I’m a teacher who makes very little money and the medical bills were burying us, so my parents have helped us (and they have the resources to do so). However, they have been very hostile towards my husband since they found out we were non-monogamous, and the atmosphere gets more and more toxic between them – with me stuck in the middle. My parents keep holding over his head the fact he isn’t making any money right now, and they generally keep inappropriately crossing boundaries (something they have notoriously done my entire life anyway). My husband is battling some medical issues of his own, including most recently severe depression with suicidal ideations, and my parents know he goes to therapy. This has become a whole new front for them to attack him on since my boomer parents think therapy is bunk. When I’m around, they don’t argue, but since he’s the stay-at-home dad and my parents are among the back-up babysitters, they inevitably see each other and fight when I’m not present.
I’ve spoken to both sides – I’ve tried to get them to see things from the other’s perspective. As soon as I think things are going okay, something blows up again. We recently had to move to a larger house to accommodate our larger family, but I had to have my mother co-sign, and her specification was my husband not be on the title to the house. Now I’m terrified about what could happen when I’m gone, and I’m getting papers drafted by a lawyer for my parents and husband to sign that will guarantee that if I die, my kids and husband will keep the roof over their heads and my parents will promise not to try and take the kids from my husband.
I’m looking for any advice for how to bring my family back to at least civil discourse when I’m not present. Any suggestions? Do I just need to limit my parent’s contact with my husband? I’ll try anything to take this extra stress off my back! — Torn Apart
You say you’ll try anything to take this extra stress off your back, so I will take you at your word and offer this suggestion: stop accepting help from your parents. That means financial help, help buying a home, and logistical help in the way of babysitting. As long as you are still accepting help from them, not only will they feel entitled to basically police your lifestyle and attack your husband, but also you will feel beholden to let them so you can continue taking advantage of their assistance. Honestly – and I say this with as much kindness as possible – you all sound very entitled. You are a school teacher who makes, in your words, very little money, you are married to a man with a felony record who can’t get a solid job, and you are drowning in medical bills. And yet, you feel entitled to raise two children, enjoy free childcare, and own a home — even upgrading to a larger one than what you lived in previously. Most couples with only a small, single income don’t feel entitled to all these things. They compromise and make sacrifices. They don’t have children, or they just have one kid, or they rent a small home where maybe not everyone has his or her own bedroom, they work two or three jobs (or find a better-paying single job), they apply for government assistance, etc. And, yes, sometimes people who are lucky enough to have parents who are able to help, accept assistance from them, but then they usually sacrifice something like privacy and autonomy.
The thing is, you want a certain lifestyle that you and your husband are unable to attain on your own and, instead of making sacrifices and compromises, you want your parents’ assistance without the strings that come attached to that assistance. Maybe, since they have the resources to help you, you grew up with certain privileges that are hard to give up as an adult. Maybe you think you’re entitled to those privileges if you grew up with them, even if you can’t afford them on your own as an adult. But that’s not the way the world works. Unearned privileges often come with strings attached (meddling parents, bankruptcy, impeachment…). The assistance your parents are offering comes with strings attached. You don’t want to deal with the strings? You have to give up the assistance. You have to give up certain privileges. You have to make some sacrifices and compromises. It’s that simple. There really isn’t a way to talk yourselves into your parents’ good graces and string-free assistance. They don’t like your polyamory lifestyle and they blame your husband – since that’s easier than blaming you and thereby, in their minds, taking some responsibility in the way they raised you — and they don’t like that he doesn’t earn an income. You accept their assistance, and the payment for that is that they criticize and attack your husband and make you feel like their help is conditional (because it is!).
You say your parents have notoriously crossed boundaries your entire life and that that continues to this day, but you’re the one letting them cross the boundaries! You didn’t have much choice when you were a kid, but you do now. Build bigger boundaries! Don’t move to a house you can only afford with your parents’ help, don’t put your mother’s name on a title to a home your husband has no ownership in, don’t let them babysit your kids when doing so means your husband gets attacked. Don’t you see that none of this help from them is actually free? It’s just like when people get married and the parents pay for the wedding and the couple – or bride, usually – is pissed when the parents want to make big decisions about the wedding. The bride says, “But it’s *my* wedding, not theirs!” To which I say: then fucking pay for it yourself! Well, LW, this is *your* life and not your parents’. With all due respect: fucking pay for it yourself. Quit handing your parents free reign to treat your life as theirs by giving them a financial stake in it. And if that means downsizing and giving up some creature comforts — which it sounds like it does, make that compromise. When your kids are older and in school and you don’t need your husband home all day to watch them, he can theoretically work more and earn some money, and you can move into a bigger rental home. (Or he can work on restoring cars in the evenings or on the weekends when you’re home from work and can watch the kids. Why is he not doing that?) Until then, squeeze into a home you can afford with your income and consider taking on a summer job when school is out to make ends meet. It may not be as comfy or cushy, but the privacy and autonomy you’ll gain will make up for it.
Again with the entitlement. Your daughter doesn’t have a restraining order against her brother simply because he had a drug problem. She has a restraining order against him because he must have crossed boundaries and threatened her security in some way. Your daughter still feels threatened by him. You don’t get to decide when she she should stop feeling threatened just because you’re her mother or because you feel entitled to a family holiday with both your kids present. You’re living with your daughter and her wife in what sounds like their home. They call the shots. If they want to continue protecting themselves from a man they feel threatened by, that is entirely their right. You have the right to move out or to have separate holiday celebrations with your kids, independently. You do not have the right to force what YOU want on your daughter who does not want the same thing, period, and who probably has a pretty good reason to want to avoid her brother right now.