By Valerie Schultz
Two of my four daughters are now married. Two down and two to go, if the younger two so choose. The family dynamic changes with a marriage: When a child gets married, there is not only another child now related to you, but another whole family whose feelings must be considered with sensitivity, especially when it comes to celebrating the holidays.
This delicate situation can develop while a child is in a serious dating relationship -- as a case in point, my youngest was absent from the Thanksgiving table this year because she had dinner with her boyfriend's family -- but once a child marries, his or her in-laws are, for better or for worse, part of the newly formed and ever-expanding family.
My in-laws live in Texas, and my daughter who was married two years ago has in-laws who live in Missouri, so her experience of the blending of two families in a new marriage has so far been similar to mine. We have always spent more holidays with my California family due to simple geography: My family is a car ride of 100 miles away, while visiting my husband's family involves a major trip across several states.
My daughter who is newly married this fall, however, lives in San Diego, which is where her husband's parents live. So we are already wondering if this will be the first Christmas Eve that our children are not all home at the same time under our happy roof.
A wedding only lasts for a day, but it is a seed from which grows a marriage, which ideally lasts a lifetime. We have had two weddings in our family now, each one a lovely, memorable moment of two souls pledging themselves to one another. A married daughter is a different creature from an unmarried one, because there is now a spouse who shares her life, her heart and her decisions.
The wonderful verse in the Book of Genesis about how "a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife" (Gen 2:24) holds true for women, too. We women and men leave our birth families to create new families. We cling to our spouses in good times and in bad, and that is how a marriage establishes firm roots and sturdy branches.
And that is to the good. That is how the species survives and society flourishes. A marriage in its infancy is to be respected and nurtured. Our daughters' marriages are now the primary relationship in their lives, which can be a hard fact for parents to assimilate.
A new marriage moves us parents up a limb on the family tree, and we are not always ready to make that move. We are not ready to give the focus over to the next generation. But as the saying goes: Change is inevitable; growth is not. It is up to us to welcome each new marriage and each new family member into the fold, while being careful to accept that they as a couple are independent of us now.
The marriages of my two daughters are the same in every aspect except for this: One is legal, and one is not.
My daughter who married a man is legally married in the state of California and enjoys all the many rights and benefits of civil marriage. My daughter who married a woman is married in spirit only. Their commitment ceremony conferred none of those rights and benefits.
Yet when I see each of my daughters with her chosen mate, I know that their marriages are equally valid in all the intangible ways. And I believe it is only a matter of time, not to mention a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, until same-sex civil marriages are legal in all 50 states.
When I mention my son-in-law, no one thinks twice about the relationship. When I mention my daughter-in-law, eyebrows sometimes raise. How can the mother of only daughters have a daughter-in-law? Then the realization dawns: one of my daughters has a same-sex partner. I know that this is sometimes awkward for people to respond to gracefully, but I believe that every time we parents of gay and lesbian children use a term like "daughter-in-law" or "son-in-law," barriers are broken down -- or at least weakened -- in people's minds. (Especially when they meet my daughter-in-law, who is a truly delightful person.) The concept of a committed, lifelong relationship between two women or two men is normalized, as it must and should be.
As time goes by, and my husband and I become the old folks, the occasions when our daughters are all together may become rare.
The holidays will center on their families and their children; their nuclear families will be the source of their love and joy, as ours has been for us. We honor the marriages of our daughters to their soul mates, legal or not-yet-legal. We hold them close to our hearts, these precious jewels that sparkle in the life we are so blessed to share, even as we let them go.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.