Friday, August 20, 2010

Family Ties

My family (and family in law) is something I don't like to write about very much here.  I'm sure you all understand, it's not really an appropriate outlet for things that are so important. 

I will share, however, some good things.  All of you out there in bloggy land who are married to or are in a committed relationship with a foreigner understand to great degree how challenging it can be to have in-laws who don't speak the same language - literally and metaphorically.  This was one of my biggest fears moving to Brazil and so it isn't overly shocking how true it's proven to be. 

It's really important to me to have a good relationship with my in-laws.  For one thing, we all live together (that's mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, husband, myself, one cat and one dog in a 3 bedroom apartment). 

As if that weren't challenging enough, we are constantly faced with communication difficulties.  I was terrified to be alone with my in-laws without my husband for about the first 4 months or so of living here.

Over time, as my Portuguese began to improve, I was able to spend time alone with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law (my father-in-law travels a lot with work and so there hasn't been the same opportunity to spend time with him).  Plus, based on my own personal family dynamic (growing up with my mom and sister) it's extra important and extra special for me to develop good relationships/friendships with my female in-laws. 

Yes, they have methods and rationals that I don't always understand.  Ro's mom really REALLY loves Ro, which can sometimes be difficult for me (maybe it's jealousy really - I'm used to be smothered with love from my own mom!)  Sometimes I believe this is a cultural thing - the oldest son in the household is always praised and adored. 

Anyway, every single experience has helped me get to know Ro's family better. 

Today it was just Ro's mom and I in the house.  Although we still don't have the closest relationship, I really try to show her that I care so I helped her clean the house.  I mopped and vacuumed her room and my own.  Later, this evening, I went to buy beer so we could drink a beer and watch the novela together. 

We spent time chatting a little, laughing at Nina playing, drinking our beers.  Simple conversation but definitely much more complex than we could say 8 months ago!  It's good.  I can live with this relationship.  At the very least, we've all learned to sit comfortably together in silence. 

Anyone else have foreign in-law experiences to share? Language challenges? Cultural barriers? 


  1. Oh - here we go again. After my previous over exposure on Danielle’s “If I were perfect” post – dare I respond to this provocative post?

    I love my mother in law – make no mistake about it. She absolutely ADORES my husband, her son, and has done and will do ANYTHING to make his life more comfortable. And she loves me and tells other people so.

    The rub is in the cross-cultural reality, as you mention. My husband, Luiz, is 58 years old. But in the presence of his mother he is 14. And she generally relates to him as if he were 13. “Do you have your keys?; Did you turn off the lights?; Who will you be visiting with?; When will you be home?; What will you be doing?; Do you have enough money?; I think this is too dangerous; Why don’t you visit me more often?”

    For an American like me this is totally beyond the pale. I get it that I am here and she is my partner’s mom. But we are 50 and 58 years old! It totally grates me the wrong way to be related to as an ignorant teenager. “Ignore it” people say. Well, it does not work that way. If I do not affirm the feelings and suggestions of my mother in law I am seen to be (by her, at least) as rude and arrogant. It is a Catch 22.

    I have a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. I was a family therapist for many years. But now my suggestions for how to deal with a troublesome family member have fallen on deaf ears. I am truly caught in a trans-cultural vortex. I get it. It’s not as personal as it is cultural.

    But make no mistake, I still love my joyous and generous mother in law.

  2. Haha, Oh Jim. You totally understand me. What's funny to me is that away from his Mom, Ro is a perfectly responsible adult. He makes a living, took care of his own in Canada.

    Now, even though he is lovely enough to request (on my behalf) that his mom stop doing our laundry and stop ironing my underwear and stop cleaning my bathroom, I'm sure if I wasn't the one complaining about it all the time, she would be taking care of us like 14 year olds.

    "Did you eat lunch already?" "I can't make a pizza for myself without making one for Rodrigo!" "Do you have any laundry for me to wash?" etc. Even worse is without even asking, she just does these things. Makes lunch. Bakes a giant cake. Washes, irons and folds my clothes.

    For me, this is invasive and too much coddling. For them, it's a normal part of life. I wish I could let go of my N.American judgements - I know the families are close here but whatever happened to just being an independent adult and still being close to your family?? This is why I think the line is crossed too much.

    But don't think for a minute that I don't appreciate coming home to a hot meal after a long day... catch 22!!!


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