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Page 1  


Dear Mrs. Web,

My in-laws treat my husband and me like children and find fault with every thing we do. We are actually both responsible professionals and doing well in our marriage and finances. Her older son and his wife are constantly broke and looking for handouts. They also are always trying to "one-up" and compete with us. They are snide with us at times.

The in-laws think the world of them and donít understand our coolness towards them. How do I deal with this? I have tried to befriend my sister-in-law, but she is consistently nasty. How can I let my mother-in-law know this in a way that doesn't make it look like I'm trying to put the other woman down and make myself look good? Please help!

You have parents in laws who treat you both in a way you find condescending. You feel you and your husband are competing with your brother and sister in-law for your in laws approval. Your sister in law is fairly nasty and you donít want to have a relationship with her. You want your mother in law to understand this and explain it to her so she will accept it. And you want me to tell you how to do this successfully.

I give advice, not miracles! Your husband should cope with keeping his parents in line. Dear Mrs Webís rule number one for families and happy marriages is if your family is causing your spouse grief, you are to confront family members involved and arrange/request that they stop their grief-causing behaviors. If they refuse or are unable to stop their problematic behavior, you protect your spouse and family unit by stepping away from the problem family members and limiting your contact. Your spouse and immediate family come first.

Now stop competing with your brother and sister in law. Just take yourselves out of the race. Be cool and detached. There is only a competition if you choose to run the race. Whether you like it or not you do have a relationship the sibling in-laws. The best you can do in these situations is distant politeness.

You are not going to change your mother in law's perspective about your sister in law. Your job here is to maintain a cordial relationship with your mother in law. Look for the humor in the way they treat you. Believe it or not, it is there. My husband and I used to place bets on how we were going to be treated when visiting a certain family member. However, it requires the detachment that realizes that her behavior is not about you. It is about her.



Dear Mrs. Web,

I am a divorced mother of 2 boys from different fathers. Their ages are 17 and 6. My 1st husband died in an accident. My second husband and I divorced two years ago and he has recently disappeared. 

My youngest has been sick recently. He will recover but requires ongoing treatment and medications. The costs exceed my health insurance benefits. It has been financially difficult. 

My 17-year-old works after school. Because of our problems, he's had to pay for many things himself that I would have liked to help him with. He has not complained.  

He recently gave me a check that will go a long way towards helping to pay for his brother's medical bills.

This check will drain his college savings. He's an honors student and has athletic and academic scholarships. This would
have been his spending money for next year.

He wants me to take it. I was almost in tears. I feel so guilty about taking this money from my son. What should I do?

Money comes and money goes but helping family is the most important thing your son can learn in his life. Itís a Wonderful Life became worldís most popular film because George was a generous, unselfish man who did his duty to his family, community and country.

One builds character by responding positively and proactively to the life situations one faces. If it will make you feel better, you can think of your sonís necessary sacrifices as adding character that will enhance and support him throughout his life.  They don't teach that in college.



Dear Mrs. Web,

I've been married 15 years, Two children, a son 8 years old, and a daughter 14 going on 30.

I have lost her, and she hates me. She won't look or talk to me. Why? Because I won't let her date an 18 year old. Heís a nice kid but I think he is too old for her. My wife overruled me and permitted the relationship to continue. I strongly disapproved. When he came over to meet me, I tried to be nice but ended up threatening him. He drives my daughter and her girlfriends wherever they want to go.

Last month my daughter, the boyfriend, his brother, and another juvenile female, were arrested for shoplifting. My daughter denies any direct involvement. She has been lying, skipping classes, and sneaking around.  I have grounded her, suspended all telephone privileges, and cut her allowance. I'm the meanest Dad around. My wife now agrees with me and supports me in my opinion that 18 is too old. How can I legally keep him away from my daughter?

Depending what state you live in statutory rape laws and restraining orders may be legal means to separate your daughter from this young man. There is, however, something more important at stake here. It is your daughterís unwilling heart, and the need for your wife and you to pull together when dealing with her.  Your daughter sounds like sheís unraveling. This sometimes happens. It could get a lot worse.

This is the time parents need to step in with an intervention. I am going to recommend family therapy for all of you as being the best pro-active step you can take now. Before you have an angry, pregnant, runaway on you hands. Donít wait. I am the voice of experience speaking.

Both you and your wife need to sharpen your team skills and your daughter needs a safe place to blow off her anger. Sometimes children react to a parentís negativity with huge bomb-sized negativity of their own. A relationship with a teenager is about connection and love, tempered with firmness and increasing responsibility.

As an aside, any eighteen-year-old attempting to date a fourteen-year-old is way out of line. I donít care how nice he is.  Have you talked to his parents?



Dear Mrs. Web, 

My parents are divorced. My mother left my father about five years ago. I am married and a mother of two.

My mother is now involved with a man no one likes. This man is rude and crude. He treats my mother poorly. Recently he asked my mother whether he could sleep with my older married sister. I think he was joking. 

He is very nice to my 15-year-old sister (who lives with Mom). He waits on her and coddles her. This strikes me as odd. My little sister loves this guy and will actually go next door and call to talk to him when my mother and he have had a tiff. My father has tried to get custody but the courts allow my sister to choose, and Mom has no rules at her house.

Do you think this creep could possibly be sexually involved with my baby sister? Do you think my mother might know? What should I do?

The situation between this man and your baby sister is inappropriate. His behavior is invasive and her behavior is the normal way a fifteen-year-old acts when an older man is seducing her. In my opinion, your sister is not safe.

Would your mother allow this man to sexually seduce your baby sister? Women have been known to use their children to keep a man interested.

This man also asked your mother whether he could sleep with another daughter. Since your mother didnít show him the door after such an inappropriate statement, I think your baby sister is at risk for sexual abuse by this creep. 

She needs to be pried out of there. Talk to your father immediately. You will both need to use whatever legal means available. Talk to a lawyer and the local welfare offices. Make sure you get a restraining order protecting the girl from him. Judges do not look kindly on home situations that include boyfriends sniffing around underage children.


Dear Mrs. Web,

I have one son and two daughters. My son and oldest daughter are in regular contact with me, usually by telephone or email, on a weekly or monthly basis. We are not as close as some families who speak several times a week but the relationships are o.k. My younger daughter (30) is single and lives close to and remains much attached to my ex-husband. She excludes me and seems to have chosen sides. Her father and I have been divorced 15 years.

The break in our relationship has existed about two years. I get a check and a card on holidays and my birthday, and I never see her or speak to her. She is an educated, intelligent young woman. I wonder why she won't let us discuss her problem with me. My other children tell me just to leave her alone; otherwise, I will make it worse. 

I am not a "yes" person and I am not particularly "easy" to get along with but this has always been who I am and it never bothered her before. Her behavior hurts me. I cannot comprehend a reason for this separation. I am a respectable business owner, I work hard, I am not an overweight lazy slob, a drug addict or drunkard and I cannot find a reason why she doesn't acknowledge me anymore. 

If I knew I was responsible for a legitimate reason for her avoidance of me, I would honestly try to repair it. But without communication, nothing can be healed. I canít even write her anymore, she changed her e-mail address. I would like to have my younger daughter back in my life before I die.

How sad. I am sorry. She is physically and emotionally cutting you off. Is emotional cutoff a common method of coping in your family? Your daughter is deliberately turning her back on you. 

She must be very angry which is normally a response to hurt and pain. You can date when her coolness began as two years ago. Is there anything you can remember about your interactions with her that might give you a clue? You say you are a blunt-spoken woman. Did you say something, which might have caused her pain?

Whether you remember or not, if I were in your shoes I would ask to meet with her or write to her and tell her how sorry I was for any pain I had caused her. You donít need to even know what hurt her. It doesn't matter whether it is a legitimate reason in your eyes.  She is your daughter, your aim is to have a restored relationship, not count whoís right. 

She may not even be able to respond to you right away. When you drops your defenses and shows your loss, pain, and concern to another, it often penetrates, sometimes immediately, often over time. I hope you are able to reach out to her in a loving, way.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My husband and I are expecting our second child. We have planned since we have been together, to have 2 children. When we told my mother-in-law the happy news she took me aside and said that if we have another girl we will need to try a few more times so that we can produce a boy to "carry on the family name."  My in-laws are are not as interested in our daughter as I would have expected. Sometimes I think if we had a son, they would be more involved.

My husband is now an only child, his brother died tragically 5 years ago. I donít really know what to say to her. We will love our child, girl or boy.  I am not sure I want more than two children. How should I respond to her.

The size of your family, and the decision to start and end childbearing is a mutual decision between you and your husband. Your mother-in-law, in stating preferences, broke a boundary and ended up someplace a mother/mother-in-law has no business being.

Your in-laws may or may not have preferences. For some people, the family name is a hallowed and sacred trust to be carried forth. That is part of their values. Your job here is to be kind, polite, and non-committal. Let your husband handle his mother and give her boundaries if she starts getting invasive. Moreover, never let your daughter hear from your lips that they do not love her enough. They may come around when she gets older.



Dear Mrs. Web,

I had a polite disagreement with an older relative. She believes that the Social Security program is a worthwhile, compassionate, almost paternalistic, government benefits program for seniors. I disagreed. 

I argued several details of the plan that I think are a poor buy. I feel the system is just a way for the government to obtain cheap, long-term financing from the taxpayers. I have I told her, as far as I was concerned, the 3% rate of return on SS was unsatisfactory. I told her that the same 7.65% of her paycheck if invested into her own IRA or 401k, would make her wealthy at retirement. 

I almost seemed to offend her. Was I wrong? Do you think that my logic and reasoning were wrong?

Your logic is not wrong, and your reasoning is not wrong.  What you were discussing with your Aunt was politics. Whose money is spent, what way, for what purpose?  Many people disagree about politics, because oneís politics is one way to develop and express the philosophy of oneís worldview (how one apprehends the world). Religion is another way to develop and express oneís worldview.

Your Aunt probably was offended by your stand. Your logic and reasoning had nothing to do with it. Logic and reasoning often have little to do with how or what most people think. This is why polite people do not discuss politics and religion publicly. There cannot be a real meeting of the minds; just statements of worldviews and arguments based on the different worldviews, which is, in most cases, fruitless.

When someone states his religious or political beliefs, one can listen politely, agree, or say; "I donít quite see it that way." Then change the subject. It is not useful to go any further. Minds are not changed in political arguments. Talk about the weather.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My father threw me a huge wedding last autumn. We had over 300 people attend, many of them business acquaintances of my father. We received hundreds of gifts that have been cataloged in a book by the wedding consultants.

My father expects me to write a thank you note for each gift, including those from people I donít know. My husband refuses, he says he took care of the thank-yous for the twenty or so gifts from his side. What do I do?

You write "We so enjoy the (whatever it is) you sent us. What a thoughtful gift! Thank you for your kindness. We will think of you every time we use it. SincerelyÖ. 300 times. If you have willing family members, you might be able to enlist their help.




Dear Mrs. Web,

I have a 40-year-old daughter who is a single mother with her own 4-year-old daughter. My daughter is contemplating moving in with her boyfriend. I am not in favor of this. I see many problems ahead. Please give me your opinion.

You daughter wants to play house with her boyfriend? Moreover, she wants to drop her little girl right into the middle of the games? I cannot imagine moving a young child into such a shaky situation. Children need solid, committed relationships; the people children should have in their lives to love should be forever people - not Mommyís bedmate.

Over sixty percent of physically abused children are hurt by the motherís boyfriend. An unconnected man without a life-long, commitment to a child and its mother will not put up with the child behaviors a committed father will tolerate. Your daughter is also modeling the kinds of behaviors her daughter will copy when she grows up.

My opinion? You daughter is threatening your granddaughterís emotional well being, possibly endangering her physical safety, and damaging her outlook and expectations about how men and women should manage relationships and commitments. A forty-year-old woman should know better. There is a book called Ten Stupid Things Women Do. No one says it clearer. I recommend it.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My brother is dating a woman no on in our family can stand. She is self-centered, cranky, and controlling. He thinks she is just wonderful. I tried to talk to him last week after a disastrous visit. He was hurt that I had a poor opinion of her. He thinks I am at fault. What should I do?

Donít ever say another negative thing about her.  Hold your tongue, even if you have to use both hands!  

Be kind and solicitous. Whenever she is cranky or controlling  point it out, " Gee, Bertha wants us all to go daisy Ėpicking but we all want to eat lunchÖ"and drop it in his lap. Encourage everyone else in the family to also drop the problems they have with her into his lap. He will spend a lot of time smoothing out the way for his beloved. That is hard work.

Be kind, but keep your boundaries around her.  Be reasonable but don't give in to her childish behavior. He may begin to see her as a constant problem.  He is going to be very uncomfortable. 

Realize that some totally besotted men will actually marry someone so difficult. It gives them something interesting to do.  So, be nice, she may become a family member.



Dear Mrs. Web,

Three years ago, I was about to marry a girl I had been living with for almost two years. Two months before our wedding, she left me and moved in with my brother. My family covered for him and it was almost a year before I found out about their relationship.

I moved on and am involved with another woman. We have one child together. My parents and siblings have been having two different celebrations on each holiday, one for my brother and my ex and one for my family and me. 

Although I have seen my brother, he has never apologized for all the grief. I refuse to be around my ex. I asked them not to include her in family functions. They have said that if she is not included,  I canít bring my girlfriend.

I think this is unfair. My girlfriend didnít do a terrible thing and devastate our family. My girlfriend is angry with them for excluding her. I don't understand how my brother and my ex could have done something so bad and how I have become the family bad guy. I havenít spoken to them in six months. What should I do?

Letís see if I can help here.

I am going to start at the beginning. Your fiancťe left you for your brother. Your family covered it up. Thank goodness you were not married and had children when this happened. Frankly if your fiancťe could do this, your relationship did not have a good and firm foundation. It is better that it happened sooner than later. 

Your family cover-up is very sad. People usually cover up unpleasant news because they hate facing the consequences. Obviously, your family doesnít work well with relationships.

You were very hurt. In relationships people do get hurt and move on. You have a new wife - at least I hope sheís your wife - and a baby, congratulations! 

However, this past issue has cut your family in two and now they are placing the blame on you and your wife.  Your family wants to close this issue, and no longer deal with it.  It is over as far as they are concerned.  But it isn't over for you.

Your former fiancťe did a wrong thing, as weak people often do. In some ways, I pity her. Nevertheless, she is now your brotherís wife, your parent's daughter-in-law, and your sister-in-law. Your children are cousins.

Your family does not manage relationships well. In order to function at all in your family you are going to have to accept and forgive what happened. They were all weak people who made self-centered or easy choices. You wonít be able to fix who they are, or change them. However, you can change yourself and reach out to them. Will it be hard at first? You bet.

You donít have to be in the middle of your brother and his familyís lives but you can socialize occasionally at family gatherings. You can stay connected. If things ever get too crazy, you can always politely leave.

There is one other thing you can do to redeem this mess. You can be the best husband and father you can possible be to your own created family. You and your wife can set loving examples of being everything a family should be, committed, honest, caring, open, loving, responsible, calm, forgiving and understanding.  Your children will flourish with such examples.  So will you.



Dear Mrs. Web,

I am 13 years old. I have a wonderful step dad who has taken care of me since I was born. He and I donít really ever talk except when I ask him to go somewhere or when I want something. Thatís the only time I ever hug him too. What should I do so I can be closer to him?

The best way to become closer is to spend time, talk to, and do things with him. Ask him how his day has been and offer to help when he is doing household chores. Talk about his interests and hobbies. Ask for help in an area that he has some expertise. Update him about your life and friends. Go for walks. Turn off the television.  Thank him for being your dad.

Ask your parents to play a board game in the evening after dinner, pop some corn, pour out sodas, and enjoy. Read books aloud. Card games are fun too. If he is an athletic sort, perhaps all of you could take up a sport together.



Dear Mrs. Web,

Our son has a learning disability that that needs more than he is getting at the local public school. We have found a school that helps kids with his kinds of problems. It would be a great place for him.  Unfortunately, sending our son to this school will require us to move.

I am an only child. My mother, a 72-year-old widow who lives near us, is very upset about the prospect of our family moving the three hours away. She has told me I would be destroying her life by leaving. We have asked her to move with us but she refuses. She says sheís too old to move and it would ruin her life. She is active and in good health.

I feel she is being selfish for not letting us get the help for our son without all this guilt. My son really needs the help this school could give him. Should we move and send him to a school that will really help him, but would destroy my mother's life?

In my opinion, your primary responsibility is your son. It sounds like you are looking for the best options so your son can thrive and succeed. Your mother doesnít want to change her life; very few people do, especially at 72 years of age. That is why she is pulling out the big-guilt gun.

Your motherís life will be destroyed only if she destroys it. Her life is her responsibility and she will choose how she wants to handle the unexpected changes she faces. Life is filled with these unexpected changes and courage is needed to face them.

However, she has options: can stay where she is and continue her life with her friends and acquaintances. Or she can relocate with you. On the other hand, since you wonít be that far away, she may stay where she is for the time being and when she needs more care/supervision move to your new location.

If she were my mother, I would give her some time to get used to the idea. Sometimes gathering courage to face change takes time. Make your plans. Be very loving to her and tell her you will understand and accept whatever decision she makes about relocation.


Dear Mrs. Web,

I have been married 9 years. My husband and I are educated and successful in our careers. We have a daughter, now 15, from my previous marriage as well as two children of our own. My husband loves my daughter and treats her like his own child. My in-laws, however, have never accepted my daughter as a grandchild.

They enjoy our two younger children and play grandparents to them every chance they can. They want to have the little ones sleep-over soon and they always call to ask about them. They never mention my daughter. They never send my daughter cards or gifts but do send them to the two little ones.

On occasion, my mother-in-law  has rudely corrected my daughter for poor table manners. Once she became upset that my daughter had mentioned her biological father during a bridge group. My husband has told them how their rejection of her hurts me. The have been defensive about it, and have not changed.

I've had to bite my tongue for years.  We are moving closer to them this summer.  I want this cleared up before we move back. When we called to discuss this with them, my mother in law started crying on the phone saying that she hasn't done anything wrong. I donít want them in our lives if they canít treat all the children the same.  Help!

As a mother, I can understand your pain at your in-lawís indifference to your oldest child.

Some people can open their hearts to anyone, and some cannot. Your in-laws are people who cannot give you what you want for your daughter. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not consider your daughter their grandchild. Moreover, she isnít. No amount of encouragement or threats is going to change this.

You cannot force your in-laws to love or treat equally someone they do not consider "their own." They are a dry well. To sit there and expect or insist that water flow from this well is futile. You are banging your head against a wall; it hurts you and disturbs everyone involved. You are not going to get your way. It is also unfair to your in-laws and your daughter.

It is time to let go of this issue. It is tearing you apart, causing a wedge in your marriage, and distancing you from your in-laws. Your daughter is not her granddaughter. This is one of the small tragedies of the blended families.  People who "look like family" are not family.  (On another note, I receive a number of letters from parents whose in-laws treat their biological grandchildren similarly.) Instead, you can foster different, positive relationships here. They may never function as grandparents, but they can become friends. 

In your shoes, I would pull back my ultimatums, and ask your husband to negotiate a position so his mother will not criticize your daughter.  That is a boundary-breaker. She is not the childís grandmother. Your daughter also should be able to discuss her birthfather. He is not dirty secret; he is a fact of life.

I would not tell your daughter about your mother in lawís inability. Your daughter will realize it on her own (if not already!). It is your job to make sure she understands that different people have different abilities to love and accept. They are to be appreciated and respected. 

We run into doors that wonít open throughout life, no matter how hard or nicely that we knock.  Acceptance is a hard but worthwhile character trait to cultivate for these times.

As an aside, sometimes, I have found in my life, that the door I am currently pounding is a lot like other doors I tried to open in my past.


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