I Went Away With my Partner's Family & Realised They are All Crazy
Sean & I have been together for a little over 5 years now. In discussing our respective families throughout the years, it is very clear that we have different experiences & feelings toward our families & the concept of family in general. A clear example of this was when, a couple of months into our relationship, when we were still living in Canada, I sent Sean home to Australia for his birthday.
When he came back, he brought a photo album with various memorable moments from his family's history. Something that struck me right away was how much his family touch one another. Sean & his younger brother & sister used to sit & cuddle while watching movies. They'd hug their dad when he got home from work &, perhaps mostly shocking, his sister & mum would cuddle all the time.
In contrast, I can count the number of times my brother & I have hugged on my fingers - this is despite the fact that he is arguably the member of my family that I am closest with & whose company I genuinely enjoy & appreciate.
The photo album was the first sign that Sean's family is made up of crazy people.
This is How I Know My In-Laws Are All Crazy
Recently, my mother-in-law (technically, she's not my mother-in-law yet, but for all intents & purposes, the title works) turned 60. What she wanted for her birthday was to spend a weekend away with her husband, her children, their partners, her sister, brother-in-law, & their daughter - a gathering like this for my family would have been something akin to hell on earth.
My mother-in-law booked an absolutely beautiful Airbnb stay that backed onto a lake. The stay was large enough to accomodate all of us (with extra rooms). It had three floors, all boasting a beautiful view of the lake. We were booked into the Airbnb stay for two days & two nights.
A Casual Observer
The title of this article aside, as far as in-laws go, I've kind of hit the jackpot & I'm really grateful for each & every single member of Sean's family.
My father-in-law is pretty much a version of Sean. My mother-in-law is extremely kind, a really good cook & extremely giving of herself to others, especially her family. My sister-in-law is something akin to an angel. She's extremely kind, a smart & deep thinker & extremely thoughtful. Admittedly, I don't know Sean's brother that well. This is partly because he & his family live quite far away & partly because he & I are both quite quiet by nature.
All-in-all, I've been really lucky as far as Sean's family goes.
My in-laws are so different from my own family that often, I find myself acting as a bit of an observer within the dynamics of their relationships. Sometimes, Sean's sister will have an honest & open conversation with their mum & I kind of want to pull out a notepad & take notes. The amount of trust the two have for one another is so foreign & alien to me, I almost feel like it needs to be documented & studied.
Throughout the weekend of my mother-in-law's birthday, I found myself acting as an observer immersed in his family's celebration.
Biologically speaking, I have one sister & one half-sister. I'm not close with either of them. The choices that we've made in our lives have driven the three of us apart. I haven't spoken with my sister in a number of years. I haven't spoken with my half-sister in well over a decade.
While my half-sister has had very little involvement in my life, my sister & I grew up together. We fought all the time. Almost every memory I have of her is of us fighting, or of her doing something overtly duplicitous to me. Well, there was a time when she was listening to the Bush song 40 Miles From The Sun & she asked me if Earth really was 40 miles from the sun...that made me laugh & is a pretty decent memory that I enjoy.
I used to believe that we'd grow out of our fighting & we could become like the sisters you see in the movies & on television - the kind of sisters I've always wanted us to be - you know...close. Sadly, for my sister & I, this was never to be.
The how & the why of the breakdown of our relationship doesn't really matter. Suffice it to say, our personalities just don't mesh. Still, I sometimes find myself thinking about how nice it would be to have a sister that I could call up & trust to share how I am doing & to be able to offer support to her in her life.
What struck me when I was away for my mother-in-law's 60th birthday, was how close she & her younger sister are.
Despite living in different cities, being a few years apart in age & having their own families to look after, the two are really close. They are up-to-date on each other's lives, they trust one another &, while we were away, they danced with one another!
Watching the two dance together & seeing the way they interacted with each other all weekend, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sorrow that my sister & I would never have that sort of connection or closeness.
What was more, while my mother-in-law & her sister were dancing together, my sister-in-law got up & joined the two of them! Had that happened in my family, whether it was fuelled by alcohol, or just a moment of insanity (it would have had to be a wave of insanity for my family to participate in anything together that wasn't a fight) that swept through generations of Thompson women, I would have been made fun of ceaselessly for taking part. unabashed behaviour has never been welcome in my family.
Sean has changed my life in a number of ways. He's shown me the power of complete trust & has been someone in whom I can invest a level of trust I had previously not known was possible. He has been nothing short of supportive & encouraging the entire time we've been together. He is patient with me. He is kind. He always hears me out.
Having journeyed to Australia with him & having met his family, I see where he gets it all from & I am nothing but grateful to his family for shaping the perfect partner for me. I'm grateful to his family for teaching Sean trust, for not breaking him down & for teaching him to be patient, kind & just.
I'm also grateful to be able to be part of such a kind & welcoming group of people. Now, almost two years into living in Australia, Sean's family has been extremely supportive & welcoming. It's such a different experience from what I am used to & what my experience has shown me about family.
When Sean & I first moved to the Land Down Under, we lived with his sister & her husband. Despite the fact that they had never met me, are younger than Sean & I, & were relatively new to their marriage, they were extremely welcoming toward both of us. After living with my sister-in-law & brother-in-law for two months, we moved in with Sean's parents & stayed with them for three months.
My own experience with family lead me to feel uneasy the entire time we were living off of the generosity of Sean's family. In my head, we were amassing a large & hefty bill that we would need to pay back at some point. In my experience, such support & generosity would be something that would be used against me at every turn, probably for the rest of my life. Aside from my brother, the things that were given in my family, always came with strings attached.
It has been almost two years since we moved to Australia & there has not been even a whiff of the "you owe me" sentiment that I grew up with & that forced me into an isolating version of self-sufficiency for most of my life. More than their generosity, I am grateful for the version of family & of support that they have shown me. It is this version of family that I am learning to settle into & that, should Sean & I ever decide to procreate, I would like to imbue my own children with.
While I'm far more comfortable & at ease with Sean's "crazy" family than I used to be when we first arrived in Australia, there are still moments when I'm taken aback by how different his family is than the one that I had grown up with - the one that shaped my view of what I assumed all families were like. We eat dinner together every Wednesday evening, & I've never witnessed a single family fight! What the...?!
While I'm enjoying having the opportunity to be a part of this strangely foreign & functional family, there is a part of me that wants to maintain a small amount of that casual observer-like position that I am in, if for no other reason, then to maintain the clear view of appreciation & gratitude for where my life has taken me & the incredible people I have found myself surrounded by.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR - BRITTEN THOMPSON
Who is Britten? She's a reticent little beast born in the wilds of Northern Alberta to a foul-mouthed, French-Canadian father & an angry, stiff-upper-lipped mother. Britten is, almost always, wild-haired & poorly dressed. She recently left the beautiful & untamed chill of Canada for the blistering & somewhat oppressive heat of Australia. Her list of pastimes is short & includes reading, writing, petting cats, overeating & alphabetizing things. She's a fan of Windex on Facebook because who doesn't want a streak free shine? She dreams of one day writing a super-awesome novel that affords her & her partner a comfortable lifestyle, a large property, a few horses & the means with which to foster children in need...or just becoming a red panda.
When Britten isn't writing, reading, or organizing things in her home, she can be found cuddling with her boyfriend, arguing about why Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the history of ever, browsing Gumtree for a future cat or kitten, or contemplating days gone by, the passage of time & how ridiculous it is that humans have yet to evolve enough to grow a third set of teeth.