Ask Amy: Granny leaps over family's culture chasm

Dear Amy: My relationship with my mother-in-law has always been difficult. She is very liberal, and I am conservative. My family attends church weekly and prays together daily. She is irreligious.

I recently discovered that she gave my 15-year-old daughter a vibrator and told her not to tell me. When I confronted my mother-in-law about it, she defended her actions. She said that she wanted her granddaughter to enjoy her body and knew that I would object to this item — and she was right.

I’m furious and want to end all contact with this woman. My husband is embarrassed about the matter and says that I should just let it go. Should I?

Amy says: You are raising your daughter according to your values. You have a right (and a responsibility) to do this. Furthermore, I don’t think it matters much how liberal or conservative you are — most parents wouldn’t want another family member to supply a teenager with a sex toy.

Your mother-in-law should never ask your daughter to keep a secret from her own parents. This shows very poor judgment on her part and violates a very basic trust boundary between child and parents.

Your focus should be on your own daughter, who is likely quite bewildered by this dynamic. Explain to her that her grandmother has overstepped by a mile and that you have spoken to her about it. Tell her that no one should ever ask her to keep a secret from you. I hope you will also talk to her about sex with an open and nonpunitive attitude.

I don’t think it’s necessary to end all contact with your mother-in-law, but you should limit opportunities for private interactions from grandmother to granddaughter, because Granny is not trustworthy.

Chilly at the lake

Dear Amy: I have been married for 39 years and enjoy a great relationship with my wife, with one exception.

We own a lake house and enjoy having company. The one problem we have is that my in-laws take advantage of our hospitality. They are from out of state but spend summers at the lake. They have their own place, but they eat dinner seven days a week at our house.

I get home from work, and they are relaxing in the lake while my wife prepares a meal.

After dealing with the public and employees all day, I would like some peace and solitude when I get home, not a house full of people for dinner. I have asked my wife to limit these dinners to twice a week, but she does not want to hurt their feelings, and she gets much enjoyment out of them.

Meanwhile, friends and people from my side of the family drive by and do not stop to visit when they see the crowd.

I feel very taken advantage of.

Amy says: It is obvious that your wife enjoys this time with her family; this family togetherness with out-of-state loved ones seems to be built into her summers at the lake.

However, it is also obvious that your wife puts their comfort above yours, at least in this regard. But you deserve a break, and she should work with you to get one. This pattern has already been established. Do not expect her to draw this boundary with her family on her own.

You should kindly and respectfully say to them, “I am beat from my days at work and need some quiet and private time. It would work best for me if we could limit your dinners here so I can wind down during the workweek. I know you all love being together, and it’s fun to share this with you, but I want more alone time.”

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com.

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