Conflicts with the In-Laws
Archived Q&A and Reviews
- Brother-in-law is insulting our parenting
- I hate my envious in-laws
My husband recently received a nasty email from his brother, accusing us of having a 3-year-old spoiled brat for a daughter, which is our fault because we are bad parents who need to take parenting classes (yes, it was said in those words, with slightly more conciliatory language in further describing his observations). We had just gotten back from a weekend visit with this brother (let's call him Joe), his wife, and their three children (a 3 year old & 11 month old twins). Let me be very clear: I know that he is wrong on substance, that having three very compliant and easy-tempered children himself, he knows nothing about raising an extremely headstrong, spirited child. We have also seen this pattern before in Joe's interactions with other people, and know that his accusations derive in large part from his own insecurities as a father and husband. He has trouble empathizing and can be a very a difficult person to deal with. But knowing that he is wrong doesn't stop me or my husband from feeling hurt and angry.
My question is how to respond to this. My husband's first response was one of defensiveness and anger, and now they've gone back and forth several times in a tone that's accusatory and just not helpful. We both agree that we shouldn't engage on the substance of the issue. We don't want to get into that kind of back and forth, or put ourselves in the position of having to defend ourselves against accusations we know are baseless. Joe is unlikely to ever admit that he is wrong, and we don't want to feed the flames of confrontation. My husband has communicated this to him and asked him not to raise this subject again. But Joe refuses to take no for an answer, believing us so deluded as to need his well-intentioned intervention and his help and counsel, even if it upsets us. Seriously.
I don't want to start World War III, which is a definite risk in this family. Joe and his wife are already on rocky terms with my mother-in-law (flamed, incidentally, by emails pretty much just like the one we received). But this issue has to be resolved. Up until now, we've had a good relationship with Joe and his wife and truly valued their friendship. Our daughters are almost exactly the same age, and we all would like them to grow up close. But right at this moment I want nothing to do with Joe. I do not want to spend time with him or expose my daughter (not to mention myself and my husband) to his judgment and criticism, as long as this is how he sees us. How can I ever have peace again in my interactions with him, or see him as a friend, if I believe he always judging us? I am afraid we may lose this valued friendship, and that makes me very sad.
Any advice is welcome, and thank you for listening.
Sincerely, a hurt mama
First it sounds like you and your husband need a cooling off period with his brother's family. As you point out, nothing good will come of the continued email volley while tensions are still high. While your brother in law's email was rude and insensitive, a couple things in your post make me pause. First it sounds like your two families have been extremely close for a long time so something happened during your visit to his house that you seem to want to gloss over. Did your daughter do something that would be unacceptable to most people? If so did you acknowledge it to them? No on expects kids to be perfect, but it's irritating when parents turn a blind eye or make excuses for their kids bad behavior, especially when you're a guest in someone elses' home. Second you mention that his three kids are easy going and compliant so he and his wife are lucky and they can't empathize with your situation. That seems like a realize dismissive statement regarding their parent styles. No one has THREE well behaved, easy children without putting a ton of consistent work into it. Have you considered that or is jealousy on your part coming into play here?
I do think your brother in law should apologize and hopefully over time he will. In the meantime, please focus more attention on your daughter's struggles and take a break from shooting the messenger. There's always two sides....
Wow that sucks. I find that in situations like these (dealing with an aggressive, non-self-aware nosy-pants) it is best to deal ONLY in a non-defensive posture coupled with only discussing practical parts of the problem. Avoid defending your parenting (hard, I know, but it's not effective in solving the problem which is how to shut down the discussion while maintaining a decent relationship with the guy and his family). Respond ONLY to how the situation affects him in a practical way. For example, you might say something like, ''we would like to find a way to be able to spend time as families without anyone feeling uncomfortable. We don't have the same approach to parenting and are done discussing our differences in that area. But we want to be reasonable in terms of respecting rules in your home and are willing to consider your request for different behavior while we are visiting. Can you point out one or two of the most difficult behaviors you don't want to have in your home?'' Focus only on how the issue is affecting him and refuse to engage around parenting in general. I do think that if you are visiting his home you kind of have to pay attention to his rules. If he can identify just ONE OR TWO things that get under his skin then you can either agree to not allow your child to do those things at their house and explain to your child that those are the rules at Uncle Joe's house or reject the request as unreasonable and not visit any more. Hopefully he will feel heard and stop harassing you.
If he won't stop then I would tell him the families will be taking a break from each other. Don't answer the phone when he calls or respond to emails. Eventually he will move on to critisizing someone else and you can go back to spending (small amounts) of time as families. Keep reminding each other that logically, you strongly believe his views don't jive with yours and you feel confident in the way you parent, he is being inappropriate in his intrusiveness, and you don't need to explain yourselves to him. Tell each other not to bother engaging with him. It. Is. Pointless. Good luck. Anon
This is such a tough one because this guy just will not change and does not care. I wonder what his wife thinks, poor thing!
I mean, the only thing you can do is (a) suck it up so you retain the relationship or (b) don't. Sucking it up doesn't mean accepting his behavior; it means you make the difficult decision to not react to his nonsense. Come up with 3-4 canned responses: ''Thanks, you mentioned that.'' ''Great advice, I'll get right on that.'' ''Yep, got it.'' Rotate through them every time he opens his foolish trap. Don't escalate and don't take the bait. I think it's called ''detachment.''
You can't change him, and you are right to be pissed. Knowing those two things, maybe you can find some peace going forward. On a reduced schedule.
OR NOT! You'd also be totally justified in only seeing the kids when the wife is available but the husband is busy.
I wonder why he's like that. Even his own parents can't stand him - you'd think he'd get the hint.
Dear Hurt Mama,
I write this as someone whose own family has been torn apart to some extent by the comments of some siblings to others about their parenting skills. Let's just say that at this point one parent refuses to talk to two of her close family members because of disagreements about parenting style and repercussions for spirited behavior (which in our case included an adult going to the hospital due to a small child's behavior).
Here's what I would write to avoid this sad outcome:
Children have different temperaments, and parents have different parenting styles. I understand that you are uncomfortable with some of our parenting strategies in your home, but we are not prepared to change our parenting style in order to make visits with you more comfortable. Please understand that one size does not fit all on parenting.''
I would certainly avoid any counter attacks or judgments, stay focused on content, ignore (and avoid reciprocating) awkward delivery, and set a CLEAR boundary on 'constructive criticism'. Missing more happy family functions.
It is very annoying when people who lucked out with kids with an easier temperament feel that their children's behavior is 100% due to their awesome parenting. I went through something similar with my aunt. My oldest child had a very willful temperament and her son was super, super compliant and easily cowed by authority. My aunt could never shut up about all the things she thought I should be doing, even though I knew that it was absolutely the wrong way to handle my child. Meanwhile my son is now 8 and a total delight and her son is grown and keeps her at arms length because she was so domineering over him. However, her comments destroyed our relationship. It wasn't as close to begin with as it sounds like yours is with your brother in law, but I would be fine if I never saw my aunt again. I do see her at family gatherings and I am polite, but I feel no affection towards her. You have nothing to lose, you should just tell your brother in law that the comments he is making will destroy the relationship, because truthfully they will. The other thing I tried to do with friends who were judgmental with my child was only see the friends without kids. You have to protect yourself from people who have no clue what it is like to parent a spirited child as they say. Anonymous
Oh no, interpersonal family problems are never good. I wish that I had some good advice for you. Avoid email communications to the extent possible.
The only thing that struck me from your post was the fact that you and your husband seem to refuse to actually consider the feedback that you BIL is giving you. I see that you have decided that he's wrong and that there's nothing wrong with your child or your parenting. While he could have approached this issue in a much more tactful manner, maybe he has a point? Maybe there is something that you could do to control your very spirited child that would make her more fun for others to be around? While his kids might be easier to deal with than yours, it doesn't mean that it isn't hard for him to be around your child. Maybe he doesn't want his well behaved kids to start acting like yours? Maybe he thinks that you are encouraging the bad behavior by doing nothing to stop it? I would advise you to take a step back and try to view things objectively. Maybe get an evaluation from a neutral party. At this point none of your friends or family are going to tell you the truth about how they feel about your child or your parenting style. I wouldn't believe any of them if they tell you that the problem solely lies with your brother-in-law, they just don't want your anger focused on them and will tell you anything that you want to hear.
The sad thing is that people don't want to be around out-of-control children that their parents don't seem to try to control. It really doesn't matter how challenging the child is or that you would be great parents to an easy child. Free time is limited and people choose to spend it in pleasant ways. The longer you allow your child to annoy other people, the less invitations that you will have.
I don't say any of this lightly. I also have a spirited child that I'm constantly try to figure out how to better parent. My point is that your BIL may be speaking some truth and you may want to try to get something positive from it. Look within?
I suggest that you and your husband take parenting classes. Almost any parent has something to learn. Maybe you will learn something useful in regards to dealing with your spirited child. Perhaps your BIL was not particularly gentle in his request, but I still think it is a good idea.
In addition, you could open up a conversation about what concerns him. You don't have to take his advice, but just listening to him could calm him down. It may be that he doesn't actually have easy kids, but that he is actually a talented parent. Some people are like that. He may actually have good advice if you are willing to listen. There is no reason to get angry or defensive. Just get talk it out and look for solutions together.
Having a spirited child as a guest in one's home can be difficult. You owe it to your BIL to at least pretend to try to get your kid under control. Anon
For parents whose children are inherently of an easygoing temperament, it can be incomprehensible how the children of other people can be of very different emotional makeup and behaviors. If your brother-in-law is both clueless and intrusive, there may be little that you can do to mitigate the situation at this point in time.
Both of our children were difficult from preschool age to about age seven, and then things got much better. You might want to distance yourself from your BIL for a few years, and see whether ''improvements'' in your children will make it possible to resurrect your friendship with BIL and his family. If the family drama is taking the form of your husband bickering with his brother over email, one wonders whether there is some sort of sibling rivalry being played out here. In any case, I would think that your husband ''owns'' the issue with his brother, even though you are being affected by the quarrel, and it may eventually result in distance between your child and the little cousins.
It is entirely possible that the cousins will come to enjoy each others' company in the future, regardless of the adults' failure to get along with each other. Amelia
I would just take a break from being with this family for a few years. I respect and agree with your desire for your child to be close with her cousins, but honestly, even if she doesn't see them AT ALL from age 3 to age 6 or 8, or even 10, as long as she sees them fairly frequently from then on, they'll be tight for life. Just make excuses and don't see them for a while. Maybe tell him you are too busy to visit because you are attending a parenting retreat. Good luck.
Dear Hurt Mama,
Oh, no, no, no. This is so not okay. Of course you are hurt and angry! Critiquing other people's parenting seems to be a national past-time, and it amazes me that so many people feel comfortable doing it. My very dear mother-in-law said to me, when my first child was born, ''If there was one right way to raise a child, we would have figured it out and written it down a long time again.'' It is not only the case that every child is distinct in terms of temperament and needs, but every parent and family and situation is distinct as well (and constantly changing, to boot). Where is our humility when we look at another parent and say, ''I could do better than that parent is doing.''?!
Do I sound a bit testy about this? It is because I experience a great deal of this from my mother, and have somewhat pushed her back by saying that if she wants to open up the topic of parenting, that means I get to discuss her parenting too (she made a few mistakes, too. Duh).
This has only worked partially with her, and I doubt it would work with your brother-in-law, as he sounds as though he likes to deliver criticism. But I do think you have to communicate a very clear and firm boundary with him on this topic. This means, in my mind, not explaining a single thing about you, your parenting, or you child--NOT JUSTIFYING AT ALL--but instead indicating that you do not welcome or tolerate his commentary on your life/behavior/parenting in any way, shape or form. Without excuses or explanations. Something along the lines of ''We value this relationship and would like to maintain it, but we are not soliciting advice about parenting'' (or ''will not have any conversations with you about parenting'' or something like that). Craft a short, simple sentence and practice it. Say it to him over and over if necessary.
He might be pissy about it at first, but either he will accept the boundary and you will continue to have a relationship, or he will not and you will not. Which also means you have to mean it. You have to believe that you have every right to choose not to be around people who are shitty to you. You are absolutely entitled to spend your time with people who treat you *and your child* with respect.
I have been working on this with my mother. She continues to try to push that boundary, and I continue to have to assert it, and frankly I wouldn't put up with that from anyone else, but I am trying to maintain a relationship with my mother (though asserting this boundary has led to more temporal boundaries as well, i.e., I don't spend much time with her anymore). It is good practice for me to have to repeatedly, firmly assert what I will and will not accept.
You may find he is not worth it. Life is too short! I feel you!
I've a feeling you're going to get showered with responses saying your brother-in-law is way out pf line -- I'm going to play devil's advocate. Nobody should ever tell a parent their child is a spoiled brat, nor should they criticize their parenting style, but reading between the lines a bit, you describe your own child as headstrong, ''spirited'' and difficult and b-i-l's kids as compliant and easy going. You stayed at this man's house with his three kids -- including infant twins -- for a weekend. What prompted him to send the inappropriate e-mail? I'd hazard a guess and say that you didn't assume responsibility for your child's behavior. What did he/she do? Tantrum in a restaurant, pull the dog's tail, shove the infants? All of these things are acceptable in my opinion, but if you and your spouse didn't own this behavior and immediately make amends, I'd say your b-i-l was justified in being pissed. I am OK with badly behaved, spirited kids. Some of them blossom into lovely teens. But when parents sit back and assume their burden is other people's burden to be shared, my patience wears thing (especially if I were dealing with my own three kids under the age of 3). Apologize if your visit caused additional stress and point out that you don't appreciate his comments. And next time you visit, stay at a hotel. MomOf2
I think that e-mail can be extremely detrimental as a form of personal communication. So my first piece of advice would be to forget e-mail. Set up a time to meet and talk with brother-in-law. You can start with a phone call: ''I think it is easy for us to hurt and insult each other via e-mail. Let's get together and see if we can talk this through.'' Face-to-face it is easier to keep relationship intact by attending to each other's feelings in the present moment. Then explain calmly and kindly that advice from others about parenting should be solicited and not offered without solicitation. You can say that you understand that his advice is coming out of a concern for your family, but you don't see the need for the advice. And if he finds your child's behavior so unacceptable that he can't tolerate the behavior, then you will just have to limit contact; but advice is not welcome. Good luck with repairing communication lines -- the BIL needs to be informed that e-mail is a bad medium for him. family peace-maker
While i agree your brother in law wasn't very tactful or understanding, i see in your answer that you have no intention of taking any cues or advice and that to me is a red flag that maybe there is actually something you should be doing.
I have 2 kids. One was easy going the other wasn't. I never assumed others should understand his behavior or have to deal with it. It sounds like you think everyone should understand and deal with it and i strongly disagree with that. Children have to learn to live in the world and not the other way around. Do you think her boss should have to accept her behavior one day?
I don't know anyone who has three easy kids. That comes from consistent and clear parenting. Maybe you could take back YOUR judgment on them and accept you might need to learn a few things. anon
if you're brother-in-law is saying it, believe me that there are likely others in your circle who are thinking it. i once told a friend (after much much thought) about her spirited child. she did not want to be on top of her daughter all the time so she let lots of bad behavior slide. the conversation did not go well, she was defensive and angry and hurt and told me about her child's wonderful qualities. all of which were / are true as were my observations. i know other friends in her circle who have talked about the girl's behavior, have wondered about their parenting, kept their children away, but have never said anything to them directly (it's a topic so sensitive that not even close friends really want to touch). all that to say that your family might be wrong/rude in accusing you of bad parenting but stop for a minute to hear what is being said about your child. there may be a grain of truth in it and you might want to consider what to take and what to leave of his advice. it may help your relationship with your family and others who may have never voiced concerns. anon
I'm so sorry you're hurting. Being criticized for your parenting cuts quite deep. We sacrifice so much, care so much, and do so much right that it feels terribly unfair. If your BIL has trouble empathizing, then I bet he approached those emails poorly. I would encourage you, though, to take a deep breath and look at the situation again. And not for your BIL's sake, but for you, your husband, and your daughter. I have a beloved nephew who is now a wonderful young man. During his first years, however, he drove us to distraction. In the name of respecting his feelings and not stifling him, his parents allowed him to be rude and they unwittingly put his needs before other people's. Every holiday and family event was marked by all of us gritting our teeth. It was terribly unpleasant and it made us all angry. The whole family was baffled because his parents were an elementary school teacher and an elementary school councilor! When their daughter came along, it was same song and second verse. Finally, somebody sat them down to kindly talk to them about it. They got the book 1-2-3 Magic and learned to be consistent. Years later we all talked about it -- a tearful yet hilarious group discussion. We all tried so hard for so long to respect their parenting that it led to misery. It is a wonder one of us didn't snap and explode into an ugly rant like your BIL. Once one of us finally spoke up and the situation changed, the extended family was much happier but so were the parents AND KIDS! Maybe your BIL (and others) have long been gritting their teeth in silence. Even though it seems clear that your BIL has issues, don't let that stop you from using this as an opportunity to grow as a parent. Please take an honest look to see how your daughter relates to others and if her actions seem to repel others more than seems normal for her age. ''Spirited'' can mean full of energy and enthusiasm, but it can also mean out of control or rude. Even in young kids, unchecked rude behavior inflicts hurt and damages the child's relationships with others. Kids also need kind but firm boundaries to feel secure. Ask yourself if your parenting style is going to add up to your daughter becoming a woman who understands her own needs as well as the needs of others and can balance the two. I'm not saying your parenting style could use adjusting, just encouraging you to ask the question honestly for yourself -- no easy task when your feelings are hurt. I know for myself that I am not from the Bay Area and my parenting style is more firm than some of the parents we run into. I had to find a group of moms that I felt truly comfortable with and whose parenting styles I really admired to serve as my sounding board. Now that I have support, I am better able to think things through if my parenting receives criticism. Best of luck to you! I'm glad you're the sort of person who really cares about their family. The world needs more people like that! --No Longer Gritting My Teeth
My Husband and I have been married for 3 years now. Ever since I met his sister and her husband, I can't stand them! They are so fake and materialistic. We both have kids and my in-laws always want to compete. They will buy their kids the latest toys, take them to watch all the movies possible, and then come back and show off to my kids. My sister in law is so jealous of my kids, she tries to tie up my mother in law into babysitting her kids all the time, so that my mother in law can't watch my kids at all. Her husband acts super nice to my husband and then turns around and calls him stupid and dumb. Every time we go on a vacation or trip, they feel the need to go Bigger and Better. That makes me laugh; they're so lame for that! They spend money they don't have to make us feel 'less'.
When I started going to the gym, my sister in law decided she also wanted to train with MY trainer. When I applied to a really good job, her husband decided he wanted to compete with me & started applying too. My husband is BLIND. He defends them all the time, despite a few rude things they've done to him too. I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO. I feel bad saying it, but I really do HATE them. They don't congratulate our successes; they are always trying to out-shine us & even our kids. I'm done trying to make them part of my kid's life. I want them out & far away!! Anyone have a similar experience? Any advice will be appreciated!!! Thank you!!! keep them away!!
I asked myself if this posting was for real? I don't mean to be rude, but you sound a bit immature. I believe that perhaps you actually might be envious of them. However, either way it sounds like you don't like them so just limit your time with them and ignore (yes, IGNORE) their shenanigans around money and trips and gifts. Rise above it. You will sleep a lot better at night-I promise. wow
Move far away. Anon
The important thing you can do is to not put your husband in the middle of what could be, for him, an un-winnable battle between the in-laws and his wife.
Is he aware that your BIL sucks up to your husband to his face and then stabs him in the back? Your husband needs to be aware of these incidents. He should also frown on your BIL competing with you in applying for the job you want so much. This is an act of war.
The quick and dirty solution would be for you and your husband and kids to move out of the area.
Beyond that, other than designing your life to minimize interface with these people, I don't have much advice. Don't let your kids be with these people's kids except for unavoidable holidays. Agree with your husband on a ''party line'' to take with the kids: ''X and Y are given a lot of money and taken to a lot of movies, and it is not nice for them to brag about things they have that other people do not have.''
In my case, the financially competitive in-laws who mocked me behind my back as a cheapskate ended up bankrupt, barely avoiding foreclosure of their home. They will never pay off their mortgage, and depend financially on the spouse's side of the family. We are financially stable, and our kids turned out to be nicer people and better citizens as adults than their kid. Amelia
You seem very mad at your in-laws and I understand what you feel. I have also a SIL who is very materialistic, competitive and fake. She spends all her money in dresses so that people tell her how cool and well dressed she is. She is very arrogant and thinks the universe revolves around her. But besides all this competitiveness and materialistic world where she lives there is a big insecurity.
When I got pregnant she was furious because she wasnÂ´t. She stopped talking to my husband and me. Now she is mad because we own a house in Berkeley and they live all crowded with her two children, two dogs and a cat in a little rented cottage somewhere else in the Bay Area. They spend money in big TVs and clothes. All the money they spend is to look good to try to belong to a certain group. She claims to be very bohemian and artistic but she hasnÂ´t read a book in her life.
People who feel well with themselves donÂ´t need to compete or pretend to belong to a certain group. For some time I was very mad and sad that I didnÂ´t have a nice sister in law. I was sad that our children were not going to grow together but today that we donÂ´t have any contact with them we are happier and less stress. I realized that we donÂ´t need them to be happy. On the contrary, having them far away in our lives have made us happier. We want positive people around us. Positive and nice people around our children.
Don't be mad at them just think that all this comes from a big insecurity. Talk to your husband and think that you don´t need them in your lives. Why do you want to have this kind of people close to you or your children? Even if they are family?
Your real friends are the ones that get happy for your success, not the ones that stand by you in tragic moments. When you are having success or you are happy check out how your friends and family feel. Are they happy for you? Or they feel envious and jealous.
Stay away from them. Anon
I'm sure your in-laws are detestable, but you will never win a battle between your husband and his sister. That is a family relationship, it started way before you showed up, and it will last longer than you if you persist in trying to get between siblings.
Frankly, I don't see what the problem is, beyond them acting annoying. These guys are, as you say, jealous. So what? I find that the most enjoyable way to get revenge on fools is to allow them to make bigger and bigger fools of themselves, and sit back and enjoy the show. Try it sometime. It is hilarious. You can even make it a game: every time your SIL says something ridiculous, move a charm from a bracelet on your right wrist to a bracelet on your left wrist, and see where you are after each visit. Every time you manage not to move them all, you get to buy yourself a new charm. Come on, that sounds fun to me.
My point is -- you can't win this fight. You had better change your attitude toward it, or you are just going to make yourself miserable and damage your marriage. Right now, I guarantee your husband's family sees YOU as the crazy one making trouble, not their own daughter. And they are kind of right. You can't change people and it sounds unfair that you demand that your husband give up his family, and your kid give up his cousins, because you don't like somebody.
Hang in there. You can do this. It's part of being a grownup.
You're definitely entitled to your feelings--hate and all. But I'm concerned about what these jerky in-laws are doing to you, inside. This is going to be hard, but to really ''solve'' this problem, I think you're going to have to reach an emotional place where you *truly* don't care about all their one-upmanship, and where you don't need any congrats or warm fuzzies from them. Because you're not going to get any, and you don't need that anyways. Imagine them never changing...because that is the likely outcome.
Now, picture not giving a darn about them; and I mean, not caring, not feeling angry, or annoyed, or competed against, or resentful, small, etc. Let them be, and let yourself just be. They're not ''bigger'' or ''smaller'' than you, and the same goes for you.
You'll probably have to see them and tolerate them from time to time (I have to do this too, so I get it), and you're allowed to occasionally indulge in thoughts about what idiots they are, etc. But stop getting stuck on that (and it sounds like you are stuck here). Basically, the simple word for all of this is to DETACH from them.