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North Hills

Weathering the unsolicited advice storm

Dave McElhinny
| Friday, May 11, 2018, 8:57 p.m.

There are special people in the life of a married couple who will always feel compelled to advise us. They can't help themselves. It's a primal, biological urge that is uncontrollable. Don't try to stop it because you cannot. This demographic is unable to stand by and watch a mistake being made. And like a Jedi, they only become stronger with age, morphing into something preeminent. Something all powerful. The name for these galactic defenders of right and wrong? The In-laws!

It doesn't matter how much responsibility you have or how many kids of your own you are raising, these dignitaries of justice will descend upon you with great acrimony in an attempt to remedy all of your flaws.

But you have to understand the language. It's not as plainspoken as one might guess, but more like a riddle from Yoda, the true meaning “deciphered it must be.”

For instance, when the father-in-law makes an unannounced visit/inspection and he casually says, “you know, if your lawn mower is broken you can borrow mine,” it can be interpreted several different ways.

A. You are a great son-in-law and I'm here for you anytime you need me.

B. Your grass is getting far too high and you need to cut it.

C. You are not taking care of your responsibility as a man and provider, I don't like how you are raising my grandkids, and I was against this marriage from the beginning.

As with many things in life, much is left to interpretation as we interact with these bastions of admonishment. One seemingly innocent comment can cause much trepidation and turmoil.

And sometimes, this same phenomenon can occur in a completely non-verbal exchange. Like when the mother-in-law stops by for a visit, then disappears, only to be found later in the kitchen with a bottle of cleanser and a rag, furiously scrubbing the sink, counter, oven and refrigerator crispers. How does the woman of the house translate that?

A. I love you my sweet daughter-in-law. You work hard and I want to help you out.

B. A woman should keep her kitchen clean.

C. You are a terrible housekeeper, I don't like how you are raising my grandkids, and I was against this marriage from the beginning.

In-laws, simply put, are parents who have ascended to a new level of consciousness and are now authoritarians on all things that their child's spouse does incorrectly. It's not something that should be taken personally. It's impossible for them to control — a force of nature that is no different than a blizzard or tsunami sweeping through your life. You must be ready for it, batten down the hatches when it arrives, and weather the storm the best you can.

So the next time one of these beacons of knowledge drops by and says something like, “In my day, timeout was used on a football field, not for hippy parenting,” just know that he really means, “My daughter is too good for you!”

Dave McElhinny is the North Bureau Chief for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at or via Twitter @DaveMcTrib.

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