Mom tells me she is not planning to come for Thanksgiving this year. Yes, it is a long trip. And yes, we have been able to see each other several times this year. But it’s Thanksgiving. It is practically Family Day.
When we talk on the phone, she is concerned about me and my husband. “He might have finals that week. Most semesters end at the beginning of December, and it’d be really stressful for him if I stayed with you while he was studying for finals.”
I know what this is about.
They say that each marriage has just one argument and every fight comes down to that one disagreement. If that is true, then this is our argument. It boils down to this: I want anyone and everyone to feel completely at home in our house. R would be perfectly happy if no one besides the two of us ever stepped foot inside.
The last time my mom came for Thanksgiving, we had her stay at a friend’s house. I thought this was an okay arrangement. We were living in a one bedroom apartment at the time while the friend had two extra bedrooms. Mom and the friend both woke up early, drank coffee together, and went for morning walks. We spent our days together together. Both Mom and our friend like to go to bed early, so they would turn in while R and I would stay up. But this was a step in the wrong direction, the beginnings of a negative message.
This summer, Mom came to visit again. And things did not go well, to say the least. It was days before we were all to go on a two-week family vacation and R was feeling stressed. Okay, we both were feeling stressed. The story is long and shameful. Suffice it to say, the Marital Argument flared. I said, “Fine. Whatever,” as passive aggressively as I could. And we booked an Airbnb for Mom.
This was, I hope, the low point in this saga. When we came back from vacation, I said, “Look, Buck-o, family is important to me and it’s important that they feel welcome in my home.” And now we are trying our best to both get what we need.
But underlying all of this is a complicated web of compulsions, fears, and love. For as long as I can remember, one of my core irrational fears has been that my family will not think I love them. And here I am – giving them a very good reason to think that. How could they think I care about them if I won’t even let them stay at my house?
Another thread, though, is that I tend to disappear in relationships. I figure out what everyone else wants and entirely disregard what I want. I hide my true feelings until my passive aggression is palpable. And then, one day, I explode. When I’m with two people who want opposite things and someone asks me what I want, I can’t comprehend the question. What do you mean what do I want? What does that matter? There are already enough people in this equation to try to please. I want what you want, and that’s all. In short, I have no boundaries.
But we know it’s healthy to draw some lines. So what lines are okay and what are not? Why am I asking you this? I need to ask myself. I know what R is okay with, and I played by those rules for a while. But that’s not me. It’s true that hosting people can be stressful, but I’m willing to put up with that because I want my family close to me. Does this mean that I need to cancel all of my plans to become a 24/7 taxi service? Probably not. Does it mean that I will go to the bus stop to pick up my mom even if her bus comes in at four in the morning? Yes, yes it does. Because I want my family to feel they can trust me, and I want them to feel safe when they visit me.
So maybe it does matter what I want. Maybe that is the answer to this whole question – not me trying to live between two seemingly opposite sides, but me choosing the third way of meeting my own needs.
Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not convinced.