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Ask Amy: My mother-in-law undermines my wife in front of our daughter

Dear Amy: I am a husband and father of an 18-month-old daughter.

I’m concerned about how my mother-in-law treats my wife and daughter.

She calls my wife multiple times a day to FaceTime with her granddaughter. My wife answers as often as she can.

The problem I have is that my mother-in-law keeps saying things to our toddler like: “Don’t worry. Whenever Grandma is talking to you, you don’t have to listen to your mom.”

Or when my wife tells my daughter to stop doing something, her mother will say, “Grandma says it’s okay.”

The last time I heard this I wanted to grab the phone and say, “Mom makes the rules, and if you can’t follow them, you can’t see our daughter,” and hang up on her.

My wife says it isn’t my place (I agree), but she hasn’t set boundaries. My MIL is coming to visit, and I’ve been stressing out about it constantly.

She is sleeping on our couch for three days, and I don’t think I want to hold my tongue if she tries to say the same things when she’s in our home.

I’m all for grandparents spoiling their grandkids, but when my daughter is throwing food on our floor and Grandma says, “It’s okay, make your parents clean it up,” I want to ground Grandma.

Your suggestions?


Nervous: Keep your cool. The calmer and more consistent you are, the more effective your response will be.

If your mother-in-law directly countermands you, and if you are certain she isn’t just being playful, you can say: “Oops. I’m going to have to stop you. We are her parents, and we need to make the rules for her, even if you don’t agree with them. Can you help us out here and not contradict us?”

She may say, “Oh, I’m only joking, don’t take this so seriously.” And you can respond with, “I get it, but we’re trying to be consistent, and her sense of humor isn’t quite developed yet.”

Dear Amy: My sister has been with her fiance for four years.

They live together and plan to marry in July. This will be the second marriage for both. They’re in their 50s, and both have grown children.

They live in a wonderful city and enjoy a nice lifestyle, playing tennis, traveling, etc. He’s a doctor and she’s a corporate recruiter.

My sister couldn’t be happier. (Her previous marriage was full of grief and frustration.)

All was going well until her fiance’s daughter (in her 20s) dropped out of college and moved in.

Apparently, her dad covers this daughter’s expenses and does not require much (if anything) in return. He lets her basically do as she pleases, and that means sleeping until noon, not working and asking my sister, “What’s for dinner?”

You can probably see where this story is going. My sister’s blissful pre-honeymoon phase is being interrupted by this third person’s constant presence. It frustrates my sister (to no end) that her fiance has not set down any ground rules. My sister works from home and feels she has lost her peaceful “space” because of his daughter’s lax lifestyle.

She also fears the daughter may end up living with them for many years to come, something she didn’t bargain for when she moved into his house and accepted his marriage proposal.

Your take?


Concerned: It’s “his house,” “his marriage proposal” and “his daughter,” but it’s her life.

This is not the way to enter a family system where two smart, successful and advanced-age adults should be holding hands and in basic agreement about their marital partnership.

This also sets your sister up for failure, as the hard-working future stepmother of a young adult.

Every couple should receive premarital counseling, but especially couples blending families, finances and property.

I would suggest your sister put the wedding on hold until she and her fiance get on the same page regarding all of their children.

Life will deliver many unforeseeable events that will require them to pivot, but this situation is easily remedied.

Dear Amy: Not a question, but a comment: Why are some of the issues raised in your columns so trivial? It seems as if people really work hard to get worked up about things.


Tired: I find that, generally, if someone isn’t interested in a particular cultural issue, they will find that topic trivial.

My take is that our world is wide enough to accommodate issues of all sizes.

©2022 by Amy Dickinson distributed by Tribune Content Agency