Carolyn Hax: Should mom rock the boat about sons-in-law’s behavior at cabin?
One of our sons-in-law enjoys going over to the neighbors’ — who we are very friendly with — and drinking with them for hours during the day, and then again in the night until the wee hours. Then he’ll sleep until late the next morning.
That is not what we had in mind for our “family cabin,” and I resent him doing this. My husband does not want me to say anything to him, as my husband is a peacekeeper. My husband and our daughter ski together early every morning and it is the highlight of my husband’s summer to be able to do that with our daughter. Saying something to the son-in-law may jeopardize that.
Our daughter joins her husband at the neighbors at times, but is usually tending to their children while he is off doing his thing. What is your opinion of this situation?
Anonymous: My opinion is that your daughter either has or might soon have a significant problem to face, if her husband’s drinking hops the boundaries of a few sessions at the cabin.
And if that’s true, then she will need the security of her parents’ customs more than ever.
Assuming no larger alcohol issue, you present a clear side-by-side comparison of the possible costs of your options, which I hope you have the strength to evaluate with everyone’s needs in mind:
Say nothing, and the potential cost is the ongoing resentment you feel at the son-in-law’s . . . disregard for family time? long absences from child care? binge-drinking? while a guest in your home.
Say something, and the potential cost is your husband’s precious tradition with your daughter.
This will expose one of my biases, but I can’t imagine choosing to ease my irritation by taking away something a loved one builds his life around. Frustration can be managed internally — by lowering expectations, for example. It’s unfortunate it comes at an emotional cost to you, I am not minimizing that — but why are we on this Earth if not for this kind of joy, this living, in-the-moment nostalgia of a shared touchstone with a grown child? Why else do we put up with flossing and taxes and self-indulgent sons-in-law?
You can address both peril and priorities in one gesture — if you can master your own feelings, and if you and your daughter have this kind of intimacy — by asking her whether this is problem drinking or just a cabin release.
Big ifs. You need to be ready to take no and yes for an answer, since both come with burdens. You need to be ready for her to bristle at the intrusion, which is why the emotional groundwork is so important. It needs to be credible that you’re not judging and will defer to her on this.
If you can’t pull that off — I’m not judging here, either — then butting out is your best option. It’s your cabin but it’s her marriage. When in doubt, stepping back is the way to stay close.