When I met my husband, he and his family seemed perfect. I was practically a baby (I still am), had just started college, and was in the phase of my life where anyone who was not a part of my family was a breath of ‘perfect’ fresh air. I had blinders on, undoubtedly.
When my then-boyfriend began bringing me around, those blinders were fully engaged. He was from a huge family (and I mean huge- he is one of 12 and there are oodles of cousins) and I was a complete kid-lover. His parents and grandparents had acres of beautiful property and I had grown up knowing we were always making ends meet (never ‘going without’ but certainly not with wealth to go around). Most importantly, perhaps, his family was very loving and affectionate. While I had grown up hating physical contact and withholding mushy statements from anyone except occasionally my mother, his family was like a sitcom from decades back, where everyone hugged and was always chuckling and pulling out some nifty card game. Because of these niceties, I avoided the fairly significant nagging feeling that accompanied so many interactions with this group of people.
These nagging sensations came about with assertions being thrown around, such as that women should not be on the front line or hold positions as police officers, because they were obviously too weak. They came about when I was informed that pants were unladylike and my shirts were immodest. They came about when my husband would get questioned about classes and grades, but such questions never carried over to me, despite my equally difficult course-load. Again, I ignored all of this because it was easier to not bicker with my boyfriend about his relatives, but also because I didn’t truly want to find fault in a family that, amidst these off-color comments, had accepted me rather warmly.
After dating for some time, my boyfriend became my fiance, which (sadly) only accelerated the rate of such questionable comments. One particular instance occurred soon after I had discovered it would be difficult for me to conceive children, at which point my future in-laws sat me down to tell me that even if I never had kids, their expectation was that I would stay home. Though my now-husband did articulate how offensive and ridiculous such a comment was, the instance was nonetheless jarring, and certainly initiated an uncertainty in my mind and the mind of my then-fiance regarding how involved my in-laws could and should be.
As the wedding date drew closer, more and more bizarre 50’s-era questions were thrown my way. Was I staying in school? Why not drop out? Why throw money at a degree I was never going to use? Etc.
Post-wedding, this (unsurprisingly, by now) did not stop, but only grew more intense when, to the amazement of everyone, I found out I was pregnant only 4 months into married life. Their confusion at my refusal to drop out after marriage grew into horror when my hugely pregnant stomach was seated happily in class, working just as hard and accumulating A’s. In fact, at 8 months pregnant, a professor contacted me to let me know that I was being considered for a brand new program; I had been selected by faculty members as a candidate for a 4+1 BA/MA Accelerated Program in English. After responding with letters of recommendation, transcripts, and writing samples, I was one of only two students to be selected, and was to begin graduate level courses the following semester, as a senior in college. My husband and I were downright jubilant. I felt more confidence and pride then ever before in my life. Faculty congratulated me, my siblings were ecstatic… yet when we told his parents, they were silent. My father-in-law in fact not only failed to reply verbally, though he was standing right in front of us, but his face was also one of sheer disgust. Weeks later, when my husband informed his parents that he had received a scholarship, they were thrilled, and his father quickly pointed out that I had not. To his dismay, I’m sure, that was inaccurate. I too was the recipient of a scholarship that we had not mentioned to them, all too familiar with their mentality toward my achievements.
Their behavior continued in much the same way, getting only ever worse, and the once-amicable and even loving relationship dissipated quickly, ending ultimately this summer when my father-in-law held a family meeting (to which we were not invited), in which he informed everyone that he believed I was a narcissist that had always plotted to steal his son from his family.
Why this anecdote (if it can even be called that, based on its length)?
Why am I divulging such personal information for public consumption?
To say one very important, very true thing: it is OKAY to remove negative influences from your life. Whether this is a friend, a blood relative, or your in-laws, do not feel obligated to allow leeches to suck you dry, fill your mind with self-doubt, and prevent you from achieving the greatness of which you are capable. Others will disagree with me, and that’s okay. “Blood is thicker than water,” nay-sayers will argue. But here I am, disconnected from my in-laws, and something amazing is happening. I’m living my dream, completely free to be self-confident and motivated. I received a 4.0 this semester, juggling 3 graduate level classes, an 18-month-old, and a part time job at a coffee shop. I am one semester away from my master’s degree in English. I am applying confidently to publishing companies and am hopeful of their interest in me. Of course, family is important. Do you know what is also important? You. Your dreams. Your goals. Don’t let yourself be guilted into maintaining toxic relationships if you need to get some space, break away, and push for your goals to be met. In 2016, remember this: it is okay to rise above negativity.
Elizabeth is a 22-year-old wife, mother, graduate student, and aspiring writer. Her career goals consist of: becoming a freelance writer, working at a publishing company, publishing at least one novel, and beginning a non-profit to help mothers return to school. She has one life, and intends to fill it!