Dear Carolyn: My husband is not close with his sisters, who do not live locally. They text sometimes, but don’t see one another more than once a year, and almost always when we travel to them.
We had a baby this summer whom his sisters and their families have never met. My mother-in-law, who lives much closer to us, keeps asking and telling me – and sometimes also my husband – that I need to help her coordinate a meeting. So far I have just ignored her comments and emails.
I know she is trying to rope me into this because my family has seen the baby a lot more; I am much closer to my family, and they are willing to travel. I resent being told that coordinating with his family is my responsibility.
My husband says to keep ignoring her. Next time she brings it up, I would like to tell her it isn’t my job to manage my husband’s relationships with his sisters and ask her to stop asking me to interfere. Is that making a mountain out of a molehill?
I do think it is sad my husband isn’t closer with his sisters, but he isn’t, and my overtures to connect with them over the years have been rejected. I feel guilty because the baby has spent so much more time with my family, and I know that’s why my mother-in-law is trying. – Maryland
You’ve “ignored her”; she’s “trying to rope me into this”; he says “keep ignoring her”; you propose saying “it isn’t my job” to “interfere” – why all the dancing instead of just communicating?
“Milly, I understand. You want the sisters to be included. You want the family to be close. I do too!
Because you do want that! You tried! You made overtures!
[Pause for her to say her piece. To which you listen carefully.]
If she resumes her push to have you be the agent of family unity, then remind her, warmly and with empathy, that you have made efforts over the years that were rebuffed. That her children are the ones who have opened this distance between them and so must be the ones who close it. That it pains you to see a future where your baby isn’t close to these aunties.
Up till now you’ve deflected her as a nuisance without first, as far as I can tell, approaching her as a fellow parent. Please rethink that and summon the patience to engage.
Her knowing you want the same thing she does, and your knowing her pain in not being able to make it happen, may not do anything to bring these siblings closer. It does have the power, though, to redefine how you and your mother-in-law interact. Less stiff-arm, more respect.
Once you’ve heard each other out, then you can go back to deflecting any continuing, unwelcome pressure from your mother-in-law – lightly, sympathetically and as needed: “You know how I feel about this: I’ve tried, you’ve tried – and it’s not up to us anyway. Take it up with those stubborn offspring of yours.” Streamline as needed.
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