Writer and broadcaster

My parents-in-law have gone back on a promise to give us their house. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

We are a lovely and mostly happy family of four renting a smallish two-bed flat with no garden in London. Last summer we were supposed to move to the Midlands, into my in-laws’ home. They had agreed we could move into their three-bed house and that we would rent them somewhere smaller in the area.

Last year, I went up to stay with them and it soon became apparent they had changed their minds and started showing me local listings for places we might like to rent for ourselves (which would be too expensive, adding in my husband’s commute back to London). Despite the fact that months earlier everyone had discussed it like it was a brilliant idea. I was upset but managed to keep my cool and I cut short our visit by a week. Without my husband around, I could hardly argue, and his father finds confrontation upsetting.

Both my in-laws are retired, and neither has worked for at least 10 years. They own the house outright. We have provided them with their only grandchildren of whom they are extremely proud, who they have set up regular trust-fund contributions for, and who they regularly spoil with things I would rather they didn’t bother buying.

We have various reasons for wanting to move back to the Midlands: it’s commutable to London, still within a day’s reach of our old friends and all the cultural stuff; it’s near my mum, who I don’t see enough of, and we want our kids to have the same sort of more nature-focused upbringing we had.

My mum still rents (due to a marriage breakdown when I was 16) and still works and contributes to the wider world. My mum is an absolute wonder and I miss seeing her.

I’m writing because I am angry. And getting angrier. We struggle in this poky flat while every day these people who haven’t worked a day in the last 10 years swim around in space and a garden they don’t need. They don’t socialise. We desperately want to own our own house and start building a future and a legacy for our children.

They had a golden chance to help us, and they chose not to. I am angry at them, and ultimately I am angry at myself for believing in such an impossible dream.

I do have some sympathy for you. The housing market is so screwed in London, especially, that even people earning lots of money can fail to get on the housing ladder. It can seem really unjust, seeing older people earning more on a pension than younger ones do doing a full-time job. I am glad you have acknowledged your anger, because my goodness you are angry aren’t you? And it’s entirely aimed at your in-laws, who you seem to think hold your future in their hands. But they don’t. You do.

I felt there were some inconsistencies in your longer letter, which you seem to fail to note. You accuse your mother-in-law of a lack of sensitivity but there were portions of your letter so lacking in it yourself, they were staggering. You say that your side of the family is great at confronting things and discussing them, but here you are with this giant thing festering away, and you’re not confronting it. What really stopped you just saying, “Oh, I thought we were going to move into yours?” there and then? What’s stopped you since?

Is a move to the Midlands, under your own steam, really out of the question, given how much rents are in London?

There really is only one thing to do, and that is talk to your in-laws to clear the air. There may be reasons behind their decision you don’t know of and it may make it easier for you to understand if you know them. I agree, it would have been great if they could have just told you, but it was an immensely generous gesture in the first place (please don’t forget that – they didn’t need to make it, and they don’t owe you anything). If you don’t talk to them about it, this will fester for ever. You will blame everything that happens on it and it will drive a wedge between you and them, and ultimately, between you and your husband. Your anger will turn to bitterness and your children – who you are keeping from their grandparents because of this – will grow up hearing about the move that never was. Ultimately, they will judge you, not the in-laws. You really owe it to yourself, and your future happiness, to bring this out into the open.

You, generally, seem full of resentment and I wondered why. If you spin your story another way it would go like this: I’m happily married, with a lovely family, my husband has a job, I’m really close to my mum, my in-laws appreciate their grandchildren and we have friends. Don’t pin everything that’s wrong on to your in-laws.

I think a key part of your fear is your mum having to rent since you were 16. I sense an almost pathological fear of ending up with nothing, and a real disdain for renting (which, under the house swop, would have been OK for your in-laws).

Your life, your family, your future is happening now, right before your eyes. You’re looking in the wrong direction. You talk about building a legacy for your children, but not all legacies are monetary. Being able to recognise what you have is a real gift.


This article first appeared in The Guardian family section on 23 January 2016.