Carolyn Hax: Don’t let mom’s harsh words bite

Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 28, 2013

Are there letter-writers you wonder about to this day? While I’m away, readers nominate some who stayed in mind.

“Sometimes I Google ‘hax bedbugs’ when I’m in the mood to get outraged.”

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Jan. 15, 2010

Dear Carolyn:

Both of our sons came home for Thanksgiving. We put up our older son and his family in a hotel and had our younger son, his new (second) wife and their baby stay in our guest room.


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

How I wish I had switched! On Friday morning, the new wife said she had bug bites. I said that twice in the past I had bites also and thought they were from bedbugs. We had done some Internet searching and gone to my dermatologist and discovered bedbugs are not medically dangerous and not the result of uncleanliness. We gave her hydrocortisone and sympathized with her.

That evening, they moved into the hotel. Our son said his wife was absolutely adamant that they get out of our home. She has the reputation of being a “strong” woman, and she earns a very high income, so she is able always to get her way.

My husband and I felt embarrassed and disappointed that she reacted that way, but we are aware that a first-time, 45-year-old mother probably had mother-bear hormones at play, and we don’t blame our son too much for giving in to her demands.

But what did that accomplish? She washed everything they brought in hot water, as did I with everything downstairs. My husband thinks she threw away their suitcases. We will buy plastic cases for the bed, but what else can we do?

Our relationship with her is significantly impaired, and she wants me to tell her she did the right thing. I think she overreacted. Does this portend more trouble down the road?

Anonymous

Expect more trouble, but not just because of your daughter-in-law.

Your contempt for her is breathtaking. Look at your modifiers: “new (second)” wife, “absolutely” adamant, “very” high income, “always” get her way, “first-time, 45-year-old” mother.

Maybe you preferred Wife 1, or someone 29 and “traditional.” But, oh well! You got a bride with money, mileage and professional chops. Unless she’s oblivious, your contempt registered — and no doubt escalated the bug drama. Either find a way to like her, find a way to respect her or get used to serious tension.

While you’re at it, summon a little respect for the position you put this family in. Bedbugs may not be “medically dangerous,” but they’re a repulsive, blood-sucking, time-sucking nuisance. I hit the Internet, too, and bet she did the same.

Her “overreactions” populate lists of recommended precautions in the event of exposure. And it’s still possible the family brought home some skeevy hitchhikers despite their precautions, which could mean costly and disruptive professional pest control.

I know you meant no harm. But now you’re blaming her for the fallout, and you’re making that mistake with ill will and forethought.

Instead: Call your son; admit you were cavalier about the possible infestation; apologize for exposing them to a headache they don’t need, especially not with a baby; offer to pay for any treatment their home may need; and get your home inspected by a reputable specialist. You can’t expect his wife to drop her dukes until you drop your own.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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