Hey Elderly Aunt, my wife is clearly not the favorite in her family — should I say something?

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

Hey Elderly Aunt, My wife comes from a big family, and she is clearly not the favorite child of her parents. This annoys me when, at large family gatherings, her parents boast about the other two siblings and say very little about her. I will often chime in to talk about her accomplishments, but how can I tactfully tell her parents that their favoritism annoys me — even if my wife doesn’t claim to be bothered by it? 

elderly_auntRTlogoThe Elderly Aunt blames The Waltons—and subsequent Waltonian trickle-down—for our culture’s ridiculous idealization of family life. Real families are made up of real people, and real people, my dear reader, are rarely saints. Along with their saintly intentions, they tote around resentments, jealousies, prejudices, neurotic needs, anger issues, fears—in other words, beaucoups of personal failings that get in the way of their saintliness.

Along with one’s strengths, one’s defects of character and emotional shortcomings are first cultivated in the Petri dish of childhood, and then further nourished by adult experience. While the Elderly Aunt is certain that your wife’s parents have many lovely qualities, for obscure reasons cultured in-Petri, they need to diss your wife at large family gatherings. It is, of course, silly for the Elderly Aunt to speculate about why they need to do this, but as her dignity is profound enough to survive occasional silliness, she suspects some form of jealousy/and or protectiveness—jealousy if your wife’s parents perceive her as out-achieving them; ham-handed protectiveness if they perceive your wife as having out-achieved her siblings. And do bear in mind that what they perceive as out-achievement, might not be what you perceive. It could be something as simple as her contentment living with you, dear reader. Or as complex, as her ability to navigate successfully in world beyond family. Whatever. It is what it is. And sadly, dear reader, it isn’t likely to change.

As to how you should deal with the situation…

The Elderly Aunt suggests that you imagine that you and your wife’s family are locked up together in the Abo Elementary School fallout shelter for all eternity, and that whatever you say—no matter how respectfully phrased—will be inscribed on the shelter’s wall for your in-laws to stew over until the End of Days. Then ask yourself—for your wife’s sake, rather than your own—is getting your resentment of her parents’ behavior off your chest worth the disruption it will cause in her—not your—parental relationship.

All of the above, naturally, assumes that your wife customarily wears Big Girl pants, can look out for herself, and is capable of requesting your help in dealing with her family if she wants it. If so, then surely the situation is hers to manage.

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

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