Check Mate: Daughters-in-Law Root of Evil

By Wendy Belzberg

Published February 28, 2003, issue of February 28, 2003.

My sons are both in their 30s, married and make more money than we do. When the six of us go out together for dinner, my husband and sons take turns picking up the check or agree to split it. But after a recent meal together, one of my daughters-in-law called to say she was incensed by my cheapness and my attitude. She says that parents should foot the bill. She has enlisted my other daughter-in-law in her cause and is wreaking havoc in the family.

— Bad table manners

I am beginning to believe that daughters-in-law are the root of all evil — or at the very least, all family evils. A smart man never wants to side with his mother over his wife, and a smart mother would never put her son in the position of having to choose. Win-win for the canny daughter-in-law who quickly figures out that she enjoys double immunity and feels free to act badly.

Some parents I know do still pick up the tab at family dinners, but there is no reason to consider this a foregone conclusion. Not only are you not obligated to buy your grown children dinner, I would think that it would be a matter of pride for your sons to flaunt their own billfolds. Invite the kids to dinner at your home so there is no check to battle over. With both sons and their wives present, tackle the topic and any bad feelings that may be there. Your sons may have more to do with this simmering subject than you originally thought. This is a family matter and should be dealt with as a family. Don’t decide how to proceed until you’ve heard from everyone.

* * *

My mother-in-law claims that my 15-year-old brother-in-law was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in fourth grade. There is no record of the evaluation. When I ask my brother-in-law what he experiences when he reads, he says that he just “doesn’t get what he’s reading.” I know from working closely with him on his homework that, in fact, he can read; he is just extremely slow. I suspect he is functionally illiterate. He knows other people will do his reading for him and is too lazy to do the work himself. Because his mother is convinced that he is dyslexic, she does nothing to encourage any progress on his part and adamantly resists my wife’s attempts — and my own — to push him to work harder. What can we do?

— Page pusher

Your zeal and obvious good intentions are points in your favor. But you stand as guilty as your mother-in-law. She may indeed be too willing to sacrifice her son to a learning disability that many accomplished individuals compensate for and to live with. You, on the other hand, are too willing to dismiss your brother-in-law’s delays as laziness. Dyslexia is but one of many learning disabilities that can interfere with reading and comprehension. Even the experts are often baffled by how the human brain receives and processes information. And you are clearly no expert. Why don’t you and your wife meet your mother-in-law on neutral territory: in the office of a professional educator and tester. While you and your mother-in-law engage in righteous debate, your 15-year-old brother-in-law is losing critical time. Let the experts decide what learning disabilities, if any, your brother-in-law suffers from and how he can best learn. Then you and your mother-in-law can present a united front and together locate tutors and the best learning environments in which he might thrive.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at wendy@forward.com.



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