Care and Feeding

My Stubborn In-Laws Are Set on Making My Son’s Birthday Miserable

This should be exciting not stressful.

A person holds a birthday cake and smiles.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by bernardbodo/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son “Zach” is turning 13 next month, and while my husband and I should be excited, we’re stressed out. Zach doesn’t like sweets, particularly cake, and always asks for people not to get him cake for his birthday and suggests that instead he’d prefer salty treats like pizza or chips. Additionally, he says that sweets tend to make him feel sick, giving him a stomachache and a headache.

While my husband and I try to comply with giving him a sweets-free birthday, it seems to be impossible to get my in-laws not to bring Zach a birthday cake. My MIL is an avid baker with a sweet tooth and doesn’t believe that anyone could actually dislike cake and says that “it’s not a birthday without cake.” We have told them about Zach’s preferences, but they always shrug it off and bring cake anyway.

My husband and I are at a crossroads about what to do. I’m at the end of my rope on this, and want to warn my in-laws that they can’t celebrate Zach’s birthday with us unless they won’t bring cake. My husband thinks that Zach should just eat the cake to be polite, because my MIL works hard on her cakes and makes them with love. For what it’s worth, Zach said that “if someone actually loves him, they wouldn’t expect him to eat something he hates and that makes him feel sick on what’s supposed to be his special day,” and I tend to agree. How should we handle Zach’s upcoming birthday?

—Cakeless

Dear Cakeless,

This is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

You have a kid who is celebrating a milestone birthday in becoming a teenager, and his desires should be the most important aspect of the event. With that in mind, if he doesn’t like sweets, your family should respect that. I’ve been to plenty of kids’ birthday parties without cake, and it’s not nearly as odd as some people may believe.

Your husband is completely misguided here if he thinks his son should risk illness on his birthday in order to make his grandparents happy. The same logic happens during the holidays when adults force their kids to hug extended family members when they clearly don’t want to. In no universe should we teach our kids to ignore their personal boundaries in order to ensure other people are happy. The fact that your husband doesn’t understand that is pretty troubling, to be honest.

Zach is wise by saying that if someone loves him, they will respect his wishes. Thankfully he has you, and you need to step up and tell everyone involved that if he doesn’t want to eat cake, no one will make him eat it. If your MIL has a sweet tooth, it’s fine for her to bring cake for herself and others.

Sure, that may make you the bad guy, but your son will love you to the moon and back for stepping up for him when others aren’t taking him seriously. Boundaries should be honored and respected, and you may have to teach your family the hard way.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My wife grew up eating far healthier than I did—vegetarian, no sweets, the whole nine yards. All the food she cooks is basically just stews of mushy vegetables with some sort of liquid. I hate it.