When Two Worlds Collide

In both our premarital course, ONE, and our marriage course, Married for Life, we share with couples regarding the challenges of blending two family life patterns. Each spouse comes from his or her own paradigm of values, how finances are handled, how children are disciplined, and a myriad of other issues based on their own family experience. The goal in marriage is to come into agreement and build their own marriage and family based on their mutually established values. What we never anticipated is that when parents move into the home with you, they bring with them the lifestyle and values of one spouse's original family. Suddenly, two worlds collide and that spouse is caught between two value systems.

We didn't recognize this phenomenon right away. In fact, it is only recently that we have really pinpointed the source of a fair amount of dynamic tension in relationships. Anyone who knows our story knows that when we married we had a good deal to reconcile between us. Our families couldn't have been more different in their approach to life. About the only thing we had in common was we were the same religion. So the first years of our marriage were filled with strife and discord over how finances should be handled, how flexible or inflexible plans should be, working smarter vs. working harder, buying on credit vs. saving to buy, and a hundred more small points of daily life. Through the years we have reached a healthy equilibrium in our own relationship and have felt that our children's lives reflected that balance in many ways. Of course, they each needed to work through the same details when they married, but that is another story.

Anyway, when my parents moved in I found myself trying to support them in their their way of doing and my husband's and my way of doing things for us. For the most part it worked until it came to something that caused the two value systems to intersect. I handle my parent's finances now and am commited to doing things the way they want. My husband, on the other hand, has recognized several areas where things could be streamlined more to his way of thinking. Trying to satisfy both sides has often caused me to feel like I am om the middle of a tug-of-war.

This is another one of those situations that can gradually creep up on you. For quite a while I didn't even recognize the source of my upheaval. I just knew I felt torn and couldn't really put my finger on why. As I began to realize what was happening, it occurred to me that this can surface in any number of ways when parents move in. It also occurred to me that if a couple is not solidly together in how they handle things between them, inserting the added stress of another set of values may seriously damage their marriage.

Knowing now what we didn't know when they arrived, we are working as a couple to establish our own boundaries and determine how we can honor Mom and Dad's way of doing things without having it undermine our own. We are working on it, but we don't have it totally worked out yet. Now that we see it, we are astounded how often we are faced with it.

I think if two families lived together on equal terms, the separation of approaches would be easier. When one couple is caring for the other and working to make sure they are safe and financially sound, though, the lines begin to blur a bit more. Bottom line, we need to care for them in the best way possible and at times we realize that is going to mean making decisions differently than they would on their own. I really don't think that can be avoided. The key, I believe, is making sure we are working together as husband and wife with agreed-upon goals. Then together we can make our parents feel they are part of the decision making, explaining clearly to them when we have to make a decision contrary to their wishes.