Dear Dr. Respler,
I am writing to you about a problem with my father-in-law. My in-laws are divorced, and I love my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law never talks about my father-in-law, but I know from my husband that he treated her very badly. My husband maintains a relationship with his father, and he is always telling me that we have to invite him for a Shabbos. The last time I had him in our house, he made disparaging remarks about our children. That was 2 years ago.
My husband said that he spoke to him about that, and it won’t happen again. Now our sons are 8 and 6 and I don’t want to risk it. We also have a baby girl who is 18 months. He has never seen her. My husband is wonderful to my parents and they come to us once a month. But my parents are very special people and everyone likes them. My father-in-law doesn’t have many friends because he just isn’t a nice person. My mother-in-law lives out of town and when she comes to visit, she stays for a few weeks. And we all love these visits. My husband says that my attitude is hurting him. What do you suggest?
A Bewildered Wife
Dear Bewildered Wife,
It is difficult to respond to such questions through a column as it is hard to ascertain if your father-in-law is just an insecure and negative person or someone who is emotionally abusive. If your father-in-law is an insecure and negative person, then perhaps you can give him another chance and set clear boundaries with him. While he may make negative remarks when he comes anyway, a positive way to deal with him is to answer a negative remark with a positive response. If he makes disparaging remarks, try to change the subject and even compliment him. He will likely not know how to respond to you, which can immediately end the negativity.
It is not easy to deal with negative people, but if this is important to your husband, you may need to try to have your father-in-law over and make the best of it. Remember that most of what he is saying is not directed at you or your children and is just a reflection of his own insecurities. This will help you stay calmer if he does say anything negative.
Additionally, learning countermoves to help turn the situation around can be very helpful. The example above (complimenting your father-in-law) when he is being negative is an example of an effective countermove. Learning how to deflect the negative comments and turn the conversation into a more positive one, will be very helpful. However, your concerns about your children being subjected to negativity are very valid concerns. The only way to find out how things will be is to try to have your father-in-law over again and daven that it should be a successful Shabbos. If you see that he is putting your children down in front of them or is emotionally abusive in any way, you may have to have a more serious talk with your husband about your concerns.
You cannot subject your children to negativity, though you can try to turn any of these conversations into positive ones if possible. If you feel that having your father-in-law (after trying it again with an open mind and some effective techniques under your belt) is not feasible, then perhaps you can encourage your husband to take his father out during the week on his own and/or send your father-in-law Shabbos sometimes so he feels loved and taken care of.
This does not sound like an easy situation no matter what you decide, but you can try to have him and make the best of it and if you feel it is truly a danger to your family, you can then discuss with your husband alternative ways to show your father-in-law that you care about him.
As difficult as your father-in-law may be, he is still your husband’s father and he obviously still wants to maintain a relationship with him. Guard your family if needed, but try to open your heart to this insecure and lonely man. Hatzlocha in navigating this difficult situation!