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Marrying into a middle class family

(246 Posts)
derbyshire Sat 13-Jul-13 02:43:09

I'm working class, fairly well educated but sometimes find myself adrift with my MC in-laws. Been married for 15 years, 3 children in primary school. I think most people would say I'm a good mother: BF kids, they're all doing well at school, nice children etc. but often feel I'm just aping the middle-class mores around me.
My ILs don't understand why I'm not more chilled about birthday parties/dinner parties etc but I've never admitted to them that I never had a birthday party when I was young. Certainly no such thing as a dinner party - dinner was something you ate at noon and never in somebody elses's house!
I get so stressed about all those things they find "normal". I've never joined in with the forcing kids to eat veg - my fussy kids eat more veg than my mother! She won't cook for her GC as she said she didn't know how to cook that "stuff" (pasta).
I admit I'm ashamed to admit how much my childhood varies from their upbringing - food really is a class issue!
Strangely enough, educationally I probably outrank them - its all the niceties of life where I'm lacking. Think I'm probably considered "weird" but we never had drinks/socialising at home. I think the gap has become more pronounced as the years have gone on........just find myself struggling more as the years have gone on. Suppose it just feels more and more false.

Chubfuddler Sat 13-Jul-13 07:38:33

They don't sound middle class. They sound pretentious. And a bit rude.

Classy people of any socio economic background put others at their ease, not make them feel they are going through the etiquette Olympics.

You know them, so assuming they are well meaning but just a bit hyacinth bucket insecure I would just smile and nod and get on with your thing, your way.

I do feel for you. But they just sound a bit rude to me, and not being able to imagine that elsewhere in the world people live happily without cucmber sandwiches.
Perhaps working on the saccarine replies, and carry on as you do.

I moved to England and got a job in a superposh deli in Kensington. it was such a shock to see the archaic behaviour of the class conscious. I think I never have recovered, actually. What appalling snobbery. And how tiring to always having to put up such an act.

Birthday parties are very stressfull though, for any number of reasons. When I was little it was everyone coming to the house and running around, eating hotdogs and cake. Here it's been the invites and food and bloody partybags and you know I have never managed to give the thank-yous. They just linger in the bookbags until they disintegrate!

Otherwise I agree with Lweji, and admit to loving cakeforks and the little thingy to pick up sugarcubes smile

NonnoMum Sat 13-Jul-13 07:51:39

OP, I've had this from the other side. When I married my DH he'd been married before and had two pre-teens.
His children usually ate their 'evening meal' (I call it tea (bit Northern, me, they call it dinner) lying down in front of the TV, and his children had never heard that you put your knife and fork together after finishing a meal. Whereas I did the whole 3 course, served from the table, wait for everyone big-deal mealtimes...
DH had spent his entire childhood having all his meals in front of the TV whereas there were all sorts of unwritten rules in my house about not watching TV at mealtimes, in the day (still can't!) etc etc.
When we have a family celebration, we now always provide drinks, but when my ILs have a party it's usually in some sort of venue with a pay bar.
My DH sometimes turns his nose up at me and my "weird middle class rules" but I don't think of it as bullying, it's just people are genuinely surprised at how different people's rules are. I have learnt not to sweat the small stuff but we have found our common ground. He now insists on 'posh food' in the house all the time (hummus, olives etc) whereas I now love TV dinners... Things change and are fluid. Find your own rules.

Be yourself, but try to lighten up. You sound like you feel insecure around them, and that's coming from you not them. I didn't have the things you describe as not having either, lots of people didn't, even MC people. We all go through different stages of life, and need to adjust.

You sound like a great mum. Force feeding children anything isn't kind, so your approach sounds much healthier. As for parties and dinner parties, if you choose to have them (and no one is saying you have to) just relax and if it is a disaster, laugh. Being perfect all the time is impossible, and you know what, everyone likes the people who aren't, don't try to be, and are just fun.

Be yourself! Your DH married you, not a stepford version of his mum.

DaemonPantalaemon Sat 13-Jul-13 07:56:38

I am not from the UK so this is fascinating to me. So is it really considered middle class to insist that children should eat vegetables and use cutlery properly?

LandOfSpareOom Sat 13-Jul-13 08:01:01

A few people have brought up the concept of simply "good manners" and actually this is one of the problems because it is often used to make out that different = bad manners or "faux pas".

Let's take kids & presents. I find stacking up presents to open later then writing thank you cards is strange. What my WC background taught me is that you open presents in front of people & express suitable excitement, happiness & a sincere thank you so they share your enjoyment & gratitude . That is "good manners". Which apparently horrifies some people.

And that's just one of many things. But I refuse to let go of lots of aspects of my background culture because to do so implies it's bad & that I needed to move up in life.

So I empathise with you OP.

perfectstorm Sat 13-Jul-13 08:02:11

I was always taught those rules, but the big one my (bitch, actually, but good on manners) of a grandmother taught me was that manners were primarily about respecting others, and therefore it was the height of ill-bred vulgarity to ever so much as hint that anyone else's were lacking. In other words, your IL are the ones being rude if they so much as imply your ways of doing things are lesser. That, according to my upbringing, was the biggest faux pas possible.

And she also taught me that cake forks and fish cutlery were naff affectations and only used by the socially insecure! (Not an issue in this house. Our cutlery is from IKEA, and I've never seen fish or patisserie options in the Marketplace. Presumably they're tucked away with the silver teapots and linen napkins.)

Chubfuddler Sat 13-Jul-13 08:03:03

Not to my mind it isn't daemon. My family were thoroughly working class but we always had proper vegetables, good table manners etc. It's having standards and that isn't a socioeconomic thing.

Chubfuddler Sat 13-Jul-13 08:03:45

I agree with perfectstorm's grandmother.

I think it's worth enlisting DP's support further. I never had this issue but did find that my mil was disapproving at times. This was just her way and to some extent a character thing. For example she would imply that I wanted it all as I had kids and went to work! Hmm, no, we needed the money.
My brother and wife also looked down on me at times. For example he famously came around to my new house and declared that it actually wasn't that bad.
It used to bother me but in the end I developed a thick skin. I do think it's a question of building confidence somehow.

ShoeWhore Sat 13-Jul-13 08:15:45

I'm with perfectstorm's grandmother too - to me that's the epitome of real class.

OP fwiw I get this kind of nonsense from my inlaws who are more wc than me! I agree totally it's just bad manners. What would happen if you tried to just be yourself a bit more and thought about what you and dh would like to do? There is no law saying you have to turn into your ILs!

Pollydon Sat 13-Jul-13 08:27:07

Good manners are a must, I agree. We are wc, but fil considers himself mc ( dh brought up by his mum )
No issues with that side of the family, as we all have good manners (smile)

dashoflime Sat 13-Jul-13 08:32:45

"The ILs don't criticise me directly - more passive aggressive "oh don't you do this" and general raising of eyebrows. It's very subtle but real."

Fuck 'em. They're the previous generation. This is your time now and you get to choose how you do things. Seriously fuck 'em

Agree with cognito "This is not a Middle Class thing, this is a bullying thing."

crazyhead Sat 13-Jul-13 08:38:07

Your ILs do sound pretty rude. However, it does also sound as though they may be misjudging you because they don't have much context about you. It does sound like you are squashing your private self in public an awful lot.

I think there are a few things you can do - hope this doesn't sound like nonsense!

Maybe you do this already, but you can work on yourself, whether just by thinking stuff through or talking to someone about it, to make sure that you do not feel the least bit anxious about who you are. I hope you get the chance to share with your family the bits of your background and own personal culture that feel like they are a true part of you.

I think you need to try to work out what things you really want to 'give' to your family and why - you should not have to feel like a fake. In reality, you are probably a mixture of your past and ways that you have changed over the years - to find out exactly where you are at you need to be able to shut yourself off from other people's opinions but also feel free to express yourself.

If you just give your authentic love to your family and friends, that is more than enough. Who cares about knives and forks!

Ideally, you want to get to a position where you are so confident that you just do things in your own way without thinking about it. You'd be able to talk about your background fondly and clearly, and tell your PILs why you did things your way and stand up for that if they ever said anything.

ExcuseTypos Sat 13-Jul-13 08:53:30

I agree with others, this isn't about class it's about rudeness. My upbringing was northern WC, my DH's family is southern MC.

My ILs have never been anything but kind to me, they've never said a anything like 'don't you do this?' That's just plain rude.

I do know what you mean about feeling their life is all very different- dinner parties, napkins, being very involved in village life, having lunch instead of dinner and supper instead of tea.

We live in an affluent place but I can honestly say that we have some wealthy WC neighbours who are lovely and some who are horrible, rude snobs.
We have some wealthy MC neighbours who are lovely and some who are horrible rude snobs.

It's not the class it's their personalities. You need to have more confidence in who you are.

We've sort of got the opposite, my family are more MC than DH's and although there is no general problem between any of us it can be a little awkward at times, I remember DFIL coming to our house and picking up the pepper grinder and having no idea what to do with it. DH was not brought up to differentiate between the relaxed habits you might use when eating at home (eg just using a fork in your right hand, using the fork as a scoop for peas) and the more correct habits you would use at a formal meal, because they never went to any formal meals. Whereas I automatically switch modes. It became a problem when the DCs were starting to use cutlery properly, it was hard to teach them when DH was constantly sitting at the table in relaxed mode using his fork as a spoon, and I was saying to the DCs, no, prongs down and stab the food, not scoop it up. I have had to try and explain to him that it's fine sometimes but we need to teach the DCs properly but he just thinks I'm making myself out to be superior. In fact he has a real chip on his shoulder if I ever criticise anything he does or suggest a different way so it's hard to have a constructive discussion.

Even with my more MC upbringing I find hosting parties very stressful (adults or children), have never held a proper dinner party, just occasional friends round for a bowl of pasta etc. I have a few friends from much more MC backgrounds than me and they seem to do all this stuff with great ease. So it is all relative I think, I just try and remember that we're different not inferior

stepmooster Sat 13-Jul-13 09:04:43

I must admit I'm hot on table manners (no cake forks in my house though). When DH moved in with me he would eat with his mouth open, pick food off his plate with his fingers, eat in front of the TV and barely chew his food.

Now we eat at the table, I remind him I don't want to see what he eats, that knives and forks were invented for a reason and that if he chewed his food properly he wouldn't have bad indigestion all night.

Does that make me a snob? I just don't want DD to pick up on these habits!

CatsAndTheirPizza Sat 13-Jul-13 09:12:04

' more passive aggressive "oh don't you do this" and general raising of eyebrows. It's very subtle but real.' I don't think the problem is that your in-laws are middle class and you are from a working class background - I think the problem is that your in-laws are bloody rude, with no manners at all. I'm with perfectstorm on this one too.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 13-Jul-13 09:37:35

Rude. Emotional bullying. Condescension. Nothing to do with class. The message is 'we are superior to you'... and it will make you miserable if you allow yourself to believe it.

FrauMoose Sat 13-Jul-13 09:43:30

How many people bother with the using fork prongs down thing?

I realise I switched to an American style of only using a knife when there's meat that needs cutting, and just using a fork otherwise. I eat quite a lot of 'non-English' food and rarely have steaks, big roast dinners etc.

I suspect that many people now believe that as long as you don't eat with your mouth wide open, and are generally considerate of others, and make an effort to eat a variety of foods rather than making everyone aware of your complicated fads, and socialise in a pleasant way over food - it isn't a big problem.

justgivemeareason Sat 13-Jul-13 09:50:42

Why are you inviting them round so much? I wouldn't dream of doing birthday parties at home - just go out! Same for 'dinner parties' - just go to a casual restaurant. Why put pressure on yourself? The easy answer is just don't bother doing it all.

sukiyaki Sat 13-Jul-13 10:05:54

I imagine this is how my DH feels sometimes around my family. He's not British and his family are probably lower MC, if we're applying labels, whereas my family very British MC. He never says anything, but I can see him sometimes trying to figure out what he's supposed to be doing.

The fact is though that we all have to act some of the time in life. At work you have to act like you know what you're doing, even when you don't, when you have a baby you have to muddle through when you have no clue, even if your parents threw dinner parties (mine did all the time when I was a kid), it's still really stressful when you start entertaining people in your own home. So please just cut yourself some slack. Whoever we are and whatever our background we're all out of our depth sometimes and, generally, ILs are sent to test us!

JustinBsMum Sat 13-Jul-13 10:12:27

I'm a bit confused at this, maybe because I have been living in the states a lot and there your get given a knife an fork wrapped in a paper napkin and drink beer in texas and wine in California but anything else such as dessert forks or laying places at the table are just not done (unless v expensive restaurant), AND no one dresses up for meals.

I think you are worrying unnecessarily and need to stop letting your insecurities colour your relationships so much. Life is far too short.

Kids should be taught to eat with a knife and fork and keep their mouths closed when they chew but I think your DMIL's 'not cooking that sort of food' was a crafty ploy to get out of cooking for everyone. And dinner parties are a total pia unless you are good at recounting stories or telling jokes, it took me many years to realise that DH and I are not dinner party types and to realise why, I would not say we were boring people but we can't 'amuse' other people with chat. So parties are a bore for us and those we invite.

Are you talking about DC's bday parties or yours? Children's parties are awful imo, best get DH to do them, and for your party you should go out with your friends, people you want to be with!

Why not start having an occasional bbq and all the 'niceties' aren't required!

Before you know it your DCs will be talking about leaving home, ILs will be looking at care homes or needing support and health care and your life will be half over and you will wonder why you ever wasted time worrying about this.

SirRaymondClench Sat 13-Jul-13 10:23:35

I think the mistake a lot of people make is they equate money with class.
I am from the upper classes, my mother has a title.
I married a man from the working classes. No problem nor consideration about this on my behalf.
IL are both working class but FIL very successful in business.
Both IL have a huge chip on their shoulders about my background in particular MIL. She can not cope with it and all I get is endless snidey remarks and her trying to out-do me and my family.
It is all in her head.
In her circle she is Queen Bea (in her head) and she cut off all ties with her relatives when her and her husband became rich, in short she rewrote history and is deeply ashamed of them.
The fact the I come from the background I do, in her mind, unseats her position and status in life (want to make this very clear, I have NEVER done anything nor would to make her feel like this) and makes her feel threatened.
I find IL exhausting because they are constantly making my background an issue and for me it isn't, it's just the family I was born into that is all.

FormaLurka Sat 13-Jul-13 10:53:59

Sorry OP but the issue is with you rather than with ILs.

Basically, you can't be arsed to do a lot of things like getting your kids to eat vegetables. You make the excuse that it's a MC thing and roll your eyes. Unfortunately you seen to have aquired a few supporters.

As kids we were allowed to watch tv while we eat or prop up a magazine at the dinning table. We rarely ate together and dinner was mostly oven ready stuff. As a parent I decided that I wasn't going to raise my kids that way. It has nothing to do with me being WC or MC.

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