Dear Therapist:

My husband and I are married for ten years, we have 6 beautiful children...Our expenses for tuition, healthcare and rent are significant. We should be able to make it to the end of the month without an issue since we are both working. However, that rarely happens. My husband grew up in a home where both his parents worked full time but never budgeted or thought about the future. Now, in their mid-70’s the financial situation is such that they can’t always pay rent (they are still working!). They unfortunately don’t have healthy spending habits. They are constantly asking their children to buy things and pay for them. For example, my mother-in-law will have a Chanukah party, invite 35 grandkids, and then ask my husband or one of his siblings to pick up something from the store and pay for it. And she of course called in an order to the most expensive place in town. We all would have made some food and brought it, but she refuses. As the years go on and I watch her spend without thinking I feel resentful and taken advantage of as do the other in-law children who work. My in-laws keep telling my husband that he should be grateful to be able to be on the giving end...However, I see it as dysfunction. Don’t go to a hotel...and call your kids to pay for it when you are checking out. My husband feels the dysfunction is too embedded in their lifestyle to fix at this point. How can such a cycle be stopped if not all children are on the same page?  



You state that not all the children are on the same page, which is ostensibly part of the reason that the cycle cannot be stopped. In essence, however, I think the issue that you’re having is being complicated by the fact that you are focusing on the larger family and the ways in which it is affected.

You in-laws’ behavior is not what you have the power to correct. Focusing on—and trying to change—your brothers- and sisters-in-laws’ thoughts and feelings about the situation will likely bear no fruit. It might even cause animosity. This could easily cause you to feel hopeless about the entire situation, leading to further frustration and resentment.

I think that your focus should be on the things that you have the power to change. Your relationship with your husband is separate from that of your husband (and you) with his parents. It can be difficult to juggle both relationships when there is a factor that pulls you in two directions.

It is important for your husband and you to be on the same page. Whether the two of you actively make a decision with regard to how you respond to his parents’ inappropriate demands, the recognition that you only need to agree with one another (and that other family members’ thoughts and feelings are not your responsibility) can help you to feel more validated and less resentful.

You mentioned that you have trouble keeping a budget. I wonder whether this is due to the money that your husband spends on your in-laws (as you seem to intimate), or due to trouble budgeting within your own family. If it is the latter, it would be all the more important to separate your own money issues from those of the extended family. While part of the issue may be directly related to your in-laws’ actions, if this budgeting culture is being perpetuated within your immediate family, your husband and you should address it separately.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200