Wednesday 21 February 2018

Dear Mary: My sister-in-law's behaviour towards my dad is all wrong

Mary O'Conor

My mum passed away a few years ago and I am an only girl with several brothers. We all share a lot of time with our dad and include him in our plans, entertainment and holidays. Our dad lives alone and is elderly, so between us we ensure his house is well stocked, clean and tidy.

My brother got married last year and we all welcomed our sister-in-law warmly into the family. They dated for a long time before marriage.

My sister-in-law frequently remarks how hard up they are for money despite the fact that she has a good permanent job. It's also proving difficult to get any official wedding photos that include our side of the family. Most gifts and presents go unacknowledged but my brother will always say thank you.

We all have to meet up separately to catch up as it's not possible if our sister-in-law is present because she monopolises our dad and the conversation.

Her behaviour with our dad is completely over the top. She always makes reference to how well our dad is looking, how attractive he is and body hugs him on arrival and departure.

Our dad has keys to all our homes and was kindly putting out a bin while I was away. While there, he got a call from my sister- in-law to assist her as her car was broken down.

Our dad must have panicked because he left my house unsecured. Fortunately, I was not burgled. This is highly unusual for my dad so we can only think he must have been stressed.

Our sister-in-law has car trouble frequently and has even had our dad changing punctured wheels.

We are perplexed as to what to do and it appears in the last year our sister-in- law has taken to flirting blatantly with our dad. I attach a recent birthday card she sent our dad, the content of which I deem highly inappropriate.

Our brother has other work problems so we don't want to cause him stress and upset but we do want our sister-in-law to respect us and our dad and conduct herself more appropriately.

Do you have any advice?

Mary replies:

It seems that things changed when this couple got married as this is when what you perceive as flirting began. Have you other sisters-in-law or were you the only female in the family after your mother passed away? If you are, then do you feel that she has usurped your position? Because what is implied in your letter is that she is the one that is at fault for just about everything.

Despite having a good job, she complains about lack of money, her car breaks down a lot, she doesn't say thank you for presents and is very late with the photos of the wedding. She hugs your father a lot and sent him an inappropriate card.

In her defence, I would say that if one is used to two salaries coming in and suddenly there is only one, that makes quite a difference.

Her car must be old, wedding photos are notoriously late, she might come from a family where people hug each other a lot and I didn't think the card was particularly inappropriate.

She may assume that your brother does the thank-yous in your family and she does them in hers.

Her own father may not have been much of a father, or he may have died when she was very young and she sees your father as a father figure.

I can see how this would irritate you because she is not his daughter, you are. Your father was not necessarily stressed because he left the house unsecured. As he is an elderly man, he is allowed to be a little forgetful, and when older people are taken out of their routine or what they had planned to do hasn't happened, they can become momentarily distracted. This may have happened to your father.

You don't say how your father is reacting to all of this, and as you are all united in ensuring his happiness then that is what is most important.

If he is happy with the extra attention that she is giving him, then there should be no problem.

If there is anything in her behaviour that her husband is unhappy with then surely it is his place to tell her.

So my advice is for you to be led by how your father is around her and if all seems well then do absolutely nothing.

If, however, your father appears uncomfortable then by all means go ahead and speak with your brother when you think the time is right.

Irish Independent

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