My Brother-in-Law Gets Free Child Care From His Parents. Why Don’t We?

My partner’s parents have been financially dependent on him and his brother for 10 years. They are unable to work. Still, they have provided free child care for my brother-in-law’s two children for the past five years. Meanwhile, my partner has been paying half of his parents’ living expenses. I’ve stayed out of these arrangements; my partner and I keep our finances separate. But now that we have a baby of our own — and his parents live too far away to provide child care — I am resentful that my partner has been effectively subsidizing his brother’s child care rather than saving money for ours. I think his brother is taking advantage of us. My partner is very sensitive about this; he doesn’t think grandparents should be compensated for child care. How can I approach this subject without creating tension?

SISTER-IN-LAW

I would drop the issue. You are looking at it too narrowly. Your partner and his brother are probably paying their parents’ living expenses out of gratitude, or maybe a sense of duty, after a lifetime of love and support from them. Your desire for a ledger adjustment based solely on child care — an accounting that your partner doesn’t want, for money that isn’t yours — seems off base to me.

You are absolutely entitled to your feelings, of course. But isn’t the point of separate finances with your partner to insulate you and him from objections like this? As long as he pays his agreed share of joint expenses, he has done his part. And you haven’t said that money is tight.

In my experience, parents often provide different kinds of support to their children. My parents helped me pay for expensive schools, for instance, while they helped my brother buy a home. Other than this child care issue, we have no window on your partner’s family, and I see no upside in pressing your case. (On a related note: If you had offered to pay my mother to take care of her beloved grandchildren, she would have laughed in your face.)

My husband loves to have massages at home. He’s done it for years — long before I moved in. The problem: His massage therapist wears a heavy scent that bothers me and lingers in the house. When we asked her about it, she said, “I don’t wear perfume.” But something she uses has a strong scent. (It’s not massage oil.) More troubling, though, is my husband’s lack of concern. He has a less sensitive nose than I do and just keeps saying it’s “so weird” that the smell bothers me. Can you help?

WIFE

I wouldn’t make this about your sensitivities. You are simply discussing the reasonable use of your shared home with your husband. If he likes massages at home, he has a strong incentive to make this work. (And I wouldn’t expect him to focus for long on a smell that doesn’t bother him.)

Say: “There’s nothing ‘weird’ here. Your massage therapist is using a scented product — maybe shampoo or body lotion — that lingers in our house. I think she should switch to unscented products, or you should go out for massages. What do you think?” If he doesn’t agree, get back in touch. Then, you have a problem.

My twin brother got engaged to his boyfriend. I’ve met him only a handful of times and hardly know him. I overheard the news when my brother told a friend at a party. We have had many issues in our twinship, but I always thought we were tight-knit and loving. Now, I feel hurt by the way he handled his engagement news. It brought up unresolved issues for me, and I asked him for space until I can address them in therapy. He just wants us to move on. Am I wrong?

SISTER

What could be wrong with addressing your feelings in therapy? My only caution here is that you try to separate concerns about unresolved issues from the happy news of your brother’s engagement. It would be a shame not to congratulate him, for instance, or to make him feel that his big news is all about you. I think you can explore your issues and let him know you’re pleased for him, too. Don’t you?

If I tell my good friend I went out to dinner, she asks, “With whom?” Same if I tell her I went to a museum: “With whom?” I find this question invasive, and I can’t figure out why she wants to know. I never ask her. If I respond vaguely, she says: “Oh, it’s a secret.” I dislike confrontation, so I don’t want to respond: “Why do you ask?” I don’t want to lie, either. Advice?

FRIEND

I know that many of us were taught that asking about other guests was poor manners. But that was long before our looser age of social media, when people tend to post all the particulars anyway. Still, if you are so reluctant to express even benign preferences to a good friend — “I wish you wouldn’t ask that” — I worry for your other relationships. There are so many problems with friends we can’t fix. Why not pick off the easy ones?


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on the platform X.