father in law crossing the line
October 23, 2011 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Should my father in law be telling me what to do in regards to buying a house with my wife?

My wife and I have been in the process of searching for a house. Through out our search, I have often questioned whether or not we can afford to buy a house right now. On a number of occasions we have been close to making an offer and then I've decided that I don't think we should buy a particular house because it's too expensive. But I've then changed my mind with other houses saying we can afford it, but then once again I've gone back to the idea that I think we should wait to buy a house because we can't comfortably afford it right now. My wife has no problem with our decision not to buy right now but she has been frustrated with me going back and fourth saying yes we can afford the house, and then on another day saying no we can't afford the house. I don't blame her for being frustrated...I need to make a definitive decision and stick with it. We are both in agreement there. Recently she had a conversation with her parents about this and soon afterwords her father called me and basically said I need to make a decision about this and stick to it. While I'm in full agreement with him, I don't think it was his place to call me and say that. It's between my wife and I. I'm not saying it isn't his business, but it's too much when he gets on the phone to tell me what he thinks needs to be done. He wasn't mean about it, and I know he's just looking out for his daughter's well being, but still I feel like he crossed the line. I didn't say anything to him about this when we spoke. I was polite and agreed with him. I also haven't spoken to my wife about this because she's out of town. So...do you think my father in law was in the right by calling me about this? Should I say something to my wife along the lines of, "Hey it's totally cool if you talk to your parents about this stuff, but I don't think it's cool if your dad then calls me and tells me what he thinks should be done. This is between us, not your parents or mine." And should she then tell her father that he shouldn't have called or should I? Any opinions here would be great.
posted by ljs30 to Human Relations (28 answers total)
Honestly, if you've being that wishy washy about the decision, I don't think it's surprising that others are telling to make a decision. If he called you up and called you names and said you better take care of his daughter, then yeah, he's outta line. But if it was just a call to say "Hey, you really should make up your mind" I don't see that being a big problem, as your indecision is causing problems throughout the rest of the family.

Worry less about what FiL is doing and more about what you want to do in regards to the house.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:45 PM on October 23, 2011 [26 favorites]

Me, I don't discuss the private affairs of my marriage with my parents. In a similar situation, when asked why we haven't bought a house yet, I would say "we haven't been able to commit to one yet". United front. Always.

Your FIL hasn't really crossed the line. Your wife invited him.
posted by likeso at 12:51 PM on October 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

Don't hold grudges. Whether your FiL should have called you for the reasons he did or not is idle speculation at this point since it already happened. Now the ball's in your court on whether or not you're going to make an issue of it after the fact. I recommend not, it seems a bit petty.

If FiL makes a habit of it, have a standard placating at the ready: Thank you for sharing your input with me, I appreciate your consideration and will factor it into my decision.

As for whether or not you should buy a house right now, instead of deciding right this second and sticking to it, why don't you have some sort of metric or goalpost that can serve as a decision-maker? For instance, you have to have a certain percentage down payment plus your monthly payments can't be more than 1/4 net income. Know what factors you have to get aright, then once they're all lined up go for it. If you have a plan on how to decide, nobody can get on your case for vascillating on whether or not to do it.
posted by carsonb at 12:54 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Meh, it's just family looking out for family. He didn't try to bully you or anything from what you say. Maybe he thinks y'all are close enough that he can be a supportive, mature voice of reason to you. Let go of your ego on this.
posted by batmonkey at 12:58 PM on October 23, 2011 [21 favorites]

second carsonb - if you've actually done the math, this decision should be pretty cut and dry. If you're flip flopping, sounds like you haven't done the math or you're just moving the cutoff point around arbitrarily all the time, when really it should be "We can afford anything up to $X total with $Y downpayment and $Z monthly mortgage. Anything more is too expensive." End of story.

But your FIL is out of line.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

The line is not some bright shining bit of reflective yellow paint in the middle of the road, over which though shalt not cross. The line is wavy, hazy, nebulous and unclear, and it widens, narrows and curves depending on the relationship and history you have with your family, your wife, and her family. The line also looks a lot different depending on which side of it you're standing on, and varies for other people as much as it does for you.

Some things are so wildly beyond the pale that you don't really even have to check if they're over the line and you're welcome to hold a lifelong grudge about them. This isn't one of them.

Other things are somewhere in the general vicinity of the line. They might look clearly on the good side of the line from one perspective while being a little over the line from another perspective. If this made you uncomfortable, it's okay to tell your FIL that -- that you prefer not to discuss your marriage with him other than with your wife, perhaps, or that you prefer not to discuss personal finances with him at all. That'll make the line clearer and less hazy in the future, but try not to be too pissed off about it now.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:01 PM on October 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't say anything to your FIL, but I would say something to your wife. If it's even ok with you that she talks to him about something like this, then she should tell him that it should not go back around from him to you.
posted by jacalata at 1:03 PM on October 23, 2011

Best answer: You and your wife are your own primary family now. You both need to know and believe that. There should be no complaining to family and friends just to vent. There should be no enlisting of any outside person's persuasive efforts. And the opinions, especially unsolicited ones, of outside people shouldnn't be considered anything more than a piece of information. I've been married 25 years. In the beginning, I found that the phrase, "Husband and I have decided..." worked almost like magic with my "helpful" mother and father.

Now, separate from the parent involvement: You and your wife need to ally with one another to make the housing decision. You have a lot of anxiety, and it's creating a problem of paralysis. She needs to put aside "Make a decision already" in favor of "Can we talk about what you're anxious about, and deal with it." I assume you've already looked at the numbers from every possible angle, but are still uncomfortable with the level of risk.

I know I'm stating all this as if any idiot could do it. I know from experience that it's hard. ut after the "you and me against the world" understanding is in place, it's a lot more manageable.
posted by wryly at 1:10 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is no definitive answer on this on, I'm sorry. There is only a yes/no straw poll on "Would you be OK with this?" We keep my parents abreast of our major financial decisions because they are generally both supportive and have constructive feedback and yeah, I'd be fine with this. Please note that he is not telling you which decision to make, which would be inappropriate had you not solicited his opinion. He is instead telling you that you need to make a decision one way or the other, presumably for the mental health of his daughter.

FWIW contrary to some other posters, I think your wife is an autonomous human who can discuss this with whomever she likes, but that discussing it with her dad and then telling him he can't let that get back to you is duplicitous. Disagreements are fine and they happen, but that would be grounds for divorce in my house.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:17 PM on October 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

It's OK to not know the right answer. Recognize how you feel, consider whether it's likely to come up again, and always ascribe the best possible motives to other people.
posted by amtho at 1:20 PM on October 23, 2011

Best answer: Very simple question. Should he tell you? No. Should he advise you? Sure, why not. He probably only wants to help, but is being confused by worry for his daughter - but worry or not, advice is his task, not instruction. Simple.
posted by nickji at 1:28 PM on October 23, 2011

Maybe what he's really worried about is that his daughter has given you all the power in the decision process. That sounded alarming to me.

It's great that he didn't railroad you. I could see myself making the same phonecall in frustration and out of concern for my child. If it becomes a habit, that's not great. As a one off, based on what you're saying, I'd let it go. But also, reconfirm with your wife that she's not more frustrated with the power dynamic. This is also a very big decision in her life and it's an extra roller coaster you're adding to it. And she doesn't seem to have any influence.
posted by taff at 1:40 PM on October 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

I would be mildly put off by it in the sense that I think calling about it is a bit much, but he was nice about it and it's not so weird that it's totally out of line. I would tell your wife that you agree with her father and you aren't mad that he called, but it made you feel a little weird and you'd rather he not do it in the future. I'd ask that she not outright ask that he not call, since that would make it into a thing when it doesn't need to be one, but maybe she won't express her frustration to her father to the extent that he feels he must call you.
posted by Nattie at 1:43 PM on October 23, 2011

I don't think you've provided enough context about your relationship with your FIL for us to answer this question.

Your FIL might be overstepping, or you might just be feeling extra sensitive about this issues.

Some questions to think about: Does your FIL call and interfere in your relationship a lot? Is this part of a pattern of interference? Are you two usually able to speak frankly to each other? Do you feel guilty about changing your mind so often, and did you feel especially bad when he spoke with you about it?

Thinking about the answers to those may help you figure out whether this was a normal family interaction that you overreacted to, or part of a pattern of your FIL saying inappropriate things to you that you need to figure out how to address.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:59 PM on October 23, 2011

Without knowing what type of relationship you have with him, what type of person you are in general, and what type of person he is in general, it's difficult to really gauge the situation.

Also it depends on what type of relationships he has with people in general, with his daughter, and what type of relationships you have with people in general and yor parents.

There are so many factors to consider before you get hurt by his comments. At the beginning of our marriage, if my MIL called me to tell me something like that, I would have probably been offended too. That's because I never speak about personal issues with my parents. But after getting to know her, what she is like as a person, understanding the relationship she has with her daughter, and realizing that she actually likes me, I wouldn't really mind.

But from the wording of your message, it seems that you are at the very least, cordial with each other, so I wouldn't sweat it. He's part of your family now, and you're part of his family now! So it's all good!
posted by bitteroldman at 2:02 PM on October 23, 2011

You never have to do what your father in law advises, but it's really not a big deal to listen when, as here, he's not being particularly intrusive or harsh (and, further, he offers good advice that you actually agree with). You're overreacting.

It strikes me that you're describing this as your decision, not a mutual decision of you and your wife. Coupled with the notion that you don't want to hear what her (or your) parents think you should do, maybe you took his phone call badly because you're not coming from an open, listening place.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:06 PM on October 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

So...do you think my father in law was in the right by calling me about this?

This question is really "Tell me about how your family is structured", because everyone answering will base their answers 100% on that.

You're no more required to listen to advice from her parents than you are from yours, which in American society is pretty much not at all if you don't want to.

Should I say something to my wife along the lines of, "Hey it's totally cool if you talk to your parents about this stuff, but I don't think it's cool if your dad then calls me and tells me what he thinks should be done. This is between us, not your parents or mine."

I would recommend though that in the interest of keeping everyone's general buzz quite as mellow as it should be that you at least pretend to give his advice thoughtful consideration. I mean, it would be different if he constantly rang you at 3 AM, screeching imprecations against the Freemasons, but I don't see any reason that you need to do anything here.
posted by atrazine at 2:13 PM on October 23, 2011

Best answer: I can see the point of view that says that the FIL stepped over the line, except that he's right. He knows that his daughter is frustrated and he seemed to be pretty nice about telling you that you need to figure out what you want to do and stick with it.

As in-law interference goes, this is pretty benign. If he starts bagdering you with real estate deals or calls you a fool for buying/not buying then it's a different matter.

I'm actually going to go one step further than your FIL and give you actual advice. Don't get a house. It's a massively stressful thing at the best of times, even when it's the right thing to do. If you aren't sure about being ready then you really aren't ready.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:20 PM on October 23, 2011

Best answer: Is what he did ideal? No. But, as far as these types of things go, I don't really think that your FIL crossed the line because it sounds like he didn't tell you which decision to make, he just said that you need to make *a* decision. This is key. If he had said "You really need to just buy a house, you can clearly afford it" then that is totally unacceptable. If he had said "There is no way that you can afford a house right now, don't do it" then that is also totally unacceptable. On the contrary, it sounds like he was just encouraging you to make a firm decsion one way or the other. Maybe your wife is more put off and upset by your wishywashyness than she is letting on to you, and her father is concerned about the amount of stress that this is causing her. Maybe he is just a bit of a busybody. We can't really answer that without knowing more info about him.

I wouldn't be particularly happy if my FIL called me to say this, but I think it would be mostly misdirected anger towards myself and my own inability to make a decision than real annoyance with my FIL. I'd also be more irritated with my husband for complaining to his family about me instead of just talking to me himself.

full disclosure: Currently buying my first house with my husband. Your flipflopping wishywashyness is normal! My unsolicited advice is that it is much, much less stressful to make an iron-clad mental commitment to your comfortable price range before you start looking around and contemplating offers. It's very easy to get swept up by an awesome house that is outside of your price range.
posted by gatorae at 2:22 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know how old you are (and I guess it doesn't really matter), but parents often just want to step in and parent. Even when it's across the line. I agree that it sounds like your wife isn't getting much say in this and it's probably turning on your FIL's protective instinct. So, maybe this is a wakeup call that you two need to get on the same page on this house deal. It's a big, important step and she may be venting if she's feeling unheard and powerless.
posted by amanda at 2:37 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

If this happened to me, I would think my FIL was out of line, but I wouldn't fret over it, nor would I call him him back (or have my spouse call him back) to say that he shouldn't have called. He did call, he was polite, he told you something you already knew. No big deal. Families are funny sometimes. Let it go.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:42 PM on October 23, 2011

your wife is feeling powerless so she defaulted to her parents. they should have stayed out of it, but you shouldn't be dragging your wife through house hunting and the making unilateral decisions and then going back on that. you can only control what you do, so i would suggest, like your wife and father in law, you make a reasoned choice and let your wife have equal input.
posted by nadawi at 2:43 PM on October 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

It sounds to me like you have been going back and forth about buying a house for a while, that your wife has been clear that this upsets her, that you know this upsets her but can't seem to stop being wishy-washy (I'm sympathetic to you here), and that out of frustration she mentioned this to her father, who probably already knew you guys have been looking to buy but have yet to make an offer. Did she do something wrong? Maybe: it's hard to know what she said to her father. Did your FIL do something wrong? Maybe: it depends on what your relationship with him is. I don't think what either of them did is particularly terrible, honestly, and you should probably let it go. (If this becomes a pattern, then it's a problem, but it doesn't sound like that.)
posted by jeather at 4:28 PM on October 23, 2011

If my father-in-law called me about something like this, or if my father called my husband, I would be LIVID. Like, staying-home-for-the-holidays livid.

However, neither I nor my husband would talk to our families of origin about a decision in such a way that any of our parents would consider calling us to give advice on personal financial matters.

Full disclosure: My husband and I are just beginning the search for a house. My mother-in-law is our real estate agent. And I STILL would not expect (or tolerate) this kind of phone call from our parents.

I don't think your wife intended this, necessarily, but something that she said to her dad brought out the papa bear in him. He seems to be wanting confirmation that his baby girl is being provided for and protected, which is somewhat demeaning to you. Is your wife generally able to bring up conversations with you in person when she is uncomfortable? Could she possibly have subconsciously known that by calling her dad with this issue, he would tell you to man up and make a decision, so she wouldn't have to say it? I think you guys need to have a deep, honest conversation about what buying a house means to you, and if you're not quite ready, maybe you table it for a little while - stop looking, stop getting close to making an offer. At least until you can do so without flip-flopping on your decision, or until the plural you are flip-flopping together.

I wouldn't have a conversation about this with your father-in-law (sounds like you handled that exactly right) but I would have a conversation with your wife - 1, to make sure she knows she can say things to you that might make her uncomfortable, 2, about whether you guys are really ready for a house, and 3, about where the boundaries of your families of origin end and the boundaries of your baby family begin, and how to protect those boundaries.

Good luck.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:13 PM on October 23, 2011

"Hey it's totally cool if you talk to your parents about this stuff,but I don't think it's cool if your dad then calls me and tells me what he thinks should be done. This is between us,not your parents or mine."

There are alot of good perspectives here---but I want to point our that this action would be similar to what just happened. Complaining to your wife about what your FIL did and expecting her to tell him not to do it again (ie. deliver a message on your behalf) is similar to her complaint to FIL about what you did and expecting him to deliver the message to you on her behalf.

Its all very awkward and I'd be tempted to think "well, that was a well-meaning but ultimately less than ideal thing my FIL did". And then move on.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:49 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mmn, this sounds like a classic case of the your wife's mom nudging the dad to step in Man-to-Man to try and get things moving, maybe after your daughter complained to her. My mother and I used this orchestration tactic back in the day and it totally worked. Although my dad (reluctantly!) brought up the subject on a car ride -- just the men -- not in a pointed phone call, which I think made it less highly-charged. Good luck and go easy on your FiL, he may be just trying to keep the peace.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:04 AM on October 24, 2011

Holy mackeral sorry for the messy job up there. It's not "the your". It's not "your daughter".
posted by thinkpiece at 7:06 AM on October 24, 2011

Decide what you can afford to spend on housing, and how much you're willing to pay for a house. Decide what your real criteria are - schools, garden, close to work, whatever, just be realistic. I like owning a house, and have gained equity. Owning a 2-family house is a good way to do that, esp. if you have handyperson and business skills or can develop them.

Your lack of reliable decision-making might be driving your wife a little nutty. Maybe she complains to Mom and/or Dad, and Dad decided to step in. Of course it's not his place. A good response is Thanks for your concern, Joe, Terry and I are working this out. Then drop it. If he pursues it, just keep repeating Thanks for your concern, Joe and Terry and I are working this out.
posted by theora55 at 7:50 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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