Seeking Advice How to Tell Parents to Please Not Butt in Too Much in a Nice Way

Updated on September 30, 2009
K.M. asks from Los Gatos, CA
25 answers

I helped my parents moved to the US due to difficult times in their country (violence, kidnapping and so on) Early this year we decided to do a second story on our house so they can have privacy and their own space. Please know that they come from a different generation where parents always tell their kids and try to control them whether they are toddlers or adults. I haven't lived with my parents in about 9 years and I love them dear but I can't do this, they have been here since February and my mom specially constantly criticize us (specially my hubby) about everything, I feel like I constantly have to defend him or myself. Also, when my daughter does something they don't agree with they don't really discipline her the way we do (talking, listening, trying to help her identify feelings and time out when really needed, etc) but they for example disregard her feelings and tell her to stop crying and sometimes they say "if you gave her a good spanking she wouldn't do that..."

I guess my major burden is when hubby is around, I feel like my mom hates him and she keeps telling me "I can't believe you like to live with this guy" she criticizes everything he does, what he eats, how he talks, she says he is lazy and is always saying how other friends have good husbands who do this and that. They don't speak the same language (they both know a bit of the others but do not communicate) I feel in the middle and really want to tell my parents that I'm grown up and able to pay my own bills, and I'm married now not 12 anymore when they use to tell me what to do all the time. I don't want to hurt their feelings though 'cause my mom will cry and say that she hates my hubby more and it's always his fault.

Help please!

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S.B.

answers from Redding on

Dear K.,
Wow. You are in a tough position. I really feel for you especially since you are expecting another new baby any day. So.....I'm afraid you are going to have to have a talk with your mother before the new baby comes or there will be even more conflict which is the last thing you need with a new baby. And the new baby doesn't need it either!
I would just come out and tell her, "Mom, your words really hurt me. I need you to know that. I'm your daughter, and I love you, but the way you criticize the way I discipline, when you criticize my husband, when you make me feel bad, IT HURTS ME. My husband, who you can't stand, added another story to our house so you could come to be with us, and you don't appreciate any of it. I've heard you say a million negative things about him but not once have I ever heard you say THANK YOU. I've got another baby coming and I don't think I can take this anymore. You are wearing me down and I need all the strength I can muster to adjust to a new baby with a 2 year old. We brought you here so you could be a happy part of our lives but instead, you hurt me with your words. Something has to change. You don't have to agree with all my decisions, but you have to let me make my own way. I'm a woman now, Mom. I am a woman, a mother and a wife. I will always be your daughter, but I'm not 12 years old anymore. Please don't treat me like a child. It hurts me. I would like to be able to ask your opinions about things, but I know you're just going to say something hurtful and negative. I don't need that. What I need is some support from you. I don't need a daily list of all the mistakes you think I make, I need some encouragement. Please."
If your mom cries and tries to make you feel guilty for spilling your feelings in a concise and calm way, or tries to blame your husband for telling her how she is hurting YOU, then the next step would be to find somewhere else for her and your dad to live. Someplace close by so they can visit regularly but just not have that turmoil in your own house 24 hours a day. It's not healthy. You might also ask her if she is unhappy with the decision to move here or with the decision to live in your house. Maybe she's not happy and being a complete grouch to you about it. In which case, again, find your parents somewhere else close by to live.
Your husband will get fed up, you will blow like Mt. Vesuvius if you don't get this off your chest, and it's just not a good situation. You are obviously a kind, respectful and loving daughter, but I wouldn't worry about hurting your mom's feelings at this point. She's been hurting your feelings and she needs to know that. Before the new baby arrives.

I wish you the best and let us know when you have your baby.

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K.F.

answers from Salinas on

Hi K.- Do not let your parents bully you and your family any longer. Culture, language and generational issues may be complicating things but they are not the reason they act this way. Lots of people who have other differences like you're describing get along for the sake of family and respect for the family and home environment. These things have a way of slowly destroying relationships and family balance. Your two year old is listening to your Mother put down his or her Dad, not a good situation. You need to say in no uncertain terms that in your house (where it sounds like you and your husband pay for everything!) criticism and negativity are not permitted. You would not allow your child to "be mean" to other family members, don't allow your parents to either. If your mother hates your husband so much she should find somewhere else to live. I know this sounds harsh but honestly from what you've said your parents really need to take stock in what they have. A daughter and son-in-law willing to give up their privacy, and it sounds like peaceful homelife so that they could escape a dangerous and scary situation. They should be so grateful and do everything they can to help your home run smoothly and happily! Good luck!

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R.L.

answers from San Francisco on

I understand how you feel. I have an 85 year old mother who continues to try and mother me and I am now 47 years old. She always criticizes my home, how my girls hair looks messy, etc. . Because of her age, I have to ever so often have a talk with her about her criticism and it works for a while. It is difficult to change them. I am not a therapist but I think you have no choice but to lay down the law and let them know they are welcome over but without criticism. It would also be a good idea to talk to them and let them know your feelings about their behavior.
Good luck!

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N.J.

answers from San Francisco on

Dear K.:

I am a great grandmother who has lived with her grown children from time to time and had a father who was foreign born. I am also a retired family counselor.

You are really in a hard place and it is so sweet that you want to do whatever you do in a nice way. Being pregnant doesn't help you any, but may make your position easier to understand. I am not sure if your parents can make a lot of changes in their way of relating to you. It is hard when you have been apart, not to fall into the relationship that existed before when you were their little girl. I assume they are not so rude to other adults.

I do not know whether they can afford to move into a place of their own or if your husband is their only source of support. It seems as though an independent facilitator, a friend they respect, or a paid counselor with an understanding of their culture, would be the best person to tell them that they are not welcome in your home if they interfere with your family in a negative way and especially if they "bite the hand that feeds them". It sounds as though you have been remarkably patient and have carried a lot of hurt which doesn't help you, your husband and daughter, nor does it really help the new baby to come.

If you can't have this conversation with them, you do need outside help. Is pastoral help from some religious group a possibility?

I wish you well and hope you get some good help muy pronto. N.

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K.J.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi K. - I understand what you are going through. It's a hard situation having them living in your home let a lone having to deal with any conflicts. It's exhausting having to justify everything you do as a mom to your mom, then to be judged by it. Their are several parts to this you to do to get things "better".

Having a sit down might not be the best way with what you have shared - it sounds like there are too many emotions coming from your mom. Keep in front of your mind, it may be just her little trick she has used her whole life to get her way or to get people to feel bad for her. When this happens you need to say to her " I'm sorry things are not the way you wish them to be for you". Below I"m addressing each point you made in your post. I stated some "rules" that can really help turn things around and help you remain strong and the adult in this matter.

When she questions your way of doing things you. might say to her "mom, you did a great job raising me, please have the confidence that I'm doing / making the right choice". Or "Just because I do things a little different doesn't make it wrong." If need be ask her how she feels she raised you, if she is proud of you and if she trust your decisions in life. If you have to ask her if she had her mom always around "helping" her.

GET YOUR FACTS. Like spanking - last week on the Today show - They say that spanking lowers the child's IQ. They say that talking and communicating verbally is a better way, that it teaches your child to articulate their feelings. Share your knowledge with your mom.

With your husband and her relation ship. Having your parents in your business all the time can really put a strain on the marriage. So RULE number one, never complain to your mom about your husband, Call a girl friend! I did this early on in my marriage and they only remember and focus on the complaints I made. It took a long time and I'm still working on turning it around. Now I know,.... men aren't the jump up and take control when it comes to kids. How ever they are great at playing with the kids and helping when they ARE asked. Compliment your husband to you mom. For example " I'm so glad "Joe" plays with little little Bobby. or Joe works so hard at his job and I'm so grateful Joe's job is going well so we can pay for this remodel. Or I'm glad Joe can budget money - he's such a good saver. If you keep saying these things she will see you and him are strong and won't even try to cause waves - she'll know she won't have a chance. If she say's rude things about him to you, stand your ground - say to her, you wish she would say nice things only. Rule - Keep it between you and your mom. Don't get your husband in the middle.

Don't be afraid, you're a grown woman. Don't let her manipulate you to feeling bad. If she wants to pout like a child then let her. Just like you would your 2 yr old, if they are throwing a fit you just walk away from them, you don't try to talk them out of it - we all know that doesn't work.

Last - Share with her what you are grateful for. Do they watch you 2 yr old so you and hubby can go out? Tell her how thankful you are for that. Does your dad help with home projects? Tell them your are grateful. My family lives 1,000 miles away and my mom has such a bad back I can't leave her with my kids even if she does come to visit.

Worse case send them on a long vacation, LOL!

Best of Luck let us know how it turns out.
K.

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C.C.

answers from Sacramento on

K., I know what your going through, I've been there. You really need to sit down and talk this over with your parent and your husband. If you don't resolve this soon, it's only going to get worse. Mom may cry, but she should understand. I wish you lots of luck. C.

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H.D.

answers from Redding on

That is a terrible way to live for all of you. You already know what you need to do. They have to go. Unless some life altering occurrence happens where your mother's opinion changes dramatically, this situation will not go away and it's going to ruin your marriage. Your home and immediate family are you priorities and the happiness and well being of that family are being threatened. I actually think living with extended family is awesome. As long as it benefits everyone. It is not in this case. Good Luck.

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D.S.

answers from San Francisco on

Hello K.: Since I have lived in several countries, and have many friends and family members from many countries, I understand how very hard this is for you.
You want the identity of your old country and yet you are part of the American culture, esp if your husband is not from your background.
As we have seen it within our family I can share a couple of things.
1. accept that this is the way things are and stop complaining.
2. you have to have a family council and make sure that you act like the adult that you say that you are, and set some ground rules for respect and appreciation. If you are supporting the parents that means that your husband is as well and the sacrifice is being made. They need to be able to understand that and respect him for it.
3. For many who have come here from war torn latin countries- there is freedom to do many things so let them get involved with things from a church, social center that is apart of your culture.
4. There is NO NICE WAY, to tellthem to stop. You have to just do it. Ask yourself who is more important your husband or your mother? You have given mom a chance at freedom and life or she can go back and accept what ever she has to face.You are a mother and a wife now, that is your 1st obligation. It is all about respect. Generally older and younger generations have different ideas about how to raise children. If you are having them care for your little one then that is something to expect. I think that having raised 5 children and having several grandchildren-- I can say that the idea of expecting a 2 year old dealing with their feelings is a bit much. They change from Elmo to Nemo and that is about how deep it can go. I think that I have given firm boundries and a foundation for my children to grow with and see them using many of the same things in their families.Children need consistancy and love. So explain that you are trying things the American way. Your not being a passive or permissive parent & you don't expect that your child is goingto run the family at age 2.
Good Luck in being both the child and the adult wife and mother, you are in a hard role. Pick one and accept the consequences. Good Luck, Nana G

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L.A.

answers from San Francisco on

Everyone seems to have some good advice, but I just thought of a different angle. Maybe your mother is feeling a bit insecure? I know that it must be so difficult to be in a totally new country, new home, new everything. My mom is from another country too, and for the longest time I thought she was just insane, but then I spent time with my cousins and realized that all of her idiosyncrasies are just cultural differences. In my mom's country, people can never just come right out and say something directly, it always has to be a roundabout kind of thing. It is sooo frustrating. Another thing that happens in my mother's culture is that people can't really own their feelings, and usually translate any feeling they're having into anger directed at other people. My mother actually picked a fight with me because she was bursting with pride one time, so it isn't even necessarily about negative feelings.

I say all this because maybe your mother is so hard on your husband because she doesn't know just how secure her position is with you and she may feel he's a threat to her secure relationship with you. Yes, things are done differently in your parent's culture, but human feelings are not all that different. If your parents are relying on you and your husband, they may have unacknowledged feelings of fear about their place in your family. If your husband's not from your culture, they may not trust that he's actually there for them. It sounds like he is, and that you trust that he's supportive, but maybe they have fear that stems from them not knowing how things work in American culture. Many people from other countries have very negative ideas about American culture, they have beliefs that all Americans are heartless to their old people, etc; it could be some kind of thing like that too.

I know you don't want to have to defend your husband to your mother, and I agree that you should let her know that it hurts you when she says these things about him. But maybe she "hates" him because she's afraid he's going to make you choose him or her. Maybe a little reassurance that he's there for all of you as a family, because you're family would help her feel a little less threatened and fearful.

Just my two cents, hope it helps a little. And congratulations on your coming little one!

L.

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A.B.

answers from Stockton on

Dear K.,

I don't have any advice for you. I just wanted to say I know what it's like and I wish you the best of luck. My boyfriend and I were living with his family (with all of his brothers and sisters as well and they would have moved grandma in if she hadn't refused). My boyfriend and I are from different cultures. I had my first child in that house and his mother dominated. And the eldest sister. There was a lot of conflict and hard feelings.

In the end, after a huge blow-out that nearly turned physical and after years of my boyfriend defending me against them (and vice versa), after 5 years, we moved out. Money is exceptionally tight, but I've never been happier and it has been a JOY to raise my infant daughter the way *I* want to!! Also, now we all get along quite well in a way we never have before! I actually appreciate my in-laws now and am grateful for the time they want to spend with my kids so I can get mini-breaks.

I don't know if it's possible, but separation would be a great thing for all involved. If you can't get some space, then, since it's your house, maybe you could set down ground rules (though, to be honest, I really don't see that working...). In the end, my boyfriend would say, "That's OK, Mommy" and go do what he wanted to do. When things got really bad he'd simply shout at his parents and tell them how things were going to be. In his culture, he's the eldest son and so they listened to him because of that. Like I said, being out of the house has seemed to work wonders in the whole family dynamic.

I do wish you the very best of luck!

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N.P.

answers from Modesto on

Hi K.,

I'm sorry you're in such an emotional situation. But you need to get this straightened out.....

My suggestion would be good 'ole fashion "honesty". Although, it will take bravery, patience, and a soft heart to be successful I think.

Bravery-for simply the courage you will need to even bring up the issue

Patience- for when she over-reacts to you by defending herself and her husband, you will need to let her react AND still remain calm

A soft heart- would be for the love afterwards.... it might take a week or 2 to "get over" your conversation and your mom is more comfortable living with you.

Your mom has had LOTS of practice correcting you over the years, and even worse, she was probably treated the same way, so know it's "her turn" to be the "down-er". It's going to take extreme patience and a soft voice to get through to her so she can FEEL what you are saying to her.

Again, K., I think being honest with her is the only way. If not, then you might have to ask her to move out in order to maintain the love in your hone with YOUR OWN family (which is your priority now).

Good luck, K.!

~N. :O)

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D.F.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi K.,
Shane's advice sounds like a script... perfectly worded to help turn a mother's heart. What a great husband you have,he must love you very much. You need to protect that love by dealing with your mother. There is no way you should allow your husband to be so disrespected by your mom.

Does the addition include a kitchen and bathroom? Will they be totally separate from your house with their own entrance?

Perhaps your mom needs some help getting involved in some group things. Maybe a senior citizens group? Does she like to dance? Sew? Sing? Sounds like she needs to start looking outward, and make a life for herself in this new country.

Sending blessings to you and your little family. May Peace reign in your home, and love overflow!

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J.K.

answers from Redding on

LAY DOWN THE LAW -- its your house and your family and you do not want to let her break it up or make it miserable.. believe it or not, neither does she. the important thing when you do talk to her is to not be emotional. prepare your arguments ahead and have a list -- concise and concrete -- of unacceptable behaviors. offer her ways to communicate that are acceptable. this is not negotiable. if she cannot abide, tell her you will find her accomodation close so she can have lots of time with kids.

your husband should work on his spanish -- for so many reasons, not least of all that she uses it as a weapon. i know it is so much work, but imagine her frustration when she cannot badmouth him publicly. what will happen when your children understand her mean words?

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A.N.

answers from San Francisco on

No disrespect to your parents. Do remind them that they are now in a different country with different customs including child rearing. When they have been used to absolute authority over their children, no wonder they have no patience with any other way.

Did your mom get bossed around by her parents too, and does she know how else to behave? Maybe she has issues not being the boss of the house... maybe it is hard for her to be a dependent...! Or maybe she wants to see some visual respect from your husband and wants to be treated on top?

If all else fail, try a different tactics: agree with what your mom says about your husband, and see if she has any suggestions on what to do about it! It may make her feel good that you have listened to her; so don't fight her, then she might back off! I hope she does not want you to divorce your husband!? If so, then it could be your turn to get hurt and cry to her...!

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Z.M.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi K.,
The cultural issues may make this tricky, but for your sanity and your marriage, I hope you can say, 'Mom, I love you very much, and (that is key-- 'but' sounds like what you said isn't true and what comes next is. 'And' says here are two equally true pieces of information'-- at least in English) I need you to respect my choices as a wife and a mom. I love my husband and we have worked out together how to raise our daughter.' If she bad-mouths your husband say, 'Mom, I won't listen to that' and walk away. If she disciplines your daughter in a way you don't like, take her aside later and say, 'Mom, I'd much rather you'd done....'
Good luck with this!

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R.S.

answers from Sacramento on

K.

Your husband is YOUR husband. You took vows to stand by your husband and support and love and honor and cherish. It may hurt your mother's feelings but you must tell her that this is the man you CHOSE to spend your life with (unlike family which you are born into). This is the man you will continue to stand beside and she needs to respect you, respect him and learn to hush her words. Obviously you dont want to hurt her, but you will hurt your husband and your marriage more if you do not stand next to him.

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M.P.

answers from San Francisco on

Wow - you are a good person and so is your husband. I think that you should talk to your husband and come up with ground rules for the household. Then I would go to your parents and first, tell them how much you love and appreciate them. Second, we're in a new country and things work differently here. Third, here are the rules: you and your husband are in charge, everyone respects each other, no one insults the others, and the various child related rules. I would keep it as brief as possible. Then give your parents a choice. If they want to stay in the same house with you then they have to TRY TRY TRY to follow the rules. If they don't like the rules then they are welcome to find a place nearby and visit often. Tell them to think about it and let you know what they want to do. Then leave for an appointment!

I would do whatever I could to not get involved in any discussion. You are just presenting the rules and then they have a choice. Keep it simple.

Your first responsibility now is to your husband and children. You have completed the job of rescuing your parents from the old country. Now they can choose. GOOD LUCK - YOU ARE GENEROUS PEOPLE!!!

P.S. It's okay if your mother cries - let her cry. People will cry when they want to. She's not a child. She's doing exactly what she wants to do. SHe will eventually stop crying. You don't have to make her feel better. That's your her job and your father's job.

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F.S.

answers from San Francisco on

Having your parents living upstairs is not going to help your relationship any as they are there to see everything and you have no privacy. You are going to have to have a heart to heart talk with them even if there are tears. I told my father in law when he said I should not tell my kids where babies come from but to tell them you pick a baby from the cabbage patch. I went to the library and checked out aga appropriate books that did not give any detail. I told him he had his chance with his five kids and now it is our turn to raise our kids. He was great with the kids but also thought his generation was the best.
You have to tell them this is your husband, your children, your family, and your feelings and they are welcome to be part of your family but no more negative about your husband, your children, your family and your decisions. You have to be firm for your own sake and your family.
F.

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A.M.

answers from San Francisco on

I totally understand where you are coming from. In latin culture..the parents always have a say and its their way..Even though they might not say it...they do it with their actions... due to financial hardship we found ourselves living with them! I am forever grateful for their help..I too love them dearly...I would do anything for them. But i always found myself defending why we did what we did. or why he wouldnt do this or that...She has helped me raised my daughter as well..and grew very attached to my daughter..still is. I love it, but sometimes we had phone calls to tell us its late bring the baby home..or dont take the baby out... My husband would be so irritated, and sometimes i chose to do what my parents wnated because i felt like we owed them. We just barely moved and let me tell you it feels good! I defintely think they needed that separation from eachother... Nothing like having your immediate family alone. You, husband and kids. Of course if its to help your family out..these are your parents, so it can be extremely difficult sometimes..but there definitely has to be boundaries. its tought though...i can relate..Do what you feel is right in your heart. Maybe there can be an agreement you all can come to. I wish you the best ...good luck.

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L.C.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi K. ~
You say that you moved your parents, however, it seems that your mom is the only one causing the problem. Well, they have been here for 6 months now and it is time that you had a nice long chat with your mom and let her know that as soon as the addition is done that she will have her privacy and will not have to see how you and your husband live. Also, tell her that as long as she is living under your roof, that she will not disrespect your husband, your family or your home. (That's probably the way it was at her house, right?) If she gets upset, let her. Don't allow her to do any guilt trips on you either. I'd do this as soon as possible, otherwise she will drive your family apart. Good luck.

Lucy

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B.R.

answers from Sacramento on

It sounds like having a place for your folks where they would be totally independent of living with you might be the best solution. I realize that in today's economy that may not be possible... and it sounds like your parents come from a culture where the parents living with the children is more commonly accepted than it is in the U.S., which may make it difficult for them to understand that concept of separation of the generations.
Have you tried explaining that you have chosen to live here and that the cultural norms are different... and let them know you prefer these norms to what they are used to? If they are strong in their ideas this may not be easy to get across to them, but you do need to make sure they understand that it is your choice to live as you do, not that you are being forced into it by your husband. And don't tolerate any bad mouthing of your husband. You don't have to be mean about it, but gently let your parents know you chose him, you love and respect him, and that whatever they may think about him they need to keep to themselves. Also let them know that you have your disciplinary rules and procedures for your child. If they have helpful suggestions they are welcome to make them, not at the time of an incident, but at a later time when you can talk with them about it, and you'll give their ideas consideration, but that you are the parent, you appreciate what they did as your parents for you, but you will raise your children in your way. And it sounds like you need to have a strict rule that they do NOT discipline your children at all. Since you say they have private space in your home, ask them to retire to that space when things are getting sticky. They may not like it, but it's your home and they need to respect your wishes.

BTW, this comes from a mom who has experienced living for two years with our daughter and son-in-law, so I know something about the situation from the side of your parents. It wasn't always easy for me to keep my mouth shut, but I did learn... and am happy I did.

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N.A.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi K.,

I would thank your parents for their advise and let them know you are happy they are there and that they do not need to give you any more advise or cristisism as you are very happy.

Ask them to please focus on what is postive so your family can enjoy more.

Tell them if they can not play nice you have to put a rubberband on their wrist and snap them everytime they do not play nice.

Good luck.

N. Marie

J.S.

answers from San Francisco on

This sounds like a very uncomfortable and difficult spot to be put in. I have experienced similar things with my mother, but she doesn't live with us! However, I too was unhappy with her giving me so much unwanted input and so I did take some steps to protect myself and my family from unwanted advice and criticism. Your family is your treasure!

I told her my Mom I wanted to talk with her. I then let her know that I definitely see her as a resource and I WILL ASK HER when I want her advice.

For your situation, I think you and your husband (because you are a team) could sit your parents down, acknowledge that you have adopted some new cultural traditions, you love your parents very much and you will ask them for advice and insights on the children when you want it. When you sit them down, keep the conversation brief and clear. You do not need to explain or apologize.

And then, DO ask for their assistance, experiences and participation on matters that you feel comfortable with (start small).

The most helpful thing for me has been to keep in mind how much love is behind the decisions that I make with my husband. He and I cherish our little family unit and protect it out of love. Also, my parents love me and my child very much and want us to be happy and want to help.

Best of luck to you!

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M.E.

answers from San Francisco on

Your mother's behavior is appalling. They left their country and you and your husband remodeled your house and took them in. If my mother was bad-mouthing my husband after he went out of his way to accommodate them...well, I don't know what I would do but I wouldn't want her living with me. I'm going to suggest that if she (your mother) truly wants to live in the US, that she learn English. I think she'll feel a lot better living in a country where she can communicate with people. It sounds as if she's really unhappy and certainly is not grateful for the accommodations that you and your family have made. She sounds as if she's throwing a tantrum. Don't indulge her tirate.

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C.W.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi K.,
Sorry to hear about your situation. Please remember that your parents are in YOUR house. Your house your rules. You just need to come out and tell your parents, that you love them, but they must respect you and your husband. You and your were very kind to build a second story on your home for them to live in.
Good luck.

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