Tag Archives: multi-generational families

The In-Law Wars

“There is a cancer in you I need to cut out,” my Mother-In-Law, Gette, said to me after a particularly brutal day.  As always, she moved her pursed lips back and forth, like she was sucking a bottle. Kneeling beside her lounge chair, knees bruised from the pebbled cement below, I bit down my words, a supplicant wanting to supplicate.  I could only think that if I could placate her enough, swallow myself down deep within me, become a shell without substance, perhaps she would stop this current reign of terror.

Knowing what to do or say was tormenting me.  I didn’t want to have this woman in my home much less subjugate myself to her will. I had the spirit of independence within me. But with each pass of the Seasons, Gette and her husband, Dragos, would arrive in a whirlwind of condescension and fury.  They would stay for 3-6 weeks at a time.  For weeks before they came, I would panic.  When I finally tried to forbid the planned trip, my husband, Alex, replied, “You can leave if you don’t want to be near them.”

Gette would march in the front door, head directly to the kitchen, and start rearranging it to her liking.  She would send Dragos to the market for those items she felt were necessary.  From that moment on, I was forbidden in my own kitchen.

My spirited, wonderful children suddenly fell under the auspices of the Grandparents’ methods of parenting.  This was the supposed Romanian way of doing things.  All my disciplining was strictly monitored; should I do anything not to Gette’s liking, I was subject to discipline myself.  My husband not only abetted it, he did the same, way too many times.  It might be appropriate if I was in any way abusive, but I was not.  What I was, was anxious, frustrated, angry, desperate, unsupported and alone.

The house would revert to Romanian as the language of choice spoken by all adults except me.  The kids didn’t mind.  Their desires were met, their questions and comments answered.  But one time I asked a table of Romanians to please speak in English (when they all could) and my husband responded, “Shut Up!” in front of his extended family. My in-laws told me this was the language they were comfortable speaking although it had been 20 years since they defected, hey had held professional positions requiring English, and it was an English-speaking home.  When seated at the dinner table, I could sometimes understand they were talking about me to my husband in front of my face.

I was, and am, as American as you can be – blonde, blue eyed, previously divorced. . . in their mind lacking in character.  For many years I was a national management consultant, in Who’s Who in America for several years, and a published author, yet Dragos always told everyone I was a secretary.  Romanian women in their circle were doctors, lawyers or scientists.

There is so much talk about multi-generational and multi-lingual homes.  DACA is on everyone’s lips. Immigrants do have it hard.  Many times they come to the U.S. with little to no money, may have to go back to school to retake degreed professional exams for legitimacy in their careers, and may have to start with jobs well below their educational level.  They can be outcasts, will almost certainly face discrimination, and have to undergo huge cultural shifts that can seem to be never ending tsunami waves.

But what of the people who marry into these strong ethnic traditions?  I was terrorized by my in-laws and ex-husband.  Everything in my life was controlled.  Emotional, financial, familial and some physical abuse was rampant.  I loved my husband very much, but his mother had an untreated schizophrenic personality disorder and was given free reign to behave in whatever manner she chose.  She was a spoiled, at times vicious, callous woman in the manner she treated me.  And he followed in her footsteps, very much her favored and only child.

Yet she was a loving mother and grandmother, cloyingly, overwhelmingly so. The kids loved her even as they came to understand her disabilities. Dragos tried to placate me, saying she was a “Good Girl”, I should listen to her.  They only wanted what was best for me.  Other than pertinent information, Alex would refuse to talk to me during the time they were visiting and up to 2 months later.  And within weeks, it would be time for another visit.

One of those things to be changed was an attempt for me to eliminate contact with my family and friends, to which my Mother vehemently and frequently objected. There was a time I gave in and didn’t contact them for three months because my mother was violating boundaries calling Gette and Dragos and working to undermine our marriage from her end, just as strong minded and quite resentful of the situation.  Not a minute went by when I was not connected to them in my mind. My heartstrings were more deeply connected to them if I couldn’t speak with them. My mother even called their home to argue about these issues.  She would call me and berate Alex, sometimes with him standing right in front of me furiously telling me to hang up. Little wonder I was a nervous wreck.

None of the In-laws were behaving appropriately.  One of the main reasons I left the marriage was the knowledge one day I would be taking care of Gette in our home.  I knew her disease would worsen and as they didn’t believe in therapy or medications, there was no hope for the suppression of symptoms.  She would remain the arrogant, controlling woman she was then even as she talked to her spirits.

There were other factors which led to the demise of our marriage but the In-Law Wars were the primary issue.  Had we not been subjected to these pressures, we might still be together. Alex might be more temperate in his need to control me.  We might have enjoyed more limited visits.  But then the “might have been’s” are merely suppositions without merit or reality. Suffice to say I have permanent PTSD from those years which has manifested in restraints to enact on dating or relationships now. And I cherish my freedom.

Chapter 10 . . . or is it 15?

My daughter and son-in-law called the other night, via Facetime, not a usual occurrence, and she said, “Momma, do you remember when I was a little girl, I always said when I grew up and had a baby, I wanted you to live with me and take care of it?  Well. . . .”

“You’re pregnant?” (Real fast on the uptake).  Eight weeks along.

“And we want you to  come live with us and be our Nanny.”

Of course I said Yes!  I love children, especially my own who live 3,000 miles away and have busy lives.  I was a nanny for 2 1/2 years for my twin nieces and loved ever minute of it.  Taking care of my grandchild, a no brainer.

A caregiver for years, I had been pondering lately how much a toll it was taking on me physically and mentally to work with those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know if I could hold out another four years or more. The opportunity to grow closer to my daughter and son-in-law, whom I barely know, was exciting. And a baby!

Then the multitude of questions started flooding in.  I have been living alone for many years, how would I be within the context of  a family unit?  Could my depression and anxiety stand it? Would I be giving up my Section 8 voucher – something I could well need in the future?  They were only married a year, did they really want to trade off on their intimacy so their child could be cared for someone they knew would love him or  her?

As my daughter’s childhood grew she would say she wanted me to live next door,  then down the street, to slowly evolve into nothingness.  I had been reconciling myself to knowing I would be living 3,000 miles away from my children forever.  This was an abrupt about face.

I asked my daughter, Dani, how Kendall would feel about living with his mother-in-law when he only got to know the few days before their wedding.  Dani said he had been the one to suggest it.  They had talked before the pregnancy about having me come out to live with them.  Those physical and emotional issues I mentioned earlier have impeded my independence, which I treasure.  How could I maintain it in a multi-generational family? Would my life get smaller as it was getting bigger?

They were thinking in foreverness, would that be realistic?  Kendall is starting a Divinity Master’s in May.  They might need to move when he graduates.  Would I be willing to move in three years, they asked?

I had to laugh.  I have lived all over New York State, two places in New Jersey, four in California, and five in Connecticut.  Moving was something I knew how to do.  I had just moved the month before.  I liked my new place, and had downsized  substantially before moving, then bought a few things to make it home.  I will be downsizing one more time.  God has taught me a lesson – not to be attached to things.  Things don’t matter.  Circumstances and people do.

The questions swirl through my brain.  I am about to turn 61, this is a new Chapter in my life.  There have been groundbreaking Chapters over the years.  This will just be another. I recently submitted my children’s book in hope it will be published.  Wouldn’t it be fabulous if I could read my published book to my grandchild?

Chapters . . . is this my purpose in life?  I’ll have more time to write.  And more to write about.  Grandparenthood – who would have thought it?