Dear Thelma: My in-laws' criticisms cut deep and I feel very angry

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Dear Thelma,

I'm 37, and happily married with three kids.

Everything was going well until one day, when my parents-in-law suddenly started harassing me at family gatherings.

My son also gets harassed by my father-in-law who says he's slow when he recites the doa as we are about to eat, because he recites after everyone else has eaten.

Because of this, my husband and I are quarrelling over this issue. I told him that I can take it if they criticise me but I can't bear it if they use bad words towards my child. I don't know why they are like this.

Maybe they think we depend too much on them. My husband got into financial problems after the MCO and sometimes he asked them for financial help.

For now, I'm avoiding family gatherings because I find them frustrating. I also have a temper and am afraid that I will lash out at them with bad words and attitude.

What should I do?


This is an interesting issue with several layers that's taking place in so many families these days, so I'm glad you wrote in.

Definitely prevent your child from being bullied by his grandfather. In the past, people thought that a bit of yelling or spanking was perfectly OK. However, science has proven this wrong.

Studies that use MRI imaging show that both verbal and physical abuse impact on brain development. So not only does bullying teach kids that bullying is OK, but it also changes how they perceive and process danger.

Protect your child, and know you're doing the right thing. As for the rest, there may be several things going on.

Typically, borrowing and lending money changes relationships. Here are some common issues.

Asking for help is one thing, but you don't mention paying them back. Therefore, it may be that your in-laws lent the money but are themselves short of funds. So lending your husband money is a daily strain that they're too shy to talk about openly.

Or if your husband has borrowed money several times, your in-laws may be worried about their future or your future. They may think these financial problems will never end.

Another possibility is that some parents identify strongly with their children's careers. They take pride in their successes – but take any hiccups personally.

Life success is a mix of luck and application. Also, nobody could predict the pandemic. However, emotions are often illogical.

Whatever is going on, why blame you?

We tend not to be very good at processing anger, frustration and fear. We feel bad, we blame and we feel bad about blaming. We often don't think very clearly at all.

Some people want to avoid feeling anger or blame for a loved one, so they redirect their emotions to a scapegoat. This is typically a wife, friend, or business partner.

Scapegoating allows people to say, "Our lovely son is wonderful always and anything that isn't perfect is his awful wife's fault."

When they see your son, they see an extension of you, and so they include him in their blame game. It is unfair, it is unreasonable, but it's very common.

So what can you do about this?

First, know the truth. Your husband is an adult who makes his own decisions. Also, the pandemic devastated many people's finances.

Assuming you didn't blue the family savings on a Picasso and a yacht, you have no blame in this. Sadly, your family are simply one of the millions who are suffering from several years of totally wild financial times.

Second, this is where you step back and your husband steps up. It's his parents who are lashing out, and so he is the person to tackle this.

Show him this letter. Discuss what may be going on. Then have him go and speak to them with an open heart. Be gentle; money is as contentious a topic as politics and religion.

If it's a question of paying back, approach them with an instalment plan and the first payment in hand. Then talk.

If necessary, consider taking out a bank loan. Paying interest to a third party may be better than having your relationships suffer.

Should you need help, consult the Credit Management and Counselling Agency (Agensi Kaunseling dan Pengurusan Kredit, AKPK, ph: 03-2616 7766, website:, a free Bank Negara-run service that helps people organise their finances better.

If it's a false belief that's driving their anger, that may take a long conversation, especially if they are the type of folks who are not used to admitting their errors. However, he has a duty to his wife and child; they must treat you both with common courtesy. If not, you will both be absent.

Hopefully, this will push them into reviewing their behaviour. It will be tough, so have him practise with you before he goes.

I do hope you can patch things up. The pandemic has been very tough on many people. Hopefully though, we're up for better times. Good luck and know I'll be thinking of you.

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