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The question

Here’s our problem: We hate our daughter-in-law. She and our son started out as a brief fling, but she wound up pregnant (now they have two young babies), and our son wanted to do the right thing, but she’s treated him abominably ever since. She’s imperious, short-tempered and allows him to do everything for her. We visited recently and he did everything for her – dishes, laundry, looking after the kids – while she sat around and acted like he’s her servant. It’s incredibly frustrating, not to mention boring. We want to say something or maybe intervene in some way, but not sure if that’s our place and might just make it worse. What’s your take?

The answer

I’ve seen this phenomenon a fair number of times. I have to admit that when I see a scenario like this, my first thought is often, “There but for the grace of God go I.” My last three girlfriends before I met my smart and sane soulmate – now the mother of my three children – were, well, lovely women in their own right, soulful and beautiful, but had we had children, my life would have become a nightmare.

I, Tiresias, can foresee and foresuffer how it all would have unfolded in the fullness of time. My baby mama and I arguing via cellphone, with much salty language, about why little Christopher wasn’t doing better in school, negotiating financial-custodial matters through our lawyers, who were bleeding us white at $600-plus dollars an hour and so on and so forth.

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Phew! Dodged that bullet. But your son didn’t and has consequently landed you all (yourself, himself, the mother of his children, his children – basically everyone in the vicinity) in a ticklish, prickly little pickle.

And what you’ve described is an exact description of my wife’s worst nightmare. I have many concerns and worries vis-à-vis my three boys (of parental worrying there is no end – until the sweet release of death), e.g. “Will they be able to take cheap or free potable water for granted as I have in my lifetime?” and “Will they be able to attend a sporting event or concert without a dirty bomb going off and/or someone picking off people at random with an automatic rifle?”

But even above these hair-raising concerns: “Will they find love?”

To which my wife adds her own, ancillary worry – basically your scenario. “I hope we haven’t raised them to be too kindly, too gentlemanly, to the point where if they do find someone, that person doesn’t exploit their good nature and boss or bully them around.”

But one thing all of us with offspring has to accept – parenting changes over time.

You can boss your kids around when they’re little. You still can, to a lesser degree, when they’re teens (although expect a lot of pushback and sarcasm).

But what then after that? When they’re grown-ups? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but at that point, you are relegated to a strictly advisory role.

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Now, the good news, as my own mother will tell you (without being asked), is that advice doesn’t necessarily have to be solicited. You have earned the right to offer your offspring the lowest form of advice: unsolicited.

But if they reject and repudiate it, saying stuff like “Mom, I know what I’m doing” – well, you are still allowed to repeat your advice several times.

But, ultimately, pain you though it may, you have to bite the bullet, bite your lip and lapse into silence.

Your children will make mistakes. All you can do is love them. Lend them money in times of trouble if you have it; offer a roof over their heads in times of even worse trouble, if you can.

But other than that, they’ve flown the coop. You’ve done your job. Now your job is to listen and be compassionate.

You will, of course, continue to worry. But now, when all (the advice) is said and done, they’re on their own.

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Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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