I'm Always Disrespected by My Husband's Family—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, My husband (43) and I (36) have been married for a little over 11 years, but we dated for five years before getting married.

My relationship with my stepchildren is good. They live in a different state, and we text or FaceTime once in a while. However, my husband's nieces, nephew, and brother-in-law are now only half an hour away, and we see them more than anyone else.

My sister-in-law passed away from a car accident. When the accident happened, she had her youngest with her who was a baby at that time. After a few surgeries, the baby made it okay. But because my husband's bro-in-law is a working man, and his other children were in school, we stepped in to help with the baby. I work from home and homeschool my two children. My husband also has a flexible schedule.

My husband and I are not rich nor make a lot of money, but we offered to help. We didn't talk or ask for any money when I started watching the baby, since it's family, thinking that my husband's brother-in-law would bring a bag of diapers, milk, and clothes or give me a budget for the baby's needs. I watched the child for a few months. He would spend 2-3 nights with us at a time before his dad would pick him up, and I would pick him up again the next morning. I enjoyed having him, but it became a strain on my marriage and finances. I never received anything for his needs. Not even $20 for diapers or gas money.

Mom tired of ungrateful family - WSID
Stock images of a woman helping a boy with homework and (inset) two women having a discussion. "I put so much effort into making my husband’s nieces and nephew feel special," the reader said. Getty Images

I would complain to my husband, but we always agreed that it's better to not say anything because my husband's brother-in-law is the type of person that would want someone to beg him even for a dollar.

The child is now 10 years old, and his three older siblings are grown, They are 27, 24, and 18. One is a senior in high school, the other one graduated from college a few months ago, and the eldest is now a mom to a baby girl.

Over the course of nine years, since their mom passed, I put so much effort into making my husband's nieces and nephew feel special because my sister-in-law and mother-in-law are no longer around to cheer on them. I am very generous when it comes to gifts. I spent hundreds of dollars on each of their high school graduation gifts. And I gave them real jewelry pieces when they graduated from college.

Last year, the eldest had a baby shower. Everyone loved my gifts and I'm into photography so I also took pictures of the party since nobody had a nice camera but me. I posted the pictures online including my gifts. I didn't get a thank you or a reaction from them on my post. Instead, she just picked the pictures she wanted and posted it herself not even giving me credits. I am so hurt.

For years, I just kept quiet and tried to understand them even if they'd been mean and disrespected me multiple times. They don't even bother to acknowledge my children sometimes. My husband would say, they're kids and just maturing with no mom to guide them.

However, they're already adults and I'm only human. I get hurt too. I told my husband that I'm done being nice and I don't want to be around his sister's family anymore, but it became an issue to my husband. Although he agrees with me that his brother-in-law and nieces are wrong, he told me that I am educated and he expects me to be the bigger person. I feel like I have done more than enough. Am I being difficult? Am I in the wrong? I can only do so much understanding.

Anonymous, Unknown

Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

You Are Not Obligated to Offer Him Anything Special Beyond Simple Familial Courtesy

Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of "Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety" as well as "Dr. Chloe's 10 Commandments of Dating."

Dear reader,

Thank you for your heartfelt note. It's clear you have given every last ounce of patience, seemingly without asking for anything in return. Overextending yourself emotionally for the past decade, coupled with significant investments of time and money without proper acknowledgment, has led to a profound and understandable feeling of resentment. I understand you were probably "suffering in silence" because you somehow thought it would be for the best; but hopefully, you are now able to see that isn't a healthy choice for you, your husband, or his family.

While I can understand your urge to balance your historical lack of limits by now refusing to see them at all, I would encourage you to learn from the past and take a less "black and white" approach. Rather than feeling your only choices are to give lavishly despite an ongoing lack of acknowledgment or to refuse to see them at all, how about if you attend family gatherings but do it in a neutral way that doesn't involve you giving anything beyond your time at the visit? The only exception to this might be the 10-year-old, since you are correct to notice his age puts him in a different category in terms of expectations that he will offer an unprompted, mature, and gracious reciprocation of your investment in the relationship. Nevertheless, you are not obligated to offer him anything special beyond simple familial courtesy if you really don't want to.

On the other hand, if you do want to continue to invest in the child, perhaps you could do it differently than you did with his older relatives: Since you recognize that he doesn't have anyone to teach him social graces, and you have hopefully now realized that failing to communicate your (totally appropriate) expectations to his father and older sisters only led to further imbalance and resentment, you might want to approach things differently with him. For example, if you send him a gift and he doesn't acknowledge it, perhaps you could ask him if he received it and then share with him about how good it makes a gift giver feel when their gifts are warmly acknowledged. You could even gift him a box of monogrammed cards for one of his birthdays and teach him to write a thank you note to someone else in his life, with the hope that he might realize the importance of thanking you. However, if he seems set on following the path of his older family members, and if you only find yourself harboring resentment, you have every right to opt for simple politeness at family gatherings.

Thank you again for sharing. Your feelings of depletion are totally understandable, and I understand you were probably "giving too much" because you thought it would be for the best. My hope is that you will now take the chance to create better boundaries that prevent you from overextending yourself, and make more nuanced choices that will ultimately be healthier for both you and your family. I hope these ideas are helpful, but of course, feel free to take what helps and discard the rest.

It Is Best to See These Situations As Children Who Need to Be Talked To, Not Punished

Yasmine Saad is a licensed clinical psychologist, founder, and CEO of Madison Park Psychological Services.

Dear reader,

To go from all loving to not seeing them at all is quite extreme. There are many options in between that can honor not being so nice and not feeling disrespected. In this situation, pain was used to justify their lack of appreciation. However, this means that you will always be the victim of their disrespect, as their pain will always be there. It is also possible that your gestures of kindness remind them of what they do not have and bring forth their inner pain. I also sense a power dynamic where they will never have as much as you do and harbor negative feelings towards your good intentions, perfect presents, nice camera, nice gestures etc... The moment you become the perfect mother they become the "not having children". All of this doesn't mean that you have to stop being your caring self. It just means that there should be a dialogue, as their upset feelings are not justifications to disrespect you. Their upset feelings should not be taken on you but children often take their distress on family members unless reframed to not do so. It is best to see these situations as children who need to be talked to, not punished but talked to.

There is also a dynamic in the family of avoiding being turned into a vulnerable person or a bad person. For example, there is no communication for fear that your brother-in-law will turn you over into a bad person or vulnerable person who begs for money. There is fear from your husband of addressing the children's behavior for fear of increasing their pain/vulnerability so when you take a stance to stop seeing them, you are indirectly being met with your husband's fear of making them feel bad/vulnerable.

A solution that honors your husband's unspoken desire to not make them feel bad/vulnerable and allows you to stop them from disrespecting you would be best. A conversation with the children that goes like this would be helpful: "I would like to talk to you about the hurt feelings I feel when you do this. I assume that you have your reasons and I am wondering what we can do to not hurt each other's feelings." Would this conversation be suitable for your needs and your husband's?