Warning – this is the longest post ever!
Andy has a tough history with his family. I would say it is really the basis of most of the issues I have with him. I love my family….well there was a time that I didn’t love my dad so much and then there’s crazy grandma who can be challenging, but I would say for the majority of my life my family has been a huge part of my life. I actually like spending time with them! Shocking I know.
Andy and I met in the midst of his angsty teenage years. By the time we started dating his dad had kicked him out of his house (and thrown all his belongings into the trash), so he was exclusively living at his mom and step-dad’s house. They both traveled for work and/or worked a TON, so despite being strict and him having a fair share of confrontations with them, they weren’t in his life consistently.
In fact, not to play psychologists (but I am going to), I think his real issues go back to being 6 when his mom asked for a divorce and then decided to somewhat disappear from his and his sister’s life for a period of time. His dad is a nice guy, but lacked the understanding that you can’t dump on your 6-yr-old (he knows this now and has expressed extreme remorse for it) about your failed marriage and his mom abandoning all of them. Hey we all learn things the hard way.
I don’t know how long she was gone for, but Andy likes to exaggerate and say she was basically not a part of his life until she seemed to reappear to pester him about high school grades. I know that isn’t entirely true, but I am not about to argue the facts with him (that’s what his sister is for).
Anyway, all the parents combined were not exactly enthusiastic that he decided to enlist in the Marines (I think everyone now agrees it was one of the best things he ever did) and it caused much uproar. So much so that he rebelled more and ended up moving out at 17 and getting a shitty basement apartment with his best friend (who also enlisted with him).
What we will call “the War years” were probably the best for his family relationships. He was doing things that challenged him and made his life worthwhile and contact with family was understandably minimal, but good when it did happen.
In the midst of those years, we got married and thus began the true comparison of family involvement. My mom came to visit us often, praising our accomplishments, spreading love and hugs, etc. She was a hard woman to live up to, to say the least, but I think for Andy, when she became his mom too he really realized what had been missing from his mom.
Anyway fast forward several years. He’s out of the Marines…a little directionless…pretty lost. And he’s back to the parent/child conflict from his teenage years, primarily with his mom and step-dad. Every time he sees them they pester him about his job, about his future, about his drinking (while ironically handing him beer after beer), etc.
His dad has figured it out by now, there’s no need to continue the conflict. He’s taken on the standard mid/late-20s parental role of trying to mend the past and attempt to find things in common to talk about. But his mom and step-dad can’t get to that place. Still!
He got a little reprieve from it when he started school. They expressed how proud they were about him going to school. But then he declared his major: International Affairs specializing in sub-saharran Africa. Suddenly I was pregnant and despite them being over 1,000 miles away, the implication that we may relocate out of the country with their grandchild was cause for expressing more distaste. Why couldn’t he just be happy with a business degree and settle into a nice stable office job with health benefits and a 401K like the rest of his family?
Now I will be the first to tell you, Andy is not that type of guy….not that some days I don’t wish he was….man would that make life easier! But he is who he is, just like the rest of us, and him settling and doing something he isn’t inspired about would most likely kill all the things about him that make him awesome.
Anyway, the battering, nagging and overinvolvement restarted and it hasn’t stopped. With school getting drawn out (re:derailment) and Andy not being the type to want to share his failures with his parents, the pestering has gotten worse. Every conversation includes “how’s school going?” “when’s the graduation date?”.
I explained to him that they know something is amiss and if he tells them it might lighten the load, so to speak. So he did….but unfortunately that hasn’t lightened the load. In his mom’s defense, Andy has taken on the retaliation tactic of trying to come up with the most shocking and subversive things to say to her during their conversations now….so it isn’t a one way street, but I can also see that after years of dealing with it, he’s trying to find the only means of defense he can find.
Now every get-together is a pain in the ass. I dread them because he spends the 24 or more hours before them complaining about the upcoming stress. So when his mom called a few weeks ago to say she would be in town for a week and a half and was hoping to see us, I cringed. I straight up panicked when I realized that she didn’t have any other plans while in town than to hang out with us. A week and a half straight!
She arrived at our house on Wednesday while I was still at work. That day I had a project kick-off for the elementary school project and was excited and inspired by their mission/passion/staff and came home ready to share that enthusiasm. I also had a concert with my BFF, so only had about an hour at home, but in that short span of time I went from stupid excited to full-on pissed when I was met with Andy-the-Wall-of-Hate.
I couldn’t comprehend how 4 hours could make the difference between him being normal and him being a total dick, but as I was driving to the concert I obviously realized the answer. She had come in swinging. Not in the house more than an hour, she had already questioned him about school (which he had just started the week before), work, drinking, and his life direction.
Now some mom’s might realize time visiting their 30-YEAR-OLD-KIDS is precious and should be spent with meaningless small talk and praise of their excellent parenting skills or something. So I genuinely felt bad for him….well in addition to being mad that he was a dick to me.
I called him out on it the next day, saying I figured she was the reason, but it still didn’t give him an excuse to be a dick in the hour we got to see eachother and squash the shit out of my happy day. He apologized. Then I reminded him that he was an adult. That she wasn’t paying once cent for his school, that she wasn’t paying one cent for his life, and that perhaps it was time he stick up for himself and find a way to gently tell her it is time to butt-out. I mean a guy can only take so much…and the wife of that guy can only take some much too.
I don’t think he ever did it. Despite expressing his extreme displeasure, and sometimes hatred, for his mom, deep down there is still that respect for your parents that wouldn’t allow him to really let loose. I respect that…I wasn’t so much hoping for a “let loose” situation, but rather a rational conversation situation where he draws his line in the sand and she respectfully accepts it…but I can also fully admit that Andy might not be capable of a rational conversation with her. So it was probably better he didn’t say anything at all.
I think hearing that from me helped him a lot though. And also the fact that I got pissed off as well. I was pissed that she couldn’t leave him alone. That she couldn’t just say nice things to him and love him like my mom would have done for him. Sure your son isn’t done with college, it is taking longer, but at the end of the day, he is employed full time, he is a good employee (despite not loving his job), he is contributing to his family, he is an amazing father and he is trying…..we are all fucking trying….so can’t you just find the positive aspects of that and ignore the negative?
The last straw for me was when I came home and he told me she had pestered him about our yard. I have agonized over our yard for the past 5 years. And every spring I come up with a to-do list of things I would like to get done and every year we realize there is no money for that. For us the choices have been to maintain our cars or pay for landscaping. Pay for school, books and daycare or pay for landscaping. Replace our 40-yr-old water heater and furnace or landscape. Build up a maternity fund or landscape, etc. You can see that landscaping always gets shoved to the bottom of the list (and rightfully so I should add).
I wish landscaping was cheap. I wish I had $10,000 right now to make the front and the back yard amazing! But I don’t and I hate that it will probably be a really long time until we will. I have tried to make small cheap improvements as we go and I have tried to at least keep the weeds mowed down so it isn’t as obvious how shitty our yard is.
But his mom told him she didn’t understand why we hadn’t taken care of it, why we don’t just put in an irrigation system and lay down some good ole Kentucky Blue Grass like the rest of America. She told him there was no pride of ownership, she said that our yard reflected one of poor people…..and that’s where I broke.
I could chalk the rest of her “involvement” up to wanting what is best for him and trying to somehow show interest in his life…but suddenly I realized that isn’t what she is doing. She is breaking him down from every angle possible.
I feel bad for her. I really think it is a matter of her not knowing how to communicate with her son. But she is a very smart woman. She’s read mountains of books on investing and becoming a success in business. Obviously that has paid off because she is 57 and retired. So perhaps it is time she look for a book on how to relate to your lower-middle-class, 30 year old, veteran son. There has to be one out there!
I get that there is a drastic striation between where she is in life and where we are. I get that she is decades removed from the struggle and grind of being a young family in a rough economy with mountains of debt. But can’t she remember at all what that was like? Can’t she remember what panic you feel course through you when you hear a questionable sound in your engine and realized you just paid all your bills and have about $200 in the bank? The busy sifting your brain is doing as you start to think ‘is this a $200 problem or could it cost more? and if so how can I pay for that other than a credit card?”.
It isn’t that hard to relate to…even as a recently retired person who is about to break ground on building a new house and is pondering the idea of buying a second house in Colorado so one could spend more time visiting family. I mean I get it….we are in different places…..but even if you can’t understand it…can’t you try to accept it?
Needless to say, the week and a half ended and we survived again…although it felt like just barely this time. We rejoiced in the fact that she decided not to buy that second house in Colorado (instead they plan to find places to rent for a month at a time). And we made ourselves feel better by guessing what the challenges of their life must be like “should we buy a pontoon boat for the lake? but if we do we will need to lengthen the dock!”.
I suddenly get why Andy has this strong and deep-seated desire to relocate and why those conversations almost always include “my mom will never come visit us there”.