Care and Feeding

My Mother-in-Law Refuses to Buy a Guest Bed

So we end up sleeping on leaky air mattresses. Can we take our new baby to a hotel for Christmas?

A dad attempting to sleep with his kid on an uncomfortable-looking couch.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother-in-law and I don’t have a warm and fuzzy relationship, though I promise you that I am very accommodating and pleasant with her. My husband would describe her as a pretty difficult person who doesn’t have much ability to think of the world outside herself.

My husband and I have been together for eight years and married for almost five. Despite having four bedrooms, being recently separated, and having only one of her children living at home, my mother-in-law does not have a guest bedroom. (There are rooms that are open but have no beds.) During visits to her house throughout our marriage, we have slept on a terrible pullout couch in the basement, in separate bedrooms on twin beds while one of his brothers sleeps on a couch, and (my personal favorite) me on a twin bed and my husband on an air mattress next to me that had a hole in it. When he mentioned the hole in the morning, she laughed it off as so unfortunate but didn’t offer to replace it for the next night!

We stopped staying with her when we came to town because it was just so uncomfortable. She was mildly miffed, but it seemed like a great solution. We stayed with other friends in much more pleasant accommodations and then could visit her for shorter, more-manageable periods.

(I feel it’s very important to state that she has a lot of money, so the no-guest-bedroom thing is not a matter of means.)

Anyhow, we just had our first baby (hooray!), but this means she absolutely wants us to stay with her. We traveled to see her (double hooray for Canadian mat leave!) after promises that we would have a proper guest room this time. Well, her solution was to move two twin beds (with really bad mattresses) to the same room and try to push them together. This still results in a large, uncomfortable crack between the two beds, and now my husband’s brother, who is away at college, does not have a bed in his room! If we all come home for Christmas, someone is still on the couch. It’s all just so bizarre to me and makes me inordinately mad (which I’m prepared to accept is anger about other parts of the relationship, maybe not all just the bed stuff).

Am I crazy? Is it reasonable to expect a room with a bed to share with your husband if someone has all the means to do so? It’s not like we’re above sleeping on an air mattress if we need to, but this seems so unnecessarily inhospitable!

—I Just Want a Bed!

Dear IJWaB,

First of all, a hearty double hooray for both your new baby and Canadian mat leave, both of which are beautiful things.

I’m so glad you clarified that there is zero chance money can be the issue. We still cannot go around demanding that other people buy beds for our comfort, but it does give you a little more confidence when you inform your mother-in-law that you and your husband and baby will simply be “more comfortable” at a hotel or at the home of friends who are less oddly determined to be inhospitable.

I think the key will be to keep this conversation incredibly matter-of-fact. You now have a baby, and you need a certain amount of space. If an actual bed designed for two people appears in her guest room, you will be delighted to stay with her. (I assume you are lugging a Pack ’n Play for the baby.) Otherwise, you’ll just have to make other arrangements.

Now, something that caught my attention immediately is that she is recently separated, and is now a bit of a tin can rattling around a big empty house (with one child still at home, at least). I think there’s a chance that she’s depressed, and one of the most common manifestations of being depressed is being utterly overwhelmed at the idea of, say, going online or to a store and ordering a large bed and arranging to have it delivered and assembled.

I’m not here to diagnose anyone (nor I am remotely qualified to do so), but I would like your husband to sit down with her and ask how she’s doing in the wake of her separation, and if it might be a good idea to talk to someone about it. This may result in a flat “no, absolutely not, everything is fine,” but it also may make something click for her.

If she does turn out to be a little depressed and overwhelmed by everything, could you perhaps do the work of finding an appropriate bed (and perhaps linens for said bed) and emailing her the link? You can point out the sleeping-on-couches-at-Christmas factor, and also how you really want to experience your baby’s first Christmas with her. (This does not have to be strictly true.)

This is absolutely a genuine aggravation, which is indeed mixed with a bit of BEC due to your relationship as a whole, but I have faith that you will navigate it and succeed. You have the grandbaby, which is the Golden Snitch of this situation.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have two questions: 1) How do I stifle my overwhelming fear of miscarriage? (surprise pregnancy, I’m in my late 20s, around five weeks) and 2) How can I be a good partner during this process? (Husband was happy but also shocked at the news; he has a lot of anxiety around money and losing his youth, but he’s not buying a red sports car or anything.)

I’m still processing the news—what it means for my body, my career—and I’m not sure how to navigate the fundamental change in our relationship that’s about to occur (if the pregnancy sticks)! For context, we dated five years and got married in February. I want to have a strong foundation before all the craziness that’s about to be unleashed.

—So It Begins!

Dear So It Begins,

You have every chance of carrying a healthy pregnancy, as you know, so I recommend both attempting to surrender yourself to the great unknowable workings of the human body and doing your best to keep up your normal routines, especially exercise. The less time you spend being deliberately overcautious and reading online message boards, the better. Enjoy these days when you still feel like yourself. With your second trimester you’ll feel (ideally) the reassurance of really knowing you’re porting around a passenger.

As to your husband, this is largely his process to go through on his own. Be open to hearing his fears and worries, but also give him something concrete to read. I recommend The New Father for him, and Emily Oster’s truly brilliant Expecting Better for the pair of you. It’s like a Xanax in book form.

I will be cheering for you as you prepare for your little family to expand. Please keep me posted.

If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are parents to wonderful 4-year-old twin boys. We both work outside the home and have been blessed with help from both sets of our parents in providing care for the boys so that we can work. In addition, the boys are enrolled in preschool for half-days, five days per week. Two of those afternoons they are cared for by my parents; three of those afternoons they are cared for by my husband’s parents.

To be honest, I have never been fond of my husband’s family, so I’m aware that the situation I’m about to present may be through my own lens. I have no doubt of their love for my boys, but they are conservative, paranoid, and bigoted. And their approach to caring for the boys is overly cautious and anxious. For example, as infants, the boys couldn’t crawl on the carpet (while wearing footie pajamas, mind you) without my mother-in-law freaking out about germs. Now, as little boys, they aren’t allowed much latitude to explore, both because of anxiety and because my in-laws are in their 80s and not in the best shape. They are not physically capable of keeping up with two active 4-year-olds; they are not even able to take them to the park or playgrounds, or do other activities.

We have had several instances over the years where my in-laws did not abide by our wishes in terms of parenting the boys. Some disagreements have led to raised voices between myself and my mother-in-law where I had to remind her that I am the mother.

My husband’s family was in vocal opposition to the boys’ preschool from the get-go, believing that children should be kept home and sheltered. This spring, my in-laws were banned from the campus of the preschool after instigating a verbal disagreement with their teacher. They accused the teacher of being a horrible person and “abusive.” To me, this should have been the last straw. I compromised, though, and agreed to have them continue caring for the boys.

As the new school year approaches and the boys return to the school from which my husband’s family has been banned, we need, at the very least, to find someone to transport the boys to and from school in my in-laws’ stead. As such, I’d like to use this opportunity to modify our arrangement and hire a nanny for two of my in-laws’ three days with the boys, leaving them with one afternoon per week. My husband does not agree. He is concerned that the nanny wouldn’t work out and that his parents will be upset. I countered that if the nanny doesn’t work out, we would replace the nanny, and while I’m quite sure my in-laws will be upset, that is not a reason to forgo finding the best care for our boys.

My husband, a normally lovely and rational man, isn’t budging on hiring a nanny. Am I the one who needs to be more understanding here? If not, how do I change my approach to help him hear my concerns?

—Tugged From All Sides

Dear Tugged,

One afternoon a week, considering your in-laws have been literally banned from preschool, seems more than generous to me—I am firmly Team Nanny—but I have no control over your husband. My recommendation is couples counseling, as sometimes saying ridiculous things in front of an uninvolved third party brings clarity to all of us.

I also think that you need to find time to facilitate your kids’ relationship with these people while you are also present. They are not appropriate sole caregivers, but if they can be respectful of you and your wishes, you can make them feel included on various outings and excursions (library reading circles! splash pad trips!) that they can post pictures of and feel like they are involved and bonding.

You should not need to raise your voice to have your rules for your kids upheld. That’s not good for the kids and it’s not good for the relationship. That’s when you put them in the car and end the visit. Usually it doesn’t take that many abrupt departures before the situation resolves itself.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I don’t have kids yet, but I have been traveling a lot for work lately and have a question about kids on airplanes. On multiple occasions, kids have kicked the seats in front of them or flipped their tray tables down over and over and over, making it difficult for the people on the receiving end to think about pretty much anything else, much less sleep if it’s a long flight. What’s the best way to deal with kids who are doing this? Generally, these kids have been anywhere between 7 and 11 years old. What should someone do if their parents aren’t obviously nearby? If they are?

—My Neck, My Back

Dear My Neck, My Back,

If the kids are between the ages of 7 and 11, this is bad parenting. I want you to loom over the back of the seat and say, “Please stop [the offending behavior],” whether the parents are obviously nearby or not. Use your Firm Adult Voice, which we have mentioned in the past.

If the behavior continues, and the parents are not present, flag down a flight attendant to locate them and engage in the powerful act of semi-public shaming. If the parents are present and fail to curb their children’s behavior, I hope it’s a short flight and you can enjoy the small sense of comfort that these are not your children and you can return to your normal life when the flight ends, whereas the parents will be stuck with them forever.

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