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My in-laws came over to our house yesterday. Their visit was very tense as my wife and I had decided to begin confronting the issue of my mother-in-law’s spending habits, especially concerning our children. She is a spendthrift and she would rather spend every penny she finds instead of saving anything for her retirement and increasing medical expenses. We are very worried for her and her impact on their finances and we’re just as worried that she will spoil our children.

At my in-laws’ house, my wife’s old bedroom has been forcibly converted into a huge storage area where my mother-in-law drops off her purchases. When my wife went over there a few weeks ago to get the last of her remaining belongings, she found bags stacked upon bags of new clothes shoved into her old closet that have never even made it out of the shopping bag that brought them home. These bags were from early winter or even before, considering the dust that had settled on these bags. Simply put, my mother-in-law has a problem.

When they arrived at our house yesterday her arms were full of junk that she had bought for our daughter: A huge shopping bag full of dresses and hats (my daughter hates wearing hats), a plastic doll bought at a flea market, a little purse, and a few other useless trinkets. Upon seeing this pile of crap it became clear to me that my mother-in-law is trying to pass her ideals on to our daughter instead of respecting our wishes. The doll immediately went into the trash considering it was far from safe for a 17-month old and the risk of lead-based paints brought by purchasing cheap, unmarked toys. The trinkets also found their way into the trash since we are trying to avoid clutter in our house. The dresses that will fit will be added to her wardrobe, but the rest will be donated along with all the hats.

We have complained numerous times to deaf ears that we do not want them to purchase anything for our daughter, especially without consulting us first. My mother-in-law simply has no concept of what is and isn’t safe for children and she cannot control her urge to purchase nearly everything she sees. This trip finally forced us to take corrective action to prevent this problem from growing. On their way out, she tried to sneak a $20 bill to our daughter without us noticing. This sent me over the edge. What in the world can a toddler do with a $20 and why does she refuse to respect us and the boundaries we have set?!? We have decided that she is an unsafe influence on our daughter. If she is blatantly trying to undermine us now, how bad is it going to get in the future?

The unfortunate consequence of this is that we are going to have to further restrict their interaction with our daughter – which is a real shame since my father-in-law is a blameless victim in this fight. I am in the process of drafting a contract that we are going to make them read, understand, and sign that clearly lays out our wishes and the rules concerning respect for our family and our rules. So far, I have included notes such as:

  • You may not purchase anything for our children without asking our permission first.
  • You may not give any amount of money directly to our children and you must ask for permission before giving money to us for them.
  • You must respect and obey the rules we have set for our household and our children at all times and in all locations, regardless of if we are present.

It really breaks my heart to have to do this, but it all comes down to the one important principle: We are the parents and it is our house, our family, and our responsibility to set the rules governing them. I really didn’t want to have things end up like this, but you eventually have to put your foot down. Hopefully this will cause my mother-in-law to notice her problem, but I am doubtful this will bring anything but guilt trips.

As a parent, you cannot be afraid to stand up for what you believe is right for your household and your family. Sometimes it means you have to step on some toes, but that is all part of being a good parent. It’s painful at times, but it is too important to ignore.