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My wife and I are newlyweds, we married last December, and we're still trying to straighten out the paperwork for our new home. I've been staying with my wife in her family's home for couple of months.

My brother-in-law is under 18 years old, let's just call him "Jimmy". I've noticed my father-in-law is not strict at all with Jimmy. I've never heard him scolded Jimmy even though Jimmy stays out late and usually gets home at 11:00PM - 12:00AM. We don't have any idea where he stays during his late nights. Jimmy skips his classes without a reasonable excuse and I've never heard my father-in-law say anything to motivate Jimmy to attend classes even though Jimmy has a very poor academic history (it took him 10 years to complete his primary education, instead of the usual 6).

Another thing I noticed is that when Jimmy asks for something (buy a new phone or shoes) my father-in-law never says no. He also gives Jimmy soda daily, which is not really good for his health. It seems to me that he's spoiling Jimmy too much. I feel that there's supposed to be a reward system to motivate Jimmy to strive harder in school and teach him the value of education. I've never seen Jimmy working on homework assignments, thus I believe he is not serious in his studies though he just reached the secondary education this year.

I'm concerned about Jimmy. I have two younger brothers and we've grown up with our parents putting a strong emphasis on the importance of our education, which motivated us to study hard and do well academically.

Should I just let it pass? I'm afraid that my father-in-law might be offended and think that I'm trying to tell him how to parent his own child.

EDIT: Sorry if I really missed one point. Yes, we do talk about it with my wife, of course I do open up to her, we've been in a relationship for 8 years before we get married. What I usually ask her "Why your father is too kind? and explained what I noticed..", and she will just respond "because that's what my father is", and if I talked about Jimmy to her. She would usually respond to me "We (with my mother-in-law) already tried to correct Jimmy a lot of times, but it looks like that is what he is.". I really appreciate all the response. Though I might just pre-judge Jimmy's action that would affect his future (that is where my concern is). Glad I have not talk about it yet to my father-in-law,

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    "...that he would think I'm trying to teach him what parenting does." Isn't that what you plan to do? And hence I think its understandable that he will feel offended. – Zaibis Jul 20 '17 at 10:27
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    I'd be offended if you: as a person without children, tried to tell me, a person with several, how to parent. Parenting is nowhere near as easy as it looks. You'll notice we have an entire stack exchange for it, full of contradictory advice, because parenting is hard and there are almost no 100% correct answers for most issues. – Crisfole Jul 20 '17 at 14:02
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    One possibility here is that "Jimmy" has an actual learning or developmental disability, and that the lack of motivation/discipline is not the issue at all. In any case, the answers you've gotten so far are correct -- the family has been dealing with the situation far longer than you have, and it isn't your place to intervene. Discuss it with your wife. – Dave Tweed Jul 20 '17 at 14:24
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    I know plenty of people that failed miserably at school that are leading very productive and successful lives now. Academia doesn't work for everybody, and you should be supportive of this fact. – DCON Jul 20 '17 at 16:03
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    Not sure why this is appropriate for "parenting". Since you're not, you know, the parent. – davidbak Jul 20 '17 at 22:18

11 Answers 11

50

Your options are limited. You're an outsider and very new to actually being in the family, doesn't matter how long you dated your wife previously. You've only been recently allowed to enter the inner-circle of the family via marriage.

If you are asked for your opinion then give it gently and tactfully. Don't come out immediately as being overly-critical.

If you aren't asked for your opinion. Leave it alone. It's honestly none of your business. Your father-in-law will be offended and you risk losing a foothold in the family despite the freshness of the marriage.

Leave it alone unless otherwise asked.

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    To add on this,if he is really concerned by this and feels he must act, he can always relay his concerns through his wife(Jimmy's sister). Its sure that if any concerns are raised with the father-in-law it will almost always be less offensive and on the defensive side if made through the wife(his daughter) and not directly as someone unrelated and outside the core family as themselves. – Leon Jul 20 '17 at 8:55
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    "It's honestly none of your business". – Isaac Jul 24 '17 at 7:59
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I would think the logical person to ask is your wife.

She might be expected to know all the tricky parts of the situation we can't, and probably is predisposed to accept your involvement in her family.

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    I love this answer "try speaking to your wife instead of strangers on the internet" this is literally what my wife says to me ha ha – Ed Elliott Jul 20 '17 at 11:18
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    It's a good thing a stranger on the internet told him that! – AFischbein Jul 20 '17 at 13:42
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    This is great. Parenting.SE: "Ask your spouse!" Workplace.SE: "Ask your boss!" Academia.SE: "Ask your adviser!" Programmers.SE: "Ask your team lead!" Travel.SE: "Ask the border agent!" Money.SE: "Ask your tax adviser!" Law.SE: "Ask your lawyer!"... – Mehrdad Jul 22 '17 at 1:26
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    Ask/Boss/Adviser/TeamLead/BorderAgent/TaxAdviser/Laywer: "Let me do a little online research..." – mgarciaisaia Jul 22 '17 at 6:06
  • @Mehrdad Not everyone has a team lead, so thankfully this advice doesn't apply to StackOverflow at least. – Athari Jul 23 '17 at 8:48
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Currently you are guest in this home. You are being granted the courtesy to live there. It would not likely be advisable to offer any criticism of anything they do, as it has potential to really blow up into a serious issue.

As a parent, unless what I see is a significant threat to someone's safety or similar, I would never say a thing. My motto is "not my monkeys, not my circus", which really just means if they aren't my kids, they aren't my business.

And I understand your concerns are because you feel this is setting him up to have a tough time in life. It very well might be that is. You don't make it seem though that dad is beating him daily, depriving him of food or medical care, etc. so it's not something you have to feel compelled to do something about. This sounds like the problem is that you feel dad is being lax. And you could say something, but it's more likely that dad will feel offended that you are criticizing what he does as a father than it would be for him to be open to hearing it and then change. It likely wouldn't change anything he is doing, and yet you would then be stuck with your father in law being angry with you instead.

If your wife takes issue with it as well, she is free to tell her father whatever she likes. He will forgive her, because there is love there & a bond. I still wouldn't think this is the time to say it though, since you need his support until youc an get your own place & the one time you should never offer a criticism of someone is while that same person is actually helping you. It will look worse first of all because he will think you are ungrateful, and if he is angry/hurt enough, it will leave you without the help you need or leave things tense while you continue to live there. None of those 3 things are a good outcome.

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    I should say too, I have been with my husband 25 happy years. I think part of what keeps us happy is I say nothing about his family & how they do things & he does the same. We might occasionally commiserate on familial frustrations but only when the related one starts it & never to the point of serious harsh things. He can complain about his own, I complain about my own & we do NOT complain about each others. If he wants to complain to a friend, great. But really, nothing is to be gained complaining to your wife about her family unless they are mean to you. – threetimes Jul 20 '17 at 9:51
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    ""not my monkeys, not my circus" - I'm putting that on my t-shirt! – user3143 Jul 20 '17 at 13:25
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Leave your father-in-law alone. It's not your business to talk to him about these things, you would invade his space and, very likely, nothing good would come from it.

If your question is motivated by concern for your brother-in-law, then just be a good brother-in-law to him. Befriend him, go out with him (maybe together with your wife, maybe not), be happy around him, watch movies with him - these are just suggestions, you will know best what you can do.

Eventually, when you have a working relationship with your brother-in-law, you can try to influence him for the better. You can obviously not scold him or be aggressive against him, but you can be a "big brother" figure, lead by example and such. Be very careful that this is coming from a place of real helpfulness towards him, it is not your goal to somehow offset what his father does.

There may be good reasons for all of this that you are not aware of. The father may be a very caring, involved person without you ever noticing it. That age bracket can be very complicated for parents to handle. You cannot really know without having lived in their house for the past years.

  • "There may be good reasons for all of this that you are not aware of". Yes, indeed. – Isaac Jul 24 '17 at 8:02
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It's really not your business, and as an adult guest living in his house, I assume rent-free, who has never had any parenting experience, I think your father-in-law, even if he is flawed in his approach, would rightfully feel that such "advice" was presumptuous.

I think the most important thing is to ask yourself this - will you and your wife, as adults, be living in your own household soon? Will your soon-to-be-lifetime household be impacted by how your father-in-law does or does not discipline an adult male child in his own separate household? I would think that the answer would be "no," or if there is an impact, it's because you choose to be involved in some way. If your brother-in-law eventually comes to be in your household for some reason, then you can lay down the law as you see fit, on a "do it this way or leave" basis.

As with any case where you disagree with something that you also find annoying, you have to choose your battles and whether they are worth having. In this case, other than you disagreeing with it and it annoying you, it has no impact on you, you have no standing to weigh in, so it seems there is absolutely no reason to insert yourself into it.

Another thing to consider is that this person raised a daughter well enough that you've decided to devote yourself to her for the rest of your lives. Something must have gone right there, I assume. Maybe he does know something about raising kids.

5

As a recovering Jimmy, please don't let this slide. If he's an older teen, of course he's capable of making choices, but the behavior he sees modeled will affect the ones he makes. I don't know the specifics of your situation, but in the future Jimmy might appreciate it if you've modeled some of the behavior you want to see.

I'm not sure if talking to your FIL is the right answer though. He might get offended, but it also might make him think about his parenting style.

4

You ask two questions, I'll answer the second first.

Should I just let it pass?

Yes. What you describe could be considered lax discipline, but it's unlikely to be considered abuse or neglect. As an outsider recently married into the family you really should get a lot more experience with the family dynamics, relationships, and personalities before extending advice on those things - and even then you shouldn't do so unless you have a really strong relationship with the person you are offering advice to - and even then you should probably hold off on advice unless asked for it, or unless the situation becomes desperate.

So let it pass.

How would I tell my Father-In-Law that he's being too lenient in disciplining my brother-in-law?

If you must do so, and again I strongly advise against it, then I'd approach it from a very humble angle, and I'd avoid tattle-telling. Keep in mind that he raised your wife, and you married her, so your work ethic appears to be compatible. It's reasonable to assume that he raised her similarly to his younger son, and that differences are due to 1) changing circumstances and 2) learning the hard way with older children that certain tactics were less effective.

So the way he's raising the younger son is strongly influenced by the successes and failures he feels he's had raising his older children.

Coming right out and saying, "I think you're doing something wrong" is not going to be effective, and has a very strong possibility of being offensive.

It's really not a good way to strengthen your relationship with your father in law, and that should really be your first priority.

Still, if you must interfere with their relationship and his parenting style, consider starting off the discussion with something similar to:

I appreciate living in your home while you are still raising younger children, it's given me a perspective on parenting I wouldn't otherwise gain, and is particularly interesting since my parents had a slightly different style to yours, so it's really opened my eyes.

What can you tell me about parenting?

Then continue to ask questions. Maybe ask what they've changed over the years, how their children were different and what techniques worked for one that didn't work for the others, what they would do differently if they had to do it over again.

In other words, seek first to understand, and through your discussion you may find chances and opportunities to question why they are lax - but again you don't want to be the one sharing instances of bad behavior. That's not your place, and honestly it makes you sound more like a jealous or petulant child than an adult.

You have an opportunity to learn and strengthen your relationship with your father in law, I suggest you focus on that first, because starting off on the wrong foot will cause you nothing but problems later on in life, and when you have your own children he may still feel offended that you dared question his parenting, and your own parenting style will simply reopen that wound.

So, again, I'd suggest letting it pass, but if you must talk about it 1) don't tattle tell and 2) don't be critical, but instead use it as a way for you to gain understanding.

4

I disagree with those who say it's none of your business. You, yourself, are now an elder male relative of this young man -- not quite a father figure, but an elder brother figure and potentially a role model. Rather than criticize your father-in-law, try to be a model of the kind of virtues you think your brother-in-law should value. Let him see you doing hard work, completing difficult things, etc. You have a new house, right? So maybe invite your brother-in-law to help you with the various renovations and repairs you must be doing. If he shows up on time and sticks to the job until finished, reward him with manly respect (or money). Make him realize that when he's tardy and undisciplined he loses your respect.

The funny thing about teenage boys is that they may respect and want to please other adult men at the same time they're in intentional rebellion against their own fathers.

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Don't start about it, unless you don't value the relationship with the in-laws

First of all, you're probaly much younger than you father in law, secondly, you're married to his daughter. In his eyes you are a kid, since that is his reference frame.

How would you respond if a 10 year old kid came to you, short hoses, grass stained knees, bright green t-shirt and chewing gum, and said that he observed how you talking with your wife and that you allowed your wife too much freedom and you should discipline your wife more, tell her not to go out without you, and no purchases without your approval for each and every one, so she would be a better wife and have a more successful marriage with you.

Imagine that. Let it sink in how that makes you feel and how you would react to that kid. That exact reaction you would feel will more than likely the reaction your father in law will feel.

Secondly, the brother in law near 18 years old. In most part of the world you're almost an adult at that age, and will do whatever the hell he himself wants to do and nobody can stop him. Some will lean on parental advice, some will not head it or argue bitterly about any advice given.

It's the life of the brother in law. Not your life.

Also, you really can only speak when you know ALL the ins and outs of their almost 18 year relationship. Did you sit in on all their conversations? do you know how much the kid was bullied? do you know in which subjects he excels or has trouble? do you know if he has any anxieties? do you know all his triggers that will explode his temper? do you know when he gets bored in school? do you know what his ambitions are, his passions and his turnoffs?

Parents are usually privy to much more information than you as an outsider and are much better equipped as how to handle the temperament of their own kids, to remain peace in the household, and life moderately stress free.

tl;dr You're an outsider. You don't know enough. Keep your nose out of it on penalty of seriously messing up the relationship with father in law and brother in law.

0

I am in this same situation and I did humbly talk to the father-in-law after one incident. My father-in-law did listen, and even agreed, but nothing became of it. It's too hard to change how people parent. They still continue to baby him. This "kid" is 35 years old but otherwise he fits your description exactly...and still lives at home.

Luckily I have an excellent relationship with my father-in-law as a "second son" so no blowback. I would agree, you need to leave it alone, but I second the suggestion of acting as a "big brother".

0

First, never should any suggestion of this type come from the son-in-law. Your wife will be granted liberties to say things you will not. If you say something, your wife's family will feel like you have crossed a boundary and it may irrevocably damage your relationship. If you and your wife agree that something must be said, it is she who needs to do the saying.

Second, while I agree with your diagnosis, imagine yourself in a few years. You're raising your child according to your beliefs, and your in-laws step in and say you're doing it wrong. How would you feel and react? If you say something now, you are inviting them to intrude into how you raise your children.

Third, your course of action is to act as a role model and mentor to Jimmy. Reach out to him. Do things with him. You may be able to exert a much greater influence over his life this way than his own father's actions.

Lastly, bad parenting is a bad habit much like smoking or overeating. Even if a person is highly motivated and truly desires to change, changing ingrained patterns of behavior are extremely difficult! So, even if you would convince your father-in-law to change, there is a high likelihood he would fall into the old, easy patterns of behavior in a matter of days or weeks.

protected by Rory Alsop Jul 24 '17 at 13:21

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