Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Speaking Out Against Family

I've been thinking a lot about this subject as my friends and I walk through the process of leaving and cleaving. While it's a spiritually loaded sentiment from the Bible, it's a concept that I think everyone deals with to some degree or another. When you join your life with your partner's life, you become a baby family in your own right. So where does that leave your respective families? Especially if there is friction?

Questions such as these are at the front of my mind:
When is it appropriate to speak out against family? For racism? For homophobic remarks?
When do you cut family out of your life?
What are healthy boundary lines?
Should spouses have to choose between you and parents?

We've all probably heard stories or have our own examples of the racist father(-in-law) spouting jokes over turkey. Or the sister(-in-law)'s biting remarks. Whatever the issue is, it can cause a real wedge in the family. I wonder where the line is between peacekeeping and standing up for what is right. When I married into my husband's family, his grandmother told me: "It's your job to help keep this family together. You have the power to keep it together or break it up." While I agree with her that family should be kept sacred and honored, I only agree to a point. There are circumstances where I would feel warranted in making a break.

I tend to have a very black and white view. If I think you're wrong, I'll let you know know and what's more, I'll tell you what I think is right. As I understand this tendency more, I've been trying to employ more diplomatic means. The idea of speaking the truth in love applies here I think. If you can speak the truth, but do so in a loving way and then the other party still wants to part ways, then perhaps you've done all you can do. As a matter of conscience, I don't know that there are other options.

I probably have more questions than answers regarding these situations (which vary widely from one family to another). However, I don't think we talk about these situations outside of common jokes about the in-laws or putting the fun in dysfunctional. I want to know what wisdom you have to impart. I want to know what you've been trying and what's been working.

Have you had to cut off family? Set a firm boundary? Or maybe just speak out against an injustice within family? How has being married affected your decisions to do this?


Katie said...

this is such a timely post after a family-filled weekend!

We don't have any severe family tension, but this is a great reminder of something I experienced this weekend--to put my husband's needs and wishes above that of my family--even if they are guests.
We are a family in our own right and our traditions and habits don't have to (and shouldn't) be abandoned for whatever my family is used it.

I think there's a fine line (I'm not one to speak out unless a situation is really bad)

Jenn Rice said...

There is a fine line. I always stop and think first. "Will this behavior affect my children?" "Will I harbor a hatred of this situation, and thus, dread family get-togethers?" If the answers are yes, then it comes to this: "If I speak up, is there a chanch the situation can be remedied?" If the answer again is yes, then I go for it.

For me, racism/derogatory comments are absolute no's. I will not tolerate racism, in any form. So, I dont even think the above questions. For everything else though, I do. We had a situation with my mother-in-law in which I didnt stand up for my beliefs. She took it as approval and as me being tolerant of her behavior. Unfortunately, by the time I spoke up, it was too late to be remedied and now we are not speaking to my mother-in-law.

However, if you cannot answer 'yes' to those questions, and it's not a red-flag situation that needs dealt with immediately, then it's best to ignore it.

This is only the way -I- do things and it's something that's taken me years to figure out. However, sometimes it's best to talk about something that's bothering you, regardless of the outcome. Just because it's 'family' doesnt mean it's a golden ticket for bad behavior.

Patience said...

I have had to let my in-laws know their comments are disrespectful more than once. I am a firm believer in standing up for what you believe in and everyone is entitled to their opinion, BUT not at someone else's expense. I should never feel uncomfortable because of their words and/or actions. The way you approach it is what will make or break the family. Good Luck!

melinda said...

@LatteLove - I agree about the fine line. I'm a thinker, so I like to think about where the line is. I find that I'm less likely to speak up against many things unless I've already formulated my reasons against it.
@WildRice - I think your questions are really good introspective questions to ask. These work best for ongoing issues, or expected issues. Sounds like your experience might have been a situation where you didn't really have time to think through and that's how her comment ended up sliding through. Gosh, these family things are tricky no?
@Patience - yes, I agree, approach is key!