Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Parents need to protect kids from 'socially stupid' uncle
Anonymous: My brother-in-law constantly preaches about how important family is, how "Dad" needs to see his grandkids (my kids) more, blah, blah, blah. We see granddad about once a month, which to me is enough. Brother-in-law is always in tow, coming to our house with Dad and then proceeding to be nasty to my kids. My 2-year-old had a cold and was a little on the, um, slobbery snotty side. Lifted his arms to my brother-in-law — his uncle. Uncle says, "Get away from me; you're disgusting, and I don't want to get sick from you."
After many, many times of this type of thing happening, I finally told him if he didn't want to be around my kids, then he was welcome to not come to my house. My husband said I totally overreacted and that if his brother doesn't want to deal with the kids, he shouldn't have to do so.
I feel like my brother-in-law can ignore my kids when we're somewhere else, but he should not come into my home and act like that with them. What do you think about this?
Carolyn: I think the brother's a piece of work, but the real problem is between you and your husband. What your husband said about not having to deal with the kids is absolutely true. But "not dealing with the kids" is different from "saying mean things to the kids." The brother has no business calling a 2-year-old "disgusting," or anything else that rough. A father has a duty to protect his kids from meanness.
That seems so obvious that I'm wondering if you said this to your husband?
I fear the brothers acquired similar social/communication skills, but I'll wait to hear what you say.
Anonymous again: My husband and his brother are very different from each other, and my husband is an attentive, hands-on, affectionate dad.
That's why I was shocked at his response.
In retrospect, though, he and his family are not particularly close, and he doesn't have many fond memories. He said he tends to tune them out and gets preoccupied with other things when they are around (like tending the grill), so I think he might miss how hurtful his brother is being. Perhaps I need to communicate this better to him instead of just going all grizzly-bear-mom.
I do feel that if he doesn't make sure that it stops, I won't allow the kids around his brother anymore. He says his brother is just socially stupid and it's not worth fighting about.
Carolyn: That's much better, thank you. And yes, please do give your husband direct quotes wherever possible. Also express sympathy for the position this puts him in, because taking a stand will disrupt the probably fragile balance he has struck with his family.
But while someone who is "socially stupid" around adults isn't worth fighting about, because adults can take care of themselves, social stupidity around small children is a necessary fight.
Your husband also has to make a choice here: either stop getting tuned out/preoccupied when his brother is around, or empower you to handle the brother as you deem necessary.
He can't disappear and then take exception to the way you handle things. That's just not fair.