Dear Thelma: I like my in-laws more than my overbearing father

  • Family
  • Sunday, 09 Feb 2020

Married woman laments that father is controlling and doesn't accept husband.

I am 34 and married with a two-year-old son. I am the eldest in my family and work as an officer in a government department.

My problem is with my dad, who has given me a hard time since I told him I wanted to marry this guy (now my husband) whom he thinks is “not up to his standard”.

My husband works in the private sector and earns less than me. But he is great at other things like helping with house chores, and has never neglected us emotionally and financially.However, my dad often judges a person by their earnings. He looks down on a person who doesn’t earn much because he feels that they are not working hard enough.

He eventually allowed us to get married but he doesn’t talk to my husband much. There’s no actual conversation, no father-son bonding.

My dad allowed my husband into our family because I wanted to marry him. Even though I have tried to bring them closer, he still distances himself from my husband.This issue has grown even bigger since I had my baby in late 2017. My dad, being the dictator that he is, wants to control everything, even my family life.

Here are some of the things that my dad has done:

– Growing up, I never had cats because my dad hates them. My husband and I have a few cats which we love so much, but my dad kept persuading us to get rid of them. We ignored his demand, and it annoys him because he feels that my husband is the one who influenced me to not listen to him.– My dad likes to visit us without notice. It disrupts our plans and is inconvenient. I have asked my mum to give us notice if they are coming but they feel that they have the right to come anytime and it is our job to entertain them.

– After my baby’s birth, my parents still visited me anytime they wanted to but I didn’t like it when they came after 8pm because I wanted to train my baby to sleep early and rest too. But they didn’t listen. They still came after 8pm and forced me to bring my son out because they wanted to play with him. When I refused, they said that it’s because I didn’t like them.

– My family moved house right after my confinement. There were so many things to do but my dad didn’t offer any help. He only came when everything was settled and criticised us. – When we go out to eat, or when my dad buys us something to eat, he often boasts about how much he paid. It’s annoying. – Although my son is already two, dad still distances himself from my husband. When he comes to our house, he and my mum would bring my son into a room, close the door and play with him. Dad never drinks or eats the things that I prepare for him.

– He would schedule family events or trips that are not suitable for a toddler. For example, he would force me to wake my son up to go on early morning trips. I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to ruin my toddler’s mood due to lack of sleep. He told me I was too lenient and should discipline my child more firmly.

My mum is quite neutral. I think she knows that I don’t like most of the things my dad does but she has no say.

There is no room to talk to my dad about his behaviour because he doesn’t feel that he is wrong. His way is totally different from my in-laws’, which is more warm and family-oriented.

Honestly, I am happier to spend time with my in-laws because they are less judgmental and they give us space to develop as a new family. Even this has become an issue because my dad feels that I always prioritise my in-laws and am “forgetting my roots and neglecting my own family”.

My husband is the one who is most affected by all this because he constantly feels that he is not good enough in my dad’s eyes. This sometimes creates fights between us because I don’t know how to talk to my dad about the things he has done. So my dad just continues doing what he does, and we are left feeling annoyed all the time.

In my family, everybody is annoyed with my dad but my siblings and I have become numb to his behaviour. We fear that new additional family members will have a hard time accepting this, and our family will be torn apart because of my dad.Please advise.

Torn Daughte

All the things your father does – from demanding you get rid of your pets, turning up at all hours, and even waking up a toddler who needs his rest – all boil down to one issue: control.

From your description, I fear your father has all the hallmarks of an abuser who uses emotional violence to control his victims.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour where the abuser uses verbal abuse, constant criticism, intimidation and manipulation in order to control others.

This extremely common behaviour is a hot button issue as interpersonal violence leads to mental health issues that include anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem and self-harm.

In severe cases, it can lead to chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociation. It is also linked to increased chance of drug abuse, eating disorders and alcohol abuse.

Thankfully, there’s no need to put up with this kind of nonsense. Yes, he’s your father but you are a human being and you have the right to be respected.

To make effective change, you have to establish your boundaries and stick to them. For example:

> When he comes to your home and you are out, you don’t rush back. You text, “We are currently out. See you later.”

> When he is nasty about your cat or your parenting skills, you say firmly, “As we’ve told you, it’s our house/child and we have a different style from you. I’m not discussing it further.”

> When he turns up at the crack of dawn, demanding you waken up your baby, you say, “I’m not waking my child. You go, and we’ll join you when he’s awake.”

Your father is not going to take this lying down. You can expect temper tantrums, threats, and all kinds of nasty behaviour. Also, when you stand firm, he’s going to tell everyone what a horrible daughter you are, and he’ll try and convince other people to pile on to you. Your mother’s going to be in tears because he’s likely to take it out on her.

If you blanch at this, do consider this: if you do nothing, you put up with this mean treatment all of your life. And to give you courage, you have already successfully taken him on and won. I’m referring to your sweet husband and his nice family.

In fact, that part of your letter is very telling. It’s perfectly okay for parents to worry that their kids are making a mistake in their life partner. However, when it turns out that their kids are happy, a sane and loving parent heaves a sigh of relief and embraces the partner.

But your father is furious that you asserted your own will when marrying and that’s why he’s actively working to cause trouble between you. Don’t let him mess up your happy marriage!

It’s not going to be easy, so I suggest you do lots of reading. Just Google emotionally controlling parents and also look up toxic parents and narcissist parents. You’ll find plenty of peer support and advice.

When you have done your reading, practise what you’re going to say and figure out how your father will react. You and your husband need to work at this as a team. Be each other’s support.

Rope in a support group. You will need friends who will let you vent, and perhaps your siblings are also ready to help you. If you are uncertain, look for a therapist who works with emotional abuse victims and book a few sessions.

Plan, rehearse and when you’re ready, go for it. As you work through this difficult time, keep this vision in mind: a happy home with adults who respect each other and who are loving and thoughtful.

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