Question: I have been married for 12 years and we are the parents of 3 children. As soon as we had our first child, it became clear to me that my in laws were very involved in my sister in law’s children lives (my husband’ sister). This may sound wonderful and it is…until it borders on basically raising them. My in laws are generous, kind people. My sister-in law, however, makes bad choice upon bad choice, upon bad choice. She has 3 children by 2 different men, one of which she just divorced the other she was never married to and only knew for 4 months. She is now dating a new man who she will most likely end up impregnated by. You may ask why I even care as this is none of my business. We live several hours from them so we don’t typically have to observe the dysfunction. However, EVERY time my in laws spend time with our children, either in our home or in theirs, the other 3 children are ALWAYS over (mostly without their mother around). I forgot to mention that my husband has another brother and his children have a normal relationship in that they aren’t being raised by his parents. It bothers me mostly because I am never informed that they will be there sleeping over and hanging out when my children are there, nor am I informed if they are coming to visit us and they bring these children. The lack of courtesy to communicate it to me makes me crazy. Plus, the sheer amount of money they spend on those kids alone makes my head spin. While on a “family” vacation, these 3 children were constantly asking my in laws for money and essentially going to them for their every want and need all the while paying for their hotel, food, etc. If they’d ask their mother for anything, she would send them to grandpa! This same courtesy of paying for vacation was never extended to our family. It makes me sad that they don’t see their children (my husband and his siblings) as equal and just shell out dollar upon dollar for these children. My children sit and look at me almost as to ask,” Why doesn’t grandpa buy us an ice cream?” I’m seeking help in how to temper myself when this happens. I have resigned myself to the fact that this is their “normal” as weird as it is and it will continue forever. We have tried having a discussion and it was made very clear to me by my in laws that they will not change the relationship they have with those kids or their daughter for anything. I tried to express it in terms of how it affects our visits and our relationship, etc. and it didn’t matter; behavior did not change. How do I move forward and accept this even though every fiber in my being tells me it’s weird, strange, enabling, etc.? This has caused a tremendous strain on my marriage and a difficult issue to move past. I need a strategy to help me work with the cards I’ve been dealt. A.
Answer: Dear A.: Good for you for seeing the dynamics so clearly. The next step is to expect what you know is going to happen instead of expecting equality. As soon as you can, let your husband off the hook and his parents, as well. This is their “dance,” not yours. Let your kids know that “it’s sure a mystery to you” and try to compensate wherever you can until they are old enough to see what is going on for them selves. If you continue to focus on it and to anguish over it, it will cost you dearly. Don’t let yourself become a casualty in the fall-out. Blessings, Luise