Ask Evie: I Want My Kids To Know Their Grandparents, But My Toxic Father-In-Law Despises Me. What Should I Do?

Welcome to Ask Evie, our advice column. Readers can submit their questions, and our editors will dish out their best advice!

By Evie4 min read
Pexels/Vlada Karpovich

READER’S QUESTION: "Hi! I have what is perhaps an unusual issue in my marriage. My father-in-law is extremely toxic. He is rude, brash, and openly cruel towards me. Just last week he mocked me for having a bedtime for our 3-year-old son (which didn’t conform to the dinner plans he and my mother-in-law had set for us), and then spoke badly of me to his other son in front of me so that I would hear. A couple years ago, a big blow up fight happened where he told me I’m an obnoxious know-it-all and that he’s never liked me (my husband and I have been together since we were teenagers, so I’m hardly new around the scene). It was really, really ugly, and my son and I did not see or speak to him for over a year until he reluctantly apologized and said he “wants to be a family again.”

He also has a variety of personal problems – he smokes weed constantly and has never had a real job in his life. Lucky for him he came from money, so he lives a very nice lifestyle. This does, however, make me extremely hesitant to bring my young son around him as he has absolutely no filter in what he says around him, puts on TV in front of him, etc. Our values do not align in any way, and he’s not someone I want as an example for my son’s impressionable young mind.

I’m sure you’re wondering where my husband is in all of this. It took quite a while to really open his eyes to the reality of how his parents were treating me (yes – his mother is a big problem at times too) and how absurd and unusual it is. He is fully in my corner. The issue is they always manage to corner me when he’s not around to defend me, including this most recent interaction (my husband had left the house to pick up dinner). He just hears about it later. Sometimes he says something to them, sometimes not, but it never makes a difference, so we both are sort of thinking what’s the point? It just makes me look like I’m constantly complaining about his parents, which they then use against me. And they end up hurting from it too; for example, my husband doesn’t even want to invite them to our son’s grandparents day at school.

My husband has always been close to his family, and I do not want to be a reason for ripping him away from that. He’s accepted the way they are and keeps more distance and separation from them than he ever has, but I don’t want to ask or expect him to cut them out of his life completely. I’m now pregnant with our second child, a girl due in February, and I’m anxious about having them involved in any way at all. They were a nightmare in the days following my delivery of my son – trying to force us to drive to their house for their convenience when I was two days postpartum, in a lot of pain, and bleeding. They mocked me for not being willing to come to their house, saying, “Well (husband’s mom) was eating out at an Italian restaurant when (husband) was a few days old! There’s no reason you can’t drive to our house.” They ridiculed me for not letting them feed the baby with a bottle and said I was a bad wife for not letting my husband feed our son with a bottle (I exclusively breastfed for 14 months which my husband was extremely supportive of).

What should I do about my toxic father-in-law who despises me?"

EVIE’S ADVICE: Being close to extended family so your kids can have a relationship with their grandparents is the ideal. But you can’t change other people, and it sounds like your father-in-law isn’t someone you want your kids around. As a wife and mother, your top priority now is your family with your husband and children and what you owe to your kids. A grandparent who ridicules or mocks a child hurts a child – and the memory of those experiences can stick with them to adulthood.

This is the time to acknowledge that his parents are unlikely to ever change, as sad as that is, so you need to set healthy boundaries. Your father-in-law will not stop talking rudely to you in front of your kids and will probably even talk rudely to your kids as they grow older. Family ties are not worth it when they are hurtful to your children. You can give a warning or ultimatum about how they talk to you and your kids, but if his parents don’t change their behavior, you have to be ready to set a strong boundary. Maybe only your husband goes over to their house and visits with them alone. In this situation, you are not the reason for “ripping” your husband away – his parents’ hurtful behavior is the reason.

You need to get really good at just saying no.

Moving forward, you need to get really good at just saying no. They cannot literally force you to get in the car and drive to their house when it's not a good time for you. You can say, “Thanks for the invitation, but we can’t come.” You don’t need to give an explanation or a reason. They also can’t force you to stand and listen to them criticizing you – you need to just walk away. You can say, “I’m not going to stand here and be disrespected,” and then leave the room. The less interaction you have with them, the better. 

You’ve been around for a long time clearly, so if it was only a matter of getting to know one another to become more friendly, that would have happened by now. You will not be able to do or say anything that will make your father-in-law like you, unfortunately, and it’s time to stop wasting your energy on trying to get him to and protect your peace instead.

If your husband wants to have a relationship with his parents, he can do that, be it alone. Don’t feel guilty for not inviting them to school functions, birthday parties, or holidays if you feel like they always ruin them for you and your son with their presence and rude comments. If you do choose to invite them, make sure you’re never alone with them without your husband present (you will need to strategize about this in advance). If they say or do something rude, he can rightfully stand up for you, and you both can assess the situation having experienced it together.

They will likely try to convince your husband that you are ruining their relationship and family dynamic as you pull yourself and your kids away further, so prepare yourselves for that. The more desperate they become, the worse their behavior will be most likely. Have a conversation with your husband about how you want to proceed. It sounds like he is very understanding and supportive of your feelings, so just keep that line of communication open in order to remain on the same page.

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