Let Destructive In-Laws Continue On Their Not So Merry Ways

by admin on April 16, 2014

My sister-in-law has a preteen son with a man she has not been in a relationship with for basically the child’s entire life. Although the child’s father pays support, he is at best, disinterested in his son. He will blow off visits, not acknowledge the child’s birthday, etc.

My problem is that my sister-in-law (and my mother and father-in-law) consistently speak poorly about the child’s father. The discuss, openly and in front of the child, what a jerk the dad is, the inadequacy of his financial contributions, and their disapproval of whatever went on at dad’s house when the child does visit there. The child was quiet at first when these discussions took place, but now he is chiming in. I find it really sad that these adults are talking like this in front of the child, even if dad is a jerk. I think it is more sad that the child is now taking part in these discussions. I really only see the in-laws on holidays, and these discussions happen without fail every single time. I spoke to my husband about it, and he feels it is not his place to say anything. Should I say something? If so, what?   0401-14

If these are your in-laws badmouthing their own daughter’s ex-husband, I wouldn’t dream of offering an opinion about their behavior to them.   While their own behavior is destructive to themselves and the preteen son, none of them will be able to see that and your opinions will fall on deaf ears.   And you could be viewed as meddling.   This situation is not within your sphere of responsibility to admonish the in-laws so your husband’s counsel is correct.

What you can do is model decent, edifying behavior so that years from now your nephew-in-law might notice who is trustworthy and above petty backstabbing and seek you and your husband’s counsel.  Be prepared at the family get-togethers to change the subject with a fascinating diversion or intriguing bean dipping.

{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth April 16, 2014 at 8:15 am

I will add to Admin’s good input: the child will resent them for it when he grows older, regardless of how he feels about his father. They are poisoning their future relationship with this boy, even if the guy is a complete jerk. The adults are behaving foolishly and immaturely; if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all (especially in front of an impressionable child).


Lo April 16, 2014 at 9:55 am

Agree with this 100%. Badmouthing the other parent will come back to haunt her. Even a bad parent is a parent. A child needs no help to form an opinion of a parent who is lacking but will come to resent the negative influence others in the family are providing. He will come to wonder as he gets older why his mother is so invested in making him dislike his father, especially in the teenage years when he begins to question her judgement in a lot of things. They do this boy no favors.


anonymous April 17, 2014 at 9:06 am

My cousins (twins, now almost 30) grew up in the same type of household. Only they didn’t visit their Dad nearly as often nor had their mom receive Child support (or so the rumors were).
They are closer now to their Dad and my Aunt wonders why they are so distant towards her.


Wild Irish Rose April 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

Yup, this.


MamaBird April 16, 2014 at 8:17 am

I agree that, unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do but try to be a good example. If the child happens to say something about Dad when he is alone in your presence, you could gently say that you disapprove of such talk from him, but as for his mother’s behavior, you’re stuck.
My daughter’s father bowed out of her life quite early, and just recently tracked her down (she’s now in her late teens). I never spoke poorly of him to her, and she can now form her own opinion without my distaste colouring her judgment. Kids are smart enough, and she can clearly see him for what he is without my help.


The Elf April 16, 2014 at 8:59 am

OMG, totally not your fight. Let it go and bean dip like crazy. It would be fine if they blew off steam about the child’s father to a trusted friend or relative outside of the child’s presence, but not openly at every single family function.

I agree that it’s wrong; let the child form their own opinion. If the ex in question truly wronged the other parent (let’s say cheating) and then maligns the other parent to the child, then I could see a case for the other parent to explain (to an older child who is ready for the truth and asking questions) matter-of-factly why they are no longer together. But even this should be done with a minimum of insults; just the facts.


Wild Irish Rose April 16, 2014 at 9:11 am

I could have been that child (well, except I was a girl). My father bailed before I was two years old, leaving my mother with me and my little brother. We all lived with my grandparents. My grandfather rarely, if ever, mentioned my father, and I never heard him say anything unkind about him. My grandmother, on the other hand, couldn’t let it go. She loathed my father and never hesitated to say so. At the time, there weren’t child support hound dogs who would hunt down the deadbeat parent and make him pay, so that wasn’t an issue, but I grew up hearing nothing but ugly things about my father. I never saw him again, so I don’t know how true any of my grandmother’s complaints were, but as I grew older I began to realize that my grandmother, whom I loved dearly, really didn’t have a boatload of class. My grandfather did absolutely the right thing, in my opinion. My father may have been a deadbeat and maybe he really was all the things my grandma said he was, but unless he was a child abuser or some such thing, she should have kept her opinions to herself.


RC April 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm

This! This is why you don’t get involved, OP! And hope that your NIL turns out to be a rational, level headed and gracious as Wild Irish Rose here.


Wild Irish Rose April 17, 2014 at 8:36 am

Thank you, RC! It took a while, but I finally opened my eyes.


knitwicca April 16, 2014 at 9:40 am

I disagree with the responses.
Although I never spoke badly about my ex, he did about me. This created difficulty for our daughter. As a teen, she would often come to me and repeat things her father had said. I would always reply “That is the way he sees things. I see things differently.”

After much too long of dealing with this, I called the ex and said “Our divorce was between us. We were married. We divorced. Each time you insult me, you are insulting half of her. Half of her DNA, half of her family history, half of her appearance. If you are still angry with me, let’s meet for coffee, sit down and discuss the issues. But, please, stop denigrating half of your only child.”

Maybe the OP could take the adults in the situation aside and remind them that this boy has half his DNA, family history and genetics from his father and every slur about the father is an insult to the child.


EllenS April 16, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Knitwicca, I agree that was the right thing to do – coming from *you* to your ex. I don’t think OP is in a position where this would be appropriate coming from her, and would surely cause resentment from her SIL and parents-in-law.
We are often in a position to know a truth, but it is not our truth to tell.


lakey April 16, 2014 at 3:25 pm

“Although I never spoke badly about my ex, he did about me. This created difficulty for our daughter.”

Exactly. Your response to the father of your daughter was excellent. One parent bad-mouthing the other hurts the child. I can understand a parent being bitter toward someone who behaved like a bum, but taking part in poor behavior doesn’t benefit the child at all. A calm rational talk, similar to what you had with your ex, is better for the child.

I think that what the administrator and commenters are saying, is that the in laws are probably not going to listen to the OP.


PWH April 16, 2014 at 9:46 am

OP, I would stick with what Admin said. Unfortunately anything you might say would likely be viewed as meddling and may cause a rift with your relationship with the in-laws.
My parents separated when I was three and divorced when I was nine. My mother held off on expressing her opinions about my Dad until I was much older and had already had the opportunity to form my own. My relationship with my father now is not that great. He is more of an absentee father than anything. I accept that. But I will never feel resentment towards my mother because she didn’t attempt to poison me against my father. On the other hand, my step-father has a daughter he hasn’t seen since she was in her early teens. Her mother did her best to poison her mind, to the point where the Daughter no longer wants any contact with him (he actually doesn’t even know where she is). I feel so bad for him, in that he isn’t a bad guy and he really wants a relationship with his kid. You know the term “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”? I think once he is no longer around, the daughter will be regretting her decision and her anger will end up being directed towards her mother.


Wendy B. April 16, 2014 at 10:17 am

I think another good question to ask yourself is this: if this is how they talk about people who aren’t present, how do they speak about you when you aren’t around? Don’t give them any more fuel for their fire.


hakayama April 16, 2014 at 10:27 am

Eeeewww! Another set of unlovely in laws… The OP’s DH knows his blood, and most likely knows that any attempt at correcting his family’s behavior would be futile.
I suspect the possibility that the boy’s distant father might also keep away because he’s got the number of his child’s entire bunch of maternal relatives. Perhaps it was a matter of assessing the benefits to damage ratio…
As for the LW, since any/all contact with the ILs is not mandated, like obeying traffic laws, minimizing it might reduce the “blood boiling” moments. Again, something along the lines of cost/benefit ratios. … 😉


EllenS April 16, 2014 at 10:31 am

Agree that OP is not in a position to say anything directly. I just feel so bad for that poor kid. Wrestling with your identity growing up with a neglectful parent is hard enough. After all – half of you came from that person! When your mom and other family members are so relentlessly negative about a fundamental part of your identity – how can you not interalize that as rejection/criticism of you, on a deep level? There are so many better ways to help him deal with this difficult relationship to promote his wholeness and healing.
I hope OP can be gracious, positive and affirming toward her nephew to whatever degree she is in his life.


mark April 16, 2014 at 10:56 am

Discussing relationships is usually about as fruitful as discussing religion and politics. It’s a good way to have an argument but you’re not likely to change anyone’s opinion.


Cecilia April 16, 2014 at 11:03 am

My father and his family did this. My parent’s marriage had been rocky because my father’s family are meddlers and they took every opportunity to speak/treat my mother poorly. My father was also an alcoholic. When the abuse started, my mother left and took us with her. My father got sober and got custody of us two years later. I was eight at the time and I remember how he and his family talked so bad about her. Every derogatory slur ever used to describe a woman, they called her. They always told us she didn’t love us, etc, etc. One aunt even told me that she was my “real” mother and she had let my mom & dad adopt me when I was born (total and complete lie!). When she came to visit, she never, ever said anything bad about any of them and of course, they pretended to love her.

When I turned 16 and moved 2 states to live with her, she still never said anything bad about my father or his family. If we asked a question, she would simply state the facts and never interject her personal opinion/feelings. I asked her years later about this and I will never forget what she told me: “I loved your father despite all the things he and his family did to me and my children. They did everything possible to make me miserable and turn me as bitter as they are. I never felt the need to speak poorly of them because I always knew that, eventually, they would show their true colors, you would see them for what and all my children would leave. One by one, as soon as you were old enough, each of you left and came to me. ” Only time in my life I ever heard my mother say anything remotely negative of my father and his family.

When all you hear is what your father is doing wrong, bad, etc., especially from your mom & grandparents, it is hard not to have a negative opinion. I can only hope that OP’s nephew sees through all the talk and waits to find out what his father is truly like.

OP- there is really nothing you can do or say to stop these discussions. Try bean-dipping as admin suggested and the only other thing I can think of is when the topic comes us, try to find a way to get nephew away from the discussion. Maybe a game or movie he may be interested in or you might need to run to the store for something and invite him to come along. If you try to tell them they shouldn’t speak this way, they will turn their negative attention towards you, as well.


RC April 16, 2014 at 3:47 pm



Harley Granny April 16, 2014 at 11:28 am

I agree with the others…sadly you can only lead by example.

When I married my husband his/our son was only 5. Bad mouthing the other parents was a topic everytime we got together. I would never participate and it didn’t take long before I told my husband it had to stop. While what they were saying wasn’t untrue, I felt it was bad to do so in front of the child.
Gradually the family stopped also while Brandon was around. You could see the difference in him very quickly. He was happier and more relaxed.

As an adult he has learned what his mother isreally like but to this day I’ve always felt that he had to learn this in his own sweet time.

About 10 years ago, when he became a parent, he pulled me aside and thanked me for this. I never knew he knew I was the one that got it stopped. I think one of the Aunts told him.

Hopefully someone will do this for the boy.


Brenda April 16, 2014 at 11:54 am

I work as a legal secretary, and for several years I worked for a family law attorney, someone who handles divorces, custody, ward of the court, etc. situations.

This is a conundrum, because the in-laws are not close. But I don’t think the OP can simply take a passive role and model good behavior. It doesn’t have to be a direct interference, but the OP could take the tack that the gossiping is bothering others who were looking to enjoy the time together. It’s not easy. She will have to consider carefully how she approaches it, but she will have to decide. If the miscreants get the hint, then perhaps at a later time she can be more direct.

The problem is not just that the behavior is ill-mannered or unseemly. This behavior will have long term effects on the child’s view of himself and lead to irreparable harm. Many parents simply do not realize that in venting in front of the child, they are damaging the child. The child takes these remarks personally. He feels that if one of his parents is so bad, then maybe that badness is in him.

We had cases where the judge had to order parents to not speak ill of the ex in front of the child.

If you want to vent about your ex, do it with your friends, away from your children, and make it clear that none of what is said is to be repeated in front of the child.


Library Diva April 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm

How sad. In a recent post, we read about an ex-wife and children from a man’s first marriage who put on a disgusting display at the man’s funeral. This is where that path leads.

I agree that there isn’t much of anything OP can do, but perhaps bean-dip a little more aggressively. Rather than using the type of phrase that this activity gets its name from (“Have you tried the bean dip? It’s fantastic.”), maybe preface it by saying “I don’t think that’s Christmas/Passover/dinner talk” or “Why don’t we talk about something more pleasant?” It kind of sends the message that you see what they’re doing and don’t like it, without actually calling them out in front of this kid who will probably grow up confused enough about family.


Calli Arcale April 16, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I like that, Diva! I have a relative who likes to badmouth others, and it’s not always the right time to call her on it. That’s a good way to beandip while letting her know it’s not something you want to hear from her again. Because otherwise, you’ll just have to keep beandipping. You still might have to; these sorts of people usually don’t shut up easily. But at least they’ve had a chance to understand at that point.


Cat April 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm

One of the banes of human existance is the human ability to lie. It causes more problems than anything else I can think of at the moment.
The child does not know what his father is really like. Maybe he abandoned the family. Maybe his wife created a situation in which he could not see the boy. “Try to see him, and I’ll charge you with child abuse. You’ll go to jail!”
My older brother tells people that “I would not let him go to our father’s funeral.” The fact is that he was going on a month’s vacation, as he did every year. I asked him what he wanted me to do if Dad died while he was in the West hunting big game. “Have the funeral!”, he said, “I am not giving up a day of my vacation for any funeral!” I reminded him that, if it actually happened, he might feel differently. Would he want to call me once a week to find out how Dad was doing? His exact words were, “I don’t care how he is. I am not wasting my money on long distance phone bills!”
Dad died on June 15, 1975, Father’s Day, at 5 am. I held off having the funeral for eight days to see if brother would ever call. He never did. He found out when he stopped off in Alabama to visit some relatives on June 30th. It doesn’t stop him from lying about it.
There is nothing you can do about people like that. Their only use is as a good example of what you do not want to be.


Asharah April 16, 2014 at 6:51 pm

From all the things you’ve told us about brother, it’s probably better he wasn’t there.


Cat April 17, 2014 at 9:14 am

He usually behaves in public. Otherwise too may people realize what he is and won’t fall for the lies. He played with Mother’s corpse in the funeral home when only my Dad, my grandmother, and I were present. (Look! She’s soft!”) He behaved at the funeral.
My problem is that family who have never met me believe everything he says. Our grandmother, who was at Dad’s funeral (she was his MIL), believed him when he told her that I would not “let him come to Dad’s funeral”. She was there, knew I held the funeral waiting for him, and she still believed him. It’s like fighting smoke.


Asharah April 17, 2014 at 9:09 pm

If that’s the same grandmother who stole your stuff and gave it to your cousins, I would call that “birds of a feather.”


sillyme April 16, 2014 at 1:45 pm

I’m going to get so toasted for this, but here we go. We have adopted children whose biological parents behave abominably toward one of the children, and very manipulatively toward the other. We try not to bad-mouth, but there are times we have to:
1. Explain that their behavior is inappropriate and violates certain rules, and is not to be imitated
2. Be supportive of them when the birth parents’ behavior is hurtful, and validate the children’s feelings

Could it be that the mother is trying to affirm to the child that the birth father’s behavior is an reflection on the birth dad, not the son, and maybe she’s crossing the line?

Just a thought.
Maybe not a good one, but there you go.


hakayama April 16, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Re #1 and #2: And do it OVER and OVER? Every time the opportunity arises? Whether appropriate
or not?


EllenS April 16, 2014 at 10:58 pm

That’s great – between you and your child. That’s not an appropriate discussion to have in a group of inlaws, certainly not something to bring up for table conversation at family functions. If the mom and grandparents are bringing it up in front of other people, I don’t see how that’s affirming the child’s feelings.


The Elf April 18, 2014 at 11:09 am

It sounds like you’re being calm and factual when you talk about the bio parent’s behavior, which is different than the ranting described by OP. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but since this is a conversation held with the extended family I don’t think I am.


doodlemor April 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I really like the way that Brenda put this…

“The problem is not just that the behavior is ill-mannered or unseemly. This behavior will have long term effects on the child’s view of himself and lead to irreparable harm. Many parents simply do not realize that in venting in front of the child, they are damaging the child. The child takes these remarks personally. He feels that if one of his parents is so bad, then maybe that badness is in him.”

I’ve read in so many places that continual criticizing of a parent is very harmful to a child’s self esteem. These relatives are extremely mean spirited and tacky. By letting the behavior continue in their presence OP and her husband are tacitly condoning it to the child. Complaining about the lack of $$ support surely must make the little boy feel like he is a burden in the household, too.

This would be my hill to die on. This isn’t actually the business of OP and her DH, etiquette wise. However, the child is being harmed psychologically. IMHO this is a form of verbal abuse. I do think that OP and DH need to address this with the family. If they get angry and cut them off, so be it.


lkb April 16, 2014 at 2:17 pm

I agree with Library Diva. And, in addition, to be particularly vigilant to never say an unnecessary negative word about anyone (especially with this group of people).

Easier said than done, I know, but it’s what we should all be doing all the time.


Lanes April 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I wouldn’t assume that just because the Son hears this bad-mouthing, that his own opinion has been formed solely because of it. If the father doesn’t even acknowledge birthdays – which are about as important a day as it gets for a kid – then I’d hedge my bets on the Son deciding his father is a deadbeat all on his own.

Admin is right though, it’s not your battle, and you don’t want them turning on you either.


jen d. April 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Every child has the right to love their parent, no matter what the situation. This happens all to often. I experienced it myself, and I see it all the time as a teacher. Poor kid – these people are already influencing him. Even if the father is a deadbeat, the other adults in the boy’s life aren’t helping.


hakayama April 16, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Yes, jen d. All children have the right to love their parents… and most of them do. Even the badly abused ones. Particularly the abused ones seem to really “cling”.


FizzyChip April 16, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Ahh, the joy of in-laws! My own personal experiences of seeing this in action were devastating to the child concerned. ‘Lenny’ was (I am now divorced) my brother in law. He was the youngest of 5 boys and I had married the oldest. There was an age gap of 10+ years between Lenny and his next oldest brother, so as his older siblings grew older and found their own lives, Lenny spent his formative years pretty much as an only child with his Mother.

A family rift years before meant that he had not met a lot of his relatives who lived several hours away. In all that time, I found out later, Lenny’s Mother (my MIL) had spent that time bad-mouthing her in-laws to impressionable Lenny, who of course believed the stories. I had no idea that this had gone on, and as a DIL, I have no real idea what I could have done to prevent it anyway.

So, fast forward about ten years, when Lenny is now a handsome, smart young man in his mid-teens and my MIL’s estranged Father dies. So, us “southerners” all troop “up north” for the funeral and becasue of the distance and the fact that it was a particularly snowy winter, we decide to stay several days. We arrived the day before the funeral and stayed with relatives that Lenny (and I) had never met before, these same relatives whom his Mother had been disparaging for years. At the wake, I and several members of our family noticed that Lenny was not his gregarious self. I spoke to him, and that’s when it all came pouring out about his Mother’s poor opinion of these people was revealed. The poor lad could not reconcile that these people weren’t the monsters that he had been lead to believe. He was heartbroken.

Time of course, heals all wounds, and I am pleased to let you know that Lenny is back to his old self, but just a little wiser now. It was a dreadful time for him, but like the previous examples, goes to prove that “the truth will out” …eventually, and that young people, as they mature usually make their own way to see situations clearly.

OP, I do feel for your dilema, but I fear the only thing you can do for now, is to mention your concerns to your DH and be quietly supportive to the child in question. I sincerely hope that the child has the opportunity to really get to know his Father. Good luck to you.


Anonymouse April 16, 2014 at 8:15 pm

I hear you OP, I’m in almost the exact same situation with my own in-laws, the only difference is the child is a 5 year old boy, rather than a preteen. It’s already showing some significant damage to his development (which no one else seems to see or want to deal with). As far as the badmouthing goes, I agree with them. BOTH parents are terrible people, but I would never tell Nephew that directly. It breaks my heart to watch.

Just gotta keep doing what you’re doing: Refuse to participate in the conversation, try to be a positive, stable part of the kids’ life. If possible, maybe play a little devil’s advocate with the in-laws, and try to bring in some positive among the negative? (If not, beandip beandip beandip)


HGP April 16, 2014 at 9:50 pm

My ex-husbands family used to speak the same way about his younger brothers father. I knew the kid from age 4-14, and would make a consistent effort to distract/entertain/engage my little brother-in-law when the subject of his fathers inadequacies/failings came up.

I agreed wholeheartedly with *what* was being said, but thought it very poor that the kid heard any of it – and that it was dinner table discussion points…

I’m not sure how well my distraction worked, but it meant i learned a LOT about my little bro-in-law that maybe i wouldn’t have otherwise, he would always come to me with stories/questions about school, friendships, and later, girls! we had a great relationship, and i like to think he thought so too.


Shyra April 17, 2014 at 12:53 am

This is a tough issue. While one parent should not needlessly bash the other, there are times when one parent must explain the other parent’s behavior to their child. My father is a sociopath and a pathological liar. I can’t go into details in this comment but suffice it to say he is not the kind of man you want to raise a child with. When my mom found out about some of his more dubious activities, she left him. He moved around the world a lot and always wanted me to go visit him. My mom wouldn’t let me go and when I was younger I would get mad and blame her for not letting me go visit my father. She explained to me the kind of man he was and why she wouldn’t let me go on an unsupervised visit. She didn’t want to leave me alone with him in another country where he could kidnap me and she would have no legal recourse to get me back. She did not insult him for the sake of insulting him, rather she told me the truth about the kind of person he is.

I don’t have a relationship with my dad but it’s not becaused my mom “poisoned me against him” it’s beside I read police reports about him and listened to my mom’s stories and decided he is not the kind of person I want to associate with. He never reached out to me either past age 8 so it’s not one sided.

I know my story is more drastic than the one OP posted but I just wanted to defend the moms that seem to bash the other parent. You may not know the whole story and sometimes it is for the child’s safety to know the truth about their parent. There is no reason to pretend deadbeats or criminals are saints just because they managed to pass on some DNA.

That being said I still do not believe that a parent should lie to their child because of their own bitter feelings about their divorce. The needs of the child should always come first.


JO April 17, 2014 at 5:55 am

I don’t think you’re wrong. But this doesn’t sound like a situation where the mother is explaining anything to the child. She appears to be engaging in negative discussions with her parents in front of not only the child, but everyone else gathered there, and it is causing others discomfort. It’s true that the mother may need to tell her son, at some point, that the father’s absence is due to his poor life choices or mental health difficulties. But in front of the whole family, in negative terms, and at every single family gathering – totally not appropriate.


just4kicks April 17, 2014 at 4:33 am

My best friend in high school had parents who were in the midst of a very nasty divorce. For months, she spent weekends at my house because when she was at either her mom or dad’s house, they would say the most hateful things about each other to her and she was an emotional mess. Her relationship with both parents suffered and she told me she often felt like a “chew toy caught between two pit bulls”. She moved in with her boyfriend the day we graduated, and the fighting affected her for many years after the divorce. In the heat of the moment it may feel good to bash the offending parent, but it can leave emotional scars for a very long time.


Thistlebird April 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

You’re right about this, admin, of course, but I got to thinking: might there be some pleasant, socially-approved phrase she could use to gently hint at the inappropriateness of this? She’d only have the right if the bashing was being done in a conversation she was involved in (e.g. around the table at supper, etc) but if someone does bring up a destructive topic like that in a social gathering, it’s an offense to the “spectators” as well as to those involved: it’s wrong to make someone else the captive audience to that kind of ugliness. So maybe it would be appropriate, prior to bean-dipping, to say pleasantly: “Well, since we only have one day together, maybe we could talk about something more pleasant!”


Daphne April 17, 2014 at 10:31 am

I would want to say to your in-laws, “So what do you think it says about YOU two that your daughter picked such a bum to have children with?” Don’t people realize that while trashing a S/DIL they are also impugning their own parenting skills since it means they raised children with horrible judgement? In addition, during these rants they are also insulting their own child for being stupid enough to choose to have children with such a loser.

But I do agree with admin. and most of the posters here that this is probably not a fight you should get involved with. Maybe you can convince your husband (by showing him this blog?) to say something privately to his parents about the effect all this negativity will have on the boy– but if I were you I would stay out of it.


Lisa April 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm

I’m probably not going to get many who agree with me, but if it were to happen in MY house during MY get-together, I would certainly start with a “OK! Lets change the subject!” or something to that nature. If that didn’t work, I would (or my husband would) speak to the culprits privately and ask them to nix the nasty talk while in our home.


Cecilia April 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

Actually Lisa, I do agree with you. If they came into *MY* home and started bashing the ex, I would go with the wording you used above or the wording Library Diva proposed about it’s not talk or let’s talk about something more pleasant. Of course, they would use that to talk about you/me on the way home!


Cecilia April 18, 2014 at 8:32 am

Oops- forgot to write “holiday” between “not” and “talk”!


MichelleP April 17, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Been there, done that, in every way. My father badmouths my mother to this day and they’ve been divorced for 30 years. She did nothing to him, either. The only person he made look bad was himself. My mother handled it gracefully when we were kids; she never talked bad about him in front of us.

My sister trashes her ex and her current husband in front of both of her kids, one who is a teenager (from the ex) and one who is five (son of the current). I put my foot down about her doing it in front of me; I don’t need to hear it.

Just set a good example and change the subject, OP.


Zellie Crescent April 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

My sister trash talks her ex fiancé in front of their daughter and just doesn’t care, it’s the only time she ever talks about him and it’s always hateful. The only thing that brought on this much rage from her is the fact that he exists, and she doesn’t let you change the subject either she just spews out hate. God help you if you try to defend him or tell her their daughter shouldn’t hear it, she’ll just rip into you and tell you she can say whatever she wants in front of her daughter and start telling her stuff about you. She almost never let’s her see him and blames it on him, and she calls him every name you can think of: deadbeat, loser, scumbag, etc. when we know he’s really tying to be a good father for his daughter but my sister won’t let him.


Fiona April 18, 2014 at 11:14 am

One of my mom’s favorite pastimes has always been passing judgement on other people. As a kid, I was secretly very depressed by her talk but I didn’t have the confidence to speak up. Even if it’s not aimed at me, I feel vulnerable when witnessing such judgy behavior.

I feel deeply sorry for your nephew-in-law. When mom is judging dad, she is in a way judging her own son. No fragile pre-teen ego should be subjected to such torture. Sadly, nephew seems to be getting adult approval by joining in the trash talk.

Ideally, you could bean-dip by asking questions about nephew’s other interests, plans and activities. As a pre-teen, I’m sure he has some hobbies and interests that are worthy of conversation.


wrybird April 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm

I’m with the folks suggesting phrases along the lines of “let’s talk about something more pleasant while we’re all together” and/or inviting the kid to do something else when the topic comes up. If they notice a pattern and ask about it, she can say she isn’t comfortable with the situation. They probably wouldn’t though. It’s true that this is not good for the kid. It’s also true that intervening directly won’t stop them and may damage relations…which could be important if this kid ever needs some help sorting things out for himself. OP and her husband are one more set of people he can turn to.


Enna April 19, 2014 at 6:30 am

I think changing the subject would be the best idea or suggesting that the child does something else. My parents have split and one parent has been horried to the other one – I still talk to them both and neither have bad mouthed or said anything untrue.


Emily April 21, 2014 at 4:16 am

to be honest, me and my mother bad-mouthed my father quite a lot, but it never coloured my opinion. maybe it was because i was older?


The Elf April 21, 2014 at 9:36 am

Probably. Being older, you would have formed your own opinions based on experience and are less impressionable.


Todd December 8, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Stand up for the kid!

Stand up for anyone who needs it. Stand up for that kid as soon as you possibly can. Not in front of him, mind you, in private and seperatly with mom and grandma (and hubby). Give them room to save face, and make your intentions clear: if it doesn’t stop, you will obvioisly and immediately bribe that kid to leave the room
With you. Every time.

Because sitting there while abuse happens *ls also abuse*.

You go get ’em.


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