In-laws must stay out of kids’ marital squabbles

Q: Should I step in to help if I feel my son-in-law isn’t caring properly for my daughter and grandchildren? He constantly neglects to put oil in their car — which leaks like a sieve — so I do it. Basically, I end up doing almost everything in order to make sure that they’re safe and cared for.

Jim: I can appreciate your concerns and the emotions involved. Regardless, clear boundaries are an important part of healthy in-law relationships, and it’s critical to realize that this is an independent family unit for which you bear no immediate responsibility.

If your daughter and your son-in-law are happy together and appear to have a relatively successful marriage, it’s best for everyone if you adopt a hands-off policy — leaky crankcase notwithstanding. Otherwise, you jeopardize their relationship by shaming the husband in front of his wife.

That said, I’d agree that there’s a need for growth here, and your response is key as to the likelihood of that occurring. At this point, you might begin by apologizing for overstepping your boundaries and taking inappropriate actions in the past. Also, make up your mind that you will no longer be an enabler. Establish clear limits and boundaries. For example, you might say, “If your car breaks down on the highway, I’ll be happy to come and pick you up, but I can’t check and fill your oil anymore.” Then allow your son-in-law to feel the effects of the consequences of his actions. Only then will there be motivation to change.

If there’s serious marital conflict brewing here, that’s a different story. If your daughter sees the difficulty and is reaching out to you for help, you may need to encourage her to take appropriate action. This may include seeking guidance from a pastor or marriage therapist. Don’t hesitate to contact our Focus on the Family counseling staff if we can be of help.

Q: I realize it’s probably not a good thing, but I spend a lot of time on my smartphone: talking, checking emails, texting, posting to Facebook, getting caught up with news and sports, etc. I’m afraid my kids are getting the wrong message. I don’t want to say I’m addicted, but I’ll admit, this is an area where I really lack discipline. Any help?

Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged In: You’re not alone in this struggle. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that a lot of parents are being distracted by their mobile devices to the detriment of their children. Researchers observed 55 caregivers with young children at fast-food restaurants. Of those, 73 percent used their mobile devices at some point during the meal. Nearly 30 percent used them almost continually.

Although I know it won’t be easy, I’d suggest establishing clear and strict boundaries for your whole family regarding cellphone use. A possible first move would be to collect all electronic devices, including yours, before mealtimes (not just at restaurants) and “lock” them away until after everyone is finished. If you’re really serious and courageous, you may want to allocate to everyone an additional 30 minutes after the evening meal to text, check emails, etc., but then call it quits for the night.

Designate for yourself set blocks of time each day during which you can be on your phone, and don’t go beyond those parameters. If the urge to give in seems overwhelming, remind yourself that as interesting as all the “stuff” in cyberspace may be, it’s much more important and meaningful to interact and engage as a family and to be actively involved in your children’s lives. Even more than keeping up with random “friends” on social media.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.