Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 25 2005 7:19 AM

Monster-In-Law

Dealing with a toxic parental relationship.

9_dearprudence_01

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudence,
Ever since I got married three years ago, the relationship with my parents has been strained. My husband and I married within six months of meeting, and things have been wonderful between us, even through a bankruptcy, miscarriage, and unemployment. Fortunately, I have a wonderful relationship with my in-laws. It's clear that my parents don't like my husband (though they would never directly say so). I want to have a relationship with them, but my mother's idea of "having lunch" is two hours of complaining about me, my husband, and our life together. Visits involve giving my husband the third degree about his job and his income. I feel as if my mother, in particular, is trying to make me choose between my husband and her and my dad. I cannot tell if this attempted manipulation is conscious or not; my whole life I have felt that I am in their good graces as long as I do exactly what they say. (By the way, I am an only child.) The way I see it, I would never let a friend treat me this way, so why should I let my parents do it? I feel that the relationship with my parents, in its current state, is toxic, and I don't want it to put unnecessary strain on my marriage. My husband is always pleasant to his in-laws and supports me, no matter how I handle the situation. I want to address this matter now before we have children. I don't want Grandma and Grandpa talking badly about Daddy behind my back, you know? Thanks for your help.

—Not a Little Girl Anymore

Dear Not,
You seem to have a pretty good understanding of the dynamic at work here. Your parents—perhaps Mom, particularly—have taken their emotional investment in you, their only child, to unhealthy and controlling lengths. Your mother sounds success- or money-obsessed, not to mention possessive. Rather than just lop it off with your folks, you can have it out with them and say the tenor of the relationship is not, in your opinion, healthy. They can either make a serious effort to correct the patterns they've fallen into, or, not wishing to be masochistic any longer, you will reduce contact to a bare minimum. And do spell out that the emphasis on, and grilling about, income is unacceptable. By the way, hats off to you and your husband for rising above the setbacks you've had to deal with.

—Prudie, supportively

Dear Prudie,
I am pregnant with my first child, only you would think my husband is pregnant. Everything is going well, but there is one problem. I have been extremely tired during this pregnancy. I am still in the first trimester, and I just want to nap any chance I get. My husband, however, nags me about things he reads on pregnancy Web sites. He keeps telling me I need to exercise and he nags me about it constantly, also commenting on what I should eat and ways to fight nausea. I know the benefits of exercising during pregnancy, but I also know that when your body is exhausted after a day of working, you should let it rest. I know my body, and I'm the one who's pregnant. The next time he gives me advice, I'm tempted to tell him that he can do it that way when he gets pregnant. I am at the end of my rope with his "advice," but I don't want it to get ugly. How can I get him off my back but not hurt his feelings?

Advertisement

—Sleepy and Irritated

Dear Sleep,
Tell him that you greatly appreciate his boning up on pregnancy protocols, but what with work and all, you are following "the wisdom of the body." Prudie learned about this in high school; your body will tell you what it needs. People with scurvy, for example, may instinctively crave food with vitamin C, those with rickets might unconsciously choose something with vitamin D. In your case, your body is propelling you to the bed, not the barbells. You might also tell the excited father-to-be that you feel certain he is unaware of it, but he is adding to your stress with his prenatal backseat driving.

—Prudie, expectantly

Dear Prudie,
Unfortunately I have lost a dear friendship due to a miscommunication. I would like to know if there is any polite way to return gifts to this person. I am far more hurt by the loss of the friendship than I am by any sense of injustice, and keeping these gifts would only serve to remind me of my sadness. I was and continue to be genuinely thankful for this person's generosity at the time, but I simply don't feel right keeping the mementos, and I'd like to return these items without causing this person to think that I am malicious or spiteful. Please, if there is any tactful way to handle this situation, I would appreciate your help.

Advertisement

—Gratefully Yours in Profound Sadness

Dear Grate,
Prudie thinks that returning gifts is something lovers do when the romance is over, and then only in certain circumstances. Depending on how you internalize the loss of the friendship will determine what to do with the presents. If you are able to view the mementoes as warmly given at the time, then you can look on them as remembrances of a happier time. If they are, in fact, too painful for you to keep, then give the items either to friends or to an organization. Returning things to the donor, in your situation, will only leave things in poorer shape than they're in now. Give yourself a little time to let the sadness recede and then make a decision.

—Prudie, reflectively

Dear Prudence,
This problem comes from a teenager's perspective, and I'm hoping you can help out. I have known a girl at my high school for quite a long time. I've never really liked her, but she's been the only constant every time I change schools and classes. Lately, she's decided that we are best friends and tells everyone this. When we had a "fight" recently (although I decline to call it that because this friendship isn't mutual), she asked some girls for help, and now both of them are saddened because we seemed like "such close friends" before. I'm not exactly giving off vibes that I enjoy being followed around by somebody I don't like, so how does this continue to happen, and how can I tell the girl to just get out of my life? And it's not as though I alone have problems with her. She truly lacks social skills, she demands answers to personal questions, calls people fat, tells them to shut up, and her only "jokes" involve making fun of others. What should I do?

—Frantic To Get Away From X

Dear Fran:
This is a not-uncommon problem with kids your age. The tagalongs, clearly, are starved for friends. The kindest thing you could do for this girl would be to have a conversation with her pointing out what she needs to work on in the area you've ID'd as "social skills." It would be hard to argue with someone who was telling you that you can't insult people, make fun of them, be aggressive, and expect them to be friends. This would not be easy for you, but it would be instructive for her. The path of least resistance would be to set her straight about the depth of your "friendship," but you might not feel good about that.

—Prudie, thoughtfully