Care and Feeding

I’ve Had It With My In-Laws Constantly Comparing Me to My SIL

A woman rolls her eyes as her in-laws talk about her behind her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Albina Gavrilovic/Getty Images Plus and Ranta Images/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

How do I deal with intense comparisons from in-laws? Whenever we bring up something pertaining to our daughters, from small things like playpens to large things like scary medical situations, they hijack the conversation with a story about my sister-in-law (their oldest) or her children. I’m not sure if they intend it to make us feel like we aren’t alone or related to us, but it really makes us feel the complete opposite. Do you have any thoughts on a response that works to curb it?

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—Stop the Comparison

Dear Stop,

You’re not alone in feeling like this. Usually, people like your in-laws are just clueless to how their behavior affects you, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less annoying to deal with. I think feedback in the moment is the best way to handle it, and you can go about it in one of two ways.

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As you probably know, I’m a big fan of the direct approach, so when it happens again, you could say something like “I know you mean well, but it really makes me feel awful that you always bring up SIL whenever I tell you something deeply personal. We are so different, and it feels like you’re judging me based on her experiences.” In the best-case scenario, they would realize the error in their ways. They could also deny it or tell you you’re being too sensitive. That’s when you firmly state one of my favorite phrases: “My feelings aren’t up for debate.” Once they understand how serious of a problem it is for you, they should come around, but you may need to repeat it multiple times until they get there.

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The other option is the self-reflection approach, otherwise known as “playing dumb.” You can ask a question like “I’m confused. What does SIL have to do with what I’m saying here?” They’ll probably respond by saying your situations are similar, and then you can say, “I’ve noticed that you bring her up a lot whenever I tell stories. Have you considered how that could make me feel? How would you like it if I did that to you?” The goal is to get them to step outside of themselves to look at their behavior.

Either way, staying silent isn’t an option. You need to speak up and not let these microaggressions slide; otherwise the resentment you’re feeling now will grow to an unmanageable level.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My mom and stepdad both have a major drinking problem, which they won’t admit. It is complete with delirium tremens and frequent vomiting, so it is an active addiction. Recently, they came to my home to visit. We went to a nice restaurant over the weekend, driving separately. My husband, toddler son, and I went home after eating but the parents stuck around to keep drinking. They showed back up a few hours later absolutely blitzed. My mother was so drunk that she face-planted on my kitchen tile and my poor husband had to pick her up by the sweaty armpits. Immediately after that, they passed out in the guest room.

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I was relieved to be done with them for the night, but to my horror, they woke up and picked up my son. When I stopped them and took my son away, for his safety, and explained it was for his protection, they became enraged and fled from my house, although not before calling me a slew of names. My husband is a better diplomat than me, so he mostly handled that drama.

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It’s been several days and my mom and stepdad haven’t said anything to me. Eventually they’ll reach out and make themselves the victims of my cruelty and crazy boundaries. How do I handle this conversation? I know addiction is a disease but I need to keep my little man safe.

—Red Solo Cup, Don’t Fill Me Up

Dear Red Solo Cup,

I had a horrible drinking problem for over 15 years (I’ve been sober for over five years and counting), so trust me when I say that I know firsthand about the behaviors you’re describing here.

I learned the hard way that nobody will ever save you from your demons except for yourself. If your mom and stepdad have the kind of relationship where there’s no personal accountability for their actions and they constantly play the victim, then you may have to be at peace with the fact that they’ll never change. However, you certainly can nudge them in the proper direction by making a power move regarding your son.

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What I mean by that is you should make it very clear that you don’t want your son to be exposed to your parents under any circumstances if they continue to be intoxicated around him. To be clear, I’m not saying you should use your son as a pawn. I’m saying that you need to be firm with your boundaries because they could easily hurt him.

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Chances are they will play the victim and blame you for being an unreasonable jerk (that’s how I used to behave), but if you don’t waver, by stating you’re not going to negotiate about this, then they will have to make a decision. Will they choose to wise up and take some responsibility for their actions? I would like to believe that most grandparents want to have a relationship with their grandkids, so they should do whatever it takes to make that happen. Of course, narcissists are completely different animals, so to speak, so you never know how they’ll react.

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First and foremost, you need to continue to protect your son. Hopefully this ultimatum will help them to see the light, but if not, you have to be at peace with loving your mom and stepdad from a distance going forward.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Monday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 6-year-old daughter likes to tell everyone who will listen about every bump and bruise (and she’s pretty active, so they happen often). For example, she’ll tell people about a small cut that happened days ago if she hasn’t seen them since. She has started getting ice at school almost daily if she has a scratch or bump. I’m worried that it has become attention-seeking. I’ve tried talking to her about “the boy who cried wolf” and that people might not believe that she is actually hurt if she tells them about every scratch or bruise. We have tried to be empathetic and give hugs, kisses, and Band-Aids if necessary when she’s hurt at home. How can I help her avoid becoming the kid who is always “hurt”?

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—It’s Not That Bad

Dear It’s Not That Bad,

I’ve seen this happen a lot with kids your daughter’s age—especially as a youth basketball coach. One thing that helps to curb that behavior at home is to downplay your reactions and encourage others to do the same. If she starts to go on about a boo-boo she received, give a deadpanned reaction and say, “Oh, that’s too bad. I’m glad you’re OK now,” and move on to another topic. The reason she’s doing this in the first place is to get the reaction she craves (attention, hugs, etc.). Once she stops receiving those reactions, the behavior will hopefully stop as well. This should go without saying, but you should absolutely give her love and affection for serious injuries involving bloodshed, broken bones, and even painful/scary falls not involving blood or shattered bones. I’m sure you know the difference between the two.

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Here’s another tactic that works well for me. When I coach young kids in basketball and they get hurt in a way that I know isn’t serious, I often ask if I should call an ambulance and/or take them to the hospital. They always respond with “no,” but in doing so, they often smile and realize how ridiculous it would be to be hospitalized for a minor scrape, and they’re back to normal before you know it. It truly comes down to how you react during those situations.

There’s also the chance that your daughter could up the ante by injuring herself on purpose to get the reaction she’s looking for, and that could be potentially devastating. If you think that’s a possibility, then you may consider taking her to therapy to get to the bottom of why she’s behaving this way. Perhaps there’s something more serious going on that you’re unaware of, so I’m always in favor of getting a professional involved to ensure no stone is left unturned.

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Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m white, and my white daughter is in a predominantly white elementary school. I don’t believe anyone there is doing enough to create an atmosphere that is diverse and inclusive. The curriculum is extremely whitewashed and the school doesn’t hold any cultural events for anything other than reading a shortened version of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech each January. I spoke to some of the administration and they were so offended that I thought the school needed to improve, mainly because we live in a very liberal area and they’re not like “the other conservative schools in the area.” Any idea on how I can get this through to them that they need to improve?

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—Sounds About White

Dear Sounds About White,

My eyes are rolling so hard at your school administration’s response that I can see out of my own rear end. Do they truly believe that racism (or a lack of anti-racism practices) is just a problem in conservative schools/areas?

I often encounter liberal people taking offense to the idea that they should be doing more in terms of allyship, because they believe they’re doing everything perfectly. You and I both know that’s not true. Racism is a problem in every corner of America, and the people who remain in denial about that fact will allow racism to persist. Anti-racism needs to be infused into every class, every school policy, and every campus event—and it can’t be something that only occurs during Black History Month.

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Regarding the actions you can take, I’d start with joining the PTA, since it often provides a more direct line to the school’s administration. From there, you should consider taking on a leadership position and use your voice to advocate for more anti-racism practices on campus. There are numerous ways you can do that, starting with hiring anti-racism experts to deliver workshops for parents, staff, and teachers. From there, you can regularly bring in speakers and authors of color to meet with the kiddos and inspire them to be more anti-racist.

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You can take it a step further by running for a school board position, creating anti-racism meetings with like-minded parents in your community (my neighborhood does this) and putting your time, money, and resources behind politicians locally and nationally who support anti-racist values.

The possibilities are endless, but the main thing is to do something. We need more parents who “get it” like you to inspire the ones who don’t.

—Doyin

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