I would love to tell you that this letter is about my mother-in-law, but it’s my own mother that is driving my husband and I crazy. She comes to our house and says inappropriate things to our kids, who are only 8 and 10. Then she complains to the kids that they have not called her enough and accuses them of liking their other grandmother better. My father is no help, because he just sits there and lets her go on. My husband finds excuses to be in another room, and I feel like I have to deal with her all alone.
Stuck in the Middle
I’ll give you this: you’ve semi-correctly named yourself. You are indeed stuck…but not in the middle! Look, this is happening in your house, to your kids. You’re the boss, and your kids obviously need you to look out for them, so step up. Here’s how you do it: next time your mom starts in on any topic that you feel is inappropriate for your kids, you interrupt her. Kindly. “Excuse me, mom? I need to speak with you for a second.” Then get up, and lead her into another room. Don’t let her try to keep you where the kids are; just walk. (Notice this is not unlike how you handle children? That’s the point.)
Once you’ve gotten her out of the kids’ earshot, tell her that what she is saying to the kids is inappropriate, and that if she can’t refrain from saying things like it, you’ll have to have her visit another time. You’ve just practiced a kinder way of saying, “Toe the line, or leave.” When she tries to argue, cut her off: your house, your kids, your rules. Chances are pretty good she’ll be indignant, and she may even leave in a huff. That’s fine. Chances are also good that she’ll do it again, next time you allow her into your house, just to show you that she’s boss. So repeat the process, and kindly kick her out again. That’s how puppy training works; firm correction with repetition…until you’re eventually left with a lap dog.
It’s confusing for kids to be pulled into adult stuff, or to be shamed by a relative for not “loving me enough.” It’s your job to protect them from that confusion and shame, and that job supersedes your mom’s feelings. And besides, her insecurities are self-fulfilling: because she berates your kids for loving your husband’s mom more…they probably will feel more comfortable around your mother-in-law, if they don’t already. So think of this as doing your mom a favor, because your stepping in and removing her when she’s becoming upsetting to your kids will make them dread her visits less.
Oh, and go easy on your husband: he’d be more than happy to tell your mom off – he probably has pretty elaborate fantasies along those lines – but he’s worried about saying the wrong thing and hurting your feelings. (Not that I’m writing from experience. At all.)
My dad is a Red Sox fan and my boyfriend is a Yankees fan. What should I do?
Gosh: having to dump an otherwise perfectly good boyfriend is hard…but you have to pay attention to signs of mental instability. In fairness, we are all young and foolish once, and in those years we often do things we’re not proud of. Like wear skinny jeans. Or root for the Yankees.
Sure, they’re having a much better year, and Jeter’s one of the best players ever to pick up a glove, but…Fenway is a temple. Ellsbury is a god. (Not the God, as Bill Murray would say, but a god.) Sox fans are known to be of superior intelligence, unfailingly virtuous, and incredibly attractive. Clearly, only people with some diminished capacity would root against the Red Sox.
So you know what? Don’t dump your boyfriend. Find it in your heart to help him.
In Papi we trust,
Philip Van Munching is a New York Times bestselling author of advice books, including “Boys Will Put You on a Pedestal (so they can look up your skirt).” Philip, who grew up in Darien and recently moved (happily!) back to town, is also a guest teacher at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan. If you’ve got a question for his new “Ask Philip” column, email it to him at email@example.com.