Sage Advice: Father-in-Law Passes the Buck

By Amy Dickinson | January 16th, 2019

What do you do when you keep getting strapped with the bill?


Dear Amy: Over the holidays my wife and two young children were with my wife’s family (her mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and their two children).

My sister-in-law insisted that we order take-out instead of having a home-cooked meal. We ordered in, and she paid for the meal.

Days later my father-in-law suggested that he and I should give her money for the meal ($47 each). I’m annoyed by this for a few reasons: I have purchased several more expensive take-out meals at family events and have never asked for (or been offered) compensation.

This is also an example of an increasingly frequent situation where my father-in-law effectively dictates how my wife and I spend our money. For my son’s birthday, he offered to cover half of the cost of music lessons. It was a lovely idea but it also saddled us with an additional expense (I ended up paying for all of the lessons).

In my view, if he felt my sister-in-law needed to be repaid, he could have made the point at the time of the meal, or he could have chosen to take care of it himself.

This is also an extension of a perceived difference in economic position between my wife and I, and her sister’s family. As a result, they tend to be treated more generously by my in-laws. It is fine for them to treat their children however they wish, but I don’t believe that also conscripts me to follow suit.

Am I just being petty and cheap?

– Son-in-law

Dear Son-in-law: Your father-in-law’s suggestions may sound like commandments to you, and you may feel pressured because he is your father-in-law, but you are an adult and you can make a choice to get on board — or respond respectfully: “Thanks for the suggestion. This is generous of you. But I’ve picked up the check any number of times; my theory is that these things even out in the end.”

You say that this has become a persistent issue; because it seems you can actually afford to be more generous, you should choose the path that causes you to feel the best about yourself. You can try to anticipate, participate and learn to tolerate this expectation – and come off as magnanimous and generous – or you can politely push back and tolerate the uncertainty that accompanies wondering if you are being stingy. Being righteously correct (as I sincerely believe you are) doesn’t always compensate for feeling petty.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2019 by Amy Dickinson

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