When my husband and I met, I already had a two-year-old daughter. She was instantly loved, of course, and in due time, adopted. I think it’s safe to say that my future in-laws developed some pre-conceived notions about me and my moral fortitude. They are a conservative bunch.
We were poor then, and not working never even crossed my mind. In fact, I worked two jobs at first, bartending and nursing. I was thrilled to cut down to one job, but some of my husband’s relatives still thought that made me a negligent parent. “I never worked unless my kids were in school,” my mother-in-law used to hiss in my ear. And, horrors, my husband’s brother had married the perfect stay-at-home wife and mother. So there we were, on display for direct comparison by the entire family every Sunday. I liked my sister-in-law, but quickly tired of hearing her say, “We’re doing what’s best for our kids!” It felt like another judgement against me.
When I had two more kids, the pressure to not work intensified. “You should be home to take care of your babies,” was said more than once. Never mind that we still depended on my income, or that I worked afternoons and weekends to minimize the time that we needed to use daycare/preschool/babysitter. I stopped going to Sunday dinners.
My husband and I have been a couple for 18 years now. We have changed, learned, adapted. We have decided that after years and years of being frantically busy and always stressed, we needed to change our lifestyle. My daughter was the catalyst. At nine years old, she started asking to homeschool. She was persistent enough to get my attention, and after much research and soul-searching, we decided to give it a try. I quit my job. Do you think our families were happy? Of course not. Just try to do something outside the norm and see what kind of support you get. People were terrified that we would ruin our children.
So, 18 years after I first met and was first compared to my sister-in-law, we switched places. I was home with my kids, she went back to school. She works full-time and is still an amazing parent of two teenagers. Now, my in-laws want me to go back to work. They send me classified ads for jobs. They drop not-so-veiled hints that I shouldn’t really be spending money. And so on and so on and so on. This time I don’t care about their judgement.
I deeply regret that I so disastrously misinterpreted my sister-in-law. I realize now that she was defending her choice, just as I was. We were both mothers of young kids, in the same difficult family, but instead of befriending each other, we let ourselves be caught between the impossible expectations of others. There is no one right way to parent, only what is best for individual families. I couldn’t see beyond my pain, so I chose my position and dug in to defend it. What could have been a true friendship never happened because of my defensiveness, my inability to look at someone else’s pain.