I must admit, I'm nervous to type the following words. For as frequently as my pseudo-in-laws and I disagree, I love them. My partner's parents are absolutely obsessed with our son, and do so many things for him (and us) as a result. His mother and father are wonderful grandparents, and I can't thank them enough for loving my son the way they do. Still, there are things I refuse to sacrifice for my in-laws; things that have made visits to "grandma and grandpa's," well, difficult.
First and foremost, it's worth noting that my in-laws aren't "technically" my in-laws. My partner and I have been together for four years and have a 2-year-old son, but we aren't married. In fact, we don't plan on getting married. This, of course, is one point of contention between my pseudo-in-laws and myself. They know that my partner wouldn't mind being married at all, but I'm the one who has hangups about marriage and, essentially, I just don't see the point. It's a personal choice I don't want to sacrifice in order to make my would-be in-laws happy which, of course, doesn't really make them all that happy.
And that's, honestly, just the beginning. While I love my partner's mom and dad — and can't tell you or them or anyone else how grateful I am that they're family and I have them to lean on if I ever needed to — we don't agree on a multitude of things. We fail to see eye-to-eye on key issues (like politics, parenting techniques, and religion), which makes substantial conversations difficult to enjoy. Sometimes I am so overjoyed to visit them and, well, other times I know I'm going to leave their home exhausted. Still, as the mom to their grandchild, I have made it a point to make certain things clear, and that includes letting my in-laws know that I won't be budging on the following things:
My Parenting Decisions
Of course, how my partner and I have decided to parent doesn't exactly mirror the parenting decisions my in-laws made way back when. That's to be expected, as time and additional research in parenting techniques, a change in overall culture and a difference in backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions, are all going to contribute to a variety of parenting choices and why we make them.
I can withstand a healthy, respectful difference of opinion. However, whether my in-laws are visiting our home or we're visiting theirs, how my partner and I have decided to raise our own son is to be respected. For example, recently my son and I visited his grandmother. He was playing in the living room, getting into my necklaces and wearing them around the room with this adorable, happy look on his face. His grandmother told him to take them off; they were for "girls only." I intervened and told her that we don't teach our son that he can't like or play with certain toys our society has arbitrarily decided are "girl" or "boy" appropriate. I knew I was in her house and I knew I was challenging her beliefs and parenting methods, but when it comes to my son, a moment of uncomfortable discussion (or silence) is worth it.
My Political Beliefs
My in-laws and I do not agree on politics. At all. That can make for some very contentious moments when visiting. While I am always up for a great debate, I will not back down just because I'm in someone else's house. I will not be rude, I will not call names, and I will not be disrespectful; this is my family we're talking about, after all. However, because they're my family I do not feel like I should "shut my mouth" or actively try to avoid a political conversation altogether. If I can't talk about the important things that shape my life, my son's life, and our future together with family who have promised to love us regardless, who can I talk to about these issues? I don't have to agree with my in-laws (and they don't have to agree with me) for us to respect one another and talk to one another about what we think is best for our country.
Is this easy? Nope. Do we get upset at one another from time to time? Of course. However, I know that if I didn't stand up for what I believed in, I would be teaching my son a lesson I never, ever want him to learn.
My Religious Beliefs (Or Lack Thereof)
I am in no way religious. Not even a little bit. I grew up in the Christian faith — attending bible study and church every Sunday, going off to "church camp" and participating in church-related activities — but I never felt "at home" in the church. My father was a deacon, but he was also physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive. I couldn't help but see the hypocrisy in what Christianity teaches vs what so many Christians actually do (although certainly not all, and I definitely want to make that clear as I have met and know and love some wonderful, kind, generous, good-hearted and amazing religious individuals). For example, my mother went to the pastor of our church, telling him she (and her children) were being physically abused and asking him for help. His response? "You need to pray more. You're not praying or attending church enough, so god has abandoned you." That was the day I decided I no longer wanted to be part of an organized religion.
However, my choice shouldn't be a choice pushed on my son. We had him baptized when he was a baby in my grandmother's church — the same place my great, great grandmother, my great grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother were all baptized — because it meant something to my family. Do my partner and I believe? No. However, we know it's important to some of our family members. The same goes for my in-laws. I don't mind them speaking about religion in front of my son, as we think it's important for him to educate himself in all religions, and then make a choice that he believes is best for him when he's older. We will not, however, push him to be religious. We will not make that decision for him. We will not, essentially and in my opinion, indoctrinate him into a specific religious teaching just because our family members think we should.
My Time With My Immediate Family...
I know that time with extended family members is important, but so is time with my immediate family. Yes, I see my son and my partner every day, but ours schedules and daily routines don't always allow for awesome, sincere quality time. Will we make a trip to see grandparents? Of course, but we will also take family trips with just the three of us. I honestly refuse to feel guilty (or let someone else make me feel guilty) about wanting to spend time with just my immediate family.
...And My Extended Family
The constant battle between grandparents is, I swear, never-ending. We don't live even remotely close to any extended family members, so deciding who to visit, when to visit, and for how long to visit is always a difficult decision. In choosing one set of grandparents, we know we're going to upset the other. However, I think it's important to do that hard work to find the balance. Would my mother like it if we just visited her every chance we had? Of course. Would my partner's mom want us to visit her every chance we had? You bet. So, we hurt some feelings and save some others and go back and forth, because we care about both sets of grandparents and (even though we fail, because it's impossible) we want to make everyone happy.
I know that everyone has this idea of what a "mom" should look like (which is depressing in its own right), and for someone who lived in a different time and was heavily influenced by prevailing gender stereotypes, I'm not it. I don't stay at home with my son, I work. In fact, I work a lot.
I know that our family set up (I work a full-time job, my partner goes to school) is not what many would consider "traditional," especially since we're not married (and we don't want to get married). I know this particular set up made my pseudo in-laws nervous, especially my would-be mother-in-law. However, I didn't (and don't) care. I know that working makes me feel fulfilled, sets a positive example for my son, and gives my family the ability to do amazing things in amazing places.
My Mental Health
I have to admit, trips to my partner's parents' house used to be daunting. Every single time (for at least the first four trips) I would end up crying. I would cry for having my parenting decisions constantly under-minded. I would cry for feeling like I didn't belong. I would cry for having to constantly defend myself. I would cry for being told, just four months postpartum, that I "didn't need that second helping of food." It was always so emotionally and mentally taxing to go somewhere I knew I wouldn't necessarily be respected or appreciated.
So, for a while, I didn't go. Time between trips were extended. I talked to my partner extensively about how I wanted and deserved to be treated, and how we needed to present ourselves as a team, or I wouldn't be going to visit his parents at all. I spoke with his mother, and had a long conversation about our difference. Essentially, I stood up for myself and took the time to make sure my mental health was protected during our visits. I no longer wanted to feel worthless in the name of "family time." Never again.
Visiting family is expensive. So, if my partner and I can't afford it, we don't. It sucks, sure, and sometimes it hurts my in-laws feelings, but "it is what it is." I will not put our finances in jeopardy so my mother-in-law (or my mother, for that matter) can have some quality time with her grandchild. Making sure her grandchild is fed, clothed, and has a roof over his head is way more important, in my opinion.
My Family Traditions
Arguably, one of the best parts about having a family of your own, is creating your own traditions. My partner and I have essentially blended bits and pieces of our own, creating new and unique ones for our son to enjoy. For example, I'm Puerto Rican, so every Christmas we will have a Pernil, with tostones and arroz con gondules. For Thanksgiving, however, we'll have a more traditional American meal, with the turkey and the stuffing and the gravy. If my in-laws think certain Puerto Rican traditions are weird, well, #SorryNotSorry.
Lately, my in laws have been pressuring my partner and me (read: just me) to have another baby. I know they're excited about grandchildren and they want my son to have a sibling and they mean it as a testament to how they feel about my parenting, but it's just, well, annoying. I don't know if I'm particularly ready for another baby. I don't know if having another baby is the best thing to do, not only for my partner or my family, but for me.
I wouldn't sacrifice all that I am for anyone, including my son. There are certain things I cannot, and will not, give up for him: like my mental health, my identity, and my sense of self. If I wasn't going to give those things up for the person I housed in my own body and pushed into the world, I definitely won't be giving those things up for anyone else, either.