The entire time we were together, my mother-in-law called me a nickname she made up, and it has always driven me crazy. During our years together, I had asked my husband several times to speak with her to express my preference for being called by my name. He refused, telling me he did not want to hurt her feelings. Keep in mind neither of them likes open communication when it comes to dealing with life’s much bigger problems.
I didn’t speak up because she would have taken it the wrong way, and gone straight to her son to complain and express her hurt feelings (same scenario has happened before). So, this nickname was never addressed during our time together.
Fast-forward to now, I have zero desire to have a relationship with her, and we rarely talk; if we do, it is about my children that I am now raising completely alone. My mother-in-law continues to call me this nickname, even sending packages addressed this way. I would like to know how I tell her to please stop. When I do, I know she will call her son, who will then call me to speak with me about this. –
The history you’ve laid out here to explain why this nickname outlived your marriage also does a fine job of explaining why it’s so important that you speak up now.
Yes, you were outnumbered by non-communicators and deterred by the threat of emotional outbursts – and you’re hardly the only one to resign yourself to similar noncommunication in a blaze of if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em defeat.
But now it’s fair to ask: How has that worked for you? You’re getting divorced and your mother-in-law still drives you nuts. And you’re actually being unfair to her because she has no idea the nickname she calls you is offensive to you. You and her son both set her up here to fail.
Again – your going silent on this was a coping strategy, I understand that. I’m not assigning retroactive blame. I’m just saying that, since the marriage you were trying to self-preserve your way through is now over, you have a natural opportunity to find a strategy that makes more sense.
Starting with: “Just so you know, Ex Husband, I’m going to talk to your mom about Nickname. I figure you’ll hear about it from her so I wanted to prepare you. I realize now that by not speaking up directly, years ago, I basically set her up to annoy me, and that wasn’t fair.
“Anyway, I’m going to right that wrong now and try to fix things with my kids’ grandma.”
And then you do just that – fix it now, in person or on the phone with your mother-in-law – NOT through social media – in this same, I-blew-it tone. You may have zero desire for a relationship with her, but you have in your children ample reason to do it anyway. Think of this not as a correction, but as an overture long overdue.
Not a prob, I totally understood – until I saw the copious Facebook postings about all the folks going to the wedding. Now I’m really hurt. I would have gladly left the kids and husband behind to be there for my friend. But he doesn’t want me there, right? That’s what this is about? What a bummer. –
He was a close enough friend once to be your best guy – why haven’t you just asked him?
It sounds like a snub, but ”sounds like“ is weak currency. Tell him you’re fine with taking no for an answer, you just want to know why – the real reason this time.
By choosing not to complete it. Every time you cave, you confirm for your mother that a tantrum will win her that yes. You’ve trained her to freak out.
So: Say no when you need to, then ignore the tantrum. That teaches respect for decisions you make.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.
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