Care and Feeding

My Pushy In-Laws Are Using My Kids as Pawns Against Me

Woman throwing her hands in the air and yelling.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

Last year, my in-laws moved from our area to a famously inexpensive and conservative one. I grew up somewhere similar and it was a scarring experience involving assault and massive sexism.

Family gatherings are now full of digs about how we’re depriving our kids when we could be giving them a big house with a backyard and a stay-at-home mom if we moved to the in-laws’ state. I’m actually the higher wage earner, but my father-in-law has always disapproved of this. My husband pretends none of this is happening, and refuses to enforce any kind of boundary around their commentary. This has emboldened my mother-in-law to go so far as to tell our 9 and 11-year-olds about how much they’re missing out on and encouraged them to ask us about moving.

The kids brought it up again last week. I’ve always been a calm person, and I yell only in emergencies (a toddler running into the street, there’s a fire, etc.,) but I lost my temper like I never have. I told them, in screaming detail, that the low taxes Grandma loves give her state the worst educational outcomes in America and that the retrograde politics would put them at risk the way it did me as a teen. It was a temper explosion and involved a lot of swearing and references to abortion and homophobic violence in ways that aren’t age appropriate. How do I talk to my kids and apologize for the way I spoke, and how it scared them? Everything I said was true, but they don’t need that level of data at that age. They’re scared and convinced that even visiting Grandma is now dangerous, which isn’t right.

—Hit the Breaking Point

Dear Hit the Breaking Point,

Apologize to your children for what you said and how you said it, but not for how you feel about moving to your in-laws’ state. Explain to them that you regret losing your temper and that how you spoke to them was inappropriate—make sure to note that you shouldn’t have included some of the information you shared. Let them know that you feel very strongly against moving to this state because it would be bad for your family and would expose them to some upsetting circumstances that you had to deal with during your own upbringing. Talk to them in age-appropriate ways about the local attitudes and laws that make you feel so passionately. They are old enough to hear about poorly funded schools; a culture of bigotry; and yes, lack of access to abortions.

Be clear that it is safe for them to visit their grandparents, but you are unwilling to take on the issues of living in an area like this one to give them a larger home. Acknowledge that their grandparents put them in an uncomfortable position by asking them to advocate for the move while knowing that you opposed it. They should never feel like they are caught in the middle of a debate between you and them.

You also need to have a serious conversation with your husband about his refusal to say anything to his parents about behavior that bothers you deeply; you shouldn’t have to be the only one explaining why you won’t be joining them in red state bliss. Both of you should let your in-laws know together that there is zero chance of your household relocating to their area and that you’d appreciate them not riling your children up to ask about it because your answer is not going to change. If and when they bring it up, shut the conversation down immediately.


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