Q. My daughter married her boyfriend right out of high school at a courthouse wedding, without our consent or knowledge.
She and her husband now have a great 11-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.
We have been very supportive over the years, giving them the down payment for a house, and assisting in purchasing four cars (he doesn’t believe in car maintenance, so we pay for that, too).
Our daughter has been very grateful. Her husband has never said thank you to us — ever.
Every year, we host them for a long weekend at a cabin we rent. We buy the food, cook, and do all the clean-up. He has never asked if he could pitch in.
He comes from a very dysfunctional family, and does not speak to his mother. His stepfather (who he seemed close to) died suddenly this spring, and he feels quite guilty. At his stepfather’s memorial service, he did not get up to talk, but our daughter did it for him.
They are coming up to the cabin again, and I am wondering how to handle the visit.
I do not talk to my daughter about this, as I know she would defend and make excuses for him.
I am feeling anger and frustration with his lack of consideration. My husband can barely look at him, but does not say anything because of me.
What is your advice?
A. If you never express your own needs or expectations, you cannot expect them to be met.
You have trained this couple (I’m including your daughter) to be passive, because of your own unwillingness to demonstrate leadership.
Leadership in parenting isn’t only providing for your children and expecting gratitude in return, but mentoring them toward being productive, helpful, and considerate toward you.
Until this couple learns that there is a new sheriff in town, they will carry on — and you will continue to silently stew.
Given his background and your history of tiptoeing and enabling the two of them, he will never offer to help — with anything. And in letting him behave this way, you are actually part of the problem. You have known him for his entire adulthood. And you have kept him right where he is — a high school kid with challenging relationships and arrested development.
You could nudge him toward being a more productive family member by simply asking him, and then providing positive reinforcement when he complies.
You say, “Steve, do me a favor and get the grill going, would you, please?”
You also say — to both of them, “You know — Dad and I have helped you two out a lot over the years. And Steve, we’d really appreciate it if you expressed some acknowledgment and gratitude. We love your kids, and we’re on your side. But we don’t get much back. We think we deserve better.”
(Car maintenance, by the way, is not something you “believe in.” You just do it. You need to let them live with the consequences of not taking care of their vehicles.)
Q. My family is complex. I have a biological mother and three older siblings (ages 26, 23, and 22).
My biological father died over 10 years ago, and I do not know how many siblings I have on his side.
Then I have the people I choose to call “mom and dad.” They have been there for me more in the almost three years I have known them than my biological family has in my entire 20 years on this planet.
I feel like I owe my biological mother because she gave birth to me, but she has caused me a lot of emotional and psychological turmoil.
Am I right for wanting to distance myself from her toxic personality, and move toward the people who I choose (they also chose me) to call my family?
Turmoil In Pennsylvania
A. Many people with challenging, toxic, emotionally abusive, or violent childhoods basically celebrate liberation from their birth families by developing a family of choice in their adulthood.
You are lucky to have found yours.
Q. In your pathetic response to “Tired Mom,” you wrote, “You get parenting props for merely hanging in there and not giving up.”
Really? This is the standard for parenting teenagers?
A. As I wrote in my answer, “Teens require as much attention as toddlers.” Unfortunately, many parents completely disengage during the challenging teen years. And yes, “hanging in there” is sometimes the best we can do.