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Thursday, 22 March 2001

Overbearing In-Laws

Written by  Dr. Louise Klein

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QDear WholeFamily Counselor,

I have a rather difficult situation involving in-laws; basically, a mother-in-law and father-in-law who are obsessed with my brother-in-law and sister-in-laws' two small children. They are very controlling and overbearing and cause a lot of stress in the family.

The situations also directly affect myself and my husband, who is stepfather to my 2 children (not the favored ones)...

Signed, lately with a constant headache... :-)


ADear Headache,

First, be grateful that your children are not the favored ones. Have you ever heard the expression "There's no such thing as a free lunch."? Those children may get more attention/gifts/whatever than your kids do but it also comes with a hefty price tag, more involvement from their grandparents.

Usually when a client tells me that their parents are "controlling and overbearing" I begin to wonder if there's money involved somewhere. Sometimes people will tolerate incredibly difficult situations because there's some kind of inheritance involved and they're afraid of being cut out of the will. I don't know if this applies to your situation but the basic question remains: Why do you brother and sister-in-law put up with this?

I suggest that you take a step back from all this conflict, if that's possible. Your brother and sister-in-law will need to set their own boundaries with your husband's parents. You and your husband will also need to set your own boundaries with this couple.

You can only take care of yourself and set your own limits with his parents. Be firm, be patient, and make sure that you and your husband agree on how to handle this situation.

And now let's talk about a way to get rid of your constant headache. Take yourself out of the middle of this situation and stop listening to everyone's complaints about everyone else. For example, if your mother-in-law says something like "I can't believe that Karen sends those kids to school dressed like that!", then you need to say, "It's not my business what Karen does. If you have a concern then you should speak to her directly." This same thing holds true for your brother and sister-in-law. If they begin complaining about things that his parents have done, you need to interrupt them and say, "I'm sorry but I just don't want to talk about them today. If they're bothering you, then you two need to sit down with them and work this through."

Now let me warn you that this will not make you everyone's favorite person. No one is going to thank you for your wisdom and insight. They'll be most likely to stomp off and not talk to you for a few days. That's fine. As long as you delivered your message calmly, politely, and without blame, then you'll be fine in the long run. This may take a few times until they all get the message that you're no longer playing the game. You can only take care of yourself and set your own limits with his parents. Be firm, be patient, and make sure that you and your husband agree on how to handle this situation.

Dr. Louise Klein

Last modified on Monday, 16 January 2012 17:59
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Dr. Louise Klein

Dr. Louise Klein

Louise Klein was born on the West Coast of Canada but lived for many years in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Widener University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Louise Klein is an experienced therapist in insight-oriented talk therapy. She has worked with individuals, couples and groups for many years. Her experience with families includes stepfamilies, adoptive families, nuclear families and families dealing with illness or death. Dr Klein is also trained in thought field therapy and regression therapy and has taught and worked internationally. Louise Klein lives in a rural community with her husband and St. Bernard and has a stepdaughter in college in New England.

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