This next weekend is usually designated as what I used to affectionately call “in-law Christmas,” when you gather with the non-alpha in-laws to celebrate the holiday (as opposed to the real festivities with your actual family).
For further clarification, the “alpha in-laws” are typically the woman’s family. I’m not sure why that is. It likely harks back to that old adage my grandmother often cited, “A son’s a son ‘til he takes a wife. A daughter’s a daughter all her life.” While that is not always the situation, fortunately, it worked out that way for me. My family was the alpha. I’m not sure I could have survived had it been otherwise. There were three sisters-in-law, and having only a big brother, I never really understood how to relate or get along with sisters. Besides, two of those women viewed my husband as the “baby brother.” And my mother-in-law? She was my brunette Marie Barone of “Everybody Loves Raymond” (impeccably portrayed by the late Doris Roberts). I never questioned the precept governing alpha in-laws as long as it was working in my favor.
Unfortunately, now that I am on the other end of the in-law spectrum, I am not as pleased with that (albeit unofficial) law of nature. Seriously, your child can just meet someone at school, in a restaurant, maybe even a bar – and bam! – just like that, a person who has never sacrificed a thing for your “baby,” takes precedence over you. Today, “mom;” tomorrow, chopped liver!
This brings a memory of a comedy bit I hope I am correctly attributing to Tommy Smothers: “My grandfather married my grandmother. My dad married my mom. Why should I marry a perfect stranger?” When I saw that as a kid, I thought it was so funny. Of course, as a child, you don’t realize that group of relatives you love includes a lot of people who are not actually related to you, not even blood kin. It is only as we age that the in-law thing kicks in. And there ya go. Before the ultimate, inevitable assimilation occurs, it’s us against them. As early as the wedding ceremony, they immediately begin separating us when an usher asks, “Friend of the bride or the groom?” and we are seated on opposite sides of the church, as if we were the Hatfields and McCoys.
In-law Thanksgiving is tough. But, at least, all you have to do is eat – and try to be nice. In-law Christmas, however, can be a bit dicey. There is the requirement to purchase gifts for people either (best case) you don’t really know, or (worst case, though more likely) you know too well, but, just don’t like them enough to spend good money on them.
Humor aside, it is likely that “a son’s a son” adage stems from the Bible (Genesis 2:24) “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” And probably more often than not, that ultimate assimilation or at least some kind of truce, peace treaty or understanding prevails for eventual family harmony.
Though I used to dread in-law holidays, like most things, I find I miss them now – insults and all!