Dear Care and Feeding,
My mother is throwing me a baby shower. I am so incredibly grateful for all the work she’s put into planning this party, and all her excitement for her first grandchild, but we cannot agree on the invite list.
She is insisting on inviting her college friend, whom I’ll call Carol. Carol has had a rough few years, including quitting her medication last year, which sent her spiraling into a deeply scary episode of psychosis. Under any other circumstances, I would not protest this invite; I know what happened to Carol was hardest on her, and she has since started taking her medication and regularly seeing her doctors again. The only problem with her invite is that she is also my best friend’s mother.
My best friend—I’ll call her “Annie”—has always had an unhealthy relationship with her mother, but after months of forcibly committing Carol for her own safety, answering her every call and need, and begging her to get treatment, Annie cut off all communication with her.
Since she made that decision, Annie has sought therapy and is making progress to heal the wounds of caring for an unstable self-medicating mother for far too long. I am so proud of her progress and support her decision to make space and time for her own healing. Carol has not handled this well and continues to try to speak to Annie in any possible manner, resorting most recently to postcards sent to Annie’s work.
My mother doesn’t understand why they can’t just “get over this” and is insisting inviting them both to the party would be “good for them.” I strongly disagree.
Annie is my best friend, was the first person I told about my pregnancy, and will be very involved in my child’s life. Carol might see us once or twice a year. Can I insist that she not receive an invite? Or should I tell Annie about my mother’s plan, knowing it will hurt her, and she won’t attend, and let my mother invite her own friend?
This party is for you. You are pregnant, and you do not need any more stress. Tell your mother that the idea of having Carol and Annie together is keeping you from sleeping and eating. You will be happy to have a nice lunch with Carol and your mother, but she cannot come to the shower.
There is a chance she will show up anyway, because your mother will roll over your wishes. This is why I want you to tell Annie, so she can prepare to bounce if Carol shows up. Or maybe she’ll be OK riding it through. But definitely tell Annie so she has time to collect herself.
Congratulations on your pregnancy!
Enjoy special holiday content from our Care and Feeding columnists, including a gift guide of classic toys for children of every age from Nicole Cliffe, coping strategies to survive the holidays from Jamilah Lemieux, and educational (but fun!) kid gift ideas from Ask a Teacher columnist Carrie Bauer.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter has a good friend group in the fourth grade, all of whom I like. They seem kind, creative, inclusive, and good for my kid. At my daughter’s recent birthday party, I provided transportation for one of them, which is a frequent request since this family doesn’t have a car and which I don’t mind doing at all. When I dropped this kid off, her mother (who speaks English as a second language) appeared to be asking me for money or to go to the ATM at such and such street to get her money.
It was incredibly awkward, and both my kid and her kid were aware of some tension. I replied that I didn’t have an account there and that we were so happy her kid could come to my daughter’s party and smiled and left. The whole situation was uncomfortable, and I’m not sure how to address it with my daughter. Should I have a discussion with my kid about this? We discuss racial and socioeconomic inequality often due to our own family circumstances (homeless family members with addiction), but I hadn’t considered friends’ families asking for money before.
—What to Say?
I’m sorry, that does indeed sound like an extremely unexpected and tension-filled moment. I also want to acknowledge the possibility that it was a misunderstanding, based on the other mother’s shaky grasp of English.
Because of that, but also for the child’s privacy, I do not recommend having a conversation with your daughter unless she brings it up. If the situation arises again without the kids around, you can make your own choice. Personally, I think that providing transportation and perhaps more meals than you would ordinarily feed a friend of your daughter’s is, in itself, a great help. I would also keep an eye on the friend’s clothing and hygiene and weight, in case their mother is in more dire straits than you currently believe. I think that if that had been a concern already, you would have told me, so I truly am hoping there was a language-based misunderstanding.
If she more clearly asks you for money in front of the kids, I recommend saying “This isn’t a good time to talk about this,” because, well, it isn’t.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My fiancé and I live with his family, and it will be at least a few months before we are able to move out. He and his mother have had a volatile relationship since he was a child. I would consider it emotionally abusive. She constantly berates and questions him over small things like the length of his hair (because it falls out and ends up on the floor) and the fact that our dog sleeps in the bed.
She is also the sort of person who thinks she has to be cruel to him so that he knows how to fight back when other people do it to him. What she doesn’t realize is that a) that’s not how that works and b) no one is as cruel to him as she is.
He has a much better relationship with his father, but it disappoints me that he can’t or won’t do more to stop her from doing damage to her children. She’s the cruelest to her oldest son, but these habits of hers negatively affect her other two sons too. I know he can’t control her, but I feel he should do more to stand up for him or counter what she does.
I have hope that things will improve when we are able to move out, but my fiancé has no such hope. He doesn’t think their relationship will ever improve. This is partly because my father is abusive and our relationship isn’t improved with me being moved out of my parents’ house. But I think he could at least establish some boundaries. But when he tries to set boundaries with her now, she presses them. Once, when he tried to end an argument by leaving the room, she sent his brothers to get him. So boundaries are tricky.
How do I support him and help him to establish boundaries now and in the future?
—Like a Pit of Snakes
I think all you can do, based on your letter, is white-knuckle it through the next two to three months until you can move out. You can correct or call out unacceptable behavior when you see it (and encourage your fiancé to do so), but, like your fiancé, I do not think this relationship will be saved by moving out.
And that’s OK. It’s a bad relationship. It’s possible that space and time will improve things, but right now you have an Actively Shitty future mother-in-law and an Actively Enabling future father-in-law, and these simply may not be people who can be part of your future together.
I do not think you have the resources for couples counseling (and I want you literally shaking couch cushions for spare change to get out of this living situation), so I will merely encourage you to keep talking with your fiancé about what role he wants these people (if any) to share in your soon-to-be-separate lives.
I am not a “you marry a family” person, but there is enough wisdom in it to make me ask you if you think your fiancé is able to stand up to his family or is likely to, and to remind you that if that is not the case—particularly because you yourself are from an abusive background—you do not have to marry and “save” him.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Several times in your column you have referred to a decision-making philosophy called “two yeses, one no.” I have never heard of this, and the top Google result is an old article on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Will you please explain “two yeses, one no” clearly for both me and for all future Googlers of the phrase, so that they will arrive instead at your explanation on Slate dot com?
Dear An Editor,
With great pleasure! I believe it derives from somewhere deep in the heart of parenting forums, but I would be delighted to learn an exact provenance so I can give credit where credit is due.
Two yeses, one no, defined now and for all time: In relationships and in coupled parenting, there are plenty of simple, nonfraught questions in which one partner’s misgivings shouldn’t be disqualifying. One of you wants your kid to go to the sleepover, and the other isn’t really into the idea? It’s fine. That doesn’t rise to the occasion in my book.
But there are many situations that are serious enough that both of you need to agree, and if one of you says no, instead of yes, that is enough to make the decision, which must be no.
Here is an example: Your teen asks you to host a party for her friends and provide them with alcohol. Your partner thinks this is a good idea, but you do not. (It is not a good idea.) Your no is enough to take it off the table. This is a two yeses, one no situation.
Here is another example: Your wife wants to move to Des Moines to be closer to her family, and you want to stay in New York, where you have a job. You both have to agree, even if that takes a long time, or it ain’t happening.
It is possible that the yes person may want it absolutely desperately, at which point you can have an extended discussion about it, but ultimately the no should prevail, and if that’s unthinkable to you, you can leave.
I hope this was helpful to you!
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