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Ask Ellie: Boundary busting in-laws risk creating rift in family

In-laws can provide great support to first-time parents. But ignoring the parents' most important asks can ruin the entire family’s relationship.

Dear Ellie: My parents-in-law are great people, especially since our three-year-old son was born. They’ve been helpful, doting grandparents in our child’s life.

However, they no longer respect boundaries my husband and I previously set with them. My retired mother-in-law shows up unannounced while my husband and I are both working from home, picking up our child from daycare and staying for the evening.

I’ve let some boundary issues go, but my trust in my in-laws recently changed when my son and I both got very ill with COVID. He was sick enough to be hospitalized.

When he was sent home to recuperate, my parents-in-law insisted on coming over, despite my father-in-law hiding a cold until it became obvious.

A week later, days before a planned family cottage trip, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law who live with them, tested positive for COVID. My parents-in-law promised they’d isolate from them before joining us at the cottage.

But this didn’t happen. When my husband called my mother-in-law, my COVID-positive sister-in-law picked up her phone. My parents-in-law then said that it wasn’t right to restrict the couple’s movement within the house, and that it’s time for all of us to move on from COVID.

My husband and I eventually asked them not to join us at the cottage. I can no longer trust them to take appropriate precautions to keep themselves and my family safe, or be upfront and honest about what measures they’re unwilling to take. What should I do going forward?

Heartbroken Daughter-in-law

Some grandparents are so excited about their new role in the family (or bored with retirement), that they love doting on grandchildren.

That’s why you and your husband were wise to discuss any desired boundaries early on. Despite the appreciated help grandparents may offer, parents have the main obligation to protect and raise their child.

Unfortunately, those who ignore your most basic parental decisions (especially on health-related matters) can cause long-term family dissension.

COVID is well-known to arouse contention between different sides about how to handle it, regarding isolation/vaccination etc. But decisions affecting a youngster in hospital, is the business only of the attending doctor and the child’s parents.

Many families have faced such differences regarding this virus, but many have also wisely agreed to disagree.

Since you’ve otherwise loved and respected your in-laws, consider offering a “bridge” to the future. Express appreciation for their past support, and thank them for understanding your small family’s need for evening couple-time, and being together with just your son.

Readers’ Commentary regarding the letter from Lonely and Suspicious who thinks her husband’s having an emotional affair (August 23):

“This is because he’s miserable, distanced, always on his phone, but they have great sex often, so she thinks it can’t be a physical affair.

“She should wake up and get proof. He’s having a full-on affair. He’s angry at her because that helps him justify his affair. He has great sex with her because he’s getting it from two women.

“She should listen to her instincts and bust him: Check his phone, track him, hire a private detective.

“If he’s forced to come clean, it seems she still can’t decide to kick him out or let him stay and work on marriage recovery, depending on his response to being discovered.

“But just talking to him will only make him more secretive. She already knows that something is going on and has tried to talk to him without success.”

Dear Ellie: I’m a woman, late-50s, working full-time at a demanding job. My husband is 10-years-older and retired.

He’s told me that he’s lonely without me. I still enjoy socializing with friends/colleagues after work, yet I’m also torn with the desire to be home with this man I love. How can we figure out a better way to manage the rest of our lives?

Married By Ourselves

Neither decision regarding work was unreasonable for your age, but ongoing loneliness is a tough choice to accept as a marital relationship.

Consider your finances together and whether you could manage to work less hours. If not, choose certain days to go directly home from work. Socialize for a few hours on the others. Invite your husband to join you now and then, if that’s feasible. And/or periodically invite a few friends over on a weekend so both of you socialize together.

He’ll appreciate your efforts.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Loving, helpful in-laws can provide great emotional support to first-time parents. But ignoring their most important asks can ruin the entire family’s relationship.

Send relationship questions to [email protected].