[This is an excerpt of our book, “Then Came The Baby“, about the time I fought with my in-laws shortly after Allie was born.]
Before Allie was one week old, I had a big fight with Olive’s parents. They were so angry they wanted to cancel Christmas.
Well, technically no one could cancel Christmas. But they wanted to cancel Christmas with us by changing their plane tickets to fly back to Toronto early.
Ben and Bernadette had taken 4 weeks off and flown to Vancouver to help take care of their first grandchild, their only daughter Olive, and myself. They had been coming over every day to cook us lunch and dinner, and to help with Allie (including washing and folding the endless amount of baby laundry and doing all the dishes). But we lived in a small apartment. And Olive was highly introverted, which meant that being with people for long periods of time tired her out.
(Now don’t be mistaken that Olive does not love her parents dearly and enjoy their company thoroughly. She does, with every ounce in her heart. It was just that she was very very tired and needed some time to herself so she could rest and recover.)
So the super hero in me came out to protect my wife. While Olive was napping one afternoon, I pulled her parents aside and had a little chat with them.
I cut right to the chase, “We need more space. Can you come over less?”
“When we leave, you’re going to have to learn to take care of your family,” my father-in-law informed me.
“Don’t worry,” I replied slightly offended, “We have friends and family who can help us too.”
It seemed like they got the message because after dinner that night they quickly packed up and returned to the place they were renting. Olive and I sighed with relief, glad to have the apartment to ourselves for the evening.
I knew something was wrong when I received a text the next day from Olive’s mom:
“We’ll come this afternoon to cook for Olive and then leave.”
Ummm… cook for Olive? What about me?
And sure enough, they came and cooked food for only Olive. Then they promptly left.
We didn’t see them for the next two days, which was weird, because they had been coming over every day since Allie was born.
Then we received an email from Olive’s dad, saying that they felt like they weren’t needed and were going to fly home on December 21st, two weeks earlier than planned.
Olive and I were upset and confused. It felt like they were being unnecessarily petty. We needed their support now, and yet it felt like they were just adding to our stress. It took every ounce of self-discipline not to reply with a biting email and to ask if we could have a conversation together before they made their final decision to leave early.
Olive and I called our trusted friends to vent. We knew that we needed to feel heard and listened to. If we felt heard by our friends, when we talked with Olive’s parents, it would be okay if we didn’t feel heard by them. We could focus on listening and hearing them out.
The day we planned to have our talk, Allie thankfully went to sleep after dinner. We had a long talk. Our conversation was very civil and revealing, as each of us was able to explain how we felt. I was glad none of us were yellers.
What I said was that we needed more space.
What my in-laws heard was that we didn’t need their help.
They felt hurt, because they had been really looking forward to coming to help take care of Olive, Allie, and myself. What I said made them feel unwanted.
What they said was that I would have to learn to take care of Olive and Allie after they left.
What I heard was that they didn’t think I could take care of my family.
I felt hurt because I was trying very hard to be a good father and husband. What they said made me feel like a failure.
No wonder we were angry at each other.
It helped to hear their perspective and for them to hear ours. We apologized to each other and hugged. They decided to stay for Christmas after all. Everyone was relieved.
Allie was an angel and slept through our entire conversation. Right when we finished hugging, as if on cue, she woke up. It was like she knew that everything was okay and that we could all return to our main duty of caring for her.
When it comes to fighting with family, no one really “wins” if the conflict is not resolved. If I won the fight in the traditional sense (proving that I was right and they were wrong), it only hurts my relationship with them. I can only say that I “won” this fight because this experience (the fight and the resolution of it) ended up deepening my relationship with my in-laws. My in-laws also “won” the fight too. It was a win-win.
(Note: We have to thank Ben and Bernadette for allowing us to share this vulnerable story on our blog and in our book.)
photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar