Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: I am having trouble feeling like I’m part of my husband’s family. I was very close to his mother, who passed away five years ago. My husband’s father and stepmother are not as open as my mother-in-law was. We are never invited to their home. I feel awkward asking them if we can come over because the whole visit they just watch television and no one really talks, making me feel like we are intruding. My husband’s stepmother has often lamented that my two small children don’t really know them, but when we visit my in-laws barely pay the kids any attention. The television is often blaring, which scares the baby and he ends up crying the whole time (I have told them he’s not used to the loud noise, but the television stays at the same volume). We have a very small house, but when I have invited them over they commented on the length of the drive (we live 20 miles away) and didn’t stay very long. When we visit my parents, the whole visit is spent talking, playing with the kids, etc. I’ve expressed these concerns multiple times to my husband. He doesn’t really like it either, but he won’t put any effort into furthering the relationship. It bothers me that my kids barely know their family members. Is there anything I can do? — Wondering
DEAR WONDERING: I give you a lot of credit for being concerned about this relationship and making the effort to try to improve it.
You don’t seem to have ever asked your in-laws, “Do you mind if we turn off the TV while we’re here? We won’t stay long; it’s pretty loud for the baby.”
You say you don’t get invited, but if you did find yourself in their home it might be a good idea to bring a puzzle that the kids and adults can work on together. Puzzle-building is cooperative and often easier for people who don’t know how to interact with children.
In addition to inviting your in-laws to your own home, you should ask them to attend any events outside the home that the children might be involved in. Meeting on neutral ground might be easier for everyone.
Ultimately you cannot make a relationship happen if these grandparents don’t participate. If they are able-bodied and want to be closer to the grandkids, they should make the effort.
DEAR AMY: I have noticed a thread in your column regarding adult children who borrow from their parents and don’t repay their debts. I had this situation with one child and wanted to handle it — and also wanted to be fair to all my children. I decided to give each child a large cash Christmas present slightly larger than the largest debt and I subtracted each child’s debt from the gift. Everybody got something and we were all even. It was the best money I ever spent. — It’s Better to Give than to Collect
DEAR COLLECT: This is a kind and generous gesture on your part. I agree that this is one way to retire all debts and start the new year with a fresh slate.
However, many families cannot afford to generously give their children money in the form of a loan, which isn’t really a loan. Forgiving these debts could be good for your relationships in the short term, but, depending on the recipient, it might impede their financial competency. I certainly hope that you keep the slate clean by not lending money to your children. I think it’s better to simply give a gift at the outset if you know the money won’t be repaid (or if you don’t care one way or the other).
DEAR AMY: “MIL Who Doesn’t Want Trouble” wrote in about a silly sort of housekeeping issue at her son and daughter-in-law’s house. When the MIL asked her daughter-in-law for a towel, the DIL responded, “That’s what pants are for!” Your suggestion for her to give the couple guest towels as a gift was a decent one, but you also suggested that all communication should happen between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. Shouldn’t she just speak to her son about this? Or are you assuming (along with the MIL) that the daughter-in-law basically runs the household? — Involved House Husband
DEAR HOUSE HUSBAND: Several readers made this observation and I agree with you — the blanket assumption that the woman in a household is somehow responsible for towels is outdated. Thank you for pointing this out.