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Mother-in-law’s ‘borrowing’ feels like theft

By Andrea Bonior
Andrea Bonior
Andrea Bonior (that's BONN-yer!) is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and writer. She completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology focusing on individual and group psychotherapy for young adults and specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression.

Q: My mother-in-law took some very nice scarves of mine and then mentioned it later like it was no big deal, saying she borrowed them, wasn’t I a dear for letting her, and they looked lovely, etc. She claimed she would return them, but we have since had two visits and she hasn’t. My husband says to let it go to keep the peace, but I think she was wrong to do this and I don’t want her thinking it’s OK to do it again.

A: Without knowing more about her personality, it’s hard to contextualize this. Is she typically selfish or steamrolling? Or might she be having some memory or cognitive issues? Is she big on saving face, and might this have started as an accident? Are you two usually warm with each other or often frosty? Is there a history of eccentric behavior?

If this seems to be an isolated incident, a momentary case of who-knows-what, then I’m inclined to agree with your husband to let it go – while taking a few minor steps to discourage her sticky fingers in the future. But if this is part of a larger pattern of bullying or a sign of possible dementia, then it needs to be taken more seriously.

Q: My husband and I sailed through parenting in the early years, and we got smug. We didn’t have many of the conflicts our friends had. But now that our kids are teens, my husband and I are butting heads a lot. His attitude is that a lot of stuff our kids might do is OK because he did it and he turned out OK. I think he was lucky (ran with a bad crowd in high school, did a lot of drugs, etc.), and I want our kids to make better choices than he did.

A: Anyone can point to the rare chain-smoker who lives to their 90s. So no parent’s teenage experience should take on the power of an absolute referendum on what’s best.

Capitalize on your previous collaboration. Did he approve of your preschoolers licking subway station handrails? Probably not. The same risk-assessment mindset should apply to parenting teenagers. It’s just a bit more complicated because you’re trying to instill in them the desire to make good choices themselves. Above all, make sure he knows this isn’t about his life path – and help him separate the concept of reasonable protection of your children’s safety from judgment about him as a human being.

Andrea Bonior is a psychologist and author of “The Friendship Fix.”
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