Life Like a Sitcom

Sometimes we all have the feeling that our life is like a sitcom. Which one is yours like? ‘Seinfeld?’ ‘Married … With Children?’ ‘The Simpsons’? Patty says hers was like ‘Everyone Loves Raymond.’

‘My in-laws lived one mile away. Our house had no locks on the doors and they — and their friends — often caught us in the act of making love.’

Before the marriage, Patty says she had no idea her in-laws were so controlling. They loved her, even gave her credit for turning their son’s life around. But the problems didn’t take long to start. In fact, they began during the honeymoon.

‘We returned to find that mom had painted the interior, made drapes for the living room and opened and put away all our wedding gifts. To save us the trouble.’

The wedding gifts became an immediate problem. When Patty asked her mother-in-law for the cards, so that she could write thank-you notes, her mother-in-law told her she had thrown the cards out with the wrapping paper. And no, she hadn’t made a list of who sent what.

And that was just the beginning. Patty’s in-laws would come in while she and Jerry were out. If she had taken something out of the freezer to thaw for dinner, they’d put it back in and tell them to come over for dinner. They’d clean the house and rearrange the furniture.

‘They even suggested they handle our finances, but I held my ground on that.’

Three months into the marriage, Patty found that out she was pregnant. She knew the time had come to have it out with her mother-in-law before things got even worse.

‘I invited mom to come over for lunch because I wanted to tell her some good news and to have a talk. She was excited when I told her about the baby and confused when I said it was a shame the baby might grow up without a father.’

Duh. What?

Patty laid it on the line. Her husband couldn’t be a husband to her because he was too busy being a son to parents who controlled him and made all his decisions. She said no man could be a proper father under those conditions. She said Jerry would always be their son, but they had to let him be a husband and a father, too. And if they couldn’t, well, then they could have him back and she would just make a life for her and the baby without him.

‘The tone of our conversation was warm and understanding, never threatening or negative, and she was utterly astonished. She admitted they didn’t know how to let go, so I told her to start by saying NO, if Jerry asked them to run errands or do things for us. I told her to tell him to make his decisions with me, his wife, and not with them. She cried and thanked me and promised to do whatever I asked.’

Then, Patty and her mother-in-law went to the hardware store and bought locks for their doors, came back and installed them. Patty did not give her a set of keys. That night, Patty and Jerry had dinner with his folks and Patty explained the new rules. It wasn’t easy at first for her in-laws to say no to Jerry and it wasn’t easy for him to hear it, but they all worked on it.

‘The three of them made a healthy break, our marriage flourished and now we all get along like good friends.’

That was 33 years ago. Now Patty is the mother-in-law.

‘When our three sons got married and started calling to seek my advice, I told them to talk to their wives and make their decisions together. Their wives have all thanked me.’

About those wedding gifts. When people started to complain about not getting a thank-you note, Patty drafted a letter explaining what happened and had her mother-in-law sign it. Then she added a personal thank you at the end.

‘Everyone was very pleased.’

Is infidelity contagious? Did it spread through your office? Your family? Your friends? Send your tale, along with your relationship problems, to Cheryl Lavin, Tales from the Front, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611 or e-mail Clavin(at) All names are changed. Letters can not be considered without name, address and day and evening phone numbers. Letters may be used in whole or in part for any purpose and become the property of the column.