Our daughter, son-in-law (SiL) and granddaughter, visited us last year, at the same time as our son and his partner and another couple. When we were sitting down to eat, our SiL didn’t come to the table but sat outside on the terrace, drinking beer. My husband asked why he didn’t come to the table and he said he was not hungry.
After dinner, our SiL said that he would never trust people in the same profession as my son’s partner. He insisted such people were not to be trusted and added some less than complimentary words. My husband and I felt he was being insulting. We tried to stop him talking but he kept returning to the subject. Nobody laughed.
Next morning I told our SiL that he had been insulting to our son’s partner and it was unacceptable. He said it was a joke and I did not understand it. We had a short, intense argument.
After many exchanges with my daughter during which our SiL stayed in his bedroom, she said it was all my fault for being the way I was, and criticising him for not having social graces. My husband told her that our SiL needed to apologise to our son’s partner and to us for being so rude. Our daughter sided with her husband, said that he knew that we had never liked him and he would not set foot in our house again. We said our house would always be open to her and her daughter.
We have always treated our SiL well and accepted him as part of the family. We admired him as he came from a poor family and acquired a good education (as did my husband).
Our SiL is not demonstrative towards our daughter. There was never a sign of tenderness from him towards her. I wonder if he is using her to achieve a financial security he wouldn’t otherwise (even without realising).
Since this event we have spoken to our daughter and granddaughter via Skype twice, when he was not present. Before that, we spoke on most weekends. She skipped my birthday and Christmas. We don’t believe we deserve this type of treatment.
We have a short, yearly time together as a family, so in the past we kept quiet. Now my husband thinks we should forget about our daughter. I believe this is too extreme. I understand I cannot make her talk to us or enjoy our previous laughter and conversation – it’s her choice to take her husband’s side. How can we begin to reconnect?
I have cut the detail relating to what your son’s partner does for a living as it could identify them, but safe to say that it is a highly skilled job which takes many years of specialist training.
There is no denying that your SiL sounds like a difficult man. Your longer letter says he has changed jobs many times and seems to bad mouth past employers/ees, which hints at a man who perhaps can’t take responsibility for his half of things. It sounds to me as if your SiL has several issues and can feel threatened by people, especially those who have made something of themselves. I guess it must be confusing – and upsetting – that your daughter chose him as a husband. She may be very happy – let’s hope he magically transforms when he’s at home with her.
You’re right – your husband’s suggestion is extreme and unnecessary. I’d like to know a little more about your husband in general, is he very black and white about things? Just like children, one cannot make adults meaningfully say sorry, it’s a process that has to be arrived at naturally and subjectively. So while your SiL should not have behaved like this in the first place and should have apologised, insisting someone says sorry doesn’t work. I think your son’s partner had the best approach to the evening: she was diplomatic, despite feeling insulted.
I thought it was interesting that your daughter said that you had “never liked him” and wonder if this is true? In your longer letter, I picked this up. Even if you haven’t said anything, she will have felt this. I wonder what the dynamic is between her and her brother and if it looked, to her, as if you were favouring her brother’s choice of partner over hers?
While your SiL’s behaviour was spectacularly rude (the detail of him not coming in for dinner is less easy to forgive than the, possibly, gauche comments about your son’s partner’s job) the ensuing row can cause massive schisms in a family. This is how families become estranged. Family life often involves having to deal with people you don’t care for or like very much and – a plus – you only see him once a year.
Why don’t you write to your daughter saying you very much regret what happened last year, (this is true and does not negate what happened or your SiL’s behaviour). Say that you would like to reconnect with her and ask how can you do this; ask what she needs. She may not reply but it would be a powerful message to send her. Keep communications going with her and try not to offer advice only support. It’s not easy but I think it will be worthwhile.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 9 April 2016.