Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Becoming A New Member of a Family

As we embark on this journey to the alter, we are all also becoming members of a family. A new family. Some know their partners family very well, others are just getting to know them. And then there is the whole "meeting of the parents" that can be nerve wracking to say the least. For us this has been an interesting experience, and while I believe Mr. Milk and I are on the same page, I will only speak for myself and my experiences.



Most of you already know that a large portion of our relationship was long distance, Mr. Milk living in Vancouver and I in San Francisco. This also meant that we were long-distance from our families and childhood friends. The implication of this is that with a few exceptions, we have been unable to get to really know many of the important people in each others lives. And of course the most important of these are our families. 

While we each met the others family years ago, the distance and infrequent visits to Cyprus meant that we were unable to spend a lot of time with them so as to form stronger bonds. For us this has also been a little skewed, with Mr. Milk being able to do this more readily with my family than I with his. On a deeper level, our families are fundamentally different. There are differences in acceptance, interactions, values, expression of emotions, and attitudes towards life. There are also the different personalities that you need to learn how to interact with. We each know our own families and how to handle them, but these "methods" don't necessarily bide well with the partners family. 

Anyway, when we were first engaged my family was more obviously accepting of Mr. Milk into our family. I think part of it is that my family had more warning that we were getting engaged while for Mr. Milk's it was totally out of the blue. You see, unbeknownst to me at the time, he had called my dad the previous day to request his permission to "ask for my hand" (nicely done babe!) hence giving them warning. But he never talked to anyone about the decision he had taken. He felt that this was a very personal decision, and other's input was not important to him. He'd decided that he was ready to take the next step, so to speak, and went about it the way he thought best. So needless to say I wasn't the only one that was shocked Christmas morning 2008! 

Then there are the stereotypes. For a daughter and her family getting married is something that is looked forward to and almost expected, whereas in a son's family this isn't necessarily something that is thought about much. And the way most Cypriot men typically react to the "when are you getting married" conversation, is like you are talking about giving them a gross, contagious disease!

The different reactions were difficult to deal with initially. There were plenty of times where I felt like our happiness wasn't shared by all family members. As we would start to think about and talk about our wedding, not everyone would partake in these conversations, even when directly asked. Now don't get me wrong, I realize that the universe doesn't revolve around us and our wedding, but I expected more from immediate family. I am the type of person who shows affection. I like public (and private) displays of affection, I express emotions, be they happiness, excitement, anger, or sadness. I also can't hide my emotions. No matter how hard I try, what I am feeling is written all over my face. I also typically have a good gauge on people and it drives me nuts when I can't "read" them. So as you can imagine, this lack of expression of any type of feeling was confusing to me and I found it hurtful. 

This also made it difficult for me when we really started to talk about the details of the wedding with Mr. Milk's family, like where it will be held, the guest list, the reception and so on. I couldn't quite get a sense of how to disagree with them without appearing rude or offending them or something. I found that conversations about the wedding would frustrate me, and I preferred not to engage in them, wanting to just plan it on our own and have them just show up on the day. But even when we were back in Canada, planning on our own, we both wanted to keep the families informed of what we were doing and so would show them things we had bought, the invitation design, the website (will do a post on this soon!), and so on, which mostly also ended in frustration with the different reactions and ideas that would come our way. 

We initially decided that we would each deal with our own families since we already knew how to handle them. While this seemed like a good idea at the beginning, we slowly found that it was impractical. We would be in the room with one set of parents talking about the wedding and only one of us would pipe up to discuss it. We both had ideas and wants that needed to be expressed at the time of the conversation and having one person speak for both of us just didn't work. I also realized that I wasn't being true to me and who I was by essentially hiding behind Mr. Milk, and this more than anything was driving me crazy. After all, how were they supposed to get to know me if I wasn't being me. 

So this time round things were different. From both parties. I realized that they needed more time to get used to the idea that they now had a new member in their family and they made more of an effort to make me feel like part of the family. For Christmas Mr. Milk's parents gifted us a trip to a spa resort for 3 days, with them, and we had a really enjoyable time. I also spoke my mind more. I realized that just as in wedding planning, someone isn't always going to like what you say or do. And thats ok. Just because they are your new family doesn't mean that you need to conform to their ways of being or they to yours. And while I can't speak for them, I can definitely say that I was much happier. For some dumb reason it is presented in the wedding world/media/whatever that once you become engaged, immediately everyone loves everyone. Well real life doesn't quite work that way huh?!  Like any relationship, it is a work in progress, and as long as both parties can be respectful and put effort into it, I think it will work out in the end (minus a few exceptions). 

How about you ladies? How was it for you when you became the newest member of a family?

21 fabulous blogger's comments:

Spare Thoughts said...

I'm posting about this later in the week as this weekend is the big parental meet up. My parents and his parents meeting for the first time eeeek I'm so nervous.

Stacy Marie said...

His parents have been very accepting of me as a new member of the family, but they view any disagreement as very rude and offensive. Which sucks! But I remain kind but firm, and hopefully all will be well. I think the biggest thing with this huge transition is time, you know? The more time you're with the dashing Mr. Milk, the more they are going to accept that.

Patience said...

I have been with my fiance for 7 years and while we both love our families very much, we are incredibly independent of them. My mom has helped with our wedding, but L's parents have not said a single thing. It is actually annoying to me that they haven't offered to help us out at all. His family loves me and I love them, but only in small incraments.

Jacky {The Sweetest Petunia} said...

Well, I think when my sweetheart finally pops the question, it'll be great. His family really does love me! It's kinda funny sometimes. ;) Although I don't think my family likes him quite as much as his family likes me...apparently they don't want to lose me. :)

PartyPlannerGal said...

I'm so happy you posted about this. We are having some of the same issues, even though both of our families are local in the Bay Area. I think the fiance's family wants to get to know me more, as they feel our visits are too "formal." There are some definite cultural issues as well - in India, the parents plan the wedding, with little to no involvement from the bride or groom. Here, the bride plans the wedding, and I intend to have as much control as possible over how things go on our wedding day. That was an issue at first, but I think we are working to resolve them. Like you, I am trying to be less shy about expressing my opinions, though I do still worry that I am offending my future in-laws.

Great post! Glad to hear that things are moving in the right direction for you.

Katie said...

we aren't married yet, but we still have troubles balancing each others families and understand how to approach them. Sometimes it can just be so much to keep up with...

A Los Angeles Love said...

This is such a great post. We live in the same city as my parents, but several states away from his. It's been challenging, to say the least. My parents demand a lot whereas I feel like I'm only starting to move beyond the formal niceties with his family. They're great, but it's hard to feel comfortable as yourself when you're always visiting. I think the engagement is helping, but it's such a slow process. I try and remind myself we have a lifetime to get to know each other.

Brittany said...

Ah.. Such a tough subject. B and I have been together for almost 6 years. I am very close with B's family and I feel like part of the family when I'm with them however... we don't agree on hardly anything! We have completely different opinions. It kinda sucks when I have to sit there quitly while they discuss a topic that I really just want to butt in and give my 2 cents hehe. My family also loves B but they are very different. We are just trying to concentrate of us while we are starting our own life and will be starting our own family. Good luck with everything :)

Ruthy G. said...

I hit the inlaw jackpot. I think part of it has to do with the fact that we are both in our 30's and our parent's were getting impatient with when their children would find their mate's. My parents are very hands off and happy i'm not going to turn into an old maid, when both of his parents met me the started to cry and talk about how beautiful their grandchildren would be. so yeah...not the norm, and I'm SO, SO blessed--I'd rather spend the holidays with his fam than mine!!

k80 @ onegirlsjourney said...

Chocolate Lover,
I can relate a little. My family was open to James and his to me, but James didn't always interact w/ his family alot when young, so he didn't always see the need to interact w/ mine. So, in our story, it's more like James needing to be pulled into the family circle - but everyone else was welcoming of everyone! Strange, huh? But yeah, families are not always easy - or melding family styles.

PS - thanks for the shout out circle of friends blog award. So sweet of you, Chocolate Lover! A great boost to my day!

Leanne said...

C also proposed to me without telling his parent beforehand. He asked my parents for permission, but then just went away for the weekend and proposed to me on T.V without mentioning anything to his side of the family.

When he told me this I completely freaked out and made him call his mom before she had to watch it on t.v, but I was so nervous about their reaction.

They actually took it really well, and were happy for us, but I get what you saying when it comes to the plans. C's family is much more detached then mine, and doesn't really get involved or offer opinions which can occasionally make things difficult.

Mrs T said...

This was a great post. I am exactly the same with the not being able to hide emotions, and normally being able to read people. My friends joke that strangers will tell me their life story if I sit next to them on a bus. Normally this is true.

My family adores Mr B. They know heaps of things about him, even little things like his favorite candies at Christmas time. They pay attention. They take time to really know him. He is part of the family.

Mr B's family on the other hand....
I can't read them at all. Sometimes I feel like his Mum likes me, the next minute I feel like she hates me. They are hot and cold and contradictory and all round confusing. I try so hard to make an effort with them. The wedding day the acted so badly towards both of us it makes me so angry.

I think it's great that you were more yourself around Mr Milk's family. Maybe I should try that out with Mr B's. Wish me luck....

Salt said...

You definitely have had a far different situation then anyone else I know! I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it must have been dealing with that kind of distance, but you made it work and that is so amazing!

M fit effortlessly into my family. My little brothers absolutely adore him and him and my dad are really close friends now. Getting along with my mom has always been a bit of a challenge, but I can say the same thing for me. :)

His family has been so wonderful and welcoming to me. He has two older sisters who I love to death and adorable nephews that all refer to me as "Aunt Lauren" (well the ones that can talk anyway). His dad is one of the coolest guys I've ever met. I feel lucky every day that I'm marrying into such an incredible group.

You hear way too many horror stories about inlaws. We're LUCKY!

Twincerely,Olga said...

stopping by fromSITS!!!! great post!!! We don't have as much family but it has been ok for us!!just ok! stop by

buhdoop said...

Lovely story. So glad you are finding your voice in your new family. I am crazy nervous about this. I have only met my fiances parents once and that was before we started dating. The next time we meet is the week of the wedding!

Luxeville said...

So crazy how much you and I have in common!!!

My fiance is German but living in Vancouver, BC. Like your fiance's family, his family also did not seem as eager to participate in the planning as I expected-- it kind of hurt my feelings, too actually... so I can definitely relate.

But I completely misinterpreted their lack of enthusiasm... Weddings are not the big deal in Germany as they are here... I received lovely Christmas cards from all of them and I'm already kind of accepted as members of their family. They are very excited about my visit this summer and can't wait to show me around and show me off to their friends as their future daughter-in-law.

I too am living far from home... and my fiance has not met my father. They will meet in April... but I'm Asian, and my father is extremely traditional-- I doubt he will show much affection or excitement.

But, cross-cultural romances are a beautiful thing. I'm not worried about the differences so much. :)

Crafty Girls Workshop said...

That is so sweet and I can tell your post is absolutely your honest feelings. You are right, sometimes both sides are not always completely ready to accept the big change like marriage. I was really lucky because my hon and I met and started dating while in high school. Our parents first met each other at a school band (we were in band) concert. Luckily too, his mom and I get along so well that we've even started a business together! Good luck in your adventure, I'm sure there will never be a dull moment.

Anna

Mrs. Smith said...

This is such a hard time, and you are completely right to be upset if you feel like his family isn't as accepting of you.

My family loves Mr. Smith as a son.

There are some members of his family that treat me as well or even better than they treat him. And there are some that make me feel like they only tolerate me because they have to. It's such a strange thing adjusting to a new family.

Just talk to your fiance about how you feel and if you want him to step in and ask them to behave differently, don't be afraid to say it. It was the most amazing feeling when Mr. Smith did that for me - and though they don't act THAT much different, it was such a relief to know he has my back. :)

Baby Sweetness said...

I had to stop by (from sits) when I saw your blog name - a fellow chocolate lover!

I was very lucky with my hubby's family. We live near them, so I saw them more and got to know them a bit and we all got along. They are very kind and open people - and I get the sense that maybe my mother in law wasn't welcomed by her in laws and did NOT want to repeat that.

So that made it easy. I made a point to keep them in the loop on all wedding plans, so they could feel part of things - and to ask for advice / suggestions, either where I really wanted it or where teh answer wouldn't matter to me so I could go along with them.

My husband was also pretty well accepted by my family - although he did say, why does everyone keep saying how lucky I am! It's getting annoying! Ah well, just my family being cute!

The Local Cook said...

Hi from SITS!

DH and I pretty much planned our wedding without the input of our parents, they were involved in a few things but we wanted it to be OUR day. My family was welcoming, and his was too to an extent - he is not as close to them as I am to mine. We tried not to impose our expectations on the others' family and it worked out quite well.

Giovanna said...

this is a great post. it's so true that the two families aren't necessarily going to mesh together and love each other. for us, it was a bit different because we had been dating for nearly five years, and he comes from a very small family, so i didn't feel like there were many people i had to get to know or get along with. i love his parents and they seem to love me...i was more worried about my family, because there are so many of them and my siblings can be a little judgmental at times. but dating for a long time kind of solves that because everyone got used to each other and the idea that we were likely going to get hitched.