Dear Annie: I know that I am very lucky to have a pair of active in-laws who love their children and grandchildren. When they are not traveling, they will bring a meal once a week to help our family and their other children’s families with suppertime. However, they seem to have a lack of interest in the lives of their children and their children’s families, which I find upsetting. Their indifference or narcissism is such that every conversation must be about them, their interests, travels, home renovations or daily preoccupations. They are blessed with substantial wealth, whereas we all work hard to make ends meet. We also focus our lives on our children and our families’ needs, priorities and schedules. When it comes to these in-laws, they never consider asking about any of our interests or concerns. For example, when we see them, they barely even say hello, let alone ask any of us about our day or our general well-being. I am sad to write that this has embittered me to the point where I not only have stopped asking about them but will only shrug or smile when I greet them instead of offering a customary “hello.” I provide little input during conversations. I don’t have any desire to engage, because I am usually ignored anyway. They’ll even feign hardness of hearing when it’s convenient. I am angry with myself and sad for changing my behavior. After treating them the way I would want to be treated for nearly 30 years, with no positive results, and after having directly asked them to be more considerate, without success, I now basically mirror their attitude. You often write about how one cannot change someone’s behavior. We need to adjust how we react. When the issue is the hurt caused by the other’s thoughtlessness, is there a better way or a solution? They are both readers of your column. It is possible that they will see themselves and be hurt by some of what I’ve written. It may also cause a temporary change. I know all about the futility of trying to change long-standing habits, trying to teach old dogs new tricks. But that would simply be a convenient cop-out to rationalize continuing thoughtlessness. We appreciate your advice and would love some guidance. By the way, my wife and I bought and your book, “Ask Me Anything,” and greatly enjoyed the insights. — Disappointed In-Law
Dear In-Law: Have faith in them. You are correct that you cannot change how someone else treats you, but you can change your judgments and expectations about people. Instead of focusing on all they do wrong, focus on what they do right. It sounds lovely that they bring over food once a week for your family. My hunch is that the more you show your in-laws appreciation and kindness the more they will show you respect and kindness back. A garden grows what you plant. What you plant will stand to thrive if properly nourished and appreciated. Please don’t change your ways of friendliness and interest in them just because they struggle to reciprocate.