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Carolyn Hax: Deal with MIL’s demands like adult

Sun., Nov. 10, 2013

Good Morning Carolyn: I’m hoping my debacle makes it to your column because I desperately need sound impartial advice!

Each year, my mother-in-law sends out a holiday “letter” updating her friends and extended family members. She recently sent a group text to my husband, his sister and me asking for our favorite pictures from the year to include in her Christmas letter.

My issue isn’t that she ignores the concept that our favorite picture would be used for our own purposes, it’s that she insists on having us be a part of this letter.

I plan to call her and say that although I’m thankful for her thinking of us, we will again be sending out our own holiday card and do not need to be explicitly included in hers.

Our concerns, whether they come from my mouth or my husband’s, are bound to ruffle feathers and create additional problems.

My position in his family since we began seeing each other, over 10 years ago, has been to be the only person in the history of time to tell his mother “no.”

Background: My mother-in-law tends to be very selfish. One brief, childish example, of which there are many – she demanded her husband wear a white tux to our wedding. The only men wearing white at our ceremony were fellow members of the military who were involved in performing the traditional sword arch.

Is it possible that we should just roll over? – Adults Treated as Children

When you tell me with a straight (type)face that a photo request for Ma’s Christmas newsletter is a “desperately”-anything “debacle,” this is how I want to respond:

Famine. Human trafficking. Syria. Hello?

I will not go so far as to say your husband married his mother in a fight-fire-with-fire maneuver, because that would be pointlessly alienating – plus, I get the very real, crazy-making effect that 10 years in a drama vortex can have on a person.

But the examples you give of outrageous behavior from your mother-in-law are so trivial, they throw your judgment into question right along with your mother-in-law’s.

As for the holiday letter, I could spend days trying to figure out why the content in her Christmas letter and your grown-up holiday card has to be mutually exclusive, and why her request for your “favorite” picture can’t be satisfied with your second- or fifth- or 19th-favorite shot.

Even if she deserves every bit of your revulsion a slap-fight over every outfit or mass mailing is not a path to victory or even detente. Instead, it gets you exactly where you are now: stewing up to your neck in a broth of her every offense, real and perceived, of the past decade.

Please trade that for a strategy of ruthless, don’t-look-back sorting. Imagine a giant wheely trash bin – label it “Ridiculous.” Imagine an old-school desktop inbox – label it “Real.” From now on, you’re putting everything your mother-in-law throws at you into one of these. White tux? Ridiculous. (Thump.) Wants a photo for her insufferable annual brag rag? Ridiculous. Um … I’m going to have to make something up here … her trying to dictate how you live, love, worship, spend money, raise kids or schedule your time? Real – inbox. (Swish.) That’s when adults “assert ourselves as adults.” Husband, I’m looking at you, too.

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