Carolyn Hax: Advice

Mother-in-law issue is more about mom

Dear Carolyn: I’m the youngest child, and my husband is the oldest. One of the “perks” of being the youngest is that I receive minimal attention to my milestones — low familial participation and even lower interest.

During my wedding, my parents expressed zero interest in the planning and had no intention of doing anything beyond the event. I expected that. My mother-in-law stepped up and took me out to buy a few things and help overall. When my mother found out, she was furious and hurt.

Now that I’m pregnant, the same thing is happening. This child will be grandchild No. 6 on my side and No. 1 on my husband’s. Given this unfamiliar experience, I’d welcome my mother-in-law’s involvement rather than my parents’ vocal fretting over airline costs and time off.


I suspect what you’re dealing with is less about birth order than it is about detachment and/or poor communication. Your mother “found out” your mother-in-law had stepped in? And only then got “furious”? That, by the way, would add a third element of dysfunction: insecurity/competitiveness/possessiveness.

You don’t say whether you asked your parents to take part in your wedding plans and they said no (detachment), or whether you just waited for them to offer and they didn’t (poor communication, possibly with a side of detachment). If it’s the former, then you really don’t need to change anything in your approach to the baby: Invite your parents to be involved, and if they decline, then invite your mother-in-law to take a bigger role.

If instead you never explicitly welcomed your mom, then there is an important change you can make: Figure out what you really want, and ask for it plainly.

Again – if/when she says no, then you’re free to enlist your mother-in-law or anyone else without apology to Mom. She will have only herself to blame for any fury.

Wherever you go with this, I think you have to start by reckoning with your anger at your parents, pinpointing where it comes from, and which of your actions you can change to get a different result, even just to change your expectations. Breaking any part of a cycle breaks the cycle, and your part is all you control.

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