Helen Adie on difficult In-Laws

This continues the meeting of Thursday 5 July 1979 with Mrs Helen Adie. This question was asked by Alice. She said that she had already raised with Mr Adie the tensions in the air which have arisen between her and her in-laws, who are visiting them for a period. Mr Adie had advised her to try to be free from the tensions. He had also said something about “being merciful”, but she had not understood that. As an example of how they make her feel as if she is being judged, she mentioned how she would leave bananas on the sideboard to ripen make a cake in a few days, but the in-laws did not approve of that. She added: “I realised that to stop doing those things would mean somehow changing my life.”

“Yes, I understand you very well,” said Mrs Adie. “It’s a common problem. There is always some tension in one’s relationship with parents ad in-laws. And while it is also difficult for them, you can’t expect them to make any effort whatsoever. There is no reason why they should.”

“In the house you have to use your intelligence, and not simply react. Work out what habits and customs you really can afford to dispense with, and what you can’t, and then the less you worry about it the better. But there are certain things you can’t change, and then you need to judge whether you explain it, and how.

Alice said: “I feel that they have expectations of me but I am not really sure what they are. It’s just sort of there.”

“Your head is full of dreams and imagining about them,” replied Mrs Adie. “Theirs, too, is full of dreams, imagination and expectations of you.”

“This is wonderful material for you, and it is something with a value far beyond this particular situation. I always think the situation could be avoided if I were not living with them at such close quarters, but the tension points to the need to confront the internal material which makes the tension possible. It is not easy. In fact, it is because it is so hard that if you really could succeed in coping with it would gain a very great deal.”

“You have to realise always that they cannot help being as they are. One always forgets; but they cannot help it and you cannot expect that they will ever change. You can’t expect anything from them, in a way. It is useless to try to have their good opinion in that way, you must try to free yourself off from that hope.”

“When Mr. Adie advised you to be merciful, that was quite right. It means to feel compassion for their lack of choice. But one can’t feel that to order. It is difficult to feel compassion to order. But you can empty your head from the fixed ideas that you have about them, and to see that they do not consciously choose this, however it may appear. You can see how hard this is if you try and consciously choose to meet them half-way, almost as if you didn’t know them, without all this expecting, and without these demands. If you try and keep things like ripe bananas in perspective, you will see how hard it is. Not being able to make a banana cake the way you like can be very irritating, because it’s your house, and it a reasonable way of proceeding. But it’s not end of the world. They won’t be not thrown away, you could put them somewhere else.”

“When you see how hard it is for you, with your understanding of the ideas, to acknowledge that some things loom ridiculously large on our subjective scale of things, you can understand how bound they are, how unable to change.”

There was a pause, then Mrs Adie resumed: “There seems to be something also fundamental in this relationship that is difficult to get past. But, from your side, you can do something. It really is very much a question of accepting, because but there is a limit of what you can accept at the time. And it’s difficult to prepare for it as well, you don’t quite know what is going to take place.”

“You could prepare before coming home in the evening. When you’re away, your mind will be freer. Leave it empty of expectations or imagining, as an exercise, and maybe you’ll find you can accept them much more than you thought you could. Then, if you could enter the house with some feeling of your presence, and maybe try to maintain it at regular periods during the evening. Make that the main time of your efforts. Your preparation will help, and your plan will have an effect, if it is important for you. It is a real opportunity. You can be glad for it. Here’s an opportunity to put the ideas into practice.”

“And if there is something you feel is really important for you to have, or something you don’t want, then if you can present it in a way that is not negative, you will be received very differently, you know.”

“If you could try sometimes to empty your head, preconceived pictures of them and try to put yourself in their situation a little bit. Try to represent to yourself their feelings about their son. You can’t really understand their position and they don’t understand yours. If you think of it as an opportunity, as good material, you’re fortunate. Sometimes it’s difficult to find material to work on. But here it is for you. It’s wonderful material, for a limited time.”

Mrs Adie then addressed both Alice and her husband, who was in the group: “Try to have a good relationship, the both of you. Be willing to meet them half way, there’s nothing for them. But to achieve freedom of inner expectations and demands will help you in all your family life.”

“But – ” began Alice.

Mrs Adie interrupted her: “Yes, I know. They’re to blame! But I want it to be profitable for you. To be negative and attribute blame is all your ego. It’s not you. It’s not your reality. This reluctance is not your realty. It’s all in our head, completely fantastic and unreal. Imaginary. So, if you want to feed your inner life you need impartiality. You have a very good opportunity here. Couldn’t be better. So, try to look at it from that point of view and remember that, you are doing it for yourself, not to be kind to the old folks – that enters in, but in the first place, it’s for you. 

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