Family Is Hard

Family is hard.

We’re in West Virginia visiting and I think we’ve fought 90% of the trip. Granted, we were recently in Detroit and we fought there too.

Several weeks of family and I’m realizing the stark differences in the way my husband and I were raised and what we find “normal.”


For instance, in Detroit my mother would happily give my kids cake for breakfast. To me- this is entirely normal.

Going on a boat ride with my uncle, where he has a beer and the kids sit in ill fitting life jackets- totally normal.

Here in WV, my son touched a gun, was shown the closet where guns are kept, and family wants to take him for a very slow ride up the mountain in the back part of a pick up truck. My husband thinks this is all normal.

To me, it’s not only abnormal, but unsafe.

Family. Is. Hard.

I feel like I am a visitor in a foreign land and every time I question or shake my head at a “custom” I am told I have disrespected the elders. Apparently I don’t “trust” and should just let things go.

I spend my visits here usually in a semi-state of panic the entire time. Because if I open my mouth I’m distrusting and rude, and if I keep it closed my kids are put in situations I, as their mother, am uncomfortable with.

I am the mean helicopter mom. I am the party pooper. I’m the big jerk who thinks family would put her kids lives in danger.

It’s a complicated conversation here. And there are no winners.

It’s not as if I seek out to ruin their “traditions” or fun, or they seek to make me have panic attacks and fill me with anxiety.

It just is.

I can see why this country is so very deeply divided just by visiting other parts and talking to people who live very different from myself. It’s not as simple as “what you believe” and what I believe. It’s strangers in a strange land. It’s cultural. It’s akin to showing up in China and expecting nothing but hamburgers and apple pie.

I’m doing my best to be respectful and thankful that my children get to experience many different cultures. However it is hard.

I do not understand the way of life here just as easily as I don’t understand the way of life in Iran or China. That doesn’t mean the Iranians and Chinese aren’t amazing people, with amazing lives and stories and traditions.

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone today to go camping. In the rain. I expect to encounter about a million things my husband finds “normal” and I don’t. I expect to have anxiety, I expect to be unhappy. I also expect I will have a good time. Hopefully.

Family. Is. Hard.


  1. I definitely agree with you. Family IS hard. We’re all brought up so differently from one and another. I have the same issues some times with Matt’s side, as I’m sure he has them with mine.

    It’s strange how two people can parent so differently. Matt hates it when I feed Nolan in bed because he’s CONVINCED that Nolan will forever want to sleep in bed, but I do it so I can get SOME kind of rest at night. Luckily there is such a thing as “compromise”.

    I definitely don’t agree with the gun thing, I mean…guns are A LOT of responsibility. While it would be okay for him to touch the gun if an adult is present, he shouldn’t know the location of the guns. What if he gets curious, no adults are around and he goes and plays with them? Your fears and discomfort are totally understanding in that situation.

    And I wouldn’t like it if someone – family or not – wanted to take Nolan for a ride up a mountain in the back of a pick up truck.

    Hopefully you have a good weekend camping though!

  2. my mother just gave my three year old a lollipop for breakfast…..and we live in the same house and she raised me. FUBAR eh?

  3. Family is hard no matter where you are from. Ours is from basically the same region of the US and we still butt heads occasionally and sometimes fight. I think it’s harder on him than me though. He grew up with a family of four, mom dad him and sister. I am the seventh of nine kids with a huge extended family unit who loves to get together. It stresses him out at times.

    Of course, we’re just weird at times here in the south lol He grew up mostly in Miami (his dad is a college professor, so they moved a lot). I call him a Florida yankee lol I grew up in the country in North Carolina and brought up in a family who was on the frontlines of the trucking industry in the 60s and beyond. Same region, totally different upbringing. Different traditions with different landmines. And yes, I tend to keep my mouth shut to avoid conflict. Doesn’t always work though, because my anxiety is so easy to see.

  4. I think many of us can relate to this — although my situation is not the same, I’ve often wondered how can two families be so different? Sometimes this is interesting, endearing, even hilarious — other times it’s frustrating, terrifying and mind-boggling. You make a great point about deep divisions, this is something we don’t often recognize. I know it can be very hard, especially if you feel like the odd person out. Hope the rest of the trip goes as smoothly as possible and it was great to meet you in Chicago.

  5. Interestingly(to me st least:-) ) I have feelings on both sides. Having grown up in a very rural part of central-western NYS, I remember the thrill of back-of-the-pickup rides as a kid. Never heard of any incidents around same, either. Plus, my parents hunted; there were rifles in a rack out in the open. (Do keep in mind this was an Ron ago, tho!)

    On the other hand, I am NOT a fan of guns, am absolutely with you on the worries of showing small, inquisitive boys the wonders of them. And @aaronvest is right, as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, I know quite a few horror stories abt kids and guns. (Yes, your last night’s Twitter exchange was very entertaining for those of us on the outside!)

    At least the good thing is, you won’t be there long?

  6. I can totally relate! My husband and I are so different and come from different families and we each have our own levels of what is normal and what is not. I don’t have any advice for you other than invite family to YOUR TERRITORY so that you won’t even have to consider having your kids participate in those things, since they won’t be available.

  7. umm, silly itouch, silly me – that was “eon”, not “Ron”. Heh.

  8. Well you made me feel better. I’m British, married to an Italian, living in Italy. It’s nice to know the concept thanks to “cultural gaps” is universal and not just reserved for “poor me” and my immigrant ilk.

    You have made me feel normal, rather than just a whingy expat and I thank you ( :

  9. I think you are writing this post so politely because your husband relatives are reading it. And I think you have the right to protect your children from harm absolutely and to hell with hurt feelings.

    Then again, I’m a bit biased, because I know what it is like to plan a funeral for a child and I know that in reality, kids die every single day from stupid preventable accidents. No one is immune. No one.

    But most importantly, you and your husband have to start respecting each other’s beliefs and limits. And if he can’t respect that you don’t want your kids put in serious obvious extreme danger, then don’t take them to his parents house. (And yes, kids in the back of a pickup, unrestrained, are in extreme danger, and kids in contact with guns is crazy, and kids not wearing proper life vests is just don’t even get me started. Cake–meh, who gives a shit about cake.)

    Look, when you two got married and had kids, your loyalties were supposed to shift, to each other. He has to back you and stand against his family, and you have to back him and stand against yours, or your marriage isn’t going to last in the long run. At 4 and 6, you really do have a lifetime of huge moral and ethical minefields to negotiate as you raise them. Start talking now, cause this problem isn’t going to go away.

  10. Some of the things my in-laws have said they want to do with our children when they are older already give me anxiety and I’m carefully planning now on a tactful way to say “hell no” because sometimes I wonder how they take care of themselves. Like, they forget to eat and forget to do lots of things for themselves, their health! I haven’t figured out that future “hell no” yet though… nothing sounds right in my head. It’s not that they don’t love my kids. It’s not that they wouldn’t protect them. But I’m the mom, right? By birthing the kids, I get to be their decider, right? I am the lioness. I am the boo-boo go-to-person. I am the middle-of-the-night-I-had-a-bad-dream-snuggler. I am the chauffer, the cook, the milk-cow and pack mule. But I am the peace keeper. And so my tongue bleeds from how often I have to bite it when my in-laws are around.

    Damn – much more than I intended to write. I can sympathize and I’m sorry you’re having a hard time (on top of every other freaking thing you have to worry about no less. Jeez.).

  11. So you probably don’t want to hear that I was wielding a shotgun at 8 years of age and shooting tin cans behind the cottage with my brother waiting for his turn. And he was only 5. It was thrilling and my grandfather was right there. My mother wasn’t. It taught me a respect for guns and how to handle them properly.
    I love how Jess doesn’t remember that (Sarcastica) but she was a baby. A baby we toted around in a makeshift trailer made from an oil barrel that was hitched to a snowmobile or what is now illegal: a 3 wheel ATV. No seatbelts. We went slow.
    I don’t have anything to say that will help you navigate this situation. I was raised closer to the way Aaron was raised and I turned out okay.
    *twitch twitch*
    Course I wouldn’t let my kids ride int he back of a truck either. Not unless they were wrapped in bubble wrap and had helmets on their noggins.
    Good luck Erin!

  12. Hey Erin,

    I love your analogy of going to another country. That has always been my way of describing this issue as well. I had a friend in college who would go into his mom’s wallet and take out money without telling her. I almost had a heart attack when I saw him do it. If I ever touched my parents’ money my hand would have burned on the spot, but in his family it was normal. He thought my reaction was weird. It was from that experience that I realized that families really *are* like countries. They have their own constitution and laws and cultural mores, etc.

    The beautiful thing, though, is that your family (you, Aaron and the kids) are also your own country and you get to make your own constitution and laws, etc. Of course, you guys need to have a little “constitutional convention” (am I taking this analogy too far?) to establish what the family rules are and you have to back each other up on this with each other’s parents. On that point, I totally agree with Aurelia when she says:
    “when you two got married and had kids, your loyalties were supposed to shift, to each other. He has to back you and stand against his family, and you have to back him and stand against yours, or your marriage isnโ€™t going to last in the long run.”

    Good luck camping!

  13. If the pickup truck, the boat rides and the proper supervised introduction to guns are the most dangerous things your kids will do growing up, you will be lucky! My guess: these won’t even be on the top 10 most dangerous things they will do by age 21.

  14. I know that it is hard to negotiate the different customs that are present in each family. Fortunately, you are the mother. You trump all other opinions! Stand your ground on the safety issues, but be willing to compromise on the small stuff.

    Good luck. Family vacations can be more stress than vacation!

  15. I could have written this post. Well, actually, I did and it got me in a bit of trouble.

    Hope the camping trip goes well!

  16. I’m helicopter mom too. My husband was raised around guns and stereotypical redneck stuff. He was raised in the country and I’m a total city chick. His extended family isn’t allowed to be left alone with the baby. I just don’t trust them. I love my in-laws but not the rest of his family. They’re scary.

  17. Family. Is. Hard. And it’s not just about in-laws. When my husband and I took our first trip away from our children (one was 4 and one was 1 1/2) we called my parents to check on them. They were out in the backyard (which curves around the house so isn’t visible from inside) being “supervised” by my then-9-year-old nephew. Completely not ok in my book. I mean, a 1 1/2 year old? Seriously? My husband and I frequently get eyes rolled at us for being too strict when, in my book, we’re just making sure our kids are being supervised at a level appropriate for their age and behave well in public. And this is coming from a girl who nearly burned our house down when she was 9 when left home alone with her big sister “babysitting.” Thank God my dad taught me how to use a fire extinguisher before then (he’s a safety freak).

    Good luck camping.

  18. Yeah. I’m pretty sure I would lose it over the guns. That’s a tough one, for sure.

    Family is hard. I wish you luck in navigating it. And I hope that you can enjoy yourself, at least a little.

  19. My mother was born and raised in WV. We went there every summer to visit my grandmother, who was just downright mean. We had friends down the road that taught us how to climb the rafters in their barn, jump out of the hay loft onto hay, cut chickens heads off, and milk cows. The 12 year olds there chewed tobacco. It WAS like a foreign country. My grandmother had no running water and she had an outhouse.

    However, if I found out MY kids were doing HALF the stuff we did, I would have freaked the hell out, and there is no way on God’s green earth that any child of mine will ride in the back of a pick up! But that’s just me.

  20. You have a right to be a helicopter mom, especially when guns are concerned! They’re your children! Some issues have no middle ground and shouldn’t even have to have a “complicated conversation”. Our kids don’t get to put their hands on guns. Period. If you feel strongly about this, then this is an issue you’ll have to take up with your husband as a non-negotiable. In return, you can offer to give him a non-negotiable; something that “bugs” him about your family that you will make sure to fix. But no guns. Your kids are too little. Educate them enough to know that they are not to be touched because they’re not safe for their little hands. Pick an age to readdress this issue with your husband and his family. But right now? They’re just too little.

  21. My family’s norm is for us all to lie in our beds, reading quietly all day. Occasionally we convene to cook and eat. As a social activity, we comment on what the cats are doing. You can see how well this translated into internet life…

    I do think about things like guns and pickup truck rides you get to set your standards for your OWN family and your husband should cooperate and stand with you on that.

  22. Hmm, every family is indeed a culture in itself and all of us are getting a culture shock when meeting the other half’s family, I am sure.
    I must be a bad mom, because I let my kids go and experience the different culture. Other children survived, so will they and at least they have a great experience. Accidents happen anywhere and you can worry forever, however I of course can say that easily because I have not lost a child. However I have lived for a while now and things have happened and it are the way-out experiences that they remember. Too often we can feel that when things happen it is our fault and that can stop them from tasting different things in life. If the in-laws are not too irresponsible or weird and my husband who also loves the children is okay, I let them and will not blame myself when something happens. Bad mother, maybe, I don’t know.

  23. I am in TOTAL agreement with you – you have to do whatever you think it best to protect your kids.

    If your hubs is telling you that you’re overreacting then I think he is disrespecting you and your wishes.

  24. Hubby and I are laughing. Um hun, safe wasn’t mentioned in your life jacket issue. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    To both of us, all of the above is normal. We live in Washington state, home of the uber controlling in safety, but yet we laughed our booties off cause we would do all of the above with the kids. Not only are we WA, but we are just 20ish miles from Seattle. lmao

    And yes I worry my ass off about the whole gun safety, but that is why I have a PARTNER in the whole marriage and parenting. He takes care of what I can’t!

  25. I didn’t have much of a problem with in -laws, hubs and I were pretty much similar in upbringing. Once your kids begin school and play dates etc. you will experience many different types of family “traditions”. Your children’s friends will come from all types of families and they will experience many types of parenting. Our neighbor had trampolines, guns and ATVs when the kids were growing up. Except for the guns my kids of course wanted to experience all the toys there. I insisted on helmets etc. and held my breath. I was always vigilant about our backyard pool even when they were teens, fearing someone would hit their head and drown in a crowd of splashing adolescents. They survived. Believe me, I know accidents can happen and do, but we can’t spend our live in a state of constant panic about what might happen. These adult supervised outings will be nothing compared to what you will be faced with when they are teens. I know I was considered strict by my kids about certain things and we had a few scary situations with friends but my now 18 and 21 year old’s turned out quite successfully. (Well, I still like to check up on the 18 year old) Child rearing is not easy, very stressful and doing what you feel is right for your children is the best way to show love. Enjoy each moment, it flies by.

  26. I totally understand what you mean by implying that Detroit and West Virginia are like completely different countries. I was born and raised in West Virginia (one side of the family was the gun-toting, beer swilling, back of the truck riding, hunting dog having type and the other side was of a more intellectual breed who despised the other half’s taste). I’ve lived in the Seattle area for the past 4 years and I feel like I am in a foreign country. Some things are the same, but there’s something so fundamentally different about this place and I’ve never really been able to fit in. As a West Virginia native and someone who has repeatedly offended the elders, hang in there. I understand where you’re coming from.

  27. Erin, I loved this.

  28. The gun thing is unsafe, and you need to make your own decision on that one.

    But the back of the truck thing- ILLEGAL. End of story. No room for argument on their side.

  29. I love how so many people are saying that Aaron is disrespecting your wishes and that he should just “go along” with you. Excuse me? I thought a marriage was about coming together somehow and working together on things, not just one spouse capitulating to the other.

    Notably: It’s all women commenting here.

    But Erin, I know what you’re saying. It’s almost over. Back to LA. Back to normal life and routine. ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. I have to agree with Aaron Brazell. I know it’s easy to stress out over things like “eating-cake-for-breakfast” and “touching-a-gun”. Both of those are equally things to feel foreign about.

    Now, I’m speaking as a cross-cultural student (yes bi-culturalism is really an area of study) and as someone who has spent most of her life in counter culture. I’m the gal who, when I was 13, turned to a group of my Latino girlfriends, rolled my eyes and said “white girls” in disgust (despite the fact that my skin is most definitely white).

    This is a rare and wonderful opportunity to teach your kids how to operate in a cross-cultural setting. Instead of freaking out and prohibting (or arguing) over the experiences, explain the differences. Why does Mommy get upset with guns, why do we have the rules we do at home. Why is life different in West Virginia than Los Angeles? What can we learn from our differences? Your reactions to the cross-cultural experience are more important than anything else right now. I remember when I was a kid, we ate at a Chinese restaurant for the first time. My dad picked up a pair of chopsticks and said to me, “when you’re eating someone else’s food, you use their implements. It shows honor and appreciation to them, even if you do it wrong.” To this day I eat the way the folks I’m eating with eat and have gotten a lot of compliments and friendships out of not being afraid of trying new things… even if I suck at them.

    So figure out the one thing (riding in the back of the pickup truck maybe) that you can’t live with and be flexible on the rest. ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. Yikes. Family is actually even harder when it’s in-laws we are talking about. I have no qualms whatsoever telling MY family that I have issues with something they don’t – but tell my husband’s family? That’s harder. And vice-versa.

    Biggest problem I see is that somehow we all think that everyone else should respect our right to parent our own children – but seldom extend that right to others. Especially our own children!

    Your and Aaron’s parents both raised you successfully (okay, maybe that’s stretching a word, but if we get out of adolescence alive I kind of take it as miraculous) and therefore don’t feel the need to check with either of you when it comes to your kids. What they take for granted with your kids, they’d probably be less likely to with the neighbor’s kids… but there’s this weird presumption of “knowing better” when you’re the grandparent. Unfortunately, you & Aaron need to find a way to be the buffer between your family’s assumptions and your spouse’s comfort level. Your his best advocate & he’s yours. Guns, cake, trucks, life-vests — all things you should be watching your spouses reactions for and saying “um, Mom? Dad? maybe not…” long before the other one has to say a word.

    At some point, you’ll get it worked out. Meanwhile, enjoy the lovely scenery there – WV is beautiful – and home is not that far away now! ๐Ÿ™‚


  32. Whoa. Guns and camping? You are a brave woman. I’m done bitching about the Swiss being a pain in the ass. (Ok, not realy, but I have better perspective.)

  33. Family is so hard sometimes. Being from Italy I find that when I’m with my husband parents we truly are from different cultures and worlds makes it hard and I’m far less diplomatic than you are mostly wanting ot express my anger…..
    So glad ot have met you at blogher

  34. yep. family is hard. and day to day the stuff that challenges us we dwell on…lotsa silent back and forths all the time. my sis always can tell when i’m doin this and she’ll say to me “how’s that conversation you’re having w/ me in your thoughts?” (when i visit)
    i’m not married and havent been. but i’d hope we’d agree to share when we’re not feeling safe. on any level. even if it’s outa stuff we think the other ‘should’ get.
    to me, it’s not like any of us are seeking having our feelings validated so much as ‘show me how you are gonna strive to protect me when i’m feeling vulnerable’….maybe you’d only needed him to say to you “honey, i know you can’t stand this right now for the kids but i wanna expose them cuzza x, y, z’….but life happens and it’s hard to get it all talked out during…maybe process it all some while you’re on the drives….happy anniversary btw..hope what the inlaws did was fun and that you found the restaurant eventually….hoping the rest of the trip goes well…

  35. I’m lucky, my in-laws and I agree 90% on what is normal.

    But the other 10%…. I know what you mean.

  36. Patience In Pounds says:

    LOL, you think it’s hard trying to understand the differences in regions and families, I’m constantly amazed at the differences in my siblings and I that were raised in the same family!

  37. Born and raised in WV, and wish I was there now…. I love it dearly and your pictures look so “familiar” to me, but I agree that is can be a bit of a different world. I’m generally comfortable in that world, but my parenting boundaries do get stretched and tested from time to time (maybe that would happen in any environment).

  38. sherpamama says:

    My grandparents (and now my mother) live in the mtns of NC and one of the highlights of visiting “Ella’s Mtn” was riding around their property in the back of the pick up. Now my girls have gotten to do it also – it’s done slowly, safely and with lots of stops to look at salamders, flowers and berries. I’m not sure if this is the same kind of thing you are talking about but I wouldn’t miss it for the world! But then I also love camping and would be far more uncomfortable with the cake for breakfast and the illfitting life jackets! It’s all perspective, I think.

  39. Normally I don’t comment on people’s blogs, because I tend to find them via StumbleUpon and never see them again, so I try not to participate in a conversation I won’t come back to. I also know that you’re safe home now with fully whole kids, so this won’t help much till the next visit, when they’re older.

    Something you might want to bring up with the in-laws and your husband next time they propose something that you feel is unsafe is that while it might be perfectly normal for some children to participate in those activities, your particular children don’t normally do these things and might not know how to handle them. Riding in the back of a pick-up is normally fine, given that the driver knows the kids are there, they aren’t out on a busy road, and they aren’t going too fast. In other words, a ride out to the back field is probably fine, a ride across town definitely isn’t. But your kids haven’t ridden in the back of a pick-up before. They don’t know that there can be sudden bumps, that they must remain sitting, that they have to be still. I did it as a kid not that long ago, and as long as everyone knows how to act safe, it is safe.

    The gun issue on the other hand, was not safe. Children can handle guns suitable to their size (e.i. small bb guns, maybe small rifles), that won’t have too much of a kickback, after they have been instructed on what is safe, and while they are under very close supervision. But it sounds like your kids had never even been close enough to touch a gun before, and were just handed them and expected to know the safety rules with a minimum of instruction. This is one of those situations where I would trust your husband to keep them safe– not let them stay alone with a more relaxed in-law. I certainly would insist that they not know where the guns are kept, though, and that the guns be kept out of reach, or locked up. Rural kids who grew up around them are generally careful about guns because they’ve seen what they can do. City kids who’ve only seen them in video games or movies, or maybe not at all, don’t know how to handle them.

    Overall, I think that your worries here speak of a need to talk with your husband about discomfort with certain things, and point out the reasons why you think that what may have been normal for him growing up may not be something your children should just jump into. It’s a matter of the difference between your husband’s parent’s family’s culture, and the culture that you and your husband should be building together for your own children. Most of all, I think that mothers should remember that yes, we do give birth, but fathers do have a say as well, and they have just as strong a desire to keep our kids safe as we do– they just express it differently, that’s all. Compromise where you can, and trust one another, so that when you do have to put your foot down on an issue, you’ll be taken seriously rather than brushed off as just another ‘helicoptor mom’. And take care not to be the ‘helicoptor mom’ either! Kids need to learn about gun safety, even if they’ll never be around guns at your house. As long as everyone knows the dangers, everyone can stay safe, without too much worry.

  40. Belinda Gomez says:

    Touching a gun doesn’t turn anyone into a serial killer. Step away from the snob factor and try to analyze what’s really going on. You sound more worried that your kid might grow up to enjoy shooting and what will all your friends think—he could join the Marines!

    Riding in the back of a truck? Please.

    I think you enjoy feeling different and superior to your in-laws.

  41. I wasn’t going to write anything – and then I read Belinda’s comment – which made me rather bent.

    Dearest Belinda Gomez-

    I’m a Republican & pro NRA and I didn’t read this post like that. Please get your head out of your ass. Erin is concerned for the safety of her children. In case your city doesn’t get newspapers you may not realize that bright, curious children die every year from playing with guns. These are kids that know where the guns are and may even know how to use them. They simply make a mistake thinking the gun isn’t loaded when it is.

    Guns are an age appropriate responsibility. As our ability to judge isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25, it’s reasonable to be weary of guns around children.

    And yes, falling out of moving vehicle can kill you as well, and if not kill then injure. It is the responsibility of the parent (although typically it’s the mother) to protect the child. It is not your place to make the decision for someone else – and accusing Erin of false superiority when it’s obvious that she wrote this piece so carefully is just ridiculous.


  42. I’ve been blessed by in-laws that smiled and waved from a distance without any influence. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  43. i envy you for the way you can express yourself through words. indeed you are talented.,lucy

Speak Your Mind