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Tug of War

An International In-Law Tug-of-War

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I came across your column and could instantly relate to it. I’m in a dilemma right now. My husband has been very close to his joint family, which is full of aunts and grandparents and he has very close relationship with all of them. Due to job requirements we had to move out of the country where his family resided.

After we moved his families interference increased in our life. Eg. they began to force me to get pregnant. Each trip to their country, they will try to pressure me for the same. Out of courtesy I did not say much because I only get to meet them once a year.

Then we had a kid and this drama became ten folds.  My husband began to insist that all the major festivals and functions happen at his place. His first birthday was hosted at his family house. I agreed to it in the light that my husband is very attached to his family and I would not want to hurt him. But this monopoly has gone too far.

They come to stay with for six months at a stretch (I adjusted with that) and after they leave they want to be online on video chat with him/my son all day until they go to sleep in their country (Still bearable). He is just 2.5 year old and I am deeply attached to him. Now my husband has recently started complaining that his son is not enough attached to his family and hence we should send him to live with his parents for a year. This is just unacceptable for me. He wants his son to learn all the culture of his country and get attached to his grandparents like he is.

I love my son dearly and cannot bear to be away from him for a year. This has turned into nasty fights. I don’t know how to deal with this situation.

Please help.

Regards,
A Desperate Mom

Nope nope nope. This is not okay. None of this is okay.

Your in-law problem is, actually, ranking lower on the totem pole than your marital problem. As overbearing as his family may be, your husband’s behavior is even worse. He’s being controlling, unreasonable and downright cruel. To you and your son: No 2.5 year old should be sent AWAY from his MOTHER for some weird, year-long international bonding experiment. The mere fact that he suggested something so drastic is strange. The fact that he’s now double-downed on the idea to the point of “nasty fights” is actually scary. You saying “No, I will not send our toddler out of the country and away from us for a entire year” should have been the be-all, end-all to that discussion.

I know there are obviously some fairly major cultural issues going on here, but you’re describing an escalating pattern of selfish demands and bullying from your husband. You keep saying “okay, this is bearable, I’m adjusting, I don’t want to hurt his feelings ” and he keeps demanding more and more concessions from you, without any type of compromise from him. (Hey, what about spending time with YOUR family?)

I mean, honestly. Your son is 2.5 years old. Just how “attached” is he supposed to be to these family members? How much “cultural appreciation” does he expect a child that young to absorb? Your husband’s unfair/unrealistic expectations are extending to his child, I think. He’s a toddler. His relationships with his extended family can not, should not take precedence over his bonding with his PARENTS, which is exactly what this proposal is doing. It is wrong. He is wrong.

But what should you DO about it? This isn’t super easy advice to give because frankly, I’m worried for you. I try not to make huge leaps in judgement based on a few paragraphs (and doubly so when English is not the letter writer’s first language). But even just your few paragraphs clearly lay out an escalation pattern of demands, control and isolation. It’s all his family, all the time, nothing else is as important, you give them respect and courtesy and now they’re literally demanding temporary custody of your CHILD. Who knows what they’ll ask for next.

So no, you will not send your child out of the country. You will not give him over to the care of your husband’s family. Where he goes, you go.

How you proceed depends on how your husband reacts when you put your foot down and tell him that particular discussion DONE. OVER. You will not hear another word about it. If he accepts, you two still sound in dire need of some couples’ counseling. He needs to step back and realize there’s “being close to my family and keeping them involved despite geographical challenges” and then there’s…what he’s doing. This demand was unreasonable, and possibly due to his own baggage surrounding having to move away and maybe some cultural guilt, but it’s not fair that he take that stuff out on you and your child. (Who I promise you, wouldn’t want to spend a year away from YOU, either!! How tremendously disorienting and scary for such a young child.) Get a therapist, a counselor, one for both of you, ideally.

If your husband continues to pressure you to agree, or the “nasty fights” escalate to a level of emotional, verbal or physical abuse, you need to start looking at safe ways to extricate your son and yourself  from this situation. Where is your family? Can they help? Can you take your son to visit them? Get a break and some distance from your marriage and do some deep soul-searching on how you’re being treated? I don’t know what country you’re in so I unfortunately cannot offer specific local resources for you, but if you need them, you can get in touch with us privately and we will do everything we can to track down any help you need.

And yes, I included a worst-case scenario here, and I’m suppppppppper hoping that my spidey-sense is way off here and your husband just needs to be looked dead in the eye and told NO, I’M NOT DOING THAT. STOP ASKING. IF YOU BRING IT UP AGAIN YOU WILL SPEND THE NEXT YEAR (AND BEYOND) WITHOUT EITHER OF US, OKAY?

Perhaps as your son gets older your husband will be able to chill out about this imagined lack of “attachment” with his family and culture. (It’s not a lack of attachment! It’s called being a two year old!) Perhaps he’ll feel better if you two make a effort in your own home to teach and celebrate those cultural traditions. YOUR his family now, after all. And he really, really needs to be put you first. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, and wish you the best of luck with this situation.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Caroline

    Please also seek legal advice, this sort of thing happens in certain cultural groups and is completely unfair and wrong. Unfortunately by trying to compromise, you have been trampled on, so getting back ground and being strong is going to be very hard as they / he have huge tantrums when they don’t immediately get what they want. Your child lives with you. If needs be, you take his passport and give it to someone you trust for safekeeping. I know I sound insane and paranoid, but please, just do this. Do not even go and visit with the child to their country because you may find yourself trapped there OR forced to leave without your son. You need to find your inner Mama Bear and require urgent counselling intervention and support. Your husband needs to have his attitude adjusted immediately. Please, if your family is around, get them to help you with this and don’t do it alone.

    • kefi18

      Your advice reminds me of what happened in that movie, “Not Without My Daughter.” They went to Iran to visit her husband’s family and ended up being held hostage there for several years because her husband wanted to stay and wouldn’t let them go home…terrifying.

    • Gaby

      I was just thinking the same thing. Please ensure safe keeping of his passport outside of your home and seek legal guidance. If your son goes for a visit with his father it will be a long and difficult process to get him back. Prayers for your situation.

    • FCC

      I’m an attorney and have worked on heartbreaking international custody battles, and this letter sets off all kinds of warning bells. I’ve made a few leaps based on some turns of phrase in the letter, but please do not under any circumstances let the child visit the county or have the grandparents take the child. You, as the mother, have few, if any, rights in many of the countries where this is the norm, and once your child sets foot on that soil, you may lose the right to claim custody. The letter writer’s circumstance is typical when one side of the family (usually father’s) wants a child raised in the father’s country, usually by the father’s parents. Nothing short of actually having the child raised by the fathers family will appease them. There is little that can be done to get the child back once the child enters certain countries, regardless of your intention or the fact that you are the child’s mother.

      Immediately lock up the child’s passport, seek counsel from a good lawyer, and reach back out for resources. Possibly alarmist, but don’t let your husband go out with the child alone unless you physically have the child’s passport. I had a client whose saga started when her husband said he was taking the children out for a movie. Please be safe, and do not underestimate the cultural pressure that may exist to return the child to your husbands home country. Some parents genuinely believe being raised by grandparents in the home country is the absolute best thing for a child, and even more important than a child staying with his mother. This pressure doesn’t often materialize until the child is a young toddler, and especially if male.

  • Meg

    In some cultures, it’s the norm for a young child to go their grandparents for a year or more. We have Filipino friends who do this. The idea of not doing it is tantamount to child abuse in their minds and they clearly pity us for not having the relief from childcare and language opportunities, and our kids for not having that relationship and year of spoiling from their grandparents. If this is the case, they need a good cross-cultural marriage counselor, because both caring parents are going to be SURE they are right and have the best interest of the child at heart (and both cannot have their way).

    • Sarah

      Thanks for this insight. I wasn’t familiar with which cultures OP’s husband might be coming from so I appreciate the context. Second the recommendation for a culturally-sensitive counselor. This is way outside of my (east coast upper-middle class) norm, to the point where I almost don’t feel comfortable weighing in on it!

  • Holly

    This sounds so haunting familiar to discussions and family intrusions with my EX husband – who’s mother is French, and by gawd, my ex-husband refused to stand and say the pledge of allegiance in elementary school because he’d been so brainwashed that he was really and truly French (he was born in the USA, btw). SO. I’m a scared for the OP and her son. The best thing I could do was to get divorced, and have joint legal and physical custody. Though I would worry for the OP that he may find a way to send their son to the home country (divorced or not) and would highly recommend legal advice. Also, is the home country part of the Hague Convention? That makes it much easier to return US Citizens if they are kidnapped by the other parent.

  • Jenn Rosenberry

    I don’t disagree with anything said, just want to reiterate that if you let your child go to stay with his grandparents – if you give in, essentially – they will never send him home, and it’s clear your husband will support this. He will stay in their country, with them, until he’s much much older. They won’t see it as kidnapping, and probably are acting out of love (I’m an optimist). But when you’re having conversations with your husband and trying to decide what to do, keep that in mind. If you let him go to stay with them, he will never come home again except possibly for visits (and my guess is you will be visiting him). You will no longer live with your son in any meaningful way. It’s incredibly obvious from reading your letter. Good luck to you, this is a very hard situation.

  • lindsay

    I don’t know what country you are in, but please be careful. Take other’s advice and secure your child’s passport. If you allowed him to go, once he was there, your inlaws may refuse to send him back to you. And in some countries, you would have no legal recourse. You may never see him again.
    Honestly, until this is resolved, don’t leave your husband alone with your child.

  • Dee

    She really has to start saying no, true. Also, She needs to learn about her rights where she is and where the family is because laws are different. The family may have the right to keep the son if she lets him visit, which may actually be the goal of the pressure. She should under no circumstance visit with the child or allow the husband to alone take the child to visit people like this if she can’t be sure the husband sees this is not right (and I would say until the child is much older).

    Family rights and laws vary by nation so she may actually need legal advice about both where she lives and the home country if this has gone as far as it seems. In the US one usually cannot take the child abroad legally without both parents consent, but in practice if the husband is conspiring to do this he may not care about the laws and people have lost access to their children this way.

    Also, if the family pressure was about getting them having the child even before, they may now not think they need her anymore as long as they can get their hands on the child… this may be even more likely if the husband is from certain countries or the eldest son or the child is seen as heir to the family (not just monetarily, but culturally depending on religion and culture) rather than simply a grandchild.