Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Micromanaging husband, tiptoeing wife need counseling
NoVa: Help! How do I tell my husband that he sometimes acts like a micromanaging (doink)? He seems to think our 3-year-old should only do what he wants him to do, or what is convenient for him, rather than be an independent being with a mind of his own. Occasionally it spills over to me, a la "You should do/say" whatever. For example, I just get home and he tells me the favorable comment I should make on his just-finished project. When he does it to me, I'm kind of dumbstruck; when he does it to our son, I don't want to undermine his parental authority, so I say nothing instead of advocating for our kid. How do I respond productively?
Carolyn: You tell him through counseling. One reason is that if you guys were communicating in a free and healthy and loving way, you could say to him, "Stop being a micromanaging (doink)" — because (1) you wouldn't actually be angry (because your freedom to communicate keeps things from building to the anger point) and (2) he'd be able to handle it as constructive criticism, since he too would know it was funny-serious and not angry-name-calling serious.
But you guys aren't there. Your husband is trying to control things that aren't his to control, and you admit you're tiptoeing around him. Maybe you sense the consequences would make you regret speaking up? The other reason: As you also freely admit, this is impinging on your son's autonomy and therefore growth, so it's serious business. Serious business plus your inability to take the initiative = call in a pro.
Problems begin when MIL gets appalled, wife defensive, son torn
Virginia: I love my mother-in-law. But in general, why are there always mother-in-law problems? Are people expecting too much or do mothers-in-law always have trouble letting go of their children (particularly the boys)?
Carolyn: Since this is "in general," I'll generalize: Women still tend to be the ones shaping households, and tend to adopt the style of their parents. So, mothers-in-law often visit their sons in homes that are run in the daughter-in-law's (often very different) style.
And, animals that we are, we get territorial. So, mothers-in-law notice all the differences, feel uncomfortable/unwelcome/appalled/competitive — and daughters-in-law feel defensive/appalled/competitive, and husbands/sons feel torn. Too often, restraint doesn't ensue.
Adding kids can get hairy: Mothers who feel proud of the way they raised their sons can struggle to see their grandkids raised — again, generally speaking — in their daughter-in-law's style.
These generalizations are wobbling as men get more involved at home. Also, too, plenty of in-laws get along, naturally or through hard work.
But that still leaves a lot of people who see their precious children/grandchildren being shaped in a way that seems alien, even wrong. And some people don't have the generosity of spirit, or strength, or even the opportunity, just to roll with it. And that still leaves a lot of people who get so protective of Their Ways that they banish even well-meaning parents or in-laws. Either way, tension ensues, especially if the child/spouse/parent in the middle doesn't stand up for whoever's right.