Monday, March 5, 2007

Walking a (Green) Mile in Someone Else's Shoes

Last year a friend told me about a couple from her church who had talked their late 20's daughter out of marrying her longtime sweetheart. He was a nice enough guy, but he was a loser. The kind of guy who hopped from job to job; who borrowed his girlfriend's car when his own junker broke down; who, from time to time, also borrowed his girlfriend's money to make it through the month.

Owing to their lifetime of experience, the girl's parents could see the handwriting on the wall. The handwriting their daughter either couldn't see or was willing to ignore for the sake of love. Nevertheless, the handwriting was absolute: their daughter was going to have a long life of drudgery, would never have a pot to piss in, would always have to struggle to make ends meet, would forever be unequally yoked, and would likely suffer any number of other tragic cliches.

They sat their daughter down, laid out their case and told her they would neither support her decision, nor pay for a wedding, if she chose to marry her sweetheart. Daughter cried. And prayed. And cried some more. Ultimately, Daughter decided mom and dad were right. She understood that mom and dad had the perspective, and the love for her, necessary to see the truth of the thing. Daughter broke up with Sweetheart.

As my friend told me this story, I thought to myself (in my defense, this was a whole year ago--back when I knew everything) that no matter how unhappy I was with a serious choice one of my grown children was making, I would never interfere to that degree. I would not tell my child who to marry or not marry. I couldn't conceive of being so manipulative as to hold my child's very wedding hostage to my judgement.

Did I mention that was a whole year ago?

Rewind: Many years ago my Aunt Bitchy and Uncle FuddyDud refused to attend their son's wedding. They strongly disapproved of the marriage. They boycotted the event on the grounds that attending would be tantamount to giving their blessing. A thing which was not going to happen.

The entire family looked down on Aunt Bitchy and Uncle FuddyDud for that decision. We were all aghast that these people couldn't lay aside their own mark-my-word egos long enough to show their son love without condition and to welcome the mother of their future grandchildren into their family.

All these years (and so much judgement of my own) later, I find myself empathizing with Aunt Bitchy and Uncle FuddyDud for the difficulty of the choice they faced. Further, I am dwelling in the land of the parents who would hold their daughter's wedding for ransom until she bent to their obviously superior understanding.

My unhappiness with Beautiful's choice of boyfriend (alright--fiance) is about more than jealousy. I have deeper concerns.

And so I am faced with a wedding dilemma of my own.

My first instinct was not to help pay for this wedding. Why fork out thousands of dollars for a ceremony that, in my esteemed opinion, is meaningless? After dismounting from that unusually high horse, I relented. Sort of. The last time Beautiful and I discussed it, I left it at, "If you wait a year, like our family therapist has suggested, maybe Dad and I will feel better about helping you pay for your wedding."

But what it really comes down to, whether I refuse to part with a single dime or whether I begrudgingly unhand a few bucks next year, is that I am attempting to foist my will upon my daughter and her intended. I am grasping for control at the only strings still attached to my beautiful marionette.

Aside from the issue of helping plan the nuptial event, I wrestle, as Aunt Bitchy and Uncle FuddyDud did, with whether I can, in good conscience, even attend my child's wedding. What if I choose not to go? Will she understand that it's because I cannot serve as witness to something I don't truly believe in? Will she realize that my presence, and my unmaskable feelings, would cast a pall over her party--besides ruining her wedding photos? Will she ever be able to forgive me? And what of the destruction I would be wreaking on any relationship that could otherwise have developed with my future son-in-law?

On the other hand, what if I choose to go? Is that equal to a blessing? Would it be a show of support for their relationship? Could it be interpreted as demonstrating my hope that things don't go as horrifyingly wrong as I suspect they could? Or would I just be telling my daughter that I love her, no matter what happens; that I am relinquishing my illegitimate control, and that I trust her to make adult decisions without my input.

In January, after 21 arduous years of trying to make it work, Aunt Bitchy and Uncle FuddyDud's son filed for divorce. To their credit, Aunt Bitchy and Uncle FuddyDud did welcome their daughter-in-law into their family. They publicly supported her and the marriage--in spite of the obvious cracks. As a result, their now ex daughter-in-law has trusted the grandchildren to their care until parental living arrangements can be sorted out. In spite of a contentious beginning, a relationship was forged that has transcended even divorce.

Oh, and the icing on the cake that is today's conundrum is this: in June there will be a lovely wedding for a girl and her sweetheart. A girl who had previously broken up with Sweetheart at her parents' behest. A girl who decided that she didn't care. She loves him. And she is marrying him. Her parents are paying for the wedding. And her parents will suck it up and attend the wedding and welcome the father of their future grandchildren into their family. And I, having walked a mile in their shoes, will make no judgement either way.

1 comment:

Mary said...

I hate to keep writing "wow", but there remains few other words that sum up how I feel about these entries.

Thank you for that brutally honest portrayal of a mother not sure of how to support and encourage her child while remaining true to herself, her intution and convictions.