Dr. Gramma Karen: Our Son-in-Law is a Tyrant


Can you give my wife and me some advice about our tyrannical son-in-law?

My daughter was forced to have 6 kids in a 10-year marriage, two sets of twins and two single births. He does not hit her, but otherwise he is a tyrant. He does not let her go out of the house unless she clears it with him.

My wife and I moved from a state quite far away to be of help to her. I took semi- retirement and big pay cut on the insistence of my wife, who says that we should be of support to our daughter; otherwise she will go mad.

We toil day and night with no appreciation except that he has given us a house to live in free of rent. He considers that as our compensation. When we ask him to sell the house (he has five other houses), he refuses. He wants to keep us in bondage.

Our daughter does nothing to support us. She says that if she did, her husband will be even madder

I can’t take it anymore. I want to leave this city and go somewhere else, but my wife says no, we can’t do that. If we move, she fears this will further infuriate him and he will be even harsher with our dear daughter.

The children are all cooped up. They are not allowed to see any friends except one semi-retarded nephew of his.

Two years ago, even before the last set of twins, I went to a counselor and she told me to stay out of our daughter’s situation. I sent my daughter clandestinely to the same counselor; she went once and she told me she would not go anymore.

We consider our daughter a “Stockholm hostage.” What can we do? What should we do? Just continue to be slaves? I am 72 and my wife is 68. Do we live the rest of our lives under this tremendous stress that is making us sick? Please help.

Because you chose not to provide the additional details I requested from you, my suggestions will be more limited than they otherwise might be. For example, it would have been helpful to know the following:

1. In what city you are currently living – because different states have different laws and legal implications that could affect the situation you describe.

2. You say your son-in-law does not hit your daughter. Do you have any reason to believe that your son-in-law is physically harming and/or emotionally abusive toward any of the children?

3. When you say that you “toil all day,” what kinds of things are you doing? Why do you consider yourselves “in bondage?”

The Importance of Consulting a Family Law Lawyer

Even without this information, the one action I strongly urge you to take is to contact a family law lawyer. This FindLaw web site can help you locate a family law lawyer by state, as well as provide other resources. Once you have consulted with a family law lawyer, he/she will be able to advise you about your options regarding your concerns about your daughter’s family circumstances.

Your family law lawyer will also advise you as to the practicality of you sharing your concerns in confidence with your grandchildren’s school personnel, or their physician, or other providers. Those providers are often in a good position to help assess if children are at risk in any way, and in many cases, they are legally bound to report any misgivings they may have.

Although governed by different state laws, designated “mandatory reporters” typically include: social workers; teachers, principals, and other school personnel; physicians, nurses, and other health-care workers; counselors, therapists, and other mental health professionals; child care providers; medical examiners or coroners; law enforcement officers.

As stated in an information booklet prepared by Cynthia Crosson-Tower and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, “Professionals submitted more than one-half (56.5 percent) of the cases referred to and assessed or investigated by child protective services (CPS), with education personnel the most frequent source of reports (16.2 percent).”

Child Welfare Information Gateway provides some general information about reporting concerns to various agencies when it is suspected that children may be at risk.

Based on your description and the information provided, it is not clear whether your daughter has been intimidated into making certain decisions – that is, if she is, in fact, living in fear for her safety and/or that of her children. It may be that although her husband seems to you and your wife to be an excessively controlling spouse, it is possible that his demands are not threatening or disagreeable enough to your daughter that she would make any changes, even if she felt it was safe for her to do so.

Or, another possibility could be that she has decided it is in her best interests, and those of her six children, to remain with him and tolerate a life that others might find intolerable. The key differentiator is whether she and/or your grandchildren are at risk in any way, in which case child welfare professionals may intervene. A family law lawyer can help you sort out these issues.

Take Care of Yourselves

I understand why your wife wants the two of you to remain physically close to your daughter and to keep a presence, just in case something happens and you are needed. I also understand that you are finding your current conditions stressful and that you would like to put some distance between you and what is going on with your daughter and her situation. Both positions are solid and equally defensible.

Perhaps a realistic compromise is that you and your wife plan short getaways for just the two of you. Day trips or several days away, visiting new places and doing different things together may help bring some needed joy and a welcome diversion into your lives.

 Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

E-mail queries to [email protected]

Karen L. Rancourt‘s most recent book is,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Helping Young Parents and Grandparents Deal with Thorny Issues.

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