How Do I Deal With My Daughter-in-law?

November 19, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

Dear Kathy,

     I am so upset that I don’t have the words. My only son married a girl who has made him miserable for the past 6 years. I told him over and over again to break it off with her, but every time they broke up they wound up getting back together.

     She gave him an ultimatum last year and he caved in and married her, even though there were several red flags. They fight constantly, she doesn’t pull her weight financially or in terms of housekeeping, and she is abusive when she drinks (which is practically every weekend).

     My son works full-time, attends graduate school nights to improve their situation, and then comes home to cook, clean, and do the shopping. He also does the lion’s share of helping the kids with their homework and school projects, even though she’s home most weekdays.

      My son is every bit as miserable as I predicted he would be and he doesn’t know what to do. He’s very attached to her two children as he is the only father they’ve ever known (their real father is a complete deadbeat). His concern for them is the only reason he is staying in this horrible situation with no end in sight.

     My son comes over at least once a week and tells me how bad things are over there. Instead of getting better, they are steadily escalating out of control. “Sage,” my daughter-in-law, is a selfish, lazy, spoiled brat who has taken advantage of men her whole life. She doesn’t appreciate my poor son at all and my heart breaks for him.

     Please tell me how to cope with my miserable daughter-in-law. I don’t know how to advise my son at this point. He loves those kids of hers and he is worried that she won’t take care of them if he moves out, or even let him continue spending time with them.

Thank you,


Dear Allison,

     I am saddened to hear about your son’s family situation, it sounds awful. I have two pieces of advice for you. Firstly, contact the American Bar Association (ABA) and get the name of a good family law attorney.

     Give your son the referral and explain to him that a) his presence in his step-children’s lives for 6 years likely entitles him to visitation and possibly joint custody and b) that if he completes his graduate degree prior to divorcing his wife, she may have legal claim to his increased earnings.

     My second piece of advice is for you to stop acting as a sounding board for your son’s marital issues. Your concern for your only child is understandable, however, he may be complaining instead of acting because your support is making his situation bearable. You are operating as an emotional release valve for him, enabling him to continue living in such a toxic environment. If you withdraw your participation, there is an increased chance that he will get fed up and actively change his circumstances.

     I wish both you and your son a good outcome. Your grandchildren are very fortunate to have such a caring father in their lives. Please update me on your situation.

All my best,