Inside His Head: How to handle your mother-in-law moving in

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Dear Inside His Head husbands,

My mother is planning to move in with us soon — for a while. My father passed away recently and she’s going to stay with us so she can get her finances in order and deal with her grief. My husband is worried about our family dynamic. It’s just a big change. What can I say to help with the transition?

generichead-1MICHAEL: The first thing I hope you can say is that you’ve discussed with your mother exactly how long this arrangement is going to last and that you’ve talked about ground rules for life at the house.

Because it’s your mother you’re going to be the proxy for all disagreements and snide remarks. Be prepared to deal with it. It’s understandable that this type of thing happens, however, it doesn’t sound like it’s been planned for so the best thing you can do is anticipate what the challenges will be.

remix (4)Examples are things like:

♦ Your mother doesn’t hear well so now the television has to be turned up all the time.

♦ You watch what your kids eat very carefully and your mother questions your choices in front of them.

Just having another opinion and voice around the house will make it stressful. You’ve got to make sure that you’re not consistently siding against your husband. Remember you’ve got to put with him forever. Your mother hopefully only for a short while.  Make sure he knows you realize that.

MAVERICK: I’d tell him in the nicest way possible that there’s no sense in worrying about something until an actual problem occurs.

If you mother is overbearing or generally a pain in the butt or objects to your husband breathing air or thinks him a fool, well, you or more accurately he, is hosed. But since your husband agreed to this arrangement, I can assume either he likes your mother or he’s a good son-in-law, or really just a decent guy trying to help here.

The main way you can calm his fears about your mother messing with the family dynamic is not to let her mess with the family dynamic. She’s your mother, so she’s yours to deal with where conflict is concerned. He’s the son-in-law, which gives him less power in the relationship than a bum off the street.

♦ The best way to avoid trouble with the new situation is to head it off.

♦ Make your mother feel welcome, let her pitch in and help, be there for her, be kind, be supportive, be family.

♦ Don’t let her take over your house, determine your family routine, decide what you eat or where you go or undermine your husband’s authority in his own home.

If she likes certain TV programs, get her her own flat-screen for her room – they’re not super expensive now-days and this ill will avoid conflict. Most of us guy-types can relinquish control of the remote when needed or on short trips to visit family, but don’t expect us to do it for an extended period of time and in our own living rooms.

If she becomes critical of your husband, nip it in the bud. Your mother is in a less than happy place and needs support but she doesn’t get to bad-mouth your spouse. If it starts, you have to tell her to stop. It’s your place. Fight the dynamic that says your mom is always right. Your husband does not deserve to be ganged up on.

And remember, even with your mom in the house, he’s still your husband.

Don’t let the new arrangement turn you into your mother’s daughter at the expense of being your husband’s wife. Turn things to your advantage. Let mom watch the kids so you can go out on a date or a romantic mini-vacation. Spend time together.

In short, give your mother a place in your home but don’t let her make herself comfortable at the expense of your husband’s peace of mind or your relationship. This could be a great time for your husband and your mother to become close.

He’s being a decent guy for opening up his home. Don’t make him regret it.

greg1.thumbnailGRAY: “We’ll get a cat…because your mom is deathly allergic. That way she can’t move in,” would likely be my wife’s remedy to the issue should we face a similar situation.

We’re not a culture that’s used to living with extended family and it can be a mess. The best thing is to get your husband’s worries addressed before the situation turns into a bundle of frustration, before your mother even arrives.

I would be worried about never having privacy, always turning around and finding her there, perhaps thinking I’d like to hear the 2-hour story of the summer she grew a pumpkin for the county fair.

So set some boundaries. Maybe meals are family time, but after the last meal of the day it’s understood that everyone gets some alone time, completely uninterrupted. You get the idea.

But what if mother says, “Well, I’m so comfortable here. What if I just stayed? Would that be so bad?”

The thought of having an in-law transition from temporary to permanent would push many husbands right off the edge of the cliff (and, no, that’s not just a figure of speech) but it’s easy enough to allay. Put a timeline in place. It doesn’t have to be meticulous, but don’t let “three months” become “some day.” Always move forward and don’t let a setback derail the whole works.

The most difficult issue would be personality conflicts. Does your husband fear hearing “my daughter used to date that nice boy before she met you…he’s a doctor now” or some kind of continual drone about how he’ll never be good enough? You may need to play referee for a while and make sure his head doesn’t explode. Just keep reminding him it’s only temporary.

Finally, having you on his side can carry a lot of clout. Let him know that if things don’t go as planned you’ll buy that cat she’s allergic to ensure she’s heading out the door.

Inside His Head: Mom and dad disagree about 12-year-old daughter’s swimsuit

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Dear Inside His Head,

I took my 12-year-old daughter swimsuit shopping today and she modeled it for her dad when he got home from work (she really loves it). My husband later told me that he doesn’t think the swimsuit is “appropriate” and that it’s too revealing for her to wear in public. He wants us to take it back, but I don’t want to do that. She feels good in it and I don’t think it looks bad. Should he have veto power? I obviously thought it was OK or I wouldn’t have bought it.

MICHAEL: Fun times. I’ve got to say that in most cases I’m going to default to Mom’s view on things like this.

Unless she’s purposely trying to draw attention to her body, I think you have some pretty good footing to stand on. After all, you were once a 12-year-old girl.  I don’t know how “mature” your daughter is at 12 so that couldn’t definitely play a part in his viewpoint.

Keep in mind that he’s looking at this from the viewpoint of a teenage boy so be considerate of his opinion. I think a lot of this is him worrying about her and how she’s growing up.  He’s likely concerned about all the things she has to go through in her teen years and would prefer to hold that off as long as possible.

I think what you two should probably do is tell her that you’ve talked about it and while you both have different opinions that she can keep the suit, but take the opportunity to discuss how boys might see her and let her know that there are appropriate ways to draw attention to yourself. Showing your body off as a 12 year old is not one of them.

Please avoid making her ashamed of her body though. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s part of who we are and she’s got to live with it for a long time. Make that an enjoyable time.

GRAY: Men can be strange, can’t we? We’re generally fairly rational until it comes to sports and when our daughters start acting or looking grown up.

So the short answer to your question is no, he shouldn’t have veto power over a swimsuit. But it’s no surprise that a daddy doesn’t want his daughter to grow up. No doubt he’s remembering what boys are like when they see attractive girls in swimsuits, and the reality is it’s not the swimsuit (or makeup, or clothing, etc) that’s the issue.

For a lot of men I think issues arise when their daughters stop thinking daddy hung the moon and give their affection to their teenage sweetheart – or at least look as though they’re playing the part. And even though the swimsuit may look reasonable to you and your daughter it’s entirely possible he believes it’s no more concealing than pieces of spaghetti.

I accept that my daughter wears a bikini and that in a few years she’ll be old enough I too will worry when she’s swimming in mixed company. But I will trust my daughter and wife to have sense in picking out what’s acceptable while I sit back and wonder if we should move to Canada, where the swimming season isn’t nearly so long.

Hopefully your husband will accept, as I have, that the problem isn’t the swimsuit, but a condition called “being a daddy” – a perfectly normal affliction many of us suffer from.

MAVERICK: My first response is, if roles were reversed and you thought the bathing suit was inappropriate, would you want him to overrule you and allow your daughter to wear it?

I think your husband — assuming he’s not a nut or total jerk, and for a raft of other reasons I won’t go into here — should have veto power. Just like you should in a similar situation where roles were reversed.

But you think he’s not being reasonable with the veto. You likely are right. So, in a calm and rational way, see what he objects to about the suit.

In reality, your husband thinks he’s taking care of his daughter by vetoing the suit. He likely is overreacting a bit. You clearly don’t think the suit is inappropriate. Tell him so in a calm way.

Ask him WHY he doesn’t like the suit and listen to his answer with an open mind. Remember, he loves your daughter too. Likely he’s being way too overprotective, but maybe his instincts are right, so hear him out.

Point out your daughter feels confident in the suit and that you agree that it’s a good choice for her. Be calm, make your points logically, and he’ll likely will come around.

Just remember he’s likely vetoing the suit out of an abundance of caution. Is that concern maybe old fashion and a bit misplaced? Likely so. But better a conversation with dad who is concerned than a father who just rubber stamps anything you do, or your daughter does, out of apathy, boredom or distraction.

Got a question for our anonymous panel of husbands? Send it to mamas@nwamotherlode.com and then look for the guys to answer here!

Inside His Head: Wife who doesn’t enjoy tent camping seeks advice

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Dear Inside His Head,

The weather is getting warmer and my husband is starting to talk about camping out. He loves to camp in tents, but I’m more of a cabin camper. He feels like it’s not truly camping if we stay in a cabin or RV. I don’t want to camp in a tent.

I know this is a minor thing, but it’s something that causes us to argue every year. I’d like to skip the fight this year. I know the obvious answer is to humor him, but why can’t he humor me? Our daughters are getting older and it’s a little more complicated to tent camp now anyway. Do you have any thoughts on how we can resolve this running dilemma?

Thanks.

Michael, inside his headMICHAEL: I get both sides of this. I’m not big on rv’s. My wife actually used to not be an outdoors person, but now she’s the one who wants to tent camp. But even I know that it’s not nearly as comfortable as in a cabin.

I’ll tell you what we did a few years ago. We went on an extended vacation and we split the difference. We did half of the time in a hotel and half in a tent. Having said that, your husband has an interest that he wants to share with his family. At the core of that is spending time with you in a natural setting.

If you’re dead set against the tent just explain how uncomfortable it is and that you want to enjoy your outdoors experience. That means sleeping comfortably and then spending the day well rested and enjoying the outdoors.

Your side of that bargain though is to not hole up in the cabin with the girls. Get out and spend time with him. That’s what he’s looking for.

Inside His HeadMAVERICK: Well, it seems like your husband really loves to tent camp. It’s his thing. That’s why he shouldn’t have to compromise on it.

campingLikely you have tons of things that you love that he compromises on for your sake. Probably he does this daily or even hourly.

How about you return the favor?

He clearly wants you, and your kids, to participate in his love of the outdoors. Perhaps you can, in this one case, make your participation in something he loves, unconditional?

Here’s the crux: By requiring compromise in this situation, you are changing the entire experience for your mate.

The reason he doesn’t want to stay in a cabin or an RV is, it’s not camping. That’s just staying in a somewhat modified hotel.

Your position on this is similar to saying — “My husband loves gourmet food and we go on a food-based vacation every spring but I really can take fancy food or leave it. I suggested instead of the typical food tour we just eat at Golden Coral every night. It’s food, right? Now he’s mad. What gives?”

Perhaps you should stop looking at ways to get out of the whole experience, or change it so dramatically that it’s just not the same and instead, make the best of the situation.

If it’s getting odd that your daughters are older, get them their own tent. Tents are less expensive than renting a cabin or an RV, for even a single night. And they last for years and years.

Just because you’re tent camping doesn’t mean you can’t exert some control. There’s an entire industry out there built around the concept that folks like to camp but they don’t want to be uncomfortable doing it.

So, consider the following:

  • Get a cot or a quality air mattress, if you don’t like sleeping, or trying to sleep, on the  hard ground.
  • Get quality bug spray and sun screen. Camping is way less fun with bug bites and blistered skin.
  • Get a tent with lots of mesh and/or windows, or a battery powered fan to move the air if you’re too hot.
  • Get a quality sleeping bag and good clothing if you’re too cold.
  • Get a nice sun shade if the camp area is blazing.
  • Invest in a good camp chair for yourself so you can relax in comfort. It can make a huge difference.
  • A good cooler to keep some drinks icy, even if it’s just for you, can be a godsend.

In the end, your husband shouldn’t have to water down the camping experience if that’s something he truly loves.That doesn’t mean you have to be dragged along and forced to suffer.

Decide you’re going to go on the trip and get yourself the gear you need to make the best of the experience.

Who knows, you might just have some fun.

greg1.thumbnailGRAY: My mom used to make the best pecan pie. I have several memories of eating those pies. Even still her pies are what I measure all other pecan pies against.

And that’s what your husband is doing – not giving your kids a memory of a store-bought pecan pie that you forget about the next day, but the real deal and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

pecan pieI take my daughter camping without my wife because she won’t sleep in a tent either. We don’t argue about it because we both know what the most important part is – that our daughter have fun.

And as long as she’s having fun I’m more than happy to give her the same kind of memories that I have of my dad taking me camping when I was the same age. So if I were to give advice it would be to leave it to your daughters. If they’re having fun isn’t that paramount?

And if your daughters don’t like it, then maybe the time has come to try something different. But I don’t get the impression your husband isn’t trying to get them to do anything they don’t enjoy doing already.

“Camping” in a cabin is hardly different than staying in a hotel, but being in a tent out under the stars, keeping your sleeping bag zipped up to keep the chill from the wee hours at bay is an experience you can’t capture by any other means.

It’s not a matter of not humoring you, it’s the difference between a pie anyone can grab from a store and something unique that not everyone has a chance to do. And those are the memories that will stay with your daughters their whole life.

Got a question for the guys? Email it to us at mamas{at}nwamotherlode{dot}com.

Inside His Head: Mom hates playing bad cop to her husband’s good cop with the kids

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Dear Inside His Head,

Unfortunately, it seems I have become the “enforcer” in our family and my husband is the “fun dad”. I get tired of being the bad cop, while my husbands gets to play good cop all the time. I try to be fun, but it just doesn’t work and the kids see through my act. I really want to break out of this, but I need my husband to step up and tell the kids NO once in a while or to clean their rooms. Our kids are in school and we both work, so we’re with them about the same amount of time.

GRAY: I don’t think it’s uncommon for moms to be viewed as the enforcer. I mean, I’m a grown man and if my wife didn’t insist I get my hair cut or badger me to get the garbage together every week it’s entirely likely neither would get done.

So I think you have to start out with the understanding that your husband doesn’t have the same expectations of your children that you do.

Dressing properly and keeping rooms straightened are things I’d wager most men don’t see as a high priority and will unintentionally undermine your efforts. You and your husband are going to have different ideas of what’s important.

I’d suggest three things: talk about what each of you want your children to learn and then divide those lessons between the two of you, playing to your individual strengths. The third thing? Have each other’s back and don’t contradict each other.

goldfish in bowlYour husband can make sure the kids get the garbage together and you make sure they keep their dirty clothes off the floor. Maybe he makes sure the kids feed the pets and you make sure they do the dishes after the family gets fed.

For example, in my home I have to take my daughter to the dentist (which my daughter hates). You get the picture. If that’s no good then maybe you take different roles. You’re the enforcer and he’s responsible for discipline when they don’t get things done.

And remember, fun is what you bring to the table. Homework can be just as fun as a pillow fight (well, maybe not AS much fun) if you approach it with the right attitude. Sometimes we all feel put out and resort to yelling and badgering people instead of treating them with respect. That’s no fun for anyone. When you and your children have fun together, they’re less likely to be resentful when you ask them to be responsible. Respect isn’t earned by who can yell the loudest.

Finally, kids go through phases where they’re simply going to enjoy the company of one of you more than the other.

You and your husband can say the exact same thing, but get radically different results. Don’t turn yourself into a bad cop forever because it’s how you feel right now.

Instead of trying to be fun, ask your kids what’s fun for them and then be present and loving in their company. They’ll love you for the experience and keep you from pigeonholing yourself.

Inside His HeadMAVERICK: You don’t establish roles in a marriage or in parenting in a day and they’re not something that are easy to break.

Likely your husband is the fun one because he’s sorta fun, while you have become the heavy because, well, you like the trains to run on time.

You can’t go from the role of The Terminator to family funny person in one day. But with some cooperation from your husband maybe you can both move toward a more happy medium.

There are two parts to this:

1) The first part of the plan requires your husband to do some stuff.

yes or noTell your hubby that he’s getting the benefit of your tough stance but he’s not taking any of the heat for it. He likes it when the trains run on time but he doesn’t have to pay for the ticket.

Tell him he needs to say “No” more often. When he weasels out or acts like a wimp, point it out to him after the fact. Practice your new “fun” nature here. Be nice. Be supportive. Reward him with a passionate kiss later that night for each for every “No” he dishes out, or when he oversees homework or brings the heat for wet towels being tossed on the floor.

Be sure he benefits from the new “fun” you too.

If he refuses to act, well, congratulations, you married a load. I can’t help you there.

But being Mrs. Load doesn’t not mean you can’t be fun. Just don’t TRY to  be fun. Nothing is less fun than someone trying too hard to be fun. Don’t be Fozzy Bear. “Want to hear a funny joke: Wakka-Wakka-Wakka.”

2) Ease into the new you.

Try finding a TV show or some other activity you and the kids can share, laugh over, and joke about. Try forcing yourself to be less stiff and more spontaneous. Sure, this might impact some things like — fewer vegetables may be eaten, or bedtimes might be extended here and there — but usually these little acts of rebellion result in fun.

And remember, it’s not a contest, just because you’re trying to be fun doesn’t mean your  husband has to be less fun. Try both being fun.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. It will take time. But do it. And have fun.

Have a question for our anonymous panel of husbands? Email it to mamasATnwamotherlodeDOTcom and we’ll get it to them ASAP!

Inside His Head: How can I convince my husband we should have another baby?

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Motherlode’s once-a-month feature, “Inside His Head” is written by an anonymous panel of husbands who give us the no-holds-barred truth about how guys really think. They’ve discussed gift-giving holidays, a few extra pounds (on their wives), asking for extra help with the kids, cheating and their most hated misconceptions.

If you’ve got a question for the husbands, just send it to mamas@nwaMotherlode.com and it may be featured in a future installment of Inside His Head. Now on to this month’s question:

Q: I would really like to have another baby, but my husband clams up when I try to talk about it. This is a huge decision and his input is obviously necessary.  What’s the best way to initiate the conversation that won’t make him shut down and will let me know how he really feels?

john.jpgMAVERICK: Okay, from the tone of this question it seems you expect him not to be thrilled by the concept of an additional child.

First, approach your husband when he’s relaxed but not too relaxed. Don’t bother him when he’s just sat down to watch his favorite show or he’s just gotten in from his favorite activity. If you don’t know what these are, you don’t need another kid, pay attention to your husband.

Look for a time when he’s had a decent day at work and bring up the subject after dinner when you know you’ll have some time to talk. Another great time is on a long drive or a walk. Men often converse better side to side and while performing an activity. That’s why we like stuff like golf and fishing.

For goodness sake don’t bait-and-switch him by getting a baby-sitter and going out to his favorite place to eat. He’ll be thinking it’s gonna be a sex night and you’re gonna talk reproduction – which are two totally different concepts to most men. Don’t make a big production of the discussion but if you think there are gonna be some sticking points, be ready to discuss them logically.

baby ducksIf money will be an issue, come up with ways to cut costs around the house that will actually work and that don’t involve the guy working a second or third job. If space is an issue, come up with some housing options. If child care is a problem, come up with a solution.

The worst thing you can do to your husband is to dump this idea on him and expect him to figure out how to make it work.The second worse thing you can do is “talk” to him about it without LISTENING to what he has to say.

Do you want to know how he feels or do you just want him to shut up and procreate? Look into his eyes. Do you see fear? Listen to him breathe. Does he sound like he’s just had a 747 placed squarely on his shoulders? Does he joke about dying at his desk or taking a third job or always wanting to forgo retirement for a career as a Wal-Mart greeter?

Approach the discussion carefully and cautiously. Listen and respond appropriately. And remember, you say you want to know how he feels so listen, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

jon.jpgJON: It seems as if you already know how he feels.  The question to me is why he feels this way.  Is it finances? A lack of time as a couple? An inability to do things he used to enjoy?  As per usual, communication is the key.

Communication is the main factor in a successful marriage. If a couple is able to talk to each other about everything that concerns them, they will get through just about anything.

Here are some tips to enable you to successfully communicate as a couple:

  • Respect each other in your communication. Agree on things such as no name calling, even while arguing. Don’t talk down to each other.
  • Don’t use terms such as “you always”, and “I never”.
  • Be a good listener. Use body language to let your spouse know you are truly listening. Rephrasing what has been said, to make sure you understand what is meant can help make sure there is no misunderstanding.
  • Make the tough subjects easier by bringing humor into it.
  • Don’t hesitate to tell each other what you like. Too often married couples only say what they don’t like. This can cause hurt feelings and make it seem like a hopeless situation. If you talk about the things that you enjoy and agree on, as much or more than the things you don’t like or agree on, it creates a positive atmosphere to communicate in.
  • When you notice things about your spouse that you would like to see change, remember that there are things about you that he would like to see change too. If you work on changing yourself, rather than on changing your spouse- you will see big changes in your perspective.
  • Touching, whether holding hands, or sitting against each other while talking, will keep you aware of how close you are to each other, and make it less likely that you will say things you will regret later.
  • Keep sarcasm and a mocking tone far from your conversation. These things can cause hurt, resentment, and make it harder to talk about important things.
  • When you feel distance growing, say so. There is nothing wrong with telling your spouse that you need some of his/her time. As a matter of fact, being open about such things is what will draw you closer to each other.
  • Make it easy for your spouse to begin to talk by being willing and making it clear that you are in this together. When both of you are working toward the same goal – a happy, healthy, lifelong marriage – being available to each other has to come first.
  • On things that are strictly opinion, don’t argue! Agree to disagree. If there are opinions you are not in agreement on…so what?
  • Don’t rehash the past. If something is in the past, has already been dealt with and resolved- leave it there. Bringing up the past is a communication killer. Don’t allow things that are in the past to ruin your future.

If a couple works together, agreeing on communicating effectively – the marriage can be happy, harmonious, and healthy – for life.

greg.jpgGRAY: The best approach it is to go to him with a big smile on your face and let him know you’ve just put an extra mortgage on the house and sold the car because you’re starting an ostrich farm.

Remind him that he’ll have to spend long hours after work tending to the ostriches for several thankless years if the two of you are to have hope of ever seeing any return on your investment. Make him understand the two of you will merely have fleeting minutes to spend with each other after the birds arrive and in those minutes you’ll both likely be exhausted, covered in mud and ostrich droppings, never to find each other attractive ever again.

Sound absurd? It’s not. While you may have maternal instinct to spare, a man’s first reaction may be to worry about the financial burden and time expenditure any child can represent, and already having one child doesn’t negate these fears. Even knowing the joy it is to be a father doesn’t counteract the threat another child may pose to the time he spends with the one you have, you or for himself. Often, these things feel like impassable blocks in the road and unless you can combat them he may continue to avoid the issue entirely.

What to do? Pin him down on the issue. Explain how serious the subject is to you and don’t let him belittle it as “hormonal” or equally trivializing banter. This conversation should be treated with the same respect buying a house, planning for retirement or as other big family decisions are. And make sure it doesn’t boil down to an “I want one/I don’t want one” issue.

Odds are, your husband knows you want one, but may genuinely believe it’s a passing feeling. Explain you didn’t just get the urge because your sister/your neighbor/Angelina Jolie just had one. While I don’t believe having a second child to keep the first one company is a good argument, showing the degree of thought you’ve put into the issue will lend credence to your opinions.

moneyBut what if he says we just can’t afford it? If it’s ultimately a money issue you might suggest starting a fund to offset the costs of childbirth. This may lead to a broader conversation about your own savings or how on earth you’re going to pay for college for even one, let alone two, but that’s a good conversation to have.

In the end, if we all waited until we could afford kids none of us would have them, but suggesting ideas about the financial side of things will almost assuredly let him know you’ve truly thought about the issue. And financial planning is rarely a waste of time as long as it’s kept in perspective.

And what about his claim about not having enough time to spend with the child you have? Well, I know people from large families and haven’t stumbled across one who felt unloved, but men can look at the issue and believe having a second child means the first one will get only half the love they do now. Silly? Maybe, but it’s how we think. And we also think about the time we won’t have for ourselves. Sure that’s selfish, but we all need time to be selfish, it’s just human nature.

The point is: two children don’t take twice the time it takes to raise one, love is something we have in limitless supply and millions of people have proven having multiple children doesn’t destroy the bond between a husband and wife.