Relationship Advice: Dealing With an Overindulged Daughter-in-Law

Posted on Mon, Apr 13, 2015 @ 03:57 PM

Indulged daughter in lawToday's guest post is contributed by Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008), and Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). A resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, Dr. Nemzoff also speaks and blogs about intergenerational relationships.


Q. My son is engaged to a nurse from a wealthy family that gives her whatever she wants. I think it’s overindulgent, and fear that she will expect my son to support her in the same manner.


A. Just because parents give their children financial assistance into adulthood does not mean that they are necessarily spoiling them. Each family deals with money in its own way. Some parents believe they “spoil” the kids if they give them everything. Others, particularly families with disposable income, feel it is their joy and duty to share whatever they have to make their children’s lives easier.

The danger of giving too much money to children is that they will lack ambition. The girl in question is a nurse, which is hardly the profession of a spoiled brat. It seems that whatever her parents did with money, it did not squash her drive to achieve. She trained for a profession that is demanding and requires nurturing skills.

While to you she may seem entitled, she and her family may view it differently. Many parents these days subsidize rents and give money to their children while they are getting established in their careers. There are many motivations for financially helping one’s children.

You may fear that you will lose your son if he becomes enveloped in a family that can provide so much. Focus on the wonderful things you have to give the couple. While her parents may provide financial assistance, you can provide love, for example. Don’t assume that her parents are trying to manipulate your son. They may just be sharing their good fortune.

You may fear that your son’s fiancée will force him into debt, since she is used to a higher standard of living. Every couple must confront differences in lifestyles.

Monetary differences in lifestyle are no different than cultural divergences. Just because her family deals with money differently from yours does not imply that they are wrong and you are right. Harping on the dangers of having too much money will only alienate you from your son.

Instead of worrying and judging, try to enjoy this happy time in your son’s life. Your son is a grown man, and he must make decisions in his life.



A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal MA and is reprinted with permission.



Do You Take This In-Law . . . ? An Interview with Ruth Nemzoff

Gina Stepp interviews Brandeis University resident scholar Ruth Nemzoff about her latest book, Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family.

Parent Talk - An Interview With Ruth Nemzoff

Ruth Nemzoff is a resident scholar at Brandeis University. Vision interviewed her about her recent book covering parent and adult-child communication.


Tags: family relationships, in-laws, extended family

Dreading Holiday Family Blowups? Take a Tip from a BFF

Posted on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 @ 08:59 AM

We each have a "belief system" that arises in part from what we've been taught combined with other aspects of our environment, including the influence of relationships we value. When we consider that everyone does not grow up with identical influences, even within a single extended family group, it's no surprise that we stumble over so many areas of potential conflict between these belief systems. Add in-laws from entirely different cultures to the mix and the potential for fireworks becomes almost limitless. In this guest post, Ruth Nemzoff offers a perspective that can help us focus on the strengths, rather than the weaknesses, of our family relationships.

Best Friends ForeverBest friends forever, as in, "This is Ellie Sachse, we've been friends forever." I've known her since I was 17 when  Barnard College randomly placed us together as freshman roommates. At first we merely lived well together. She was kind, considerate, and could sleep with the lights on. We shared the births of our children and the deaths of our parents. She helped me write my books. But it turns out forever was only 54 years.

This summer, it was a time to comfort. I gave the eulogy and talked of her accomplishments—first woman division chief at the World Bank, board member par excellence, loyal friend and photographer.  Last week, I traveled to her home for the first time since her death, and it was a time to enjoy some of the wonderful people she added to my life: her husband, her daughter, her grandson, and her son-in-law.

Her husband graciously handed me some of her photos. Their subject matter offered me a time to mourn. They depicted what we had shared: cups of coffee, bottles of wine, and exquisite scenery. The song in my head was "Seasons of Love" from RENT. In cups of coffee, in activities shared, in miles walked, how does one measure forever?

Best friends yes, but forever, no. So this holiday season, despite all the stress, enjoy your friends and family whatever they believe or don't believe or whatever lifestyles they practice. Let the petty annoyances roll off your back, because time is rolling on and forever is just a moment and the moment is now. It is your time to enjoy and to treasure.


Books by Dr. Nemzoff

Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008)

Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, September 2012)

"Do You Take This In-Law . . . ?" An Interview with Ruth Nemzoff 
In-Laws and Outliers
Parent Talk
If We Could Talk Like the Animals 

Tags: family relationships, in-laws, communication, holiday advice

Turn the Thanksgiving Food Fight Into a Gastronomic Tour

Posted on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 @ 12:59 PM

In my last post I talked about the latest book from Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). Today on Family Matters, just in time to help families plan a peaceful Thanksgiving, we are fortunate to have a guest post from Dr. Nemzoff herself. In this post, Nemzoff offers the same caliber of sound, practical advice that characterizes both her books:


Nemzoff RuthWhat is more American than apple pie? The Thanksgiving turkey, of course. Unless you are a vegan or a vegetarian. Then the turkey symbolizes our inhumane treatment of animals rather than the idyllic Norman Rockwell picture of family togetherness. Yet, for some family members a roasted parsnip and rutabaga just doesn't do it. Thus begin the Thanksgiving food fights.

Round one: A family member comes, doesn't eat, complains bitterly, and disparages the eating habits of the other guests.

Round two: The hostess is miffed. "I worked hard, and all I get are complaints."

Round three: Everybody's angry.

The all-American Thanksgiving—one of two holidays a year with no religious significance—is a holiday that should bring families together. But it can become instead a reason to instigate arguments as the universal appeal of coming together and eating is crushed by judgmental accusations and self-righteous attitudes. One family member won't eat at the table of omnivores and another demeans the ideology of Paleolithic eaters. Because the meal is the central altar on which we observe this holiday, the host is particularly sensitive to those who won't partake of the food and those who criticize the menu.

Many years ago, when I was a professor at Bentley University, I asked my students to write an essay about their Thanksgiving celebrations. I was looking for how family members interacted. Evidently, my instructions were unclear, because the papers I received described the meals in mouth-watering detail. Reading these papers, I discovered we are all putting our own stamps on Thanksgiving. The Vietnamese community added spring rolls; the Italians antipasto; the Jews knishes; and the Greeks grape leaves. Blending community customs with the traditional Thanksgiving fare has apparently been going on for years.

The lesson for today’s families with different dietary philosophy is tolerance. You can easily serve a platter of roast turnip and rutabaga, which contains no animal product or gluten in addition to the turkey. The host or hostess may need to make minor accommodations such as not putting the whole bird on the table, which looks particularly offensive to the animal-lover. Rather than digging in your heels to stick to an old tradition, blend the new with the old. Now that's as American as apple pie!

Those who do have special dietary needs might ask in advance if they could bring their own special dish or, if plane travel precludes that option, they could order from a local store or request time in the kitchen to make their specialty. The bonus is the host and new family member will spend time together and teach each other a thing or two.

If you're entering a new family, you can be sure the meal won’t be exactly like mommy used to make it. The stuffing won't be the same. The new family may use cranberry sauce from the can (a no-no in your family). You can choose to focus on the differences, or enjoy what you're served and treasure the new experience with your in-laws.

Maybe in your family, everybody pitches in to clear the table and do the dishes. Much joking and teasing and camaraderie accompanies these tasks. In other families, they may have hired help. In either case, both are demonstrating hospitality. If, at the end of the meal, everyone gets up to take their plates to the kitchen and you're used to being waited on hand and foot, don't pitch a fit about the extra work. Join in the fun because working together can be fun, and many hands make light work, as well as a much happier hostess.


Books by Dr. Nemzoff

Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008)

Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, September 2012)

Tags: family relationships, in-laws, communication, thanksgiving

The Effect of In-Laws on Marriage Success

Posted on Thu, Dec 20, 2007 @ 04:33 PM

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Speaking of the importance of grandparent and grandchild relationships (as we have been so far this week), Linda Elliott's latest article at Vision makes a good point about the intergenerational role of in-laws.

Elliott points out how important it is to maintain good relationships with your child's mate, not only for the sake of their marriage and the happiness of your child but also with your own future in mind. "The transfer of intergenerational wisdom that can occur if we don’t alienate our daughters-in-law is unlimited," says Elliott. "There may be grandchildren . . . great-grandchildren. These future generations need grandparents in good standing. Make each occasion together pleasant, quality time. Leave them hungering for more, not dreading the next visit or phone call."

As Elliott noted, mothers-in-law tend to be the main focus of derogatory jokes. But fathers-in-law can wreak just as much havoc in an adult child's marriage. In a 2001 Iowa University study, researchers looked into the connection between in-law relations and the future success of marriage, examining each relationship individually: mothers-in-law to sons-in-law, mothers-in-law to daughters-in-law, fathers-in-law to daughters-in-law, fathers-in-law to sons-in-law.  Each of these family relationships proved to be important indicators of the quality and ultimate success of the marriage. In other words, fathers-in-law as well as mothers-in-law can affect the quality of the younger couple's marital ties. 

The researchers noted that this is true for two important reasons. "First, spouses are obligated to form familial bonds with these nonblood kin. As some researchers have noted, 'rarely is this forced relationship a natural match of kindred spirits.' (Berg-Cross, 1997, p. 177). Second, in-laws can create hostility and stress between spouses who have emotional and psychological loyalties to their own kin."

While the researchers noted more study is needed to fully understand the effects of in-law relationships, they did conclude that "even after an average of two decades of marriage, unhappiness and conflict with in-laws still leads to decreased perceptions of marital success. This is significant because it implies that the influence of in-laws continues far beyond the early years of marriage, when couples are probably most vulnerable to social influences on their marriage. Perhaps that vulnerability to the opinions and behaviors of those who are close to them never ends."


In-Laws and Outliers

Tags: relationships, father-in-law, in-laws, marriage success, mother-in-law