I come from Eastern Europe and have no immediate family in the U.S. I am married to an American — who is a middle child with two sisters — and we have two kids ages 2 and 5. My husband is a career firefighter and has a second job.
I have a master’s degree from a fancy university — I got it while working full time and being pregnant twice — and have a decent job. We are hustling, but still struggling financially due to daycare costs, and because we both started from zero.
I see my in-laws treating us differently from my sisters-in-law in big and small ways. For example, my mother-in-law bought shoes for my nieces for a wedding, but not for my daughter — even though they all wore the same dresses.
She watches the other kids, and tell us that she was too tired to watch ours when we needed help. My father-in-law has refused to bring our daughter to practice because he wanted to watch the oldest niece play the same sport.
He also paid for my niece’s sports equipment and practice fees — as did my husband — and he went to her games religiously, but no one gives us anything toward our daughters’ sports expenses, nor do they come. The list goes on and on and on.
‘My in-laws gave my sisters-in-law money for their houses, paid for their weddings, and contributed to repairs and upgrades.’
Our daughter is starting kindergarten. We sold our starter house in August 2020 to upgrade, but of course things got out of hand due to COVID-19. We were able to land a house just recently. We had to pay a lot more than we had anticipated.
I know that my in-laws gave my sisters-in-law money for their houses, paid for their weddings, and contributed to repairs and upgrades. They know how much we struggled to find a suitable house. We got nothing.
My sisters-in-law also told me that they can get their parents to do anything. My husband never asks for anything unless we really need it. We did share that we are struggling, but they don’t seem to care. We are working really hard.
I feel like a hamster on a wheel going nowhere. I feel completely abandoned. I feel my sisters-in-law had a lot more opportunities than me, and they did not take advantage of them. They were able to get handouts instead.
Should you not treat your kids equally, materially and otherwise? Is it that we do not constantly ask for things, but they do? And how do I get over this and make sure that my kids do not notice the difference in how we are treated?
The funny thing is that my in-laws made my husband the executor of their estate. They are all decent people, but seem to be oblivious to this one aspect of their family life.
Sick of Hustling
Let me answer your questions in the order you asked them.
No. 1: In an ideal world, yes, it would be nice to treat your children equally. But parents have favorites, they sometimes treat daughters differently from sons, and sometimes get bogged down in petty tit-for-tats that can go on for years, even decades. This bean counting of who gets what can clock up thousands of hours of conversation among spouses and siblings over a lifetime.
Here’s a tip: Don’t spend your time wishing people behaved in a way that was fair or equitable, and feeling sore if they don’t behave in the way you expect them to. Focus on living up to your own ideals, and let other people live by theirs. Otherwise, you will become consumed by bitterness — and grow so accustomed to feeling that way that it will become part of your home, like unsightly wallpaper.
‘Don’t spend your time wishing people behaved in a way that was fair or equitable, and feeling sore if they don’t behave that way.’
No. 2: Do you not receive enough from your in-laws because you don’t ask for enough? Maybe. Maybe not. Does it matter? Do you honestly want to spend your life asking for stuff from your capricious in-laws, and play that game of take, take, take? We live in a messy world full of imperfect people. It’s a crapshoot. Say thank you when they offer you a gift, and smile when others receive a gift of their own.
You have achieved so much already: Your children have shoes on their feet, a roof over their heads and food on the table. Surely it feels better to have done it on your own. Is that not a stellar example to set for your children, and an empowering way to live your life? Every time your nieces get a new pair of shoes, light a candle and wish them the best of luck each time they put them on.
‘Your in-laws have given you a gift: Your children can see that not everyone is treated with the same regard in life.’
No. 3. Your in-laws have given you a gift: Your children can see that not everyone is treated with the same regard in life, even if it’s unfair or does not seem right to you. You and your husband can impart to your kids how important it is to make everyone feel valued and loved. Say, “Yes, Mary and Jane have new shoes, but we don’t measure our self-worth based on what is gifted to us.”
Do your best to treat your children with equal respect and attention — they may have their own interpretation of that as teenagers or young adults — and endeavor to do the opposite of what you see your in-laws do with their own grandchildren. By recasting yourselves as equanimous adults rather than choleric children waiting for handouts, you will hopefully occupy a higher, more peaceful ground.
No amount of shoes or sports equipment will get you there first.
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