I married into a family of business people. My husband's only sister had married "well." She was living the life of country clubs, cocktail parties with bar tenders and serving wenches. We were more your everyday pot roast and mashed potatoes type of people.
Her efforts to drag us into the realm of "the better life" were subtle but unending. There was not enough money to live according to their style. She is the best person in the world and has taken care of our children when they were tiny little people, but didn't understand that teeny little chickens stuffed with wild rice in orange peels are not things that your average four year old will express great fondness for --- not to mention the celery casserole on the plate with nothing to hide it under.
I would seriously love to tell her, "I have been in this family for an enormous amount of time and I love you dearly, but could you get off my back about living 'the good life.' "
As time has passed, she is mellowing a fuzz, but still maintains exaggerated memories of the poor but honest childhood she and my husband had. The next time she starts into one of her imagined stories, could I just ask her what really happened on that occasion?
I feel like a poor relation and we are not. Why do some people elevate their social standing, by putting others down?
Signed, Not So Poor
Dear Rich in So Many Ways,
Understanding someone else's motivation in a conflict situation can be a challenge. When this happens, there is often a natural tendency to do two things:
- Make the issue about ourselves; and
- Assume the other person is dealing from a position of strength.
To gain a greater appreciation for what she might be thinking, however, it often helps to remember this: she has the same two natural tendencies.
From your sister-in-law's point of view, how might this be an issue about her? Is it possible this is more about her insecurities than her confidence?
I'm sure she's smart enough to figure out that her attempts to please your children (at least at dinner) are flops compared with your own. She may feel torn between two worlds. From her point of view, the upper crust folks may look down on her because of her childhood, and the down to Earth crowd doesn't understand her because she is different. I wouldn't be surprised if she feels nobody truly accepts her. She might envy the fact that you don't have two worlds pulling at you. Her attempts to draw you into her world might be a plea for company, a desire to have someone just like her with whom she can share the experience.
Her actions make more sense when you consider them from this point of view. Which is more likely, that a generally nice person would take every opportunity to put you down, or that a person with insecurities would have trouble concealing them? I suspect the latter.
If we assume this is true, then her idealized childhood memories are another way of saying, "See? We really do have something in common." Correcting her would be likely serve only to make her feel more isolated and rejected. If you can appreciate these comments from her point of view, I suspect you will feel less like correcting her.
More than that, with an understanding of what she has likely gone through, you may be able to find opportunities to reassure her, to make her feel accepted and appreciated. I suspect that, more than anything else, might cut down on the number of times you hear about this sort of issue.
All the best,