30 March 2010

The ties that bind.

Family is always such an interesting entity. It always seems like such a unifying thing- we all have them and we all (mostly) love them (or most of them). They are the people you grew up with, the folks we spend holidays with, the ones who send us cards on our birthdays. But also? Holy crap... family doesn't always mean the same thing. And I have my marriage to thank for that nugget of wisdom.

Let me back up and give you a frame of reference: I am an only child... my "family" consists of my mom and dad, my grandparents (who have all passed on as of last year), my dad's sister and her husband and my mom's cousin and his wife and daughter- and they all live within 45 minutes of each other. Those are the folks we spend holdiays with, the ones I make a point to see when I am home, the ones who get Christmas cards... they are my family... all 7 of them. Swiss, on the other hand, has his two wonderful parents and is the youngest of six (6!!!). He has two kids and one of them is married with 3 kids and many of his siblings have spouses and kids of their own and they are scattered to the four winds. And if you are doing the math, thats like 17+. Basically, we have completely opposite families. It is nuts.

I think there are times, like right now, that positively boggle my mind when it comes to our families because I just cannot relate no matter how hard I try. I have no idea what it is like to have a sister or brother- that is a bond I just don't understand. I mean, I 'understand' it but I can't relate. I don't get it- but how could I? I have zero frame of reference. Swiss has been doing it his whole life. Also, there is the thing about kids. Swiss has (in case you didn't know) a kid of his own (Kid A) and an adopted kid (from his ex-wife and another random guy) who is 22 and has a family of his own. We don't have kids of our own, so there is this whole thing with his kids that I just don't get either. Most often, with his family, I feel like a little fish in a sea of very big, very confusing fish. Just call me Nemo.

Please don't get me wrong- I "get" it... the family thing. I understand that blood is thicker than water and that when you grow up with a brother by your side- you have a unique and strong bond. And I understand that it is in one's nature to help their kids in any way possible. But I don't know what it feels like to have a brother or a sister or a kid. I don't know what those bonds feel like and how the history you have with them colors (or clouds) your judgement. I just sort of view them as friends you are stuck with. Ha! That and my family tends to be pretty low-maintenance... not much drama, not many demands. Swiss's family, great as they are, don't quiet fit the low-maintenance bill.

Anyway, recently we've been faced with some family issues and it is so hard for me to know how, when, where, or if I should put my two cents in. I mean, I am sort of a part of this family... and all the decisions that effect Swiss effect me too... but still, they aren't MY family. A few of the issues have been financial- so I had NO problem butting in an tossing my 93 cents in... it is our money and I've added my hard earned cash to to coffers so I felt 100% justified in butting in. But it is the more subtle stuff- the whole spending a week of our vacation time and money to go visit family that couldn't even take a weekend off to come to our wedding (or send a card, or RSVP or well, anything). People who don't send us Christmas cards or call to see how Swiss is doing. People who, seemingly, never cared that Swiss was deployed to a war zone for a year.

Swiss does most of the heavy lifting in his family relationships and this is where I start to struggle. Maybe I am too tit-for-tat about it all. Maybe the rules are different for family (I strongly suspect they are). And maybe all it boils down to is that I don't get it because I'm not a mom, I'm not a sister (Unless you count the Beth and her sisters- they adopted me last summer- do you think that counts? Yeah- me neither.), I don't know what it means to be a sibling. So maybe my view on this is just all wrong.

But still, I can't help but wonder what the rules are for extended families. And how do I assert my opinions on family matters (even though I can't relate) when they directly effect us? And how do I do it without coming across like a callous, uncaring bitch? More importantly- when someone on your husband's side of the family drives you bananas with their spectacular displays of stupidity- how do you manage staying in their house for 4 days? 'Cause I haven't yet figured out how I'm going to pull that one off.


USMCWIFE said...

Wow, if I could only share my stories. My hubs and I have so many branches on so many family trees it is way too much to bear at times. I have some of the same issues with family that can't be bothered till you show up on vacation than everyone wants your time..etc. I have learned one thing in my life about families..and extended family. You can't make everyone happy, people have already formed their opinions about you when you first came into the bunch, you have a right to "express" your feeling to Swiss but than you need to let him handle "his" side of the family. And the most important one..you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family..good luck.

Jesse and Marissa said...

I agree with the above mentioned reader. I do have to say I have a lot of the same issues...I feel as though my husband's mother doesn't even care sometimes. I get a phone call from her once a month while her husband is in a war zone, she has sent him a couple of letters (I believe they arrived on the same day) and nothing else. He received one package from another family member and that's it. No one cares to send something to him to show they remember. And when they ask questions, he directs them to me. Do they contact me? No. Interesting how it all is...

Jesse and Marissa said...

Oh, and I have a decently close family (same size as my husband's), and I don't get it!