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How to Handle A Controlling Son in Law

Dear Didi,

Can you please tell me how to handle a controlling son in law? He always insists on calling the shots and the decisions he makes aren’t ones I always agree with. How should I handle him? The decisions are about how our grandchildren treat us.

-Grandpa, Seattle, WA

Dear Grandpa,

The dilemma of how to handle a controlling son in law is complicated. It's too bad you cannot talk to him face to face to tell him what you think. You might assume that he is not a listener. You can't go to your daughter sounding like the class snitch who tattletales on the kids who aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing. You're disappointed that your grandchildren are picking up on his feelings toward you. At a gentle family gathering try to bring up the fact that "Little pitchers have big ears." Chances are if he stops saying negative things about you in front of your grandchildren, they will like you more. Nevertheless, if he is jostling for a position to put his own parents forward as favorites, he should still show more respect. Should gentleness fail, you may have to ask your daughter for guidance. At any rate, coming out in the open and being honest about how you feel would be a positive move on your part. At least you will know that you tried.



Meddling Mother in Law

Dear Didi,

My daughter-in-law is an incredible person, as a mother and wife. I’ll even brag and say she works at a B-level job. All this hasn’t come without oversights, most of which are the babysitter’s fault. My small grandchildren have despicable eating habits. Processed foods, too many carbs, and when I stop by at meal time they’re very rarely eating fruit or green veggies. One night their dinner consisted of pasta and sweet potatoes.

I don’t blame my daughter-in-law, a working mother, because I see different fruit and vegetables in the kitchen fridge. I would like to give the very sweet and otherwise excellent full-time babysitter a lesson in nutrition and the food groups, but I don’t know how to politely broach the subject. Any ideas?

-Evelyn, Boston

Dear Evelyn,

I don't mean to sound like a meddling mother in law, but the baby-sitter's eating habits are funneling into the children. Change what she eats and your grandchildren will be eating more nutritious snacks and meals. Chances are your son and his wife would welcome gentle help. You are not going to change eating habits with one lesson. It will take a certain amount of commitment of your time for palettes to change.


Phrase the nutrition lessons as a series of 'table manners lessons' where you stop by the house at mealtime several times a week to reinforce such table manners as sharing that last popsicle. If they like french fries, make carrot fritters and let your grands participate. Showing the babysitter how to make simple healthy alternatives will be worth your time. There are many books online and off with simple nutritious dishes for tots that you can share with the babysitter, and your son and his wife will be eternally grateful. Try Jessica Seinfeld's website doitdelicious.com to find delightfully easy recipes for healthy children from her book, "Deceptively Delicious."


Oh, and don't forget to throw in such table manners lessons as "No elbows on the table" and "May I please be excused," etc. Mealtimes are the ideal time to teach 'please,' 'thank you' and 'you're welcome,' as well as to improve nutritional habits.



Getting Back Together

Dear Didi,

I recently became reacquainted with an old beau who is interested in rekindling our old romance. After many emails, he finally sent me a photo. He is quite handsome, BUT, he was wearing an earring and a man-necklace. I like everything else about him, but men with earrings and neck chains is not my thing. In fact, it is a complete turn-off. What should I do? Should I just bow out of the situation or ask him how important wearing this jewelry is to him? I don’t want to seem like a bossy or critical person, especially so early in the game. Your Advice?

-Katie, Northeast

Dear Katie,

Getting back together requires more than mere physical attraction. It requires deep thought and mindfulness. Twice I've tried to rekindle a serious old flame. One told me point blank: You broke it off last time and you know why. With the second, it was obvious that there was still string physical attraction, but again, there was something I knew I couldn't change. The good news is that neither reason was superficial. They both were about sex, and one included monogamy. Neither reason had anything to do with jewelry, but it certainly would have been a challenging issue if I had had to face it. Nonetheless, I would have gotten rid of the jewelry over time -- starting with the earring. As a compromise, 'I won't do such-and-such, if you'll just wear one piece of jewelry at a time.' If you can't talk to this old beau about what irks you about the way he adorns himself, then will you able to talk about the big stuff? Are you going to even be able to agree on which painting to hang over the fireplace mantle? As well as other harder life-altering decisions that include financial planning? It is far easier to drop subtle hints about not liking men's jewelry. For instance, by pointing out in a restaurant a man wearing a bold gold chain around his neck or a brassy bracelet, and I don't mean a watch, and mention that it looks tacky. He'll get the hint that you've tabled the topic of his jewelry for discussion. Or gently ask him to take off a piece of  jewelry because it interferes with your love making. Psychologically it is a turn-off for you, so his jewelry will affect your sex life. What you'll learn is that you can gently and slowly change the way a man dresses without criticizing his taste or lifestyle -- if you have the patience. There will be things about you that may turn him off. It comes down to the old grownup version of the game Truth or Dare. Do you two dare to tell the truth? Does he love you enough to forgo the earring after you've told him it's a turn off? Discuss any issues sooner rather than later. Why did you breakup? Does that same make-or-break issue still exist  -- such as living on different coasts and now you're on the same coast; or one of you resented paying for everything, and now your incomes are more evenly matched? At some point, you may want to take the relationship quiz that recently appeared in the New York Times -- '36 Ways to Know Your Lover -- which is online here at NewportManners. In the meantime, here again is one of my favorite photos: Brad Pitt, with an earring, as the first ever male face of Chanel.




Cellphones At home

Dear Didi,

Things have gotten out of hand with too many cellphones at home. Everyone has devices in use all the time. How did we get here in this position of losing our sweet family of five to electronics? How do we pull back? My wife and I may be the worst offenders.

-E.D., Portland, OR

Dear E.D.,

Go cold turkey to reduce cellphone use at home. Go online to find a family cellphone contract and printout five copies. Confiscate the devices until every family member has signed their contract. Have a basket or box by the front door, or near the entrance, where there are charger plugs for re-juicing. You hold the cards; if they don't sign, you don't pay their cellphone bills.