17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

From the Tales Inbox: Dealing with the Father-In-Law

From my experience, most women have a problem with their mother-in-law. NOT ME. I love my mother-in-law, it's my father-in-law I could live without. My DH and I have been married for over 2 years and we live a pretty nice distance from his dad, as DH's parents are divorced. I thought that would mean we wouldn't see him very often, not the case with this guy. Here is a list of a few things that drive me up the wall...

  1. He comes to visit unannounced and says he's only staying 2 days and stays 7.
  2. In the 7 days he is there he eats all of our food, leaves dishes and trash everywhere for me to clean up.
  3. He smokes right outside our door so when he walks in the house all the smoke blows into our living room and kitchen.
  4. When I put our baby down for a nap he insists that is the time he wants to knock on the door to the room the baby's in just to tell me something that could have waited.
  5. He makes sexist comments about women driving.
  6. He tells me every little thing he does around our house while he is here, like he is waiting for me to hand him a metal of honor.
  7. He tells me how much he spends on our gifts or anything he brings us, again no metal of honor for him.
  8. While holding my baby he lets the baby touch the thawing meat because its "cold."
  9. He constantly brings up subjects that he knows upset me.
  10. He has lost 2 sets of our house keys and we had to pay to replace them.
  11. If he calls me on my cell phone and I don't answer he leaves an URGENT message and then calls me about 10 more times in the next hour until I finally answer just to tell me something ridiculous.
  12. For my birthday he sent me $100.00 in $1 bills. For my DH he got a $100.00 bill. ( I'm not trying to sound ungrateful, I would have been fine with just a card from him, but to me getting $100.00 in $1's is like paying a $1.00 in pennies. You only do it to be annoying.)
  13. He literally calls my DH 5-10 times a day.
  14. This one is the hardest for me... he constantly tells my DH that we need new things. THINGS THINGS THINGS. My husband is in college and working part time while I stay home with the little one. I just want to yell at him and tell him, "WE DON'T HAVE MONEY FOR STUPID THINGS!!!!!" "You need a new car." (We have 2 nice new cars.) "You need a new bed, I will buy it for you." (When they went to go get it, he decided he didn't have enough money to give us to buy a new bed. So my DH paid for most of it when we didn't even need a new bed. I believe he wanted our old bed to sleep on when he stayed with us.)
I may sound harsh, but these are just a few things he does. My DH and I fight about nothing else other then his Dad. He doesn't ever want to say anything to his Dad because it will hurt his feelings and no one has ever told him not to do those things. My reply to him is "HE IS 62 YEARS OLD, MAYBE ITS TIME TO LEARN AND TO GET OVER IT!" I lost my Dad when I was 14 and I understand how important it is to have your father in your life, but when you are married I believe there need to be boundaries. I believe I will lose my mind if I have to spend one more week with him, or I will say something so awful that I will regret it. I constantly pray for strength to get through it and to be patient but the devil is working overtime with this.

Please give me advice to deal with this man! My sanity is depending on it.

Thank you,
just call me "Going Insane"


  • Oh, honey. I could write a book about the problems I have with my FIL. I have dealt with my annoying, sexist, selfish, financially-impaired FIL for almost 10 years. It is also the only thing hubby and I really argue about. And I would love to share with you the things that I have learned:

    1. He will always be your husband's father. Cutting him out of your life won't work (not that you suggested it, but man, I know you're wishing for it! I did!) and it won't happen, so you have to make peace with the fact that he'll always be "around."

    2. Your husband may have a completely different viewpoint of your FIL --in fact, I'm betting he does. How old was he when his parents split up? What was the divorce like? How did this affect your husband? You need to see this from his point of view. It's hard, but you have to do it for the sake of your marriage. Sure, you see your FIL as the creep he is, but your husband sees him as the father he once was.

    3. Stand your ground. Even if your husband won't say things, you be strong enough to do it. If he does things that bother or annoy you, respectfully tell him to knock it off. Smoking near the house!? OFF LIMITS! Use the baby as an excuse, because that's just unhealthy! That is something where you and your husband could stand firm together. But don't go off on him --just make sure he knows that you have a line that will not be crossed. If you establish it now, it will be easier later. And don't budge! I have found that if I give my FIL in two inches, he'll take 10 feet. So don't give those 2 inches. Stand firm --KIND! But firm. Your husband obviously cannot do this right now (for whatever reasons), so you will have to. Do not give into manipulation! This could also apply to his extended vacations. Set limits!

    4. Whatever you can't control, let it roll off your back. There will be some things that you just can't change. Laugh at the stupid gifts. Ignore his stupid suggestions. Don't give in to his "ideas". (Don't let your husband give in, either. I know this is easier said than done, but you should still try!) There are some things that can just be ignored. If you get angry over every tiny, tiny offense, then you will just be an angry and bitter person, and all of your conversations to your family and friends will be laced with this bitterness and you won't know how to talk about anything else. And your family and friends will get sick of it really soon.

    5. Every time you get angry, try to see him as a mother sees her child. Look at your baby and imagine your FIL as a child with a loving mother. Or imagine your FIL as Christ would see him. Sure, he's not perfect. Sure, you shouldn't enable him. But you need to see him as an imperfect child of God who is loved by some and really needs the love of his son.

    Good luck. The road ahead will be hard (mine is still crappy), but if you can learn to do these things, you will be greatly, greatly blessed in many unexpected ways. Your FIL won't necessarily change, but you will. And you will find that you can endure it!
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous to protect family; call me Anon One at 3/09/2008 10:01:00 PM  

  • wow.
    We pretty much cut off my MIL, which was a really wise move for our situation. She lives on the opposite coast and calls maybe once a month. Your FIL sounds more annoying than her but less damaging.

    I think comment #1 points out some major factors. Understand your husband and get agreement with him about what you two will allow and then enforcing some boundary changes. The unwelcome and messy houseguest thing is a huge boundary violation. So is the smoking and rude/sexist comments. But the annoyances, those you can learn to let go.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/09/2008 10:08:00 PM  

  • Be VERY careful about precedents. That's my main advice. Once he's done something once and gotten away with it, a precedent is set, and you're screwed. (i.e. the smoking) Then you have to rearrange boundaries, and that sucks.

    So be very very careful about every little thing. I know it's a crappy way to live, but if you say to a normal person "sure come on over whenever" -- it's very different than if you say that to him, because he will be there often. (as you know).

    Tell him you prefer texting to actual talking on the cell phone because it's cheaper (even if it isn't). "I only have so many minutes, but my texts are unlimited!" He'll feel like he said what he needed to say, and you don't have to deal with a major conversation about nothing. Plus, most older people aren't great at the texting thing (AGIST, I know!) so you might have to deal with him less.

    Understand that he is probably very very lonely and depressed. I don't know how to do this, but if there's any way you could get him a friend or two or even a time consuming hobby (golf is great!) his mental health might improve and he won't cling as much.

    Count your blessings that the apple fell very far away from the tree.

    As to all the new things you "need" just say something like "Yeah, that would be fabulous, add that to the list of things to get when we're rich and famous!" Lighthearted, but gets the point across.

    Don't let this come between you and your husband. That's the hardest thing, but seriously, the most important.

    If it gets too bad, find a good therapist and just say the word in-law. S/he can help you deal with the role adjustments you, your husband, and your FIL are going through.

    Protect your husband, yourself, and your child from any verbal or emotional abuse as best you can.

    Good luck. It can be done.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/09/2008 10:15:00 PM  

  • I love all this advice. Let me add one more thing: Show your husband this post and all the responses to it. Assure him you were anonymous, but that you are not alone in your trials, nor in your concern. Perhaps this could be the catalyst for some real positive change in your situation!
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 3/09/2008 10:28:00 PM  

  • I am so grateful for all this advice so far. I can only wonder if Anonymous One is part of the same family. I needed to hear that I need to stop complaining to my family, I am sure they are so tired of hearing about it. This advice gives me a lot to think about and work out before the next visit. Unfortunately Cheryl, I know this post would really upset my DH. He is very sensitive about his Dad and even after the conversation I had with him last night about his Dad hurt my feelings when he planned a trip for just the two of them and told me he would figure out what to do with me, my DH was mad I brought it up. I fear I need to not speak about any of it with DH and learn to deal on my own. (For the record I would never be able to go on a trip with my FIL.) I can understand how much he loves him and doesn't want anyone saying anything bad about him. I also agree that maybe is his depressed and lonely. The hobbies he has he insists on doing my with DH and my DH barely has enough time to eat dinner at the table let alone go out and do things. Thank you all again for the wonderful advice! Keep it coming.
    -Going Insane
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/09/2008 11:18:00 PM  

  • He does sound lonely. Does he live by himself and not have many friends? Has he alienated himself from the rest of the family or is there no rest of the family?

    It sounds like he is getting all of his social interaction from your DH, which isn't healthy. It's too bad you can't get him a girlfriend!

    I have the opposite problem, I've been married for nearly five years and have yet to meet my FIL. He's not interested in either of his children in the least and neither are his parents even though they live near by. I'm pregnant with our first child and just left wondering what to do. My husband just doesn’t deal with his feelings about his father, but I know there is a lot of sadness and anger there. I’m pretty sure he won’t really want to even tell his father about the baby, and that even if we do it will make no difference. (I’m predicting at the most an extra birthday card a year, or another magnanimous offer for us to come and visit him when he is in the area. Then again he didn’t bother with a Christmas card this year, and I’m not holding my breath about the birthday card either.)
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/10/2008 03:13:00 AM  

  • I don't know if this will be helpful at all, but there was a similar post in Mormon Mommy Wars a few weeks back...it was just about dealing with tough family situations in general. I'm not sure that there was a lot of advice, maybe just more a way to commiserate in each others frustrations...but sometimes it's just great to hear you're not alone...and boy are you not alone. Here's the link:

    Good luck. (and i hope it's OK to post a link to another blog).
    posted by Blogger miggy at 3/10/2008 05:13:00 AM  

  • I'm another one who has been there...Except it's been MY PARENTS who were the obnoxious in-laws.

    1. It sounds like you need to 'gird up your loins' and have a good heart-to-heart talk with your husband. It will be awful. Absolutely awful. But you need him to understand what you are feeling. A lot of what he is feeling is a combination of: What do you mean? My dad's perfect and wonderful/Well, let's talk about your family.

    You need to talk to your husband. And he needs to talk to you about it. It will only get worse if the two of you can't find some common ground to stand on with how you're going to deal with FIL. You've got to build your boundaries together, otherwise they'll crumble. It takes a lot of compromise.

    2. I agree that precedent setting is IMPORTANT. It's easier to get nicer than it is to get stricter about things.

    3. A good counselor/pschologist can do wonders for your mental well-being.

    I'm sorry that you're going through this. It is no fun.

    I think we cried together weekly our first year of marriage as we learned to deal with my family.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/10/2008 06:51:00 AM  

  • My in-laws came to visit and help recently. I was on my best company behavior the whole time they were here. I don't make that claim lightly.

    However, boundaries were not respected. FIL was doing major changes to our home without consulting us. This led to fights between my husband and me. I had just been through a major crisis involving a new baby and my energy level was really low. I was not up in the morning cooking breakfast for my husband or making him lunches. I was not keeping the bathrooms perfectly sanitary. I tried to kindly let my MIL know that I was going to let things slide for a little while and she just stared through me. I guess I wasn’t taking care of her son adequately?

    My in-laws left without saying goodbye. At that point, everything came together and I realized that I had just been through a really weird month. (I’ve only mentioned a few incidents.)

    I tried to discuss the experience with my husband. He got sooooo offended. He would not hear anything that sounded like criticism of his parents. After all, honor your parents is one of the most important commandments, isn't it?

    When he got mad about my concerns, I moved from puzzled to mad. Instead of just being weirded out by the experience, I became offended. This made my husband even madder and we had some big discussions about his parents and their behavior while they stayed at our house. It got to a point that we started having lots of little disagreements about lots of things and every time we got a little mad about something, I would say something like, did I tell you about how your mother did such and such. Or your dad did something or the other. Then I would get the dreaded “silent treatment.”

    I know I acted badly, but a little understanding on my husband’s part when I first brought up my concerns would have totally avoided the entire painful fall-out from the visit. In fact, if his parents had said goodbye when they left instead of just sneaking off, I never would have questioned any of their behavior. They could have saved their son a lot of grief by just saying good-bye.

    Luckily we’ve moved past that. We live far enough away from his parents that we rarely have to see them. I’ve made the point to my husband that just because I think his parents are socially inept doesn’t mean I think they are evil. He’s okay with that. (And boy, I’m glad they are not both inept _and_ evil. That would be simply awful.)

    So why am I telling you this? I guess to say that the in-law dynamic can be an antagonistic one. If I had it to do over again, we would have all sat down when they first came and discussed our expectations and boundaries. It would have been a tough conversation, since they are not very verbal, but it could have helped (I hope). Without that option, I probably should have just let it drop. Oh well, our hindsights are better than our foresights.
    posted by Anonymous Also Anon For This One at 3/10/2008 02:02:00 PM  

  • You have gotten alot of great advice so far. Just wanted to mention to the anon poster who doesn't have any relationship w/her FIl. My 2cents. Let it go, don't try to force your hubby to have a relationship with his father. It probably is painful for him, it is for my hubby, but not as painful as when promises are made and broken. When I got married I left it up to hubby as to how and if we included his father in our lives. At first I wanted to go gungho and fix it all. My mother gave me the advice I gave you, stay out of it. We didn't include my fil's name on our annoucements, we've never told him of our kids births, In our 12 1/2 yrs of marraige I've met him twice, the first time he didn't even know my name. There is absolutely no contact. hubby decided that he wasn't going to give his dad the chance hurt our kids like he hurt him. Our kids ask about "daddy's daddy" and we tell him the truth, grandma is married to her husband, and he is their grandpa, just not daddy's daddy, that daddy's daddy has chosen not to be part of our lives right now, and that's his choice, but aren't we lucky to have 2 grandpas that love us ( my dad and my step-fil)
    posted by Blogger Moddy at 3/10/2008 03:51:00 PM  

  • I second what someone said about precedent. I have had significant issues with my MIL throughout my marriage, but I am so grateful that I was able to set limits with her early on. Your FIL sounds like he is deliberately trying to get to you. It's hard to see what is happening and deal with it in a mature, constructive way. Keep in mind that he has had a lifetime to perfect his manipulative, "crazy-making" behavior! I would not hesitate to get involved with counseling now, not because you and hubby are in serious trouble, but to prevent prolonged problems that can become serious.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/10/2008 09:15:00 PM  

  • The only thing I'd add to all the advice already given is to pray for your FIL. Praying for someone we feel negatively about can really help change our own attitude. And really, your own attitude/actions are all you have control over.

    My situation with my in-laws is different. It's my husband who has issues with his parents. They don't bother me, we get along fine. So I'm often in the middle.
    posted by Blogger Susan M at 3/11/2008 09:44:00 AM  

  • With the relationship with my father, I have found it very helpful to set boundaries. Like someone previously said, you give an inch, they take 3 feet. You have to be careful.

    Certain boundaries I set: I don't let him stay at my house overnight and I don't let him come to my ward. Those are my happy places and I just really need them to myself. I feel REALLY bad and really guilty when I say no to him (I feel like a horribly, mean, daughter), BUT it really helps me not go insane and helps me keep a better, healthy relationship with him.
    posted by Anonymous AnonyMouse at 3/11/2008 12:51:00 PM  

  • Sounds like a pretty tough situation. Your husband needs to stand up, be a man and put a stop to all of this destructive behavior that his father is causing . That doesn't mean being rude or unkind to his father. It means caring about his wife and seeing all the things that she has to put up with and doing something about it. If his father has a problem with this then thats his problem not yours.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/11/2008 10:17:00 PM  

  • I have "issues" with my MIL and FIL. FIL is more the "what is it again that you do for a living, son?" type.
    I think everyone has good suggestions here.
    I want to add one thing. Not to you specifically, but I read "The Bonds that make us Free" and it had one really good point that I sometimes think about.
    When you feel justified in feeling wronged in a relationship (like an in-law) you start to collect evidence of their inconsideration/craziness, etc. I find that I do that. My MIL will do something that is so obviously evil, that I use it for a funny story to entertain my friends, and chalk up another point against her.
    The more you do it, the more you find to criticize, because you are really looking.
    Any person that you spend several days with in close quarters can get on your nerves. Do your best to have the best attitude you can. Spend time looking for the positives. For me, sometimes spending less time thinking about my MIL at all is the best cure. Every once in a while I make an appropriate quick response (what do you mean you think the wrong side won the civil war! The United States won!), sometimes I can't think quick enough to address things head on.
    As she gets older (she's 76) its a little easier to feel sorry for her, and understand that old people are less flexible.
    The less you let things get to you, the less they actually will get to you.
    Decide what really bothers you and give yourself permission to enforce that, and just don't worry about the other stuff and you will probably feel better about things. Right now you feel like none of it is in your control. Not a good feeling. But by knowing when you will stand up and be firm, and when it is something you can let slide, then you won't get as upset over the specific things.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/13/2008 08:05:00 PM  

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