Monday, April 13, 2009

In-laws with Money

Once upon a time I married a man with a rich family. I remember Dr. Phil saying, 'if you marry rich, you'll earn every nickel' but I thought that didn't apply to me because I didn't care about their money. I always figured I'd make my own money as I had in the past.

Because I am a family person, I treated my in-laws kindly and gave them the sort of considerations I gave my own family. I suppose this and the fact them I tend to be a quiet person gave them the presumption that I would be easily controlled. They were deeply disappointed.

On the eve of my wedding night my father-in-law ruined the rehearsal dinner with his ranting and raving at our table about the service. At one point he even turned to my soon-husband and I and asked, “How long do we have to stay at your wedding tomorrow?” I felt like telling him not to come at all. The rest of us were enjoying our dinner but it soon become impossible with him there. I suppose he thought he was entitled to do this because was paying for dinner. I left in tears after having words with my groom. I stayed up most of the night wondering if I could marry into this family. I wondered if my soon-to-be husband would turn into his father.

I didn't like the way my father-in-law treated people. I didn't like the way he made me feel. I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that I didn't get over all night and well into the morning. All my bridesmaids were at my house and we talked it over at length with no real conclusions. I finally just asked to be alone. I stayed up well past 3am thinking and re-thinking the entire situation.

At around 10am, my father-in-law called to apologize. I can't remember now what he said but in many ways now, I wish I hadn't taken the call. It was the beginning of a pattern: his very bad, unfathomable ranting behavior, followed by an apology.

My father-in-law didn't let the rehearsal dinner go for months. He had told me I could choose the venue, and I had with great care. We went to Ricardo’s, a beautiful Italian restaurant where I been lunching for more than 10 years and was very friendly with the entire staff. Because of the service he thought we received, he hassled the owner for months over a $250 fee that we all knew he had agreed to pay ahead of time. It was embarrassing to me to say the least. Ricardo ended up just refunding him his money to get him off his back. My father-in-law called me to gloat about it. I got that sick feeling in my gut again. I went back to Ricardo’s and apologized. Ricardo was so gracious to me, but I also felt he knew what I knew. I was screwed.

There was a brief honeymoon period for all of us after I became pregnant with our second child. I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. I made excuses for very bad behavior. I was often uncomfortable - but they were “family”.

There were never-ending threats of excluding my husband from “the will”, which I found baffling if not humorous. But my husband was raised with that constant bait in front of him since he was a child. I suppose it is much easier to control an addict. And that what they had created: a dependent addict.

My husband had been in therapy the 6 years that I’d known him and in and out of rehab since he was 15. I found it increasingly hard to fault my husband and angered more and more at my in-laws for breeding him this way. I was never raised with money so I never expected anything from anybody. What was worse was I didn't want anything from the in-laws I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with and I found that there were several occasions that I had unknowingly benefited from their "goodwill". It was rubbed in my nose later through various emails and I was told I should have done whatever they had wanted me to do at that particular moment because of such and such and how ungrateful I was for not recognizing their benevolence.

This was very ironic because I was actually a single mother raising their first grandchild by myself for over a year and didn't get a nickel from anyone - or even an offer to baby-sit for that matter. My husband's drinking was out of control prior to our marriage and left me pretty much on my own. My family was always right there to help out in any way possible. His family never offered anything.

His father once went as far as to announce that my husband and I were poor in front of their guests at a dinner party. Again, I was baffled. I had earned an MBA in the evenings and was making what I considered to be a very good living for my age. I wasn’t exactly up to his standards, I realized, but poor?

They were the type that always gave us their gifts with the price tags still on - even though despite their great wealth the gifts usually were unwrapped markdowns of markdowns from Target or some other outlet mall store. There never seemed to be any consideration in the gift-giving. In fact, his fourth wife once even re-gifted me the favor from my wedding within that very same year. And not to be sweet or sentimental; she really had no idea.

My father-in-law's fourth wife told me the best thing that could happen to my husband’s brother, who was institutionalized with a mental illness, was for him to die. Within the same week, she told me the same thing about my husband's mother, who he happened to adore. I noticed her tone often changed when she was alone with me. It wasn't that happy Country Club voice she often used. It was cold and sharp. I would back away from her, but she would draw me in again with the sweet voice - only to surprise me later with her sharp sentiments when I least expected them. I began to wonder if she was part of the problem.

Then the unthinkable happened. My husband’s mother did die. Suddenly, and with many things left unsaid. My husband's three years of sobriety went out the window. He started drinking again, secretly. He became a different person, someone I didn’t want to know – someone who resembled his father in many respects. I made the mistake of going to my father-in-law for help. He had been sober for over 20 years, and I thought he could understand my plight. But that call for help seeped into every area of my life. He and his wife thought they had the right to comment on and criticize every aspect of my life, my marriage and how I raised my children. And that is when the gloves came off between me and my in-laws.

My father-in-law told me, "This is war!" Granted, this is a 60-year-old, successful and even respected man. How do you respond to someone like this? - especially when the men in my family are so different. He, of course, apologized a few days later. At the time I felt sorry for him. I told him that I didn't think that anyone had ever really been honest with him because of his money and that I was going to tell him the truth.

I soon suspected that he and his fourth wife thought they were entitled to do or say anything because they felt they were better than everyone else because of their money. They began to criticize nearly everything I did - even though I was the one taking care of their now two grandchildren while their son was out on another relapse. And worse yet, it did not matter that they both admittedly had drinking problems while they were raising their own children. In my mind, most of my husband’s problems stemmed back to the lack of care he received while he was growing up. What did they know? It was too much for me.

I stopped talking to them. Whenever I think about them, I think about the damage inflicted on my husband and how it has affected his life - and now mine and our children. There are people with much greater sums of money - like Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates - who do not treat people poorly. In fact I'd say their aim in life has been to give back.

Except that, ten months later, I did not feel much better. My husband completed 90 days at Betty Ford and our relationship managed to miraculously survive, with a lot of work. But there is a constant boulder between us: my father-in-law.

I don't want him to see my children. I put my 5-year-old son in therapy when I realized my husband had relapsed. I talk to both my therapist and his therapist about my fears. There have been several instances that I feel have been inappropriate. The therapist for my son makes two points. My father-in-law needs to address my son on his level, not expect a young child to meet him at his. And, just the way my father-in-law has treated me and my husband are not good indicators of how he will treat our children, even without the examples I gave her.

Backpedal to the day I stopped talking to my father-in-law. My husband comes home late and acts very strange. The night before, we watched Mitch Album's For One More Day and he burst into sobs. He will not tell me what is wrong, but I know it is bad. He spent the weekend with some friends I don't entirely approve of for a 40th birthday party. My husband goes upstairs to the spare bedroom and quickly falls into a deep sleep. I can not wake him. I am angry and start to fume. I realize something is very wrong.

For the first time ever I decide to search his things. I find three folded-up magazine pages in his coat pocket. When I open one, white powder spills all over me and our one-year-old daughter. The dust blows into my mouth; I inhale some through my nose. I am shaking and hysterical. I still can not wake up my husband. My son, luckily, is already asleep.

I call my father-in-law sobbing. I figure he will have some insight since he has been sober for so long and has much more experience with these things than me. He tells me it is not a big deal and to flush it down the toilet. I argue with him. I tell him I think I should call the police. He questions why my daughter is still up. He tells me, I don't care if you get any sleep or not. You put her to bed! It was a command.

I tell him, I didn't call you for parenting advice; I called you because your son is using cocaine. I hang up the phone.

I make a few more phone calls and ultimately decide to call the police. My mother comes so that the children will not see anything. My husband is arrested and put in jail.

Later, my husband wants an apology, but to this day, I feel strongly that I did the right thing. I had never seen drugs in my life. I certainly did not want them in my home, and definitely not within the reach of my children.

My father-in-law called probably 20 times the next day, but I didn't pick up. I didn’t want to talk to him, but I vent and cry. I write a poem about the night, and how he made me feel like a nobody. I make the mistake of listening to my mother and send it to him.

He responds by email a few days later, telling me that he told me what to do and I did something else that was so stupid I probably ruined our relationship and my marriage.

And that's when I blocked the email and stopped talking to him.

So, in my mind, I did the right things but the outcomes have been all wrong anyway. I have a terrible pain in my back and I wonder if it comes from my anger and inability to forgive. I have tried to forgive, but I don’t seem to be able to. My resentments are stuck.

It seems that my silence has not changed his behavior. Or perhaps it has, I don’t know, because I don’t talk to him. My husband tells me he is making progress, but I often think he is so desperate for us to get along that he will say anything. And, he is always asking me about his dad seeing the kids. And, I am told that the wife visualizes us as a family again.

I don’t think his dad can bypass me. I think I am owed an apology. But as time drags on, I wonder, am I doing the right thing for my kids? What if he dies? Will I regret this? Do the kids have a right to see their grandpa, and does he have a right to them? Am I robbing my children of a relationship with their paternal grandpa and his wife, or am I protecting them? How much can I protect them from? Am I protecting them or protecting myself? Do his parents have any right to their input after their own failures? Can you successfully raise children with someone who hasn't been parented himself? These are the questions that haunt me. And, I don’t have the answers.

I have written my father-in-law letters, but ultimately have decided to sit on them. Time will tell if I have made the right choice.

Once upon a time I thought I could marry for love and live happily ever after. I thought I married a boy with giant green eyes and a bigger heart. I thought that together we could overcome his addictions and his past.

I was dead wrong.

I also married his monstrous, dysfunctional family and they almost swallowed us all whole.

My own grandfather died recently and while he passed with far less than a million dollars in the bank he was truly one of the happiest and contented people I've ever met. He never worried about what other people were doing. He never once put me down or made me feel bad about myself. He never once seemed stressed out. He adored my children, and they adored him. There were never any strings attached to his love.

His death, while extremely painful, also gave me courage and a pathway to great reflection. I had settled. My grandparents had everything in the world that I had ever wanted and in most people's minds, that was probably very little. I also came to realize that I was, as they say, the author of my own life. My in-laws were just really bad characters that needed to be written out of it.


  1. What an amazing post! I'm sending you great big hugs. For all that you've been through and are going through, you are staying true to what you know is right and are seeing where real character lies. And like mother bear protecting her cubs, you're doing your best to protect your kids. None of these questions are easy and the answers will probably shift over time, but really and truly, you're an amazing, strong mom with a great big heart!!!

  2. When I read your story I can help but think that some kind of false guilt kept you enmeshed with these people and your husband way to long. Way too long for someone as kind, smart and loving as your writing portrays!

  3. I came across your blog I could relate to everything you were saying. I live in Greenwich, Connecticut and deal with the same story with my husband's parents. My husband isn't an alcoholic, but he has a gambling and an anger problem. His mom especially swoops in when he has emptied our bank accounts, leaving him with no consequences for his actions. We have nearly lost our home twice.

    Our two girls are 7 and 10 and don't feel safe around their dad due to his outbursts. I have no idea what I am going to do. I have stayed at home for 10 years and my parents are both deceased. I have no other family in the area.

  4. Thank you all so much for the comments and God bless you Anonymous in Connecticut. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  5. We have to be willing to let go of things in order to be free. I mean emotional attachments, as well as physical. Logistics and planning need to be considered for practicle reasons, but letting go of the internal "I wants and I demand" are just as hard if not harder.

    Only love as much as you want. There isn't any rule book telling us how much to give or put up with. IMO, a relationship should be on equal footing, for the most part, otherwise resentment, depression, anxiety, addiction, etc finds fertile ground in our inner life.

  6. You know, I read your blog and I have to say that it sounded like the same old typical white woman Scarlet O'Hara "oh woes is me" crap. Here's a no-brainer revelation for you - the relationship you describe with your husband and in-laws is toxic, and HAS been almost from Day 1. How you married this mope is beyond me? I can't help thinking it had something to his "potential" financial status, and what being associated with ortied to a wealthy family could do for you. I am sure you were hoping that in the long run, it would mean financial security, if not for you, than certainly for your children. You need to cut these toxic people and toxic relationships out of your life. And you need to do it NOW. And you don't need any therapist to tell you that. Just get over yourself and your emotional Scarlett O'Hara drama. Buck up!! You aren't the first women to marry the wrong man for money (and if you say that marrying him for his wealth or future wealth wasn't at least PART of the equation - you are lying to yourself). You need to stand on your own two feet, and make your own way in the world, without them (husband and in-laws), for yourself and your children. And let me also say this, I know about addiction, and I am quite sensitive to it, and posses the requisite empathy for it. My brother was an addict, and his losing battle with drugs nearly tore my family apart; until we finally gave him tough love. All this drama you write about could be gone tomorrow - it is totally within YOUR control. Sure, things might be a little dicey on the financial front; but I am guessing that if you're willing to lay down your life for your kids (I know I would do that in a hear beat for MY kids), then you do what it takes so that they have all that they NEED. And don't get it twisted, I am not suggesting that you prostitute yourself or do anything that would be illicit or illegal. There are plenty of honest, decent jobs out there. It will ultimately come down to whether you are too proud to do them, even if only on a temporary basis. And lastly, I do feel for you, don't get me wrong. But the words I have written here, I would have written to any one of my closest friends, even my sister, if they were in your shoes. Good luck to you.