.  I was concerned that it meant that there was water damage behind it, and this was going to result in a really expensive remodeling project.   Water is as destructive as fire, but slower.   I kept trying to stick it back on the wall, and it kind of worked.  I asked my spouse to fix it and as usual it got put on the back burner.  And as usual, I slowly worried about it more.

          So I did what I do when I worry.  I got books.  Knowledge is power. I got every book on bathroom remodeling that my library branch had.  I decided that this was now a Project.  We’d save up our money and then we could do this right.

          Fortunately, when my spouse got around to pulling the weird tape off, there was no evidence of water damage.  There was a lot of mold, though, so I’m glad that it came down.  He put caulk in there instead.  It looks a lot better.

But by then I’d gotten the bug.  Thankfully it wasn’t an expensive project, but it could still be a Project.  We didn’t have to rip out the entire bathtub and shower and re-frame and put new tile.  That would involve hiring professionals.  There are things we can do, and that kind of stuff isn’t on the list.

          But I saw a picture while I was looking through the books.

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It was beautiful Tromp l’oeil.   It is a koi’s eye-view of a pond.  I went running with it.  But I like goldfish and aquariums.  So that is what I’m doing instead. But you can’t do that to start off with.  Remember – paint the background first.

          So then there had to be a trip to Lowe’s hardware.  I went on my lunch break and picked up a few paint samples that were in the neighborhood of what I wanted.  I brought them home and gave the spouse a choice.

It isn’t really a choice.  I had already decided on what to let him look at.  So no matter what he picked, I would be happy with it.  This is straight out of working with kindergartners.  Too many choices is a sure way to stop any work from going forward.

Then came time to paint.  The room is too small for two people to work, and he doesn’t really “get” painting.  He more than makes up for it in being able to fix minor plumbing and electrical problems, so I was OK with that.  But it took three hours.

I’d forgotten that we had a dinner date with friends on Saturday night, so that meant I had to get this done on Friday to give it time to dry so we could take showers.   That meant I got started on actually painting this project around nine, because we had to have supper first and there is always the prep work to do for painting.

I decided to do this without any music.  I figured that it would disturb him.  I don’t play my music around him, nor do I sing around him.  That is something to write about for another day.

So I was stuck, painting, by myself, in a small room, for three hours, in silence. It was a new kind of hell.

Instead of getting away from my problems, I was right up in them.  Everything I was trying to not think about was right there with me in that tiny room that smelled of latex paint.

I meditated on Jonah, one of my favorite characters who teaches me how to deal with problems.   And I remembered that he was stuck in that whale for three days.  So was Jesus – he was dead for three days.  You can praise God all you want, but you are still going to have to wait until it is time for it to be over.

That helped.  I was still in a foul mood, but at least I knew there was going to be an end to it.  It reminds me of the person who had a ring made that said “This too shall pass” as a reminder for the bad times as well as the good times.

The next day I painted the leaves on the walls, because that had to be done before the fixtures could be put back.  Scott was out of the house, so I put on music and sang along.  It helped my mood a lot.  It was also good that I started with something simple like long twisty leaves.

 

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The next day I painted some fish.  I didn’t think I could.  I was planning on drawing them on watercolor paper and then gluing them on, or printing some out on inkjet paper and doing the same.   I’m glad I gave painting them a try, because I surprised myself.

bath3           bath4

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I had gone online for some reference pictures and printed them out on my printer.  The resolution wasn’t that great, but it was a good start.   I transferred the outline of the fish to the wall by holding the paper to the wall and tracing the lines Really Hard with a pencil, so it made a dent in the wall.  Ideally, I’d have used carbon paper.  I didn’t have any, and I didn’t feel like slowing down by going and getting some.  Inspiration shouldn’t be messed with.  If I slow down, the whole thing could have come to a complete stop.

The transfer of the lines worked.  I mixed up some paint in a small plastic dish and went at it.  I learned as I went.  I used a dry brush technique for the fins.  I painted seven goldfish.   I plan to paint a castle, an old-time deep sea diver, a treasure chest, and a sunken galleon too.  Later.

Today’s the third day, and I feel better.  The room looks brighter.  I’m still not finished with the fish (they need eyes) but I’m OK with that.  The problems with the parents-in-law continue, but I’ve realized that isn’t my project.  I’m sticking with the stuff that is my responsibility and leaving that to their sons.

Unappreciated – on gifts and on using your words

I know a lady who has jumped in to help her husband with his parents. Really, it is more accurate to say she has taken over the care-giving chore. They are getting older and needing more help. She feels like it is her responsibility to help out. The problem is that she wasn’t asked for her help, and nobody is taking her advice anyway.

She feels ignored and devalued.

Plenty of women feel it is their wifely duty to help when their parents in law get older. They feel that is a chore that women take care of. They feel that their husbands are inept at care-giving. They then shoulder the burden all by themselves, and they feel put upon.

There are a lot of problems to this.

A gift that is given freely is a good gift. It isn’t a gift if it has to be given. It isn’t a gift if it is given under duress. Even if nobody asked, but the giver felt obliged, it is duress.

Now, of course, that is all on the giver’s head. It is never a good idea to make up a script. If nobody told you what was expected of you, but you just felt that was something you had to do and did it anyway and felt unhappy about it, that is your problem.

Another problem is that it takes away responsibility from the husband. Men are just as able to be caregivers as women. There is nothing biological about being a caregiver. There is something in our society about it, but that isn’t set in stone. Roles can change, and often should.

If a wife takes over the care-giving responsibilities of her parents in law, the husband may feel grateful. That is one less chore he has to deal with. Say he always mowed the lawn, but she always felt he was doing it poorly. One day, she takes over that responsibility without saying anything to him. He notices what she is doing, realizes that this means he has more time to do what he wants to do, and lets her. She, then, feels resentment that her hard work isn’t appreciated.

It isn’t a gift. She didn’t do that out of love, but out of something darker.

There is a lot of unspoken expectation mixed up in all of this, and because of that, a lot of feelings will get hurt. Un-asked for promises and rewards aren’t forthcoming, because they weren’t put in the contract. There is no “if I do this, then you’ll do that” that is mentioned. The wife will feel unappreciated, and the husband will simply feel like she is doing something she wants to do.

She’ll continue helping (read “taking over”) with the care-giving of her parents in law, and he’ll keep not getting that she really doesn’t want to do it because she hasn’t said anything about it.

People can’t read minds. That is why we invented language.

Notice how small children get frustrated when they want something but they don’t use their words. They are hungry, or tired, or want their favorite toy, and all they can do is wail. Their parents can’t understand what they want, so the child’s needs continue to not be met, so the wails continue and get louder.

“Use your words” they might say, and the child has to slow down long enough to get out what is the problem. Then healing can start.

As long as the wife continues to do something she doesn’t really want to do, something that really should be the responsibility of her husband (because after all, they are his parents), resentment will build. She won’t wail outwardly, but she will seethe inwardly. It will come out in ugly ways.

It isn’t his responsibility to second guess her. It is her responsibility to talk, to say how she feels.

Dread

I’ve had a sense of dread for the past few days. Sometimes I know things before they happen. Or rather, sometimes I know that something is going to happen, but not exactly what. It is God’s way of saying “be on guard”. But sometimes it is just a physical thing, because I’ve gotten out of synch.

I’ve not been following my routine, certainly. I’ve not been exercising like I normally do and I’ve been eating more junk food and less vegetables. I know better, but it happens. When things are going well, it is easy to forget that all the stuff I do to get well is what got me there.

So maybe that was it. Or not. It is hard to figure out these feelings sometimes. Sometimes I feel like a big radio receiver, but I don’t know what channel I’m listening to.

As I’ve mentioned previously, things have gotten worse with my parents-in-law. She fell and got a concussion and broke her leg. She was put in the hospital, and then rehab. My father-in-law has early stages of dementia as well as Parkinson’s. He thinks he can take care of himself, and usually he can.

We all thought everything was fine for now. The kids, and by that I mean those of us in our 40s, are aware that things will get worse soon, but we didn’t think it would be this soon. The parents are playing chicken with the idea of the nursing home.

But now, my father-in-law has gone missing.

Yesterday he went to visit his wife in the rehab center and got lost. He wound up about an hour away from his home. He didn’t think to have a map with him, and his GPS needs updating apparantly. He drove around for three hours before he called for help.

We thought that was it. We knew that it was going to get worse, but not this soon.

Today he tried to visit her again, and we don’t know where he is. My husband has notified the police.

He’s very calm about it, which is unlike him. I’m grateful.

And now I know where the sense of dread was coming from.

I’ve been praying about this feeling for the past few days, while also getting back into my diet and exercise routine. I’ve come to a sense of calm about it – to accept that whatever happens is God’s will. To be thankful, even, because I need to remember that God is always in charge.

It isn’t easy.

Normally, when something difficult is going on in my life, I have had at least some small role to play. Even though I’m trusting that God is in charge, I’ve still got my little part that God wants me to do. I know it isn’t everything, or even anywhere near the majority of the work. But it is something, and that something makes me feel better.

I can’t do anything now. Well, I can pray. And trust. And breathe through it. I can’t control any of this. I have to keep reminding myself that whatever happens is whatever is supposed to happen.

UPDATE. He showed back up at home – seven hours after he left. He claims he got confused, and he had bad directions. He’s safe, for now.

Get me away.

It is very hard for me to be any part of the madness going on with my husband’s family right now. I write about compassion and serving people like they are Jesus. I also write about boundaries and dysfunctional families.

These two things don’t go together very well sometimes.

Dealing with them is like dealing with alcoholics. It is as if I have a friend who is a drunk. I say “Don’t drink and drive, because you might have a wreck” and they think they know better, so they drink, and drive, and total their car. And then they say “Hey, I don’t have a car anymore, can you drive me around? Or lend me money for a new car?”

They aren’t drunks. They are just needy, and manipulative, and making bad decisions. They want things done for them that we don’t have the time, energy, or money for. They want things done that I told them we would not provide, yet they are getting them anyway.

The only trips they took my husband and his brother on were of the guilt variety. Lots of abuse – physical, verbal, emotional. It is hard to muster up the desire to take care of someone who harmed someone I love. It is hard to want to help them when they have not admitted to or apologized for the damage they did. They continue to manipulate and control, even now.

And I just have to get away from all of this. It doesn’t require the skill of a prophet to see where all of this is headed.

I told them not to get a house with a yard when they moved up here. I pushed for them getting an apartment. They are both old and not as able to take care of themselves, much less a house with a yard. Plus, when they die or have to move into assisted living, that house will have to be dealt with. That mortgage will still have to be paid.

By us.

I told them that my husband barely has time to take care of our yard and house, and they said that they wanted a yard because she wanted to garden, and he needed the exercise. Neither has happened. They call my husband or his brother over to work on their yard and to maintain their house. Electrical switches, plumbing issues, hedges trimmed. So work doesn’t get done at our house.

A year ago my mother in law finally started to admit to herself that her cancer diagnosis was terminal. In the meantime, my father in law’s Parkinson’s has gotten worse, and he’s starting to get dementia.

I said they need to move into assisted living, ASAP. Nobody listened to me. They are toughing it out at their house –their house which is too big for them. That house is impressive, a show. It isn’t practical. It is bigger than they need. This is normal for them, always having to impress people, always having to have the best.

She’s in rehab right now. She passed out, hit her head, got a concussion, and broke her leg. Rehab, to teach someone how to walk again – someone who will be dead in probably three months because the cancer has spread to her lungs.

They are not thinking ahead. They are about to leave a big mess for us to have to clean up.

See? They didn’t listen, wrecked the car, and we are having to pay for it.

I’m trying to be Christ-like in this. What would Jesus do? What should I do?

But then I remember that Jesus didn’t have to deal with his parents in law, or even his parents. Jesus never got married, and died before his parents did. He raised people from the dead. He didn’t have to watch them die or bury them or sell their stuff. And he certainly didn’t have to do any of that while working a full-time job.

I finally realized that my parents-in-law or my husband or his brother, or even his wife – none of them have been the caregivers for a dying person. I’m the only one who has. I’m the only one who has also handled an estate. I’m giving advice on what to do next because I’ve been there, and they are ignoring me. They think they know better. They are pretending like this will all go away.

Meanwhile, everything that I said was going to happen has happened. I can see the train on the tracks, headed right for us.

I’m trying to stay out of it. I can’t handle any of this madness.
I hate it.
I’m angry and sad and tired.

I want to do the right thing. I also don’t want to be seen as a hypocrite – someone who talks about Jesus and compassion and service and then bails when the going gets rough, when things get real.

But there is also codependency and enabling to consider too.

If I rescue them, if I essentially say that it is OK for them to screw up their lives and drag us down with them, that isn’t being very loving.

Sometimes there aren’t any easy answers. Sometimes there aren’t any answers at all. Sometimes there isn’t a happy ending. Sometimes it just sucks.