Intrusive In-Laws

17 Apr


Letterbalm Mother-in-LawDear LetterBalm: My mother-in-law calls my husband at least twice a day and sulks if he and our children don’t visit every week. She packs up items – useless clothing or foods that are nearly spoiled or dried out – and sends them back with him. I’m expected to call her immediately to thank her, which turns into a one-sided half-hour conversation about her day. If I wait until the next morning, she’s annoyed with me. She and my father-in-law insist on knowing our comings and goings, especially all the things our children are doing, including doctor visits and school schedules. I’m concerned that they are inserting themselves too much into our lives, and we’re worn out from explaining and reassuring and dealing with hurt feelings. What to do?

–Exhausted in El Paso

You’ve said nothing about your husband in all this. Is he happy with the status quo, as dysfunctional as it is? His parents are using guilt and manipulation to keep your family in line, and it will take a double-team effort to change things. It’s a cinch his folks won’t or don’t change; they have it too good. So, it’s on you – maybe, at first, without your husband. First, learn how to handle difficult parents and in-laws. Believe Ms. L.B. when she says there are volumes of information out there on the web. Based on your research, draw up clear rules governing telephone call and visit frequency, receiving unwanted items, invading family time and privacy and erecting boundaries. These should be simple guidelines gradually incorporated that, over time, become second nature. You need to be gracefully and graciously unmovable. Some couples therapy will help, too. When you have things straight in your mind, have a gentle, private talk with your husband. He’ll be more inclined to work with you if you remind him of what he doesn’t like about his parents’ behavior:

Gordon, I need your complete attention because this is important. Your parents certainly are solicitous of our family, but it’s become too much. This isn’t judging them, dear, just reality. We can’t go on with the level of involvement that Harold and Maude have in our lives. You and the kids have found the weekly Saturday visits burdensome, and you yourself told me the multiple daily phone calls and their insistence on giving us unwanted things are driving you crazy. Darling, your parents won’t change, they’re too set in their ways and attached to everything we do. So, I think we have to reeducate them by changing the way we deal with them. May I make two suggestions? First, I think you and I need to have a few sessions with a couples therapist to get to the bottom of why your folks act the way they do and how we might respond. Second, I’ve done some thinking and come up with a few guidelines on how we can handle things. They’ve very basic, really, but you and I need to be on the same page, if this is going to work. It will take time, but I think they’ll help. Do you want to hear what they are?

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