By Anita Doberman
I can usually talk myself into seeing things in a more positive light when something doesn’t go my way. I don’t always succeed, but I put the effort in most areas of my life, except for one: my parents-in-law, and particularly my mother-in-law.
I can face long trips with my five little kids in the car, months of deployments, conversations with people who hold very different opinions, even a painful visit to the dentist, but time with my mother-in-law seems unbearable.
Despite my best efforts to get past our differences, I have struggled and continue to try to have a good relationship with my in-laws. Unfortunately, we seem to go through periods when our relationship is tense and unpleasant.
This usually happens when my husband is gone, which is most of the year, and when my parents-in-law express their anger toward the military in full force. My in-laws became young adults in the mid-1960s and always felt very strongly that the military was a killing machine and that their son shouldn’t be associated with it in any shape or form.
When my husband joined the Air Force and decided to go into special operations, they were devastated and struggled with understanding his choice. I recognize that from their perspective, supporting their son’s choice seems impossible, but I also find myself unwilling to accept such a negative view of our lifestyle from people who are and will always be connected to us.
During deployments or TDYs, my in-laws tend to call me often and launch into incessant and repetitive complaints about the unfairness of their situation or the possibility that their son could be harmed and ask me why I don’t try to persuade him that he could and should do something more productive with his time. I have tried to explain to them that he will probably stay in the military for many years to come because he truly loves what he is doing and feels that he is fulfilling his calling, but I am not very effective because they plunge into the same pattern of complaints next time I talk to them or see them.
I get fairly annoyed with them, and I seem to be unable to find my positive outlook and simply “let it go.” I should focus on the fact that I don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes, but I admit that I often don’t even try and give in to my anger. I alternate between reasoning that I should embrace this difference and make the best out of it, and wanting them to see my Italian colors next time I hear how awful the military is.
I know this is an ongoing test for me: if I didn’t have my in-laws I would probably erroneously believe that I am a patient person; but because they are around, I know that I too have a hard time tolerating differences when they are close to home. I have lots of work to do to see them in a more positive light.
In the meantime, I can resort to using my husband’s earplugs when subjected to some of their tirades. Better yet, I should get one of those small stress release balls that I can compulsively squeeze when in their company.
Anita Doberman is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot stationed at Hurlburt AFB in Florida.