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In-laws, second marriages and baggage

16 Comments
By Bruce Sallan

I believe all cliches are generally true. Not surprisingly, then, all the cliches about second marriages are true. Indeed, comedy careers have been built around jokes about a second set of in-laws, second husbands or wives, and blended families. For good reason: in-law jokes, and family relationship humor can be hysterical -- sometimes.

In a second marriage, couples want to believe that they’ve learned something from the first one and they’re going to take all that hard-earned experience and apply it, making the second marriage work beautifully. Hmmm, is that why there’s a higher incidence of divorce in second marriages and an even higher divorce rate in third and fourth marriages? It is sad, but true.

We live in California, while my new in-laws are in Vancouver, Canada. This means getting together, thus far, at most twice a year. The opportunities to get to know one another are crammed into these short trips where we’re all on our best behavior. Granted, it’s not as natural as the encounters we could have if we lived in the same city, but we’re all trying our best. My in-laws have had to adjust to not only a new husband for their only daughter, but her two stepsons. They’ve been absolutely terrific under these unusual and new circumstances. As we stay in my new in-laws’ home, this just adds to the awkwardness of this new family dynamic.

My first marriage failed for many reasons and, truly, I can’t blame my former in-laws. I can try, but it wouldn’t be honest. With my first in-laws, I started off on the wrong foot and continued to chew it up till nothing but hanging toenails were left. My biggest and earliest mistake occurred just before we got married. I offered an opinion about the wedding gift my soon-to-be in-laws were giving us. As I was a showbiz veteran and they offered to get us a camcorder, I foolishly decided to weigh in on the good and bad features available, suggesting I’d go as far as to pay the difference to get a higher end one than they were initially considering. Well, that was obviously a bad move and, evidently, commenting at all was poor taste in their eyes, from which I was never forgiven.

This time around, I’m determined to handle things better. After all, my wife has to deal with just as much, actually more baggage, concerning me. She’s taken on the role of step-mom to my two boys, having not been a parent before. As we have my boys full-time, that is no easy task, especially when she met my older one as he was entering teen-dom.

It’s not easy under any circumstances, but my wife also has a large family. So large that they have a book about the family, just on my mother-in-law’s side, self-published that lays out the genealogy -- in Chinese! I did mention my wife is Chinese, didn’t I, while I’m Caucasian? I can’t even begin to remember all the names of family members, not due to any ethnic linguistics, but simply due to my poor memory. They’ve been extraordinarily gracious to me and my boys, but the strain of remembering who is who is beyond my present mental capacity, and its diminishing limits.

I actually think it’s going quite well. We’ve spent Christmas there, and celebrated in various family mixes. It was fun, we brought presents for almost everyone, and my boys loved hanging with the other kids and doing the whole morning presents thing late on Christmas Eve. Our religious differences didn’t interfere at all, as we were all able to embrace this holiday with our new step family. My wife has similarly embraced our Jewish heritage.

The truth is we actually all like each other. It’s just new; we don’t see each other often enough, and I want to make a good impression in spite of my natural instincts to be provocative. I’m on my best behavior but I still make the occasional slip like complain to my new mother-in-law (about her daughter) thinking, like a complete fool, that she might be on my side, as I’m obviously so “right.” Thankfully, she misunderstood and thought I was talking about one of my kids. I wisely kept my mouth shut at that point. Whew.

I know I’ve got great new in-laws. I’ve learned to be a better son-in-law by listening to my wife, accepting her advice regarding her family, praise their daughter incessantly (which is easy), and make sure my boys treat them with the respect they’re due. I actually think it’s working. We’re even talking about a family trip to Europe. That is not bad, for the second time around.

Bruce Sallan has served as an independent television producer and an ABC Television executive. He has produced over 30 television movies, pilots and series, winning several industry and community awards, and was a regular contributor to high-profile entertainment industry journals such as Daily Variety. His column, “A DAD’S POINT-OF-VIEW,” primarily focuses on a father’s perspective on parenting. www.brucesallan.com.

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16 Comments
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Hephatheput? So youd be the one with baggage?

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Perhaps the future second ex-wife in question will weigh in on her failed first marriage to this twit. Hopefully, her article will provide the humor and insight that is so clearly lacking in this commentary.

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cleo:

At least he got something right.....

You're right about that! Your other points too, spot on! Reading Bruce Sallan's essays makes me feel like he is writing for the public what he should be telling only to a close friend, or a counsellor.

Another thing, when he speaks of his first marriage, he makes it seems as though it failed because of his relations with the in-laws, and he now concentrates on relations with the new in-laws. Did no one ever tell him that marriages fail because of relations with your partner? Or did he merely, out of discretion, wish to leave his former wife out of the discussion? Anyway, bad relations with in-laws is unfortunate, but not a cause of divorce. Good relations are helpful, but not a guarantee of marital bliss.

Often, relations with in-laws is just a reflection of the marital relationship. Bickering and fighting between partners is not conducive to a good relationship with the in-laws.

I still make the occasional slip like complain to my new mother-in-law (about her daughter) thinking, like a complete fool, that she might be on my side, as I’m obviously so “right.”

Bruce Sallan, my friend, you were wrong then and you have been wrong about almost everything you wrote about. But good luck to you. Be sure to let us know how it works out, in another essay next year.

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If the topic was second marriages, you should have got Miyuki Hatoyama to write a column.

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I don't understand why anyone gets married. I have everything I need - a couple of kids, tons of money and a new woman every few months. Why waste time with one woman who will bore you in a year or two?

Marriage is for the poor.

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I can’t even begin to remember all the names of family members.... the strain of remembering who is who is beyond my present mental capacity

Oh dear. Learn their names.

we brought presents for almost everyone

trouble....

my natural instincts to be provocative.

Curb 'em.

I still make the occasional slip like complain to my new mother-in-law (about her daughter)

Oh dear

thinking, like a complete fool

At least he got something right.....

Sounds like someone needs to clean up his act.

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Bruce used the word "cliche". I couldn't think of a cliche about second marriages (can anyone?), so I suspected that he meant sayings, or popular wisdom, as you said.

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I agree with the previous comments about this being a good read for a Sunday afternoon. It's refreshing to find enjoyable articles with appreciative remarks about family, heart-felt expectations and hope. Sadly, good-natured pieces are so rare some jaded people react with suspicion and even anger when encountering one.

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What about this article has ANYTHING to do with Japan?

Moderator: What a bizarre remark. Who says it has to have anything to do >with Japan? There isn't a news website in the world that only publishes >stories about its host country. This particular subject applies to >anyone who has ever been married. In future, please refrain from posting >pointless remarks."

"I am not seeing the point of this at all, especially given that second marriages are relatively speaking rare in Japan." "second marriages are not rare in Japan. This was nice to read!"

MOD - note how readers relate this article to Japan and life in Japan. Each one requires a MOD comment about how this article has nothing to do with Japan.

The article in my opiniin is pointless and calling a post "pointless" is hardly "moderating".

Hope readers see this before its removed.

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Why is this article whiuch seems totally pointless even on JT? What about this article has ANYTHING to do with Japan?

Moderator: What a bizarre remark. Who says it has to have anything to do with Japan? There isn't a news website in the world that only publishes stories about its host country. This particular subject applies to anyone who has ever been married. In future, please refrain from posting pointless remarks.

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This the same guy who wrote another family essay here recently, describing the "generation gap" -- how he is so alienated from his sons, just as he experienced with his father, how they do not watch television in the same room, etc. Glad to know he is getting along with his in-laws so far.

Bruce Sallan has served as an independent television producer and an ABC Television executive. He has produced over 30 television movies, pilots and series... His column, “A DAD’S POINT-OF-VIEW,” primarily focuses on a father’s perspective on parenting.

I'd suggest he focus a little more on others' perspectives.

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second marriages are not rare in Japan. This was nice to read!

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Marriages certainly have their ups and downs. Here's a writer who's being very open about his. That's what "commentary" is supposed to be about. It comes across as a well written piece by a normal human being who seemed to be HAPPY as he wrote it. And yes, there are still a few old fogies out there in the world for whom marriage is important. It's good reading for a quiet Sunday afternoon. Thanks, Bruce!

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Wow! Tough crowd! It must really get to you when there is no fodder for your self-righteous blabbing.

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...and so they lived happily ever after.

Thank you JT. Let's move onto another story about another someone who did something ....

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I am not seeing the point of this at all, especially given that second marriages are relatively speaking rare in Japan.

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