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Advice | Carolyn Hax: How to Help Daughter With ‘Spoiled’ In-laws, Enabling Husband

Dear Carolyn: My daughter is married to a great guy who has an entitled spoiled younger sister. His mother empowers her and takes her side every time there is a conflict. My daughter goes through cycles with his family where it’s quiet, but then the sister causes conflict. My daughter has a heart problem that is made worse by stress.

My generous son-in-law often takes them on family vacations and pays for everything. It’s now got to the point where they’re mad when he and my daughter go without them. Her husband knows his family can be difficult, but doesn’t want to deal with it. My daughter says she wants to avoid most gatherings with his family completely. She is fine with him and their child being together. Is this the best way to deal with this?

concerned mother: Whatever the best way, you or I are not involved.

Or his sister, or the rest of his family.

It’s best if they two, the vow exchangers, agree that it’s for the best. If you give me a voice (you can’t), I’ll go ahead and say the best way for them is to prioritize their marriage over one or the other family of origin.

That their center of gravity is still with their own family, as seems to be the case, is a bigger problem than any overbearing sister-in-law – although the former can certainly make the latter much worse than it otherwise would have been.

And maybe it’s just that I’m writing this on a Monday, but I don’t see what’s “great” or “generous” about inviting but refusing to hang out with a family that he knows is “difficult” in general and particularly unpleasant company for his wife.

We all have things we don’t want to deal with. If we give in to that impulse and knowingly neglect it at the expense of someone else, then at best we’re typical, not great.

Except for the potters who travel for free. To them, his negligence is quite awe-inspiring.

But this is all academic unless your daughter asks for your opinion. If she does, start asking hair what she thinks is right. Then ask if she has explicitly shared this idea or plan with her husband. Then ask why not, if not.

In other words, deal with this by encouraging her to approach him about taking her in so that they handle this sort of thing as a unit. Oof. And so, when he refuses, she acknowledges that his refusal is Problem Zero.

The exception to that linked framework, of course, is when you see signs of control and damage. In that case, you stop promoting “unity thinking” and instead you speak clearly, with evidence, on behalf of the injured person.

Dear Carolyn: Our wedding was a few weeks ago. It was a wonderful event with an outdoor ceremony followed by an indoor move with appetizers, cocktails and a full dinner with choice of entrees. The cost of reserving the venue with all caterers was not cheap and based on a price per person. Our wedding invitations were sent out three months in advance, saying the wedding included cocktails, dinner, and dancing, and included self-addressed stamped RSVPs. We submitted our census and paid for the venue based on the RSVPs we received.

We were disappointed that a number of people unexpectedly didn’t show up on the wedding day, especially when we later found out that they were “just too busy” to attend or had other flimsy excuses. This cost us hundreds of dollars extra.

Is there a way to word the invitation so that people know we are PAYING for them to attend without sounding like a cheap skater? It’s too late for us, of course, but maybe others will benefit.

I mean, you’re 100 percent right: it was horrible of your loved ones to do this to you, and you deserved your guests somewhere treat you with the same care that you used to prepare them.

But the idea that a rule on an invitation so worded can reverse the effects of societal unraveling? That’s an “Oh baby” moment [pat, pat]. They either live in protective bubbles or know you paid through the nose.

The best advice I can give couples is to build this “loss” into their budget – and their emotional expectations. As awful as it is, it’s happening all the time now. (I know we’re all tired, folks, but stop this.)

So why publish a letter with a hopeless non-answer? Because your letter, worded exactly like that, has a better chance than me of getting through from someone rudeness impetus to the future benefit of others. Thanks for trying.

And for what it’s worth, you don’t sound like a “cheapskate” at all.

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