My Conservative In-Laws Ended Differently from What I Expected

My stepmom wasn’t a bad person, but we never got along. I think she felt insecure about the fact that she could never have kids, so she would often be mean and distant toward my sister and me. She used to try to upset us all the time by doing petty things that she knew would make us uncomfortable, but luckily my mom had taught me to always smile when people were intentionally being mean to me.This turned out to be a great defense mechanism, and my stepmom couldn’t bear that her tricks weren’t working on me. Eventually, things died down and we made our peace, but I would never forget how effective it was to just smile through whatever petty new ploy she had devised to try and upset me. It truly was one of the greatest gifts my mom had ever given me. But my stepmom was a minor hindrance compared to Jeremy’s family. When I met them for the first time, I knew I was in for a lengthy cold war. I met Leona, Jeremy’s mom, and the rest of the Fergus family at one of their family dinners. By that time, I had been dating Jeremy for almost a year, and they had used every excuse to avoid inviting me to their dinners. This time, Jeremy ensured that they couldn’t weasel out of meeting me, and he even told his mom to prepare a few dishes that I could eat, since I steer clear of any pork and alcohol.

While my loving boyfriend was sure there would be something for me, I knew better than to just blindly trust people who clearly had misgivings about me to respect my personal choices, so I ate as I would before a fast and prepared myself for sitting around the dinner table while everyone enjoyed their meal.When we showed up at Jeremy’s parents’ house, the family greeted me with half-hearted smiles and quick hugs before we all settled down to eat. I knew the greetings would be awkward and stiff, but what I didn’t anticipate was Leona bringing a peppy blonde woman up to me with a huge smile and saying, “Oh, Aleah, you just have to meet Diane, Jeremy’s last girlfriend. We’re all still very close and I thought you two might hit it off.” Diane looked slightly embarrassed, and shook my hand with a smile that seemed to say, “I’m sorry, I know, but what could I do?” I introduced myself and we exchanged a few pleasantries before she greeted Jeremy with a huge hug. She immediately launched into a conversation with him about what was going on in his life, ignoring me completely. Jeremy answered a few questions, grabbed my hand, and steered me to our seats.At the table, things just got worse. Leona opened all the dishes, and every single thing had pork in it. The mac and cheese had bacon bits in, the mashed potatoes had lard in, and even the turkey was wrapped in bacon. After unveiling all the food, Jeremy’s mom looked at me, apologized for all the pork, and offered me a drink. “I don’t drink, but I’ll gladly take a glass of water,” I said with a smile. Slightly crestfallen, Leona got up to get me one. During the meal, the entire family kept making off-handed, passive-aggressive, and slightly racist comments clearly directed toward me. Meanwhile, Diane was showered with compliments. You’d expect she was royalty with how the family sucked up to her. But I knew exactly how to handle the situation.Instead of letting my annoyance show, I once again employed my mom’s wisdom. I smiled at every so-called joke, and even threw a few of my own compliments at Diane. I told Leona how lovely the spread looked, and thanked her profusely when she went to refill my cup of water. I could see Jeremy’s mom seething at my pleasant demeanor. The night ended and we said our goodbyes. I refrained from complaining to Jeremy about his family. I could handle it. But things didn’t get better from there. Family dinners were suddenly off-limits to anyone who wasn’t also a Fergus — although Diane was apparently an exception — so I would often spend Christmas on my own or with my sister. They never drove a wedge between myself and Jeremy, and imagine their shock when he eventually proposed. The sentimental gift was a hand-painted stone featuring her beloved cat, a token of thoughtfulness and care. The lavish one was a luxurious Gucci handbag, a symbol of the material wealth she was accustomed to. My hypothesis was simple: her reaction to these gifts would reveal the depth of her character. Christmas Eve arrived, and with it, a mix of anticipation and nervous excitement. Diane’s reaction to the painted stone was one of polite indifference, a thinly veiled disdain for its simplicity and perceived cheapness. The moment was awkward, a stark reminder of the invisible barriers that still stood between us. Then came the turn of the Gucci handbag. Diane’s eyes sparkled at the sight, a glimmer of approval until skepticism crept in, inspecting the bag for authenticity. Her remarks to Richard, suggesting the bag was bought with his money, stung with implications of my inadequacy and dependence. Richard’s defense of me was swift and firm, asserting my financial independence and challenging his mother’s preconceptions. It was a moment of solidarity, yet also one of revelation. Diane’s reaction solidified my suspicions but also underscored the challenges we would face as a family. This Christmas taught me valuable lessons about love, acceptance, and the complexities of family dynamics. It highlighted the prejudices we carry, sometimes subconsciously, and the need for open hearts and minds. Richard’s support was my anchor, a reminder that together, we could face any storm.As for Diane, I hope the Gucci handbag serves as a constant reminder of the day she underestimated her daughter-in-law. And somewhere, I can’t help but wonder about the fate of the painted stone, a silent witness to the unfolding drama of our lives. Was I right in my approach? Perhaps not entirely. Yet, it was a step toward understanding and, hopefully, acceptance. In the end, family is not just about the bonds we’re born into but the ones we choose to nurture and grow, despite the challenges we might face.