In law update: husband is a victim of their influence

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by gcvmom, Jul 21, 2010.

  1. gcvmom

    gcvmom Here we go again!

    husband had a bad day at work yesterday -- bunch of stuff went wrong and it was very frustrating and stressful for him. He didn't get home until nearly 9pm, and when he did, I could see he was upset.

    He got ready for bed right away and I went up to talk to him for a bit to see how he was doing. Geez, talk about the flood gates opening...

    We started talking about work, but then it quickly morphed into a convoluted hour-long mess over his parents. He accused me of not caring about them, of having no compassion for them, and not wanting to be around them. Okay, the first two are not true, but I'll cop to the last one, although not to husband -- he doesn't need to know that.

    Everything that came out of his mouth was an attack on me and I could see it was based on some kind of guilt he feels over their situation. They have no money. They have no entertainment. They have no friends. They are isolated. Their life sucks, IOW. For every example I gave of how his parents had plenty of options for solving their problem, he had an excuse for why it doesn't work, and a justification for why they deserve better. I finally shut up and just let him rant. When he got quiet, I asked if he wanted to talk about anything else. He didn't, so I went back downstairs. I wasn't mad. I'm not changing my opinion of them, though. I have every right to my feelings and reminded him of that when he got put out that I disagree with him on a number of points about his parents. He accuses me of not being able to have an "adult" conversation about them because it turns into a disagreement -- to which I said that just because we disagree doesn't mean we can't talk about it. He has some kind of codependent perception that in order to have "permission" to do something I have to be in agreement with him. Sigh.

    After about 20 minutes, he came downstairs and apologized, telling me he was sorry, that he loved me, reminding me that I know how crazy he gets when parents are around and explained that his evening medications hadn't kicked in and that's why he was ranting. That was very touching. But it also tells me that underneath his medicated bipolar is a person who feels very connected and obligated to his parents, and that their influence in the way of guilt still leaves a very strong mark on him. And when his medications are not in full effect, his raw emotions, including anxieties, rise to the surface and they cloud his every thought. When he gets like that, there is no reasoning with him and it's best to just not engage.

    I don't know if he's going to end up sending them money on a regular basis again or not. I won't give him my blessing, but I won't stop him from doing it either.

    The sense of entitlement in this family just blows me away, though. All the kids have this idea that his parents sacrificed everything for the family and deserve to have everything done for them now. That's a nice sentiment, but being an outsider, I tend to be the one to point out the facts about the emperor's clothes, Know what I mean?? And husband doesn't like that. Because that would mean he'd have to admit his parents are responsible for their own situation, including all the poor choices they've made along the way.

    Saturday is their anniversary party. sister in law#1 is hosting it at her husband's restaurant and asked if we could chip in $30 for tipping the servers. Hey, I have absolutely no problem with that. She also asked if I could bring a balloon arrangement for the party. Again, no problem -- I can do that.

    What I do have a problem with is husband telling me that he thinks his parents only have about $2 in their pocket (what happened to the $300 he sent them to cover their trip out here?) and that their big night out means sharing a burger at McD's and having a 59 cent cup of coffee. (Can you hear the violins playing the entitlement song?) Well, if things are so dang tight, why did have they been to Vegas TWICE this month? The "explanation" is they were invited for a "free" slot tournament. Well, we all know how that song goes...
  2. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    Families are so strange. Esp when you view them frrom the outside. It sounds like the parents have done an excellent job of training their children. If they give lessons maybe we could learn a few things about getting our adult kids to do what we want them to? (Hey, maybe that could be their new source of income!! Parenting seminars to teach people how to get their adult children to do what they want - they could make a mint!!)

    I am sorry things are so difficult.
  3. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    gcvmom, I shared at length on my other thread so I won't repeat anything here. But I do have more to say that maybe might help.

    I am fortunate that my in-laws didn't have money problems. But in many other ways, their reliance on their kids has been much greater than in my family. I'm not sure "reliance on" is the right way to describe it. But they had to know everything. I think it was mother in law mainly, not father in law, but father in law always wanted mother in law to be happy, and often she would CHOOSE to be unhappy with us, whatever choice we made. For example, mother in law might have cooked two dishes but only planning on serving one. She asks a kid's opinion on which one to serve. She then uses that stated preference as basis for her own choice, then complains tat the wrong choice was made and blames the person whose opinion led to the "mistake". A deliberate lose-lose.
    That was a hypothetical and she hasn't done that for years. I do wonder if father in law unwittingly enabled her, because since he died she's behaved a lot better. Don't get me wrong, he was a great guy. But I don't think he knew how to cope with her, except by placating her.

    easy child lived with mother in law for a couple of years. I believe it was volatile at times, but easy child is also a lot like me, a lot like my mother and won't allow herself to be engaged into co-dependency. A classic mother in law behaviour (to this day, bur not so much) is to always apologise for the meal she serves. There is always something that went wrong that makes the meal awful, according to mother in law. She then sits back and listens to everyone protesting, "No, this is lovely!" and it makes her feel good, that she cooked a good meal after all. It's a manipulation and frankly, I get fed up with it. I'm sure husband does too, but sis-in-law doesn't seem to realise she's being sucked in to her mother's psychodrama. But easy child would never let her do this; mother in law would say, "I messed this up," and easy child would reply with a twinkle in her eye, "Yep. You really mucked it up, grandma. It's awful."

    Last night (I mentioned this in the other thread) after mother in law asked what she could do to help with dinner, I had asked her to make a litre of fairly runny bechamel. I got down there to find she had made a pint (600 ml) of overly thickened, flavourless stodge. She said she had made it too thin, then thickened it a little and overdid the thickening. From the taste of it, she had made glue by cooking flour and water, there was supposed to be milk in there too but there was not much, if any. She began apologising profusely but I detected an aid of defiance to her, as if at some level she was thinking, "OK, see what you can do with THAT!" I am certain she was not doing anything like that consciously, and if I allowed myself to think that, I would get angry and resentful, and that then affects how well I get on with her. I had actually expected she would mess it up somehow, and had planned accordingly. I'd taken down a pasta machine and my gear for making fresh pasta, as well as a large pot of bolognese sauce I'd had simmering at home. The plan was for lasagne.
    I've found I need to stay calm and practical around her - I react to mother in law's fluster by staying calm and being an anchor. "Not a problem, this will work out perfectly. No, I'm not ready to heat the oven yet. yes, e have plenty of time."
    I thinned the bechamel - I could have used warm milk but didn't bother. I used hot water from the kettle. Added grated cheese and some salt. The cheese made up for the lack of milk. By the time I watered it down to get the right consistency, I had the larger volume I had asked for. It was so cheesy it left strings, but in lasagne that's OK. And while the bechamel/cheese sauce heated, I made a quick two egg pasta and began to assemble the lasagne. A runny cheese sauce made for a fast assemble, and it had only taken me half an hour to get the whole thing done and into the oven. mother in law began the big apology thing for making such a mess of the bechamel, and I again said, "Not problem, it worked out well."
    "But it made so much rouble for you!"
    "No it didn't," I said. I got exactly the right volume. You saw how I scraped the pot out, but still had plenty of sauce for two layers. See? We have nothing leftover."
    "But what about the extra time it took you?"
    "What extra time?" I said. "I needed to wait while the sauce heated up to melt the cheese. I used tat time to make the pasta."
    "But it is such a lot of trouble for you to go to!" she went on.
    "No trouble. I love to make lasagne, and you just saw how quick and easy it was."

    Really, the conversation about how much time it took, took longer than the actual lasagne did.

    What I have to keep telling myself, is where this comes from. She is constantly anxious and willing to please. But over the years she has had to find ways to constantly get the reassurance she craves. And these ways are generally not healthy. So first, by staying calm I'm trying to cut back on her need to be anxious in the first place. Next, I try to downplay any need to be reassured. If we keep responding by constantly placating and reassuring her, we're allowing the whole problem to continue. What we need to do, is find ways to defuse the stated problems.

    Perhaps because mother in law needs constant reassurance (and she's getting worse with this in recent months, I'm sure because she's terrified of death and disability and she's really feeling her mortality this winter) she's always been very insistent on knowing every little detail. There have been times over the years when we did NOT want her to know, and frankly it was nobody's business but our own. But for husband old habits are very hard to break and the habit to naturally spill the beans was too strong. It took him a long time to learn how to self-censor.
    Gcvmom, I think with your husband, he has not yet learned either HOW to do this, as well as WHY he needs to do this. Or even THAT he needs to do this. You need to hve the conversation with him, that I had to have (repeatedly) with husband.
    "Honey, I love and honour your parents because they raised you, and raised a person who is so special to me that I want to spend the rest of my life with him. So if they could do that, then of course they have a special place in my heart. BUT you and I are also now a family unit in our own right. There are some things about us that they do not need to know. Just because they want to know, doesn't mean they should. I understand that they won't take kindly to this idea, so maybe we need to simply avoid answering some questions truthfully or in detail, rather than saying, 'I'm not going to tell you.' Sometimes it is better to lie than to hurt their feelings. The lie is justified if they're asking questions they have no right to ask."
    This is a really difficult concept, but if you need to, turn it around to a mirror image. Would your husband ask his parents about intimate details of their sex lives? Even if they told him unprompted, how would he feel about knowing whether they choose to hang from the chandelier wearing pink leather? In which case dear husband - never, ever volunteer to mother in law that you bought your wife a vibrator for her birthday.

    Finances are tricky. Really, once you've left the nest and begun to live independently, then you should stop being a financial burden on your parents. And we should never ask our kids for money either. We raise our kids for our own selfish desires, a need to perpetuate our own genes. We should NOT be raising our own pension plans.

    Again, turn this around. If your 20 year old child came to you and said, "I'm broke, I need money for car payment/rent/food/clothing," what would you do? If you had the money, you'd probably give it. But along with the gift, would come some conditions. The first and most important condition, is that what the money is claimed to be needed for, is what it is spent on. If your kid spent the money on drugs, you would rightly feel lied to, cheated and angry. You would be less inclined to hand over more money when the plea came again. And it might take some time, but you would eventually work out that the desperate cries for help were a sham, a manipulation by an addict trying to keep someone else paying for an unhealthy habit. A responsible parent cuts the addict loose. Even if it is a child needing money but not handling it right, eventually you would require some level of fiscal responsibility, some level of transparency and scrutiny of the finances, before you handed over more money.

    Well that is what needs to happen here. Seriously - husband has a FILIAL responsibility to his parents, sure. They're pushing that button so hard at the moment tat his head is spinning. They're also really pushing the divide and conquer button so husband will NOT discuss this with you as an equal, but will simply hand over money to them as guilt money. That is not only not fair of them to do this, it is plain wrong. husband needs to see that this is bad behaviour and if it was coming from a child, would be classic addiction behaviour and need to be met with refusal to finance.

    I really feel for your husband. Poor bloke, he's caught between emotional blackmail from parents who in this area, kept him ignorant of the correct behaviour; and his known responsibility to you and his marriage. His parents are setting him up for trouble and for stress, purely to feed their own habit.

    So what can you do? What can husband do?

    You and he need to talk, well away from his parents. I think you both need some counselling on addiction and co-dependency, with regard to this problem .I think you need couples counselling to help YOU support HIM in handling these problems in his parents.

    NEXT - it comes back to your husband's filial duty. You know how I feel about this. Very strongly. I am on husband's side in this. I am sure you are too, I think a lot of your attitude is similar to mine. Your husband has a responsibilty to help his parents. But that does NOT mean financing their gambling habit. Oh no.

    Just as we require accountability from a child who asks us for money, I feel your husband should require accountability from his parents. That accountability should already be there because husband has already given them a lot of money. He owes them nothing but his love and respect. He owes them nothing materially. Unless there was a prior formal agreement drawn up between them that he would support them in their old age or pay back his upbringing costs, he owes them no money. NOTHING.

    The approach he has to take is, "You still are in financial trouble? That is not good. If I simply give you money, that won't fix the problem. You can't fix money problems by throwing money at them; I've heard Suze Orman saying this, and may others. So I'm going to do something much more wonderful for you - I am going to take over your finances and help you learn how to manage. We need to really delve in deep and find out exactly where this money is going. Maybe we can find a way to help you make ends meet much more efficiently. Don't worry, my dear parents, together my wife and I will look after you and make sure that you can live comfortably on the income you have. After all, gcvmom & I are a team and have learnt so much ourselves in how to manage on very little. We no longer have enough money to give you, having already given you so much. But we CAN share with you our wealth of experience and use this to keep you both safe."

    Of course they won't like this, of course they will fight it. If their financial need is genuine and if it is not the result of gambling, they would welcome this sort of help. But they will fight it and will really pile on the emotional gilt to your husband. That is why he will need you PLUS a good counsellor, to keep his spine stiff on this. He will be too tempted to cave, if he doesn't have really good support on multiple levels. And if he tries this and ten caves, it will be doubly hard to ever try this again.

    Without an intervention, these people will carry on doing what works. And they lean on their children, because all other avenues have been exhausted. Really, it is most immoral. But in their lives, it has worked for them and they have been taught somewhere, somehow, that it is OK.

    A friend of mine is not the sharpest tool in the shed. She was raised in the country by a reactionary mother who threw out the dad and raised the girls alone. The mother was always concerned with acquiring money as well as being seen to NOT have money worries. Appearances were everything, especially appearances of wealth. She sent all her girls to boarding school, even though my friend was happier at the local government school. But having your kids in boarding school looks more affluent and also allegedly gives them a better education.
    My friend finished school and went to uni. Got a BA. Got a job in the city. Nothing flash, just a secretary. But she was expected to send money home to support her mother. My friend, being not too bright, is treated with disdain by her mother and sisters but they still wanted her money and her help when it suited them.
    Then about the time that one of her sisters was getting married (my friend was not invited because at family events she embarrasses people), an aunt rang my friend. "You're really very ungrateful to your mother. She sacrificed a great deal in order to send you girls to boarding school. The least you could do, now that you're a success because of her sacrifices, is reimburse your mother for the boarding school fees she spent on your behalf."
    My naive friend sent the money off. It was later on when she was talking to other people that she realised, kid are not usually expected to reimburse their parents for school fees. None of her sisters have been asked to do that. And the timing of it - she was only asked, so she could help contribute to the cost of her sister's wedding (again, a wedding where she was not welcome).
    A real mess.

    Gcvmom, your best defence is teamwork with your husband. When he rants at you like he did, recognise (as I'm sure you did) that he has been 'got at' by his parents and they have tried to badmouth you to make him act unilaterally. They know you're onto them. They are playing the guilt button at the same time as the loyalty button, while at the same time forcing husband to be disloyal to you. In other words, at some level they are using the, "If you don't let us badmouth your wife, you re being disloyal to us," routine. So it is loyalty plus disloyalty. Instant conflict. Utterly not fair and bad behaviour.

    Your defence is to NOT badmouth them in turn. Never become what you despise. Instead, play the "your poor parents, they must be so scared to behave that badly and put so much pressure onto you. We need to help them. But we can see now, because we've already given them so much money in the past and they're still no better off - giving them money is not fixing this. We need to find a better way to really help them."

    If husband is slam ming his shoulder against your closed door, he will feel bruised and resentful. But if you throw open the door and hug him, he will be taken by surprise by the support and lack of resistance. His parents are setting him up to expect resistance. So don't give it to them.

    Follow the line I suggested, about husband taking over their financial details and auditing them with a view to helping them find a way to financially cope. Once he's done an audit, he can say, he will better know how much of his money to put in, and where, for best support. Because you guys are no longer a bottomless well. Also emphasise to husband that this is a very generous offer that of course they will be so grateful for. ANd if they're not grateful, then perhaps it is time someone called them on their bad management and gambling problems.

    Good luck. Stay strong. And remember that it's highly likely that making the move from child-who-confides-everything-and-obeys-in-everything to parent figure for his own parents, will NOT be an easy transition. Keep openly supporting him in this. Because if you do, you will also be constantly ensuring that he IS following through properly.

  4. gcvmom

    gcvmom Here we go again!

    Ahh, Marg. You give me many pearls here. I don't have time to respond to all of it tonight, and the in-laws arrive tomorrow morning so I'm going to be busy. I'll let you know how the weekend goes! Thank you!
  5. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    Sorry husband isn't more of a support. He is dealing with his own convoluted thinking and guilt.
    My mom is from the school that she is martyred for her children. She did work, very, very hard but it fed her shopping needs. She tried. I figure she started early planting seeds that "good children" take care of their parents. Philosophically, I believe charity begins at home and spreads from there so I'm not far off from thinking we take care of our own. We help our parents in different ways, not necessarily money since most young adults are raising children or struggling. Giving parents money to go to Vegas sounds like quite the excessive gesture. Maybe husband can get around his guilt by offering them a Christmas gift of a trip to vegas but stop sending them cash. Does he want his kids to go without because his parents are somewhat financially irresponsible? Does he want to be like his parents in retirement because he spent his resources on them for excess and not necessities. I find it hard to believe they are so poor that they couldn't afford a decent meal at McD's. Doesn't that sound ridiculous even to husband?
    If in laws couldn't pay the electric bill or were stretched too tight once or twice a year due to taxes or unexpected bills then helping seems to be the correct gesture(if you can) but they sound like silly people with no common sense.
    Maybe a discussion with husband about what is a reasonable amount of help to in laws should be. It might help him clarify in his mind what he should and shouldn't do.
    TG! my in laws do not believe they should be dependent. My mom loves it until I let all her credit cards expire. : ) She is almost out of debt now. : ) : )
  6. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Hang on! Remember my occasional references to gourmet poverty food? And how, if we have to buy fast food, we find a generic hamburger shop because what you buy at a back blocks greasy spoon truck stop is a much bigger, better burger made fresh with fresh ingredients, for half the price?

    Who the H is so RICH that they can afford a meal at McDs? Sorry, someone's telling porky pies here.

    Occasionally on Aussie TV, the sensationalist media make a big noise about the impoverished pensioner who can't afford to buy real food to live on, can only afford to eat cat food. I've watched those stories and laughed at the stupidity of the reporters, falling for the rubbish - the pensioner who is sitting down to eat a tin of Whiskas Black Label (or other expensive gourmet cat food) knows two things:
    1) the media will give him a lot of attention and probably some money, all he has to do is eat pet food on camera;

    2) all tinned pet food is safe for humans to eat. But cat food, especially the gourmet stuff, is higher in protein and usually pure meat of some kind, such as fish or chicken. So someone eating pet food for a stunt, knows to choose the expensive cat food in order to make sure they can do it without barfing.

    The problem - tinned pet food is very expensive, gram for gram if you buy fresh meat (especially the budget cuts, which can be very tasty with careful slow cooking) you can get a lot more food, for a lot less money. And that's just meat. People can live very well on vegetarian diets. If you buy direct form farmers, buy what is in season, grow it yourself, you can eat a healthy, full and enjoyable diet.

    If your measure of affordability is "I can only afford Brand X fast food" then you are not poor. Poor is being lucky to have a cup of rice a day.

    gcvmom - your husband is being had. But I'm sure you knew this.

    Buy them a cookbook, or let me email you my cookbook text which is designed for easy, inexpensive meals. Marvellous for alleviating the sort of boredom that would otherwise need to be managed by going to Vegas for a spot of gambling...

  7. Shari

    Shari IsItFridayYet?

    So did he give them another attendance prize for coming???

    I am so sorry.