Relationship Advice

A House Divided

unhappy couple

I have three children, and the oldest is not my husband's. We have been married nine years and have major fights about his mother. My mother-in-law pretty much ignores my 10-year-old daughter, who is not her grandchild, but has been around her since she was six months.

My mother-in-law always wants my 9-year-old daughter to come to her house. My daughter will cry if I tell her not today, maybe tomorrow. She has become almost as obsessed with grandma as grandma is with her, but she doesn't show it unless my mother-in-law calls.

If I say I want my child to stay home tonight, my mother-in-law calls my husband and tells on me, as if I'm not allowed to say no. Then my husband gets mad because he says his mother is old, and it doesn't hurt anything.

I've tried to explain she's ruining my relationship with my daughter. My mother-in-law is good at crying, being nasty, and faking nice when it's convenient. I try to be nice, but I am getting sick of her starting fights.

My 3-year-old is treated okay, but nothing like my 9-year-old. Grandma causes fights between the two oldest because she is always buying one stuff and not the other, or buying one way nicer things. When my two oldest daughters argue, my mother-in-law tells my 9-year-old mean stuff to say to her sister. I've explained to her that is a big no-no.

My husband blames it on her having a stroke. But I don't believe that that would make her evil just towards me. What else can I do?


Layla, in a twist on the old fairy tale, your mother-in-law has made one child Cinderella, you the evil stepmother, and the other two also-rans. Unfairness tears people, especially little people, apart. It can tear families apart. We can't even imagine what conflicts there will be when the girls reach the teenage angst years.

Your mother-in-law is overstepping her bounds, and she knows it. Her age is not a factor. There is no age at which we get to ignore the rules of good parenting and good human relations. Each time she spoils one child she injures the self-esteem of the other two.

Your husband prefers arguing with you over a talk with his mother. He's willing to sit on his hands because there is no cost to him for inaction. Though it's preferable for actions to flow out of love, sometimes only tit-for-tat can restore fairness and balance.

When your mother-in-law gives unequal gifts, redress the injustice. If one daughter is allowed to go to grandma's against your wishes, give the other a treat like a special movie. In time your husband may be willing to sit down and discuss the effects of his mother's actions. Your actions can help him appreciate the value of fair, evenhanded treatment for everyone.

Wayne & Tamara