DEAR AMY: I am the father of three kids, all boys ranging in age from 11 to 17. The two oldest boys share a room in our unattached guesthouse, my youngest son’s room is in the main house. Recently, my in-laws came to stay with us for a week. We moved them to the guesthouse. While the boys were not thrilled, they reluctantly cleaned up and relocated for the week. When I woke up the first morning, both of my in-laws were already arguing in the kitchen. My mother-in-law proceeded to show me a marijuana pipe, rolling papers and a lighter that had been hidden under the sink in the guesthouse. I told her that I would deal with it, and asked her not to say anything to the boys herself. She was furious that I would not address it immediately, and told me that she was “disappointed” in my parenting. My mother-in-law then told my wife, who immediately scolded the two boys in front of the rest of the family, took away all of their privileges and phones, grounded them and then made them apologize to their grandparents several times. I feel that my wife overreacted to please her mother. Both boys were silent, sullen and refused to engage with the rest of the family for the rest of the week. My mother-in-law told me that their trip was “horrible” and a “waste” because her grandchildren wouldn’t talk to her. Ever since, she has bombarded my wife with comments about how “weak” I am, and how I’m a “useless father.” I firmly believe she wanted me to get physical with my sons as a punishment. Was I wrong in my approach? How can I get her to understand that I don’t need to explode in anger to be effective?
DEAR DAD: I agree with your reaction, and your decision for how to deal with this. I also agree with your wife’s consequences, but not with how she delivered them — in anger, publicly, and without you.
The good news is that you probably won’t have to endure another visit from the grandparents. They sound extremely disruptive and unsupportive. There is no excuse for them basically trashing your parenting. Your wife could help to shut down these comments by saying, “Mother, stop it.”
You should not engage with your mother-in-law about this, because — quite plainly — it is none of her business. You should save your energy for dealing with your sons. Their drug use should tell you that (at the very least) they really should not be bunking in the guesthouse. They need closer supervision, direction and clear consequences from both of their parents.
DEAR AMY: My two daughters have never gotten along. They are half-sisters. The older one spent half the time with her father and half with me. I wasn’t stable while they were growing up, but have worked hard to rectify that (no drugs, alcohol, etc.; I am bipolar). The older one will not speak to me, only text, which I am thankful for, but nothing she does is my business, and she always talks to me like I’m an idiot. I always seem to go back for more because I love her and my granddaughter. The younger daughter is an angel. We talk every day, and I am more involved with her children. Over Easter, I suggested a get-together; the older wouldn’t let me know, so I spent the week worrying that she wouldn’t come. If we wish to see her and the family, we must go to them, which is harder to do since my husband is now in a wheelchair. How do I get past letting this affect me each and every birthday and holiday?
DEAR UPSET: Your “angel” daughter rates a mention. Your older daughter takes up all the rest of your space. You should try to recalibrate this balance. Anchor your plans and positive emotions to the reliable daughter, and assume that your other daughter will not participate in your relationship in the same way. Now is the time to take care of yourself.
DEAR AMY: I just read your response to “Hugs over Smooches” who wants us to teach females to set boundaries. As a female who was molested as a young girl by a man my family trusted and respected, I have three words for you: BEST. RESPONSE. EVER!
DEAR FAN: Many, many people disagree with my response, that men are the ones who need coaching. But thank you.