Day Nine: Forgiveness, Getting Over Things, and Empathy (Part !)

I’m going to amend my original rule, which was that I would never go back to edit posts. The rule stands, but I want to clarify that adding technology does not count as editing, because I am technologically challenged, and I need help to insert photos or videos, or those things that look like normal words, but are a different color, and when you click it takes you to a website.

This is probably a good point to go back to what I started a few days ago to say a few words about my in-laws. Writing about them now, after having spent five of the past seven days staying with one of my husband’s siblings, feels a bit strange, but I will do my best to maintain perspective.

The first night we were here, my husband’s sister, whom I was led to believe was a truly terrible person, talked a little bit about the things she had going on, and although I knew a little bit about a lot of it, I didn’t know enough. We talked for a long time, and one thing she said really stood out. She said, “Now that I’m older, I try to think about what I was like at someone’s age, if they are younger, and if they’re older, I try to think about what their life was like and how they must have felt when they were my age.” I thought that was a really interesting, helpful way to think about things. For me at least, understanding people, and understanding why they did something, goes a long way toward truly forgiving them and letting things go. If someone does something and it hurts, if I can understand that it was a circumstantial thing, and will never happen again, or there was very little choice involved, I can very easily move on and never look back. I tend to believe that’s what happens in general, and rarely believe someone is just bad, with a few notable exceptions.

A few years ago, when my husband and I were first navigating the early days of our relationship, and even later when we moved to the same city and got married, his family was very angry. His parents cited my complicated situation as a reason, and even suggested I must have a bad character. I’m sure I will have the opportunity to say more about that another time. They refused to acknowledge my existence, for the most part, until he called and told them we were getting married in five days, and they would not be invited. Even after that, there was no real relationship until about the time we found out we were pregnant with baby number three, and that was a very difficult thing for my husband, and for me, both on behalf of my husband, and as a habitual people-pleaser. I’ve never had a significant other’s parent or parents not like me. I was usually the girl who had boy friends, and the parents wanted me to be a girlfriend, or the girlfriend who was instantly part of the family. It added a significant amount of stress to the early days of our marriage, and it was really completely unnecessary.

Eventually some fences were mended, and giant holes were dug and filled with feelings that had no other place to go, and everyone made up. My husband’s sister was actually the last person to come around, but she’s the only person to date who has offered an explanation of what happened and a genuine apology.

At one point my husband’s mom wrote me a letter. It was meant to be an apology, I think, but was really more of “this is why you should not be mad at me,” and although I still felt icky about the whole thing, we moved forward. And I really did. She was in my hospital room while I was in labor with my third child. Mistakes happen, I certainly know that, and maybe it really was not about me. Maybe she was just an overly concerned mother, who was trying to protect her son, and maybe her other children involved themselves and there was nothing she could do. I accepted all of this, because I believe that most people are good, and bad things people do are mostly a kind of accident.

Unfortunately, life is more complicated than that. I’m learning, slowly, that it’s not a black-or-white, good-or-bad, type of thing, but it’s also not the case that everyone is good and sometimes bad just materializes from the ether. Sometimes when I stop and try to put myself in another person’s place I might understand them better, but I don’t always feel more forgiving. Sometimes I feel more angry or confused or frustrated.

As a parent, having a few brightline rules about these things is important. For example, if someone is likely to hurt my children, it’s not worth guessing whether they actually will or not.  Also, if they actually hurt my children, excommunication is the only appropriate response. Outside of that, I’m really still learning, and I feel like I’m very behind. I saw a therapist four years ago, and she told me that I’m very smart, but in some ways I’m emotionally stuck ten years behind everyone else. I don’t understand people. I read too many books. That stung. Very much. It’s also probably true.

I’m still learning. I’m not sure twenty-one days will be enough time, but hopefully I will have a few more to figure this out. I’m not sure what to do while I’m taking that time. My children want to see their grandparents. I don’t want to explain why that’s complicated, but I also don’t want to pretend like things are fine to avoid having that conversation. Also, they really hurt my husband, and although it’s good for me to deal with my feelings on all of this, it’s his relationship with them that is most important.

Forgiveness is possible, especially if it involves forgiving behavior that has truly ended. Empathy is always possible, and always necessary. Getting over things? I’m not sure that’s so easy, or advisable.

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