Make us your home page

In-laws under no obligation to watch your children

In-laws under no obligation to watch your children

Q: My husband and I have two kids and have been together seven years. It has gotten to the point that I am disgusted by my husband's father and stepmother. Every couple of months they come up with outlandish excuses for not watching my kids or having the kids over.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't have a problem with this, but the stepmom's daughter has two kids, in the same age range, who are always welcome to their house. They practically live there.

Recently we asked if they could watch the kids for our anniversary, and they lied about going out of town. This is just the icing on the cake. They have left my son outside, and didn't even know he was playing in someone else's yard, and didn't come to the hospital to see my baby girl.

What should I do? Why doesn't my father-in-law stand up to his wife and say all the grandchildren should be treated the same? Should I keep the kids from seeing them at all? Pretty soon, the kids will be able to see the difference in treatment. How do I deal with this?


A: First step, lose the sense of entitlement.

Of course everyone benefits when grandparents don't play favorites. There's no downside to making kids feel loved, and by remaining standoffish with your kids, your in-laws forfeit immeasurable love, intimacy and good will.

And yet: They are absolutely free to do that. They are breaking no laws but the laws of decency, and they took no vows to like you, your kids, or even your husband. Does this make them jerks? Even without having heard their side, I have a hunch that's part of it. But if so, they have an inalienable right to be jerks.

So please stop fuming over what you think your in-laws "should" do. If there were any satisfaction in being right, you'd have long since felt it already.

Instead, deal with what you have: grandparents available to one family, not another. Stinks, but, there it is.

And there is your crossroads for teaching your children how to handle a lousy break (it's Quiz Week):

Do you (1) Take your exclusions as rejections, take these rejections personally, and set about settling the score?

(2) Persist in seeking what you feel you're owed, and blame others when you don't get it?

(3) Accept that people are going to do lousy things sometimes, for their own reasons? Where you share the responsibility, you can try to make amends, but when it's nothing you've done, all you can do is carry on living as well as you can according to your own principles.

Two paths to anger, one path to peace.

It's easier to give this test than it is to pass it, sure. But you can pass it here without estranging your family from your husband's. Just accept, and anticipate, their limits. Specifically: Ask for nothing more than they've already proven they're willing to give.

When your kids notice the family disparity, just say stepmom and her daughter are close, as if it's the most natural thing in the world (and, pointedly, not about the grandkids). Sounds like you don't want these babysitters anyway.

In-laws under no obligation to watch your children

06/25/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours