Dear Amy: I have a very supportive family, but they are not able to be financially supportive of me as an adult.
I am very proud that I am about to pay off my student debt. My wife and I, both employed full time, are looking to buy our first home.
My wife’s family would like to help us out financially, which is kind but unnecessary.
They called my wife to offer money, and she refused.
It became an argument, and they responded by threatening to deposit money into an account in her name.
I know I feel more strongly about doing this without their help than my wife does.
Her parents will not bring this up when I am there (they told her that they know how I feel, so they decided to talk to her alone).
Her parents mean well but have a pattern of ignoring “no” when they feel like it, and I have felt violated in their efforts to “help” several times before.
My wife and I agree when they have overstepped, but we haven’t always agreed about what to do when it happens or how to change their behavior.
The idea of being ignored and the thought that these conversations are done intentionally without me being present makes me very angry.
Any suggestions for if I can say anything directly, or how to keep calm about this?
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I would really appreciate an outside perspective.
— Upset Husband
Dear Husband: First of all, there is nothing wrong with graciously accepting a gift. Some prosperous parents are choosing to essentially spend down their inheritance during their lifetimes.
You should ask yourself if your refusal is a result of you being too rigid or possibly as controlling as these parents seem to be. (I’m not saying you are, but you should explore this honestly.)
Your wife has the right to accept money from her folks, but she should also understand the ramifications in terms of ceding control over to them.
Their disrespectful response that they will open an account in your wife’s name (I don’t think you can do this) is … significant. That sound you hear is them leaping over your backyard fence.
You and your wife are supposed to be partners: Emotional, relational, and financial.
When you married, you decided to form a family together, with the two of you in the center of your family. Both sets of parents should respect your partnership and take one giant step back.
While any of us might not want to look a financial gift-horse in the mouth, the way you describe these elders and their refusal to take “thanks but no thanks” as an answer makes them seem both interfering and controlling.
I can imagine that this makes your wife feel quite conflicted and sad, but if you two can agree as a couple on a specific and consistent response to this, she will feel empowered, and you will be able to keep your cool.
A relationship counselor could help you two to agree on basic parameters.
Dear Amy: I have a friend whom I’ve known for decades.
My friend has a 16-year-old child who is shy, quiet and smart, but who can’t get a word in edgewise when we three are together.
Is there a way to suggest to the parent that this friend takes all the air out of the room?
It might help the child to be able to say what they want, but I don’t want to lose a friend.
How should I approach this?
— Attentive Friend
Dear Attentive: Speaking for a child is a habit that many parents have; for some, this may start when their child is very young, quiet or shy. The parent jumps in to relieve the child of the pressure to speak. Once the parent does this, it’s hard to stop.
(How do I know this? Because I did it!)
When you are with the parent and the teen, you can ask a question directly to the teen. When the parent jumps in, interrupt gently and say, “Hold on a minute — I’d love to hear [your child’s] answer.”
Dear Amy: “Estranged in-law” excessively worried that his young son would wonder why he didn’t have contact with his grandfather. Thank you for encouraging these two dads to give their child a simple and truthful answer.
Parents often hand their drama over to their children.
— Been There
Dear Been There: Children can understand that no two families are alike — and that’s OK!
(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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