Dear Carolyn: After our young child went through a very scary emergency room visit (but is now okay!), my in-laws could not be more unhelpful if they tried. The narcissistic one is telling everyone they blame themself for somehow causing the seizures (they live several states away) and the sexist one is blaming my wife for being a bad mother and that it somehow wouldn't have happened if I were there (my wife acted decisively and knew exactly what to do).

I am trying to just focus on my immediate family's needs, but I am struggling to contain the rage and all the other emotions I'm feeling right now. I don't know what my specific question is other than a sanity check that this is beyond abnormal — it is, right? — and how to handle it.

— In-Law

In-Law: A narcissist and a sexist walk into a bar . . .

. . . and do self-aggrandizing and misogynistic things, respectively.


Since these are her parents, not yours, you have the extra burden of a reckoning once removed — meaning, your job is more about helping to support your spouse and protecting your kids and managing your outrage.

Her job, meanwhile, is to stand up to her parents . . . which could be a process of recognizing their issues; understanding how she has been affected by them; learning what is healthy; and learning strategies for maintaining health while not getting sucked into the issues. If she’s more toward the beginning of this progression than the end, then it can be a lot to manage, even without a young child’s health emergency to consider.

So you both have your different roles and different weights to bear.

But arguably the most productive thing you can do is keep my stupid joke in mind as you deal with your in-laws, or, better, the fable of the scorpion and the frog: They’re going to do what they’re going to do. Set your expectations accordingly.

The more you can anticipate their behavior, the less you’ll react to it when it happens, and the more effective you’ll be at keeping your attention where it matters.

But go ahead and be furious right now, because you’ve earned it.

Glad your little person is okay.

Re: In-Law: I absolutely agree with your advice, but I do think the husband is well within his rights to calmly respond to all blame being centered on his wife with, "She did the best job possible. I will not let you blame her again," and continue that forward.

I would bet all the money Amazon has that the mom is already blaming herself and internalizing her father's blame. She very well might be able to work through this in the future, but right now — I hope the husband can defend her when she isn't able to.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Right, yes, thank you. This applies more broadly, too — if the spouse is ever present to witness this kind of mistreatment, it’s appropriate to speak up this unequivocally on the spot. The only exception is if the wife (or whoever is the target of mistreatment) has asked you to let her address this herself.

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