Dear Carolyn: We are expecting our first baby – a little girl! Just before the tell-all ultrasound, my mother-in-law expressed surprise that we would want to find out the gender and informed my husband that she does not want to know until the birth.
We have shared the good news with other people, and there are gender-specific items in the nursery and on our registry. She knows we know, but it’s still a secret for her, which she doesn’t think is a big deal.
However, I am stressed about “ruining” the surprise for her; my parents are, too. I also am sad she did not get to share in our excitement about finding out the gender halfway through the pregnancy, and I feel like we are being judged for already making bad parenting decisions – that finding out the gender was somehow “wrong.”
My husband thinks I am making a big deal out of nothing, and I should just ignore her. Should I just bite my tongue and respect her wishes, or should I talk to her about this?
– Expecting in the Mid-Atlantic
A: You don’t just have a baby coming (congrats!); you’re also getting a new stage in your relationship with your mother-in-law.
To get things off to a sustainable start, try viewing the gender juggle from the following perch:
• You can have different approaches without judging each other.
• If she is judging you, then that’s her problem, since it will gain her nothing (seriously – is there any practical use for smugness?) while compromising her chance at a close relationship with you, her son and her granddaughter.
• You can’t make her respect your choices, but you can set the tone by respecting hers. Yes, she “didn’t get to share” in this particular excitement, but there will be others. Don’t dwell.
• You also can’t bear responsibility for her choices beyond respecting them.
That means you can remind yourself to watch what you say, but you can’t blame yourself if someone slips or brandishes something pink.
• When in doubt on any of the above, act as if adults are actually adults. Bite your tongue, sure, but also treat the possibility of “ruining” her surprise as a mild bummer, not an irreparable tear in the family tapestry.
This isn’t just for baby-gender surprises; swap in just about any other issue and it still works.
If you think it would help in this case to talk to her, then do, based on the above principles. Maybe, “We will all do our best not to ruin your surprise, though I obviously can’t promise anything. That’s OK, right? The baby’s health is all that matters?”
Black sheep sister
Dear Carolyn: I’m No. 2 of four sisters (in our 30s/40s). Nos. 3, 4 and I are the best of friends; we hang out and talk often, visit each other’s homes, and know each other very intimately. No. 1 has a life of her own going on – different region, busy job, crazy schedule that prevents her from being available when we’re getting together – and as a result is not as close as the rest of us are.
She has expressed to me that this hurts her feelings, but she hasn’t taken steps to change it because she doesn’t want to intrude. I do feel it’s her responsibility to get close to us, but I feel bad, too. Any suggestions?
– Busy Sister
A: Yes – you urge her to intrude, intrude, intrude, because her making an effort wouldn’t be an intrusion at all, right? You also invite her to everything.
Unless, of course, the “busy” and “it’s her responsibility” are disingenuous, and what you really want is a fig leaf for leaving her out.