Why are in-law relationships so hard to navigate?
I was making my way through my first cup of morning coffee when Jill’s call came.
“Dad!” Her voice was tinged with excitement. “Jerry got a job!”
“Congratulations!” I managed to sound exuberant despite the dearth of caffeine in my system.
It had been six long months since Jerry was unemployed, and my wife, Kathy and I, had done a lot of pacing, consumed globs of ice cream, and poured out our hearts in prayer (note the order of procedures). Seeing our daughter and son-in-law and their two young children struggling without any stable source of income felt like watching a ship blown off course by stormy waves.
“He starts on Monday,” Jill shared, a catch in her voice. “He’ll be doing property management.”
A lone tear leaked down my cheek, surprising me. Was I really getting emotional in my middle age? Perhaps. All I knew is how supremely grateful I felt that my children would be blessed with security.
Without hesitating, my fingers danced along my cell phone keys. And there it was, bold and black on our family chat: Great news, everyone! Jerry has a new job! Congrats, Jerry!
The replies were quick and exuberant. Two sisters and one brother wished congratulations and begged for details.
Grinning, I got ready for work and floated through my day. Until I read Jerry’s email.
“I’m sure you didn’t mean to spoil my moment, but I had really been looking forward to sharing my big news with the family. In the future, kindly ask the main players before taking liberties and telling other people. Jerry.”
I had to read it three times before I could digest it. Was he serious? I couldn’t tell my kids, our family, that he had finally landed a job? Did he have any idea how worried we had all been? And did he have to speak to me in such a condescending manner? Tell me what to do “in the future”? I was livid and almost shot off a knee-jerk response. And, to add more fuel, where is his appreciation for all the help, like mortgage payments, that we extended along the way? Using great effort, I reined in my fury, reminding myself about the tenuous bond of in-law relationships.
Any suggestions of how to respond?
A Hurt Father-In-Law
Dear Hurt Father-In-Law,
Parents should never be rebuked in a condescending manner. It is inappropriate and disrespectful. No wonder your feelings were trampled!
However, we do want transparency in our relationships. To that effect, Jerry could have simply shared his disappointment as he would have preferred being the one to share his news. I imagine if he had expressed his feelings without condescension, it would have been easier for you to swallow. And perhaps you would have responded with a simple, “Sorry about that. Thanks for letting me know.”
Considering your dilemma, I think you have two choices. You can either swallow your hurt and apologize, even though the tone of his message was clearly out of line. Or you can express your feelings, although I would advocate a conversation rather than sending an email or text.
You know Jerry. Will he be open to hearing your feelings? Or will your honesty exacerbate an already volatile situation?
If you have any concern that a discussion may turn a gentle rain into a hurricane, I recommend settling for option one. Even though Jerry goofed, ultimately, you want your relationship to sail smoothly. And as close as you may be to your son-in-law, he is still not your son, and you have to tread with care.
However, if you can’t get over what happened and find it’s getting in the way of your relationship, perhaps letting time go by would be helpful. When you’re both in a calm place, perhaps you can explain your feelings about his email and that as much as you care about what’s on his mind, you would appreciate a different mode of communication should he want to discuss an issue.
A warm touch on the shoulder, a smile, or some type of loving gesture can go a long way in helping honest communication be well-received.
Kudos to you for being a devoted father and father-in-law,