Care and Feeding

My In-Laws Expect Me to Ensure Their Teen Son Doesn’t Feel Neglected

I’m about to have my own child. Shouldn’t this be their duty?

A pregnant woman holding her belly and biting her lip, and a teen boy standing behind her, arms crossed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by gbh007/iStock/Getty Images Plus and nicoletaionescu/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband (22M) and I (24F) are expecting our first child in a couple of months. While having a catch-up session with my in-laws, his mother said that Hubby and I should be spending more time with his 12-year-old brother. She says he feels neglected and that we need to be considerate of how he feels about losing his place as the baby of the family.

I feel as if this should be his parents’ duty and not ours. We do spend time with him every now and then, but I don’t think it’s my responsibility to ensure that he’s not being neglected. To me, it should be his parents ensuring that he knows that they aren’t replacing him with their grandkid. It would be different if he were my child; I will definitely be having special time with my child before she becomes an older sister. How do I go about dealing with this without causing any strife in the family?

—Frustrated and Tired

Dear F.T.,

You are correct that it’s your in-laws’ job to ensure that their youngest son doesn’t feel pushed aside by the birth of the first grandchild. However, considering that there’s a significant age gap between your husband and his brother, there likely will have to be some special efforts made in order to ensure that the two of them have or will maintain a strong relationship. These are siblings who very well may have to come together in the future to make some of the most difficult decisions imaginable, and they should not wait until there is trauma—or the shared experience of adulthood—to begin a truly meaningful bond. It sounds like this hasn’t been a priority on your husband’s end in the past, and that his mother would like to see him try a bit harder to include him in his life.

Don’t get me wrong, your mother-in-law could totally be spiraling because she feels conflicted about how to handle having a child and grandchild that feel closer to one another in age than her two sons do, and maybe she’s resenting the loss of her youngest’s role as the baby of the clan. Either way, I don’t think there’s anything wrong about making a bit more effort to include your brother-in-law in your life, especially considering that for about six years, he and your children will be children at the same time. You don’t have to take on the responsibility for ensuring he feels stable during these changing times; rather, you should create a place for him in your life that is stable and maintain it. Best of luck to you.

—Jamilah