Q. Baby name tug-of-war: My husband and I made a list of baby names pretty early on in our relationship that we both love. But my mother-in-law has not been appreciative of the girl names (all plant-themed). When I first shared them with her she immediately started commenting on how bland or strange they were. And subsequent conversations (that she brings up) include her expressing her dream nicknames that she’s going to give each little girl (all the most annoying, common ornamental flowers that you see in every English garden) and continually making fun of one name I’ve had picked out for years. She’s even shared these girl names with her co-workers and friends just to try and get more opinions that might sway me. (I’m stubborn and I don’t care about peoples’ opinions on nonissues.)
Recently, she’s begun dropping hints that she would like one of our nonexistent girls to have a family name (her name). I’ve been very firm that I do not want to use that name and her responses usually revolve around the idea that she won’t have anyone to pass on the family’s antique bed set to (reserved for the girls with the family name, and also unimportant to my husband and I) or questions about why I don’t like the family name. It gets awkward. To follow this, I’ve recently been having pelvic pain and irregular menstrual cycles, but haven’t yet received a diagnosis of any kind. So my husband and I don’t even know if pregnancy is possible at this point. The continued talk about how weird and untraditional my girl baby names are is starting to grind at my patience. How can I politely tell her that I don’t appreciate this continual nagging over the names of children that may or may not be born in a way that she will understand and respect?
A: This is a great opportunity for your husband to run interference with his mother on your behalf! That’s not to say you can’t ever speak up for yourself with your mother-in-law, but this list of girl names isn’t just yours for your mother-in-law to either approve or disparage. It’s a joint decision you and your husband have arrived at together, and for her only to chip away at you on the subject while acting like he was asleep in the next room when you compiled a list must be additionally frustrating. All he has to say is “Mom, you need to stop offering commentary on the baby names we might pick out someday, and you definitely need to stop announcing what nicknames you’re going to give these hypothetical kids to ‘fix’ our decision.” Then, if (or more likely, when) she does it again, either of you can simply say, “You know we’ve already asked you not to do this. Please stop.” You’re perfectly entitled to shut those conversations down yourself—I only suggest letting your husband take the first pass at telling your mother-in-law to knock it off because it seems like so far he’s been letting you take the brunt of her criticism, and it’s a good opportunity for him to act like he’s on your team. But by all means, if she loudly sighs for the umpteenth time, “Who, oh who will I bequeath this hideous swan canopy bed to, as I have pledged and am by honor-bound not to give it to anyone but a kinswoman named Madeline II?,” you can say, “I don’t know! I hope you find a good home for the bed with someone who can really appreciate it.” It’s not your problem. To be honest, I don’t think it’s a real problem at all—but we’re all entitled to our own little made-up problems once in a while, and if she would like to be troubled about the future of this old bed, she’s certainly free to worry about it.