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Carolyn Hax: An inappropriate Mother’s Day

Sun., May 26, 2013, midnight

Dear Carolyn: Many people have to drive from New Jersey to New York for Mother’s Day because my sister-in-law and her husband have a baby (the only grandchild). In from New Jersey come my wife and I, and my brother-in-law’s many family members. My sister-in-law always chooses a very upscale Manhattan boutique restaurant, so we have to drive and park in this congested part of the world, and make nice so they don’t have to be inconvenienced. My sister-in-law does this to accommodate two sets of parents who demand priority on this day over the other parents.

We did this ritual this year and the next thing I know, my father-in-law calls to say my brother-in-law picked up the bill and I owe him half! (This is for people I have no relationship to – his grandparents, his parents.) I was blindsided.

If I had been informed beforehand I probably would have paid half, but at this late time (and after the highly inappropriate call from my father-in-law), I feel pretty irritated.

What is actually appropriate? – What Is the Deal?

With this letter, it’s easier to start with what’s not appropriate.

Saying people “have to” travel for this gathering is not appropriate. Unless you are deposited there at gunpoint – also not appropriate – you are all invited to travel, and choose to.

Harrumphing about having to “make nice” so others aren’t “inconvenienced” when you’re the one who chose to participate is not appropriate.

Choosing an expensive site unilaterally for a pay-your-own-way gathering is not appropriate.

Hitting people with a bill after the fact is not appropriate.

Sending a third party (father-in-law) to hit someone up is not appropriate. It was your brother-in-law’s job to either ask for help or eat the expense.

Showing up at a gathering expecting to be fed when there is no clear host (as with, say, a wedding or graduation party), or not offering to chip in when the check arrives, is not appropriate.

Being otherwise willing to contribute, but deciding not to, solely because you weren’t asked the right way, is not appropriate. Get angry? Sure. Act on it? No.

Typing “is not appropriate” so many times about a gathering that was theoretically about celebrating mothers, but seems to have been more about self-aggrandizement and power-grabbing, is not appropriate.

Appropriate: Pay half and be rid of it. Next year, with just your nuclear family, think of something that honors your idea of Mother’s Day, plan it, do it, and don’t apologize for it, even if it’s merely to blow it off entirely as the contrivance it has become.

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m.each Friday at

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