Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: Last year, my son married his long-time live-in love and they went to her hometown in Russia for their honeymoon. As I had admired fur hats that her father brought back, I asked if they could bring one back for me. They seemed enthusiastic, but I heard nothing from them after their return until I e-mailed, and she told me they'd been busy. I have had issues with this young woman in the past, and I don't think she's always kind to my son. Now she's not showing up at family functions. Any ideas about how I might handle this?
First, she is not your personal shopper. Especially on a honeymoon. Order a hat online. Second, newlyweds generally keep to themselves instead of socializing with in-laws. Third, how she treats your son is your son's business. The "issues with this young woman" are looking like your issues. No wonder she isn't showing up. Keep your demands low and your offers high. Ask them over for coffee and let them bore you with their honeymoon photos.
Marieke Rummens, Calgary
Check your biases
If there is a problem, it is not yours to handle. Even if your son were to come to you with concerns, you can only listen and offer your thoughts and support. It is curious that you aren't questioning why your son didn't bring back the hat, and why your daughter-in-law is not attending family functions. In order to get a better understanding of her behaviour, you need to put your bias aside.
Sharon Charboneau, Sechelt, B.C.
Reach out or be left out
How you can handle this situation is to realize that your son is creating his primary family that won't include you unless you reach out and become a loving mother-in-law. If you want to see them and be part of their lives and possible grandchildren's lives, you need a major rethink.
Jill Macdonald, Toronto
THE FINAL WORD
Can I just say I find it strange that the real bone of contention, as the focus of your letter indicates, is a Russian hat? What is it about the hat? Is there some kind of Dr. Zhivago fixation at work here? Was the hat the final straw in a long series of slights against you by your daughter-in-law? Does she make a point of swanning about the house in her hat every time she comes to visit, no matter what time of year? Does she insist on keeping it beside her plate when you have them over for dinner? No? Then why are you so focused on this?
A request that your daughter-in-law pick you up a hat is not on par with, say, expressing a need for a kidney. It's more than likely she assumed, the ignoramus, that you would not have wanted her to go out of her way, on her honeymoon, to hunt you down a hat. That maybe you could live without the hat. That – heaven forbid – you wouldn't be unduly put out, should she return from her honeymoon sans hat.
If my tone hasn't adequately got it across yet, let me spell it out for you – such an assumption would have been eminently reasonable.
A request for a hat that has been ignored? In the grand array of familial slights and grudges, this is minor league. This is the kind of thing we let go of, shrug off in the name of continued family harmony. Forgive me, but it sounds a bit like you're looking for reasons to dislike your daughter-in-law. For your son's sake, why not try to do the opposite?
Lynn Coady is the author of The Antagonist, nominated for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Next week's question
My husband and I have been married 11 years and have three kids (one's an infant). Before my 39th birthday I tried to suggest that I wanted a romantic gift. Not expensive – just something he put some thought into. He gave me a bathroom scale and a hot water bottle from the drug store (the only store open Sunday). I already feel fat and old – I wanted to throw them at him. I tried to explain my disappointment – and he called me ungrateful. What should I do?
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