In-Laws, The Struggle Through The Eyes of A Black Sheep

In-laws… I never thought I would have such disdain for the word, similar to the word “stepmother”. As a child growing up watching those classic Disney princess movies, the name “stepmother” pretty much meant witch. Someone set out to ruin the lives of their step children. The name “in-laws”; it didn’t always seem so ugly. There was once upon a time it seemed beautiful. The idea of a large group of people a smaller family unit belonged to. A group filled with love and acceptance despite having no complete blood relation. And the family dynamic was the choice of the one who married into the in-laws. It was not simply a mandatory bond by birth. This made it special. As a little girl growing up in a broken family, I dreamed of one day marrying into a family of togetherness. A family that accepted me as their own and had those cheesy once a week family dinners with fun traditions, bantering and conversations. A family that looked past the failures and flaws of the individual to embrace unity. Perhaps I’ve had high expectations of the in-law category based on my experience of a broken home. Perhaps having spent my childhood years in a lower-class neighborhood on a small developing island watching television series like Full-House, gave me the idea that the Caucasian North American society had a better perspective on what the family unit was meant to look like. I didn’t have a great perspective on family from what I saw in dysfunctional families of the African-Caribbean background from my neighborhood. So, when I met my Caucasian husband after living in North America for ten years, a huge selling point to marry him was his family. They were the full package. They gathered once a month to celebrate the birth days of each family member born that month. They spent summers at their family owned cottage. Christmas was not just an event spent with immediate family, but a large gathering of every aunt, uncle, cousin and grandparent with enough gifts that everyone felt spoilt and enough food that everyone felt fat. For the few times I attended the gatherings as girlfriend, I felt so happy to be a part of each event. It didn’t matter that I looked different or had different customs than they did. I felt content and accepted. I wish someone could have warned me not to get too comfortable. Would it have truly helped though? Would it have stopped me from falling head over-heels in love with this family? The truth was, I was accepted as “girlfriend”, because a girlfriend was not a permanent title. A girlfriend is no true indication of a permanent placement within a family. So, the moment I gained the title of “fiancé”, those I thought could love me forever no matter what, found reasons to disdain me. Those family gatherings I felt so comfortable in, became as comfortable as a convict in a court room on trial. The amazing thing about a Caucasian family is their incredible ability to keep their appearances proper even in moments when they say or do something rude or mean. And even when they would say something rude or mean it would be said in a manner of which needed to be translated or it would not rude or mean at all. I was faced with some incredible mind games of which the truth could only be explained to me by my extremely embarrassed fiancé or at one point the crazy old grandpa that everyone looked down on. This crazy old grandpa gave it to me straight: “They don’t like you because you’re black”, he pointed out. All I could think was, “thank God someone said it!”. Perhaps he wasn’t so crazy after all. The true depiction of their feelings toward me as their potential in-law came out when they threatened to boycott my wedding day and refused to play any part in it. Positions within the wedding party were denied along with requests to make speeches at the reception. As for answering the question why, they jumped around from one explanation to the next: “Her values are nothing like our family values”. “We just don’t know who she really is and that’s raising some red flags”. “Did you see the way she looked at us at the last family gathering? She clearly does not like us”. Words that still haunt me to this day. A moment of feeling overwhelmed caused me to beg my fiancé to end our engagement. What stopped us was his heroic stand when he said the words, “you’re marrying me, not my family. We don’t have to have anything to do with them”. Heroic words indeed, but not words we can easily stand by. We were married without my in-laws’ approval or support. They all wore clothing in the darkest shade of blue resembling the color black with scowls on their faces and tears in their eyes. They maintained their dignity by mumbling the words “welcome to the family” and giving half-hearted hugs at the end of the wedding and so began the hardest five years of my life. What is an inter-racial couple to do in such difficult circumstances? We create new values and redefine the word in-laws for when we become in-laws.

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