Care and Feeding

My Mother-in-Law Encourages Her Son to Leave All the Parenting to Me

She’s a high-powered executive type and ought to know better.

A woman looks upset as she touches her forehead with one hand and holds her baby in the other
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

My mother-in-law has this habit, whenever we have a fun family outing, of automatically assuming it will be me who stays home with the sleeping baby—partially out of favoritism for her son and mostly out of sexism.

I’ve told my husband it’s important he be the one to talk to her about this, as it’s not easy or appropriate for me to tell her she’s being sexist. He has gently pointed out to her that he too is a parent via text, and she was very responsive. But tonight she went back to her previous assumption that I would skip a fun day, and he would go along with everyone else. My husband sort of mumbled things about him being a parent too, and she said, “Well, she’s the mother!” I replied (in good humor) that that’s BS and antiquated thinking. She didn’t seem to process or hear what I said. Where do I go from here? I’m really bothered by the implication and don’t want to snap at my mother-in-law. She’s a high-powered executive type, so I totally think she ought to be better about this. I want my husband to be more assertive, but he doesn’t have the blueprint for how to do it. They don’t normally critique her.

—Tired of This

Dear Tired,

As a dad, let me say this is not OK.

First off, your husband needs to get his act together and confront his mom about this. You said he doesn’t have the “blueprint” to do this, but that sounds like an excuse to me. All he has to do is pull her aside and say something like “Hey, Mom, my wife deserves to have fun too. It’s really upsetting that you always assume that she should be the one to miss out. I really wish you wouldn’t do that.” If she says something like “Well, that’s what moms do!” then you can respond with “Mom, this isn’t the 1970s—dads and moms are equal caretakers nowadays.”

Secondly, she may not get it, or she may refuse to listen, but that’s when your husband should do the right (and obvious) thing: volunteer to stay at home and have you attend the fun event. Seriously, that’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned, and I’m wondering why he hasn’t done that yet. If he knows how upsetting this is to you, then he should stand up for you by at least taking that type of action.

Last but not least, you should choose to love your mother-in-law from a distance if she chooses to treat you like a second-class citizen. That means refusing to be around her unless you absolutely have to, and then maybe she’ll get the point. You would think a high-powered female executive wouldn’t buy into such a misogynistic view of parenting, but sadly, here we are.

As you know, I’m a fan of the direct approach, but I also think that this battle shouldn’t be fought by you. Whenever my parents did something to upset people I loved, I never expected those people to confront them. That was my job. Your husband needs to grow up and handle it.

All of that said, if he refuses to do his part, I wouldn’t fault you one bit if you snapped at her. Quite frankly, she seems like the type who never has her beliefs questioned or challenged, and it may be the wake-up call she needs. Hopefully it won’t come down to that if your husband steps up and does his part.

—Doyin

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