How do I stay married to a man who is too loyal to his extended family?
March 29, 2016 6:55 PM   Subscribe

This is my first time posting so I hope it's worded correctly. My husband is Hispanic and I am not. He is the oldest boy and his family and is extremely loyal to his siblings. Sounds great, but it isn't for me. My husband's brother and his wife take as vantage of my mother-in-law by dumping their kids at her house all the time. OK, this isn't technically my problem but it affects me in a lot of ways .... Like when she has an appointment and needs to drop them off at my house Etc.

So after another one of these events, I became so frustrated that I contacted my sister-in-law directly. I asked her for advanced warning when she has an appointment and to please bring food with her kids. I received the most horrible family backlash and I am now given the silent treatment. Part of the problem is that my husband was so angry with me for standing up for myself. I told him before I was going to contact her and I let him know that I needed to say something because he never would. It probably goes without saying that I have a hard time with being assertive and now I am questioning myself on if I was too aggressive or if they are just crazy. And I am so concerned about my marriage and the fact that my husband can't at least Except what I did instead of throw me under the bus. It was so hurtful. Any conflict with his family makes him so anxious he can't handle it. We've already been to marriage counseling before a few years ago and I don't know if I should push that again or what to do at this point. I have three young children and I'm just sad and I feel trapped in my marriage if I don't have someone who's willing to stick up for me .
posted by tangomija to Human Relations (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, counseling. As quickly as possible.

It doesn't sound like you were out of line to ask your sister-in-law for notice before dropping the kids off. That's the LEAST she could do. Ideally, she needs to actually ASK you before she does that.

I'm sorry your husband isn't supporting you. A marriage like that is incredibly lonely and you sound really overwhelmed. Make sure your voice gets heard in counseling.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:09 PM on March 29, 2016 [15 favorites]

I guess because I hate conflict I am going back-and-forth on whether I should contact sister-in-law going t going back-and-forth on whether I should contact sister-in-law. My husband said my comments to her were "too direct" and that she is deeply, deeply offended. And that bugs me.
posted by tangomija at 7:22 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Actually, counselling just for YOU would be helpful; you need the validation that asserting your needs when other people are using you is a good thing. The silent treatment and your husband deliberately making you the black sheep of the family because of his own anxiety is not healthy for you, him, or the relationship. Couples counselling - unless it is his idea because he suddenly realised how he has been treating you, wants to make it right, and books the appointment himself - is probably not productive
posted by saucysault at 7:23 PM on March 29, 2016 [19 favorites]

Some families have more communal approaches to childcare than others. Your interpretation that your in-laws are just dumping their kids off at grandma's may be totally fine for the people involved.
Yes, it seems that such a scenario might be more common in Hispanic families than white families, but I know all sorts of families that are on this spectrum.

If I were you, I would have positioned it along these lines...
"I love niece and nephew, but [explanation of your working situation] and I need at least two days notice for a REQUEST to babysit. I don't have kid food on hand and I don't always have an open schedule. Please just check with me two days in advance."


Don't worry. This will blow over especially if they need your help.

But really is it that you work from home or something that they could just drop the kids off?
posted by k8t at 7:33 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Gosh, yes counseling!

Upon your update... Hm. Well. How are your nerves? I have nerves of steel. You should stick your nose in the air and snub them all back. Specifically, I would let it be known that it's too bad being direct was hurtful for them, but that's how adults usually communicate - directly and to the point. Too bad they are acting like bullying children...

Oh. Wait. I don't have any family. Don't do that!

The diplomatic thing to do is apologize to your sister in-law for your tone and re-iterate how important it is for her to ask to drop off her children and provide snacks or amusements as appropriate. Do not over explain or apologize for making this request. 2 sentences, maximum. I want you to say nothing more, do not respond to anything other than an apology. Only reply to this apology (if it comes) with, "thank you, we appreciate it."

Within the culture of your husband's family, it seems to be OK to treat everybody like defacto babysitters. You and your husband need to work out the boundaries for your family. Some kind of counselor to facilitate the discussion about this might help.
posted by jbenben at 7:35 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also - toughen up! You can't let it bother you that someone who is pushy got upset because you called them on their pushiness. If anything, that would make me secretly smile;))

As I already stated, the correct thing is still to apologize for your tone and delivery of the message.
posted by jbenben at 7:38 PM on March 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

Being direct is good. You were in the right. The only thing I wonder is, did you keep this bottled up too long so that when it came out, it came out more angry than it would have otherwise? I can think of ways it could have been said that would probably be understood as "you're inconsiderate, and you're not a great parent either". I have no idea, you may have been incredibly polite (and reading the rest of your post you come off as the type of person who's probably polite to a fault), but just offering this up for speculation.

Personally, I value family relationships highly and try to humor family members even when they're behaving badly. That's certainly not the norm here at AskMe, and most advice you'll get will probably be quite different. But I'm also conflict avoidant like you, and people in my family are people I'm going to have to interact with for the rest of our lives (hopefully). So if there was a chance that what I said could have come off too harshly or been misconstrued, I would approach the sister in law and apologize, couch it in friendly terms about how you love your nieces/nephews and love spending time with them, that you value your relationship with her family and did not mean to offend. Then in the future try to address these things in the moment as they come up, before you get angry about them, so you can be gentle with the discussion (i.e. "little Niece and I had a great time together today, but she got hungry and I didn't have any good snacks for her. Next time, could you bring some of those puff snacks she likes?"). If she's still rude in the face of a sincere apology or continues the immature silent treatment bullshit, then I'd just be polite but reserved and let it be everyone else's problem, and seek counseling with your husband.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:40 PM on March 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

If they can't ask in advance if you're available to look after their kids, well, then, you're not free. The fact that whoever has an appointment is not your problem. If they arrive to dump them on your doorstep, sorry, you're just heading out to an appointment too - even if your appointment is with yourself, to not spend time with someone else's damn kids.

This is so rude it's unbelievable. If your husband doesn't get it, call him while he's at work at tell him his niece just arrived on your doorstep but you can't look after her so he'd better cancel his meeting and get his butt home now. See he feels about putting family first when the one who has to do it is him now. Your husband and all his relatives are assholes. Instead of having your back, he's piling on. No more. Being diplomatic has gotten you nowhere, they just take advantage. Put your foot down. They may not like it, but they will respect it.
posted by Jubey at 7:42 PM on March 29, 2016 [28 favorites]

I know this isn't what you asked, but have you asked them for help with your kids? It sounds like you could be taking advantage of their willingness to look after your kids, who then get time with grandparents, cousins, tios.

One thing you can try: he communicates boundaries to his family, but you don't.

I'm sorry about this. It sounds stressful. I think you'd really benefit from individual counseling.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:54 PM on March 29, 2016

Well, I didn't include that mother in law was here to watch my two kids while I was at work (I have a new baby and two other kids) meaning she had four kids and then five kids when my daughter came home from school. And then fed all those kids from our freezer bc she called my husband at work and said "um, I'm here with all these kids... And no one has shown up to pick them up... What do I feed them?" She doesn't call me bc she knows I'd be pissed. I have never once felt that we could reciprocate childcare with them. When they come over they do not even acknowledge new baby or offer to hold him etc. Fine if they aren't baby people but could they not at least acknowledge how difficult it is and respect that we have three young kids and are completely overwhelmed and frazzled as they sit with two older kids?!
posted by tangomija at 7:55 PM on March 29, 2016

I contacted my sister-in-law directly. I asked her for advanced warning when she has an appointment and to please bring food with her kids.

And in another situation, I would applaud you for being direct and assertive. However... I think this is one of those situations where your values and ways of proceeding are clashing head-on with those of your husband and his family. They sound like they value whole family and harmony much more than smaller units of family or individual needs. To them, it's an entirely reasonable thing that everyone should be willing to pitch in as needed, and raising (reasonable!) concerns means open conflict, which is to be avoided whenever possible. Have you discussed this specific issue with your husband? It's certainly something I would bring to a marriage counselor who specializes in cross-cultural relationships.

If he doesn't want you to be direct with his family, and it didn't go well when you tried it, you need to work this out privately with your husband. Worried about snacks for the kids? Ask your husband to provide these snacks and be responsible for keeping them on hand/fresh. Emphasize that this will be good for the kids, especially when there's little or no notice. Ask him to go to his sister and make the peace. Again, emphasize that his help means that things will be smoothed over for everyone, and he won't have to hear you worrying about it.

Take your frustrations to friends; go find a cross-cultural counselor who can help you figure out how to navigate this very different set of expectations about family obligation and a more communal approach to things. This is hard. Very hard, and you have my sympathies. It seems like you and your husband are operating from two entirely different realities about family and relationship, and you need a savvy third person to help you figure out how to reconcile them. If you continue with your current framework, you will continue to feel frustrated and thrown under a bus. They're not crazy, and you weren't too aggressive; it's a cross-cultural mismatch, and it's going to mean a lot of work for you to navigate their implicit expectations. I hope that somewhere in your (totally understandable!) frustration with your husband's attachment to his family structure, you can appreciate the love that he shows toward them. I hope that a counselor--did I say "specializing in cross-cultural relationships"?--can help you figure out how to feel like you also hold a special and equal place in his heart. Good luck, this is a tough situation.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:56 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Thanks so much everyone. Where do I find a counselor who knows of cross cultural relationships??
posted by tangomija at 7:59 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm actually really annoyed on your behalf. Everyone is tiptoeing around your SIL and that she's so offended and hurt about a very reasonable request from you to provide advanced warning about her kids staying over. No one seems to care at all that you are being taken advantage of again and again as free food and care for her kids, and no one seems to care that you're pushed to your limits, and your MIL too by the sounds of it! This whole 'family looks after each other' thing is great - except it doesn't extend to you and you're the one they have decided gets to do all the looking after while no one looks after you. I would be damn annoyed.

I don't think this is a cross cultural thing at all, you absolutely understand that and are willing to participate in it - but your SILs culture of looking after each other excludes you, which means it's not a cultural thing at all, they're just selfish. I agree this is really tough, made tougher because no one is in your corner. Therapy for you individually and your husband with you together, so you can come up with a strategy as a unit. This is hard.
posted by Jubey at 8:08 PM on March 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

Even families who come from very similar cultures may have very different comfort zones with regards to these things, which I point out lest you get too wrapped up in the idea that this might be an issue of ethnic culture versus simple "family culture"--my parents and my inlaws have pretty similar white farming-to-middle-class Midwestern backgrounds but the difference in how each family group interacts is like night and day in many ways, and I have no hesitation with putting my mom on the spot for childcare while my husband's parents require a great deal of planning and negotiation. It's been 15 years and we are still figuring things out, my husband and I working as a team and as interpreters for one another through the totally different ways our families of origin navigate the world.

I would say that the real issues here are communication, between you and your spouse and between you as a couple and the extended family, and then also just perspective. It's a good thing if your kids get to spend extra time with cousins, and if their grandparents get to spend extra time with all the grandkids together! It just means that a little advanced planning needs to happen in order to make it work smoothly. Maybe it means that your sister-in-law grabs some extra Goldfish and string cheese on her next Costco run to make up for the snacks your household needs to provide, maybe it means that she really does need a good talking to (from your husband or your mother-in-law) about being willing to be on deck for you when you need your kids to be at her place.

I agree that it seems like there's a level of selfishness on that side of the family, but I'd urge you to reflect on them as potential allies, not as adversaries, and find ways to be in this whole family thing together. I think therapy can't hurt, but as someone who has gone through relationship therapy with varying levels of success, I would also say you really need to be open to the best resolution for your entire family, not just having things go the way that seems most comfortable for you right now. Your kids are a part of this extended family and they will grow up with whatever you, your spouse, your inlaws make of it and this will be true regardless of any marriage bond within the mix. So approach it with that in mind.
posted by padraigin at 8:21 PM on March 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

Trying to explain yourself non-defensively is the best you can do. Then you just let it go.

My fami,y thinks family means you can just do whatever you want to someone else/make someone do something for you without asking or trying to understand the other person. I'm a very sensitive person, soon as to seek my distance from them. I have to remind myself all the time that I can't sacrifice myself for them, I can't do what I just can't do. At some point you just have to point out that you can't stand on a sprained ankle.

If it helps, I don't think you're wrong. And I think your husband's loyalty should be with you. He ought to grow up and defend his life partner/mother of his children.

posted by discopolo at 9:02 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

So wait, please explain the situation better. Your mother-in-law is regularly watching your kids while you work (full time? part time? for compensation? at your house?) and you're upset that your sister-in-law adds her kids into the mix regularly, and those kids are at your house.

Part of me wants to say to you that you are damn lucky to have family that can watch your kids for no (or low) compensation. And if this is the case, then your framing of you not liking that your husband is close with his family comes into direct conflict with the fact that you're getting free/low-cost childcare. I don't know where you live, but I assume you're aware that childcare is incredibly expensive and you're getting someone that LOVES your children and possibly is helping out with things that a normal childcare worker would not do (laundry, cleaning, cooking). You really can't have your cake and eat it too.

It sounds to me, and I could be totally wrong here, that you're mad that your sister-in-law is using your mother-in-law for childcare in the exact way that you are.
posted by k8t at 9:40 PM on March 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Mother in law watches kids three days per week (we pay her). This is during the school year, as I have summers off. She watched their kids all summer long last year, including one two week international vacation they were out of town. Not that I am comparing how much she helps them vs us- just saying that she does a ton for them also and they seem to treat her as the hired maid. Ok that bugs me but when it's at my house or affects me it really bugs me. Did I mention that brother and sister in law have to see mother in law or get her help when she is not home at her house?! Oh yes- they are "not speaking" to father in law for 11 years now. And this is my problem? No.
posted by tangomija at 9:40 PM on March 29, 2016

Its tough to deal with family as emotions run high. It might be a good idea to begin learnng (courses etc) how to assert yourself while at the same time de-escalating a situation which is tricky to do. Language, tone, silence all send certain messages, you can be kind and not be a pushover but it is challenging if you are not skilled at this. It can be learned with practice and help of books or counsellor.

Your husband may need to grow up and work through his own issues of not being a unit with you,which you could suggest therapy but if he won't, you changing will change everything. The family sounds manipulative and poor communicators who pout to get their message across, immaturity again and you cant change that so dont try reasoning with them if it doesnt work....once you learn how tohandle that and accept it but not violate your own values and beliefs diplomatically but firmly and kindly you may find things are much better. With practice you can get much better and that will affect all areas of your life and help your kids be more assertive too.
posted by RelaxingOne at 9:41 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

So what is your core issue?

If this is an issue about food cost, maybe you could quietly say to sister-in-law, "hey look, we love your kids, but given that they're at our house with Grandma 2 days a week, could you possibly throw me some cash for the extra food for them or drop off some XXXX on your monthly Costco run? We're really financially tight right now and it'd be really helpful."

Is this a problem about Grandma's capacity? I'm really not seeing what the big deal is that older children are added to the mix unless you believe that Grandma isn't capable of watching that many children at once. If that is the case, then you, sister-in-law and Grandma need to sit down and make a schedule about Grandma's availability. If you have her booked on particular days, she is booked. But maybe if the older children are really older (like 6+?), they're actually helping out by amusing your older children while Grandma is with the baby or something.
But remember that sister-in-law, with older children, had Grandma as a sitter for much longer than you and was accustomed to it.

A solution to this problem, as you probably know, is to actually put your children in childcare and not use Grandma anymore. Yet Grandma loves the children, Grandma is flexible - like you can drop her in the summers and only do a few days a week, no problem, whereas a normal childcare facility won't do that. Grandma probably also runs a load of laundry or two and notices that you're out of butter. IMHO, you're in a very good childcare situation that many would envy, and part of the price that you're paying for that is that your nieces/nephews are there occasionally.
posted by k8t at 9:49 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think my core issue is general thoughtfulness. I would never drop my kids off "for an hour" and then come back 7 hours later and not call and apologize profusely and bring my mother in law some food or ask if the kids need anything. My husband would come over from work bringing food if necessary. And I would say something to my sister in law like thanks for having the kids at your house today. No one ever communicates with these people. Not even my husband. They don't plan anything in a respectful manner. She doesn't know about dr appointments til 11 pm the night before? And tells mother in law but not us? No it doesn't really put me out to feed her kids too but she has never once helped us with anything in any manner. Here is an example- they had a broken water cooler they said they wanted out of their garage. I said we would take it and I'd try to fix it. As soon as it was time to give it to us, brother in law needed a sudden bathroom break to avoid it bc I think he realized he'd rather try to go to the store to get $ back for it than give it to a family member. And they have this aggressive dog they use as an excuse not to ever have anyone over to their house - " gee we will have to meet over there bc poor dog is too aggressive"... Even though they are the ones with a pool, with the bigger house, with more free time now that their kids are older. So basically what I am saying is that I would be willing to go along with most things if I felt like there was basic appreciation and courtesy .
posted by tangomija at 10:11 PM on March 29, 2016

Reading your updates I will just say: don't mess up your relationship with your husband just because his family dynamics suck. Yeah they affect you, but don't make him choose between them and you. He is not able to "fix" his family. He probably knows they upset you but doesn't want to get on their bad side himself. (I also sometimes go all grrrrr at my husband's family, I've learned to fix what I can ON MY OWN because he's no damn help, any other thing I can't fix, I try to either deal with internally or give him an earful while expecting nothing.)
If you can, try going to therapy or at least talking to someone who lets you safely vent.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:36 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

First of all, I'm glad that you've realized that the problem is your husband and not your inlaws. The fact that you're getting a backlash to a simple request makes me think that this is not a cultural issue but rather one of family dysfunction. I come from a very enmeshed, family-oriented culture, and we still respect boundaries without being abusive.

1. Get actual real professional childcare. A nanny would be fired for agreeing to watch other children while being paid to watch yours.

2. Apologize to your sister in law. She didn't do anything to you. She asked her mom for help; the fact that your MIL inappropriately said yes without consulting you is not you SIL's fault. She doesn't owe you the details of her childcare arrangements.

3. Apologize to your husband for going straight to his sister without talking to him first. Both because you are a team and should discuss issues like this together, and because it was strategically unwise to be anything less than a united front. Agree that in the future that he communicates with his family.

4. Tell your husband that you want to get marital counseling to work on this, because right now, you do not feel that he's putting his nuclear family first. You want him to have a healthy, respectful relationship with his extended family, but not at the expense of your own. Your goal is too work our boundaries that you are both comfortable with and enforce them. Make sure you find one who believes in putting the nuclear family first; I'd actually avoid one that bills themselves as being an expert on cross-cultural relationships, because this isn't really about culture at all.

Conflicts over inlaws are a very common type of relationship killer. Nothing will change unless he makes it clear to his family that he is on your side. He needs to understand that the only way to preserve your relationship with them is to train his family to treat you respectfully. If they cannot do that, than at the very minimum you and your kids should not be around them. If he cannot respect you enough to do that, than I'd find a lawyer.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:57 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please don't apologize to anyone. You are absolutely doing the right thing confronting your husband's family about being so thoughtless. I'm not sure if there is a cultural issue or not, but individual and couple's therapy will be very helpful.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:12 AM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Something else to think about: you talk about your sister-in-law (actually brother-in-law's wife) as if in some way she belongs to the family more than you do, yet your position should be the same as hers, as you are married to two brothers. Is this the way you think about it, because she is Hispanic and you're not, or do the family actually treat you as in some way less of a member? I could understand your husband having problems if this was his own sister behaving like that, but I don't see why he should favour his brother's wife over his own wife.

Another point: in many extended families, it is considered a good thing for cousins to spend a lot of time together. If the family frame the situation as you not wanting your children to mix with their cousins, rather than as you being taken advantage of, then I see room for a lot of bad feeling. If you make a point of scheduling meet-ups (with plenty of notice) that might make it clearer that it's the thoughtlessness that you object to , not the nieces and nephews themselves.
posted by Azara at 5:40 AM on March 30, 2016

Thanks so much everyone for your input. I really appreciate it. It help me get down to the point of what is really bothering me. Family dysfunction and just basic thoughtfulness. I feel like my sister-in-law is very passive and it really bothers me. She's a very avoidant which is good because she doesn't get into confrontation but it also comes across as very thoughtless at times. I have no problem with her children – they are very well behaved kids. But I don't understand who would add an extra burden to a household that has a new baby and two other small kids? I would never do the same to her and I guarantee she wouldn't let it happen. She would never be direct and say it but she would avoid it or not be home or have her husband come up with an excuse. I guess I feel like she's more a part of the family than I am because she has been around longer. And since I am married to the family peacemaker apparently so I'm I supposed to be the family peacemaker as well and that doesn't fit me. I can feel it in my stomach – when I hold everything in it literally eats away at me and I don't want to live like that.
posted by tangomija at 6:23 AM on March 30, 2016

As a latinamerican woman married to a European man, I am REALLY ANGRY on your behalf.

I have several comments:

First of all, Hispanic culture can be sexist as hell. Your husband (as the firstborn son) is probably gearing to be Jefe de Familia (that's right, family boss, I'm not even joking, this is a term that exists). The whole peacemaker thing is a part of a little power trip that comes with male privilege. Besides, let me make this clear: he isn't this saint martyr peacemaker. He is an external peacemaker and an internal conflict maker, because he is sacrificing his marriage for the convenience of his extended family. And that shit is all about his ego and how much he wants other people to love him and respect him. I have seen this a gazillion times.

Second, his family are trying to pressure you into fitting into the mold of acquiescent wife (passive, avoidant, like your sister in law)...but if he wanted that, he shouldn't have married an independent non-oppressed woman then.

Third this is not family dysfunction, it is a major difference in how family is perceived in different cultures. What you need to make clear is that you expect loyalty from him before anything else. He and you are relationship number 1, then comes the rest of the family. This is hard for a Hispanic person to accept, but the alternative is not acceptable if you want to have at least some independence and privacy. I am sort of antisocial so this change was not hard for me, but it can be really hard. Again this was HIS choice when he decided to marry you, so don't feel like it's exclusively your problem to solve.

Fourth, if you were to completely change yourself and did what he wants, this will still be a shitty situation. You will always be "not blood", and since you are from a different culture, you will always be an outsider and maybe even a usurper depending on how seriously your husband takes his family boss role. I say this because I don't want you to even consider just doing what is demanded of you to keep things peaceful. They will never be and they will continue pushing your limits until time passes and you become the grandma or the mother in law, at which time you will be so obsolete that it is socially acceptable and even standard to make jokes about you to strangers. the only road forward is for him to see your point of view, accommodate his perspective to better match yours and for you guys to develop a plan of action that results in the happiness of BOTH of you.

Fifth, you have leverage. Separation and divorce tend to be a sign of failure and are very much stigmatized, so if you make it clear that he either shapes up to be a partner first and a brother/cousin/neighbor later OR YOU WILL LEAVE, there is a very good chance he will shape up. Be clear on what you want and what you don't want and make sure he gets the message.

Sixth, it is easy to take advantage of cultural differences if you have a hidden agenda. You can get away with a lot when you come from a different culture and the other person is kind and respectful. I see you are doing a lot of adapting for him, is he doing anything to meet you in the middle? Cause it doesn't look like it.
posted by Tarumba at 7:25 AM on March 30, 2016 [18 favorites]

This is totally my husband! The kind who will smile big say "oh hello!" super friendly to someone as we pass by and then completely change his tone and continue criticizing me about something I did to his family that he found "inappropriate". It drives me nuts!
I completely understand that I am not a saint, and I understand that my family also has issues and he tolerates them. But I truly do not believe my family does anything to make his life more difficult or uncomfortable, and if they did, I would have no problem telling them so, and they would make every effort to change.
I still don't get why my husband married me. He was married before to a woman from Poland and that didn't last long....I'm certain she had as strong of a personality as I do (probably more!)
Why in God's name does he want these strong women if he doesn't want them to stand up for themselves? He wants me to stand up for myself in any situation EXCEPT his family. In that case, I need to keep my mouth shut and accept people as they are....even if it is thoughtless and rude.
posted by tangomija at 9:28 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am Mexican and your situation sounds familiar. My grandma used to watch me and my sister at our home and it wasn't uncommon for the neighbor or for my aunt to drop off her kids with us for a while while she ran an errand for a couple of hours. My parents didn't mind so long as the other kids were gone or left by the time they got home and grandma didn't mind so long as everyone was well behaved. However, they left food for the kids and always made sure to thank both my grandma for watching the kids and my parents for having them at the house. There was no money being exchanged here - it's just what family does in the culture.

I don't think you were out of line by asking your SIL to let you know in advance and to bring food for her kids. She may have gotten offended because you're criticizing her parenting skills - but you have good reason for doing that! Your husband needs to back you up here. Maybe her being offended will work in your favor and she won't drop off her kids at your place anymore!
posted by cobain_angel at 11:35 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

From your update...maybe he wants you to stand up to everything because he cant? Let a woman fight your battles(like his mom and dad did perhaps?) then criticize her for it...yup, and you perhaps are vulnerable to self doubt and he still feels like a "man"as ego is restored through the fight you and he have about this when he criticizes you and you react, so it "works"...The solution may be therapy to dig around the childhood stuff for you and why you do this (over compensate, be too responsible). Imho and experience people like this create conflict and chaos as a distraction from themselves...its weird but if you stop reacting he will escalate to get to you and then see you as "hysterical" etc and its all done as shame avoidance within the family and weird pyschological stuff...passive aggressive often occurs when the man has an aggressive mom and passive dad and they (your hubby)never got over their anger about that but takes it out on you (the "mom" figure he deems its ok to do that with but he's angry at HER but doesnt know it and is actually scared of her)...does he ever criticize his mother? they often hold their mother's in high esteem even though the mom treated them like crap as kids. maybe that's where the term son of a bitch comes from? cause they sure can be.hope it gets easier
posted by RelaxingOne at 3:56 PM on March 30, 2016

His mom is the most passive woman you will ever meet. Puts up with unbelievable things. Father in law is the asshole through and through. Also, he gets super furious at me for standing up for myself because " I didn't do it like he would". Yeah I didn't do it like he would because he won't stand up to any of them. He will make an indirect comment at a random time. Sorry but I can't figure that kind of communication out or how to do that. He then huffs and puffs and sighs loudly storming around.
posted by tangomija at 5:48 PM on March 30, 2016

I'm Latin American and I just want to urge you to consider Tarumba's post carefully, because it's very true.

My husband is American. While I don't have the family dynamics your husband does (which, while dysfunctional, are not uncommon across Latin America), I still do have a much tighter attachment to my extended family than he's used to. It has caused friction, and over the years I've made great strides but sometimes it pops up. And with my family, it's not a patriarchal thing - we're mostly women! My husband has been really clear, when boundaries start to get crossed, that he has to come first. And while I have always agreed in theory, I have sometimes bristled and it's been hard.

I don't say this to defend your husband. I just say it to illustrate that I understand the conflict, and I still think he's out of line. I think Tarumba's assessment is spot on, and agree with the suggestion to find a marriage counselor who understands these cross-cultural family dynamics.

Sixth, it is easy to take advantage of cultural differences if you have a hidden agenda. You can get away with a lot when you come from a different culture and the other person is kind and respectful. I see you are doing a lot of adapting for him, is he doing anything to meet you in the middle? Cause it doesn't look like it.

This is very, very true. I would urge you to continue to be kind and respectful but not in a "don't rock the boat" way. More like, talk to his family members about your issues, but in a kind and respectful manner. Not because it will get them to listen to you - it probably won't, they might just think that speaking up at all is rude - but because you will know that you always maintained your composure and that's really the only hand you can play while you can work this out with your husband.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:43 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you for another latin american perspective!!
I would have to agree. My statement to my sister in law was pretty direct (probably TOO direct now that I look back on it, especially knowing she is so passive)...but it didn't have any emotion statements or judgments of her.
Stated point blank what I needed. The rest of the clan are the ones who got emotional..sister in law was "deeply offended", brother in law jumped in to say "Your wife gave a very unkind message to mine and we are going to take the high road" (?!) and my husband is saying "well, we are arguing about that". Why is he telling them we are arguing in the first place? That is none of their business and means they have "won".
I think the one thing I do need to learn is the kind and respectful manner part.......
I'm told I am too blunt. Not really rude, but too direct.
posted by tangomija at 8:54 PM on March 30, 2016


I think if you want to stay happily married, you need to count your blessings for:

1- Having a mother-in-law who is readily available to babysit your children

2- Your children having cousins with whom to play, grow

3- Your husband having a support network which gives him the emotional balance he needs

As for feeding your nephews and nieces, this is the least you could do without having to ask your sister-in-law to contribute. Honestly, I shudder at the thought of a relative or friend asking me for food because my kids are staying at his or her house.

The most difficult task will be for you to reframe your view of things. What you currently consider a problem is actually a chance. To paraphrase the Duchess of Windsor ("you can never be too rich or too thin"), I'd say that one can never be too loyal to one's family.
posted by Kwadeng at 9:28 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm told I am too blunt. Not really rude, but too direct.

In other words, you are a woman and you forget your place. (you "behave like a man")

Don't fall for it. Within reasonable limits you have a right to sound frustrated when people overstep their boundaries. They are deflecting the conversation to your tone because it distracts everyone from the actual problem. Thank your lucky stars you have a strong personality and do not apologize for your tone. Read this thread for encouragement.

The high road comment was a tool to put themselves in the "offended party" position. Tell your husband to grow a pair, stand by his wife and use his leadership role to make it clear that his wife's boundaries are not negotiable.

And next time someone goes to your husband to complain about your behavior, like you're a child and he's the parent, your husband should tell them to talk to you directly.
posted by Tarumba at 5:55 AM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

[Hi tangomija, moderator here. AskMetafilter isn't a space for back-and-forth discussion; we ask question-askers to really limit any follow-ups to only necessary factual clarifications... Folks will answer and you can mark the ones that you find to be most useful. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:54 AM on March 31, 2016

Latin American female perspective here:

What you are describing is honestly totally normal for (my) family culture. But it does rely on a lot of (usually unpaid) women's labor. You mention that you were paying your MIL to watch the children - I wonder, who initiated that? Did she ask for that? Did you offer? I could see how part of your frustration is that you are paying for babysitting, while your SIL is just taking advantage of expectation babysitting. But from your MIL perspective, she may be taking money for something that she already would be doing, and she wouldn't have the same perspective on the additional kids.

From my own culture, the biggest difference I have found is the hierarchical nature. So yeah, it would be totally more normal to say "Hey MIL, can you watch the children, even though you are at SIL's house?" than "Hey SIL, can MIL watch my children too while she is at your house?" Because MIL has more power and authority than SIL in the traditional structure.

Another thing that might be going on - so you are married to the eldest son. By the traditional way of things, that is a lot of power that you will be taking over eventually, as wife of the eldest son. You will be expected to be the matriarch someday. People - including your husband - might be lashing out as they realize that you have no intention of playing matriarch and find this whole thing weird.

Feel free to memail me if you have any more detailed questions.
posted by corb at 1:39 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Interesting...I'd love to hear more about this matriarch thing.
posted by tangomija at 7:29 PM on May 1, 2016

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