Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

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Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 11 2003 10:56 AM

Relative Agony

In-laws that deserve the cold shoulder.


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Dearest Prudence,

My in-laws could be a case study in several realms of psychosomatic study. There are three of them, my brother-in-law, father-in-law, and dear old mother-in-law. They each have their own set of traits that make them special. Brother is a lazy, jobless, unmotivated spoiled brat; a multiple DUI recipient/reforming alcoholic (to keep from going to jail, again). Good ol' pop is a pill-popping, chemically induced rambler of useless conversation. And mom likes her pills, too; but she has to have a little breakfast glass of wine before she can take hers. Previously, they stayed on their side of town. But the day my mother-in-law turned to me, with my new baby in her arms, and said, "You are going to be seeing a lot more of us!" I felt like a train had run over me. Since that day, they have become incessant pests worthy of going head-to-head with the swarms of locusts of biblical times. They never call before dropping by, and sometimes it's four or five times a day! I have asked them repeatedly to stop doing this, and they respond by intensifying the frequency of their visits. My wife and I both work at home. She is too busy to have company, as am I. What it boils down to is that they have nothing else to do, so their entertainment is keeping us in turmoil. Mom will show up in the middle of the day dead-drunk and want to watch the baby; 15 minutes later the baby is in a dirty diaper, and mom is passed out cold on the couch. All three have been in and out of treatment centers, therapists' offices, and in the brother's case, jail. My wife has been reduced to a big ball of exposed nerves, crying at the drop of a hat. Having a small child and a full-time job with little help is stressful enough without having to endure these assaults. My wife told me just last night that she could depend on the kindness of a stranger quicker than anyone in her family. They show up and just want to hang out, and nobody is ever "able" to help. And to tell you the truth, I don't trust them with my child anyway. Short of getting a restraining order, I do not know what to do.


P.S.: Know any sober baby sitters?

Dear Stump,

You write so well that under the desperation, Prudie detects a hint of humor, though of the black variety. It was interesting that you referred to the damaged family as candidates for a psychosomatic study. Prudie thought you were going to apply the diagnosis used by a neurologist friend who calls them "psycho-ceramic"; that is, cracked pots. In one way you are lucky because your wife finds her relatives as grim and unhelpful as you do. Now here is how you reclaim your life—and your house. Tell this unfortunate trio that because you and your wife work at home, it is no longer possible to have them dropping by. Tell them that you are unable to entertain them, you have work to do, and the days of "drop-ins" are over. If they are really nuts, change the locks and ignore the doorbell. It is crucial that you put your foot down. Make it plain that the new modus operandi is not because they are people with problems, but because you and your wife work. No one should be the prisoner of people with no judgment—even if they are relatives.


—Prudie, immovably

Dear Prudence,

At a recent four-generation family gathering, my oldest son (a teenager) spent a fair amount of time with his first cousin, so much so that the 90-year-old great-grandfather of both of them was prompted to launch a fairly vociferous lecture about the inadvisability of cousins marrying and so forth. While I don't think this was on either of their minds, I thought it might be worth asking if it really is a bad idea. I have a vague recollection (all too many of my recollections are vague, but that's another matter) of hearing that the medical evidence suggesting that intercousin marriage was a bad idea due to the likelihood of birth defects was flawed, and that there was essentially no real genetic reason to avoid such liaisons. So I put it to Pru—are there any reasons, medical or otherwise, to discourage such a relationship if it seems to be developing?

—Mystified in Minnesota

Dear Myst,

Marriage of close relatives in an inbred society—like Iceland—often invites genetic mishaps. First-cousin marriages in this country have come to be less verboten than they used to be, though there is always the chance of two recessive genes combining to make ... trouble. BUT the more important question raised in your letter is: What is up with Gramps that he has two teenage kids hanging out at a family party on their way to marriage? A family party, by definition, does not offer anyone to hang with who is NOT a relative. Please regard the old gent's prematurely conjured scenario as a miniperformance without any basis in fact.


—Prudie, disregardingly


My 11-year-old son has had a difficult time making friends because he is somewhat shy. His closest friend, "Mark," happens to live a few houses down the street from us. I like Mark, and Mark's family is very kind to my son. Lately my son has told me that Mark's uncle "hangs out" with them a lot. Recently I met this uncle for the first time, and something bothers me about him. I have no basis for my distrust other than maternal instinct. I do not want my son around Mark's uncle; however, I do not want my son to lose Mark as a friend. How do I handle this situation? Am I just being a nervous mother?

—Maternally Motivated

Dear Mat,

Prudie would never diss maternal instinct, particularly about a "funny uncle." The thing to do is tell Mark's parents that one of them must be present when your son is doing anything with their son. If pressed, say you're not comfortable with any grown-up who spends an inordinate amount of time with children. Or ... you might try to move the get-togethers to your house. Good luck.


—Prudie, vigilantly

Hi Prudie!

Quick question: My husband has known a guy since he was 15 when they started to work together. This person became like a younger brother to my husband. Fast-forward: This young man has become a "born-again Jehovah's Witness," and every time he's around my husband, he aggressively lectures him on everything from going to church to quitting smoking. While his intentions are good, this "new person" is not the one my husband wants to remain close with. In fact, he's begun avoiding taking his calls and makes excuses when asked about visiting. Is there a polite way for my spouse to tell this guy that "the new you and the old me aren't compatible any more"?

—Jehovah Dodger

Dear Je,

Quick answer: This is one of those instances where the truth works really well. Your husband should explain his new reticence to socialize by saying that, at his age, he already has a religion and is not interested in being lobbied, even for the Lord or the antitobacco interests.

—Prudie, plainly