Care and Feeding

I’m Totally Overshadowed by My MIL on Christmas

A grandmother holds many, many shopping bags filled with presents.
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? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother-in-law goes really crazy for Christmas. She bought my daughter (and her other grandkids) at least $150 worth of presents last year plus stocking stuffers. I’m so happy that she’s excited, but I am feeling like she’s stealing my thunder as a parent. We do Christmas Eve at their house and Christmas morning at mine, but I feel like after a complete present overload (where the thoughtful singular gifts I have bought for my nieces fly out of their wrapping paper faster than I can say “that’s from … ”), my kids will be a lot less excited about Christmas with me, not to mention a little presented out. I really understand where she’s coming from and that she remembers Christmas as so special with her kids—but I feel like now is my opportunity to make those memories for myself, and she’s hogging them a bit? An additional issue is that my kids just don’t need so much stuff. How can I ask her with kindness to scale back on Christmas?

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—In-Law Christmas Woes

Dear In-Law Christmas Woes,

Does your husband share or at least understand your frustration about this? If so, would he be willing to talk to his mother about scaling back on Christmas gifts? If, after discussing this with your husband, the task of talking to his mom still falls to you, communicate your concerns about overwhelming the kids with material things. Ask if she wouldn’t consider limiting her gifts to one or two moderate ones next year. Offer suggestions on other ways to make your visit with her fun for the kids, like baking together, singing carols, or watching movies.

If she isn’t amenable to those suggestions (and don’t be discouraged if she isn’t), consider switching the order of gift presentations. Maybe you could visit her on Christmas afternoon or evening, after presents are opened at home? Having your kids open the presents from you first, rather than those from her, might ameliorate the situation.

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Ultimately, if you want your at-home celebration to be special, the onus is on you and your husband to make that happen, not your mother-in-law. Figure out what will work best for you.

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From this week’s letter, “I’m Worried My Son’s Transgression Means He’s Lying About a Lot More”: “Am I overthinking this and it’s normal preteen boy behavior?”

Dear Care and Feeding,

My (white) 3-year-old daughter approached me this weekend and asked me to put her hair in “five ponytails.” I didn’t think much of it until she said, “Like Lola!” She has two of the Lola books, Lola at the Library and Lola Reads to Leo.* For the uninitiated, Lola is a little Black girl who wears her hair in small buns (I’m not sure if these qualify as Bantu knots based on the drawing in the book, but it’s similar).

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I was left wondering if we should put her hair in ponytails like this. Our daughter has lots of books featuring Black and Latino/a characters, so it’s reasonable that she would like to emulate the main characters. I’m not sure whether we should (a) not allow her to wear her hair like Lola and explain why, or (b) allow her to wear her hair like Lola but have a conversation about it. To be fair, the hairstyle wasn’t identical—ponytails vs. buns—and (to me) this style seems less fraught than, say, dreadlocks or cornrows (I’m happy to be corrected here). If a conversation is needed, I’m also not sure what this would entail for a 3-year-old? I would like her to think Black hair is beautiful and cool, but also respect the history and cultural significance of Black hairstyles.

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More broadly, how do we straddle the line of having books with diverse characters in our house, but conveying to a preschooler that we can’t “play dress-up” with every character we read about? We have ongoing conversations about issues around Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, interpersonal racism/bias, etc., but I’m a bit stuck here.

—Dress-Up Dilemma

Dear Dress-Up Dilemma,

You can relax. Style your 3-year-old’s hair in the five ponytails she asked for. No additional conversation is necessary. She’s 3. If you’re already having conversations with her about Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, and interpersonal bias, you’re already overwhelming her.

When you introduce your children to racially and culturally diverse characters, it’s natural for them to be drawn to those characters. It does open the door for lessons and conversations, and it’s great that you’re so open to looking for those inroads in your daughter’s books.

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In this instance, neither of you is doing anything offensive here. This doesn’t rise to the level of “playing dress-up” with another culture.

Sometimes an illustrated hairstyle is just an illustrated hairstyle.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a mom to two adult children, a son “Aaron,” 34, and a daughter “Jordan,” 31. Unfortunately, I recently lost one of my close friends to a car accident, which has encouraged me to revisit my will and consider what will happen with my estate in the event of my passing. Previously, I had planned on splitting my assets equally between my children, but after recent events, I don’t want to keep Jordan in the will.

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A few years ago, Jordan met her now-husband, who is deeply conservative and religious. I was suspicious of him from the beginning and told her so. Nevertheless, they ended up getting married and Jordan has changed immensely. Just like her husband, she’s now right-wing, and she has abandoned her career ambitions to be a housewife. Jordan and her husband have one child and another on the way, and are choosing to raise them in a strict, religious environment. Jordan has also stated that she doesn’t view Aaron’s marriage to his husband as valid because she considers marriage to be a bond between a man and a woman.

I am not comfortable with my assets going to Jordan. She has completely rejected the values I raised her with, and while she has the right to pursue her own lifestyle, I don’t have to support it. In my revised will, I chose to state that I would be leaving assets to Aaron, as well as Jordan’s children, but Jordan would be left out. I wouldn’t be writing this letter if Aaron didn’t demand that I reconsider my decision. He threatened that if I didn’t include Jordan in my will, he wouldn’t accept his inheritance. According to Aaron, it’s cruel and unfair to not keep Jordan in my will. I don’t want to alienate my son, but I also believe that my choice was completely valid.

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Should I rethink removing Jordan from my will?

—It’s About More Than the Money

Dear IAMTtM,

If your hope is that this move may cause your daughter to reconsider her views, it’s unlikely that it will work. Ask yourself if you want to spite her because she’s chosen to live differently than you raised her.

They’re your assets and you can allocate them as you wish, but it does seem a bit unreasonable not to leave an inheritance to a child because she’s conservative, unless you believe she’ll use the money to fund political initiatives you don’t want your estate associated with. Is that your concern? If so, you can place a stipulation on the use of assets, without taking the drastic step of removing Jordan altogether.

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If you’re planning to leave your assets to her children, who will also be raised conservative, who’s to say that your grandchildren won’t also continue to espouse their parents’ beliefs as adults? You may think you’re proving a point to Jordan in the short term, but your money would still be left to family members who hold Jordan’s political views.

Take your son’s advice and reconsider your approach.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Sunday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have three adult children, 28, 25, and 22. The older two maintain regular contact with my mother. The youngest, “Kelsey,” has cut off contact. The reason? My mom called Kelsey to wish her a happy birthday a few months ago. Kelsey was out with friends and talked for about 15 minutes before getting off the phone. My mom was upset Kelsey cut the call short, then asked my other children why Kelsey was upset with her, which of course got back to Kelsey.

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Kelsey now thinks my mom is “holding a grudge” against her (Kelsey’s words) because Kelsey didn’t want to speak on the phone for a long time. I think it’s ridiculous that Kelsey cut off contact over this misunderstanding. I have repeatedly asked her to just pick up the phone and call her grandma, but she keeps saying her grandma should make the first move, and that she doesn’t want to engage with someone who holds grudges and “keeps score.”

My mom is deeply upset to no longer have a relationship with her granddaughter. The holidays are upon us, and they’ll soon be in the same room. What can I do to mediate the conflict between them and restore family harmony?

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—Stuck in Seattle

Dear Stuck in Seattle,

This is a matter of communication, not cutoffs.

Point out to Kelsey that, in refusing to speak to her grandmother because she didn’t like Grandma’s response to their birthday call, she is also nursing a grudge. A childish one. It’s just as “toxic” for her to cut off communication when no harm has been inflicted. If Kelsey knows that your mother prefers longer phone calls, suggest that she only engage in calls with her when she has 30 minutes to an hour to spare. Suggest that, rather than cutting her grandmother off altogether, she takes the healthier approach and communicates her feelings to her grandmother. If she feels she needs to, she should also set her boundaries clearly.

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If her grandmother still chooses to be upset about the length of their phone calls, Kelsey can then explain that, unfortunately, they won’t be able to talk much if she can’t end a call without being made to feel guilty.

If you think it may matter to her, remind Kelsey that our time with our elderly relatives is limited. They may have different expectations of us than younger elders, but it’s worthwhile to fulfill those expectations if they are reasonable. We won’t always be able to.

—Stacia

Correction, Nov. 29, 2021: The book Lola at the Library was originally misdentified as Lola Goes to the Library.

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My husband and I have been married for 15 years, and we have two kids. A few months ago, I discovered that my spouse had long been out of work and had hidden this from me. He had secretly opened multiple credit cards and incurred over $100,000 in debt. What should I do?

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