In-Law Conflicts: Favoritism

How should I respond when my mother-in-law continually shows partiality by giving preference to my husband's sister and her family? When I called about visiting on Mother's Day, I was told to come the day after since she had already made plans with her daughter. More recently when I asked about Thanksgiving, she said that she "would have to let me know" after finding out what was going on with her daughter's family. I deeply resent the fact that our family doesn't get equal recognition and I'm tired of making plans around my sister-in-law. What do you think we should do?

We can empathize with your dilemma. It’s tough to feel like your family comes in “second place” with your in-laws. Unfortunately, you may just have to get used to the idea. Blood really is thicker than water, and it’s likely that, in your mother-in-law’s estimation, you will always play second fiddle to her own daughter.

Be that as it may, we think it would be a good idea for your husband to have a chat with his mom and dad. Simple honesty requires that he let them know how the two of you have been feeling. This may be tough for him, especially if he isn’t comfortable confronting his parents. But it’s largely his responsibility to hash this out with them – not yours.

Meanwhile, you and your husband should also set some firm boundaries with his folks regarding all future holiday plans. When discussing dates with his mom, the two of you should say something like this: “Mom, we’d really love to spend Thanksgiving with you this year. We’d like to make our travel plans and purchase tickets by the first of September, so can you let us know by then?”

If she says she can’t commit because she doesn’t know what her daughter will be doing for the holiday, you can say, “Just let us know what you want to do by the first of September or we’ll need to make other plans.” Then stick to your guns. If she doesn’t give you an answer by the deadline, go ahead and arrange something else. If she plays the martyr and acts hurt when you tell her you can’t come, don’t buy into her manipulation. Tell her you’re sorry that she’s disappointed and that you’d love to get together with her soon. It shouldn’t take her long to get the message. If she leaves your family hanging at holiday time because she’s hoping for a “better offer” from her daughter, she’ll simply lose out on seeing you and your kids.

If you’d like to discuss this matter at greater length with a member of our staff, call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. They’d be pleased to assist you in any way they can.


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