Dear Carolyn: Our young child has both my husband’s and my last names, no hyphen and no middle name. My husband’s parents have voiced disapproval, do not recognize our family’s choice and only address our child by my spouse’s last name when sending him cards, gifts, etc. My husband’s sister has been married multiple times and has multiple children — each given their father’s last name — and no one in her family has the same last name. Their respective dads are not involved in their lives. How my husband’s sister’s family chooses names is of course their business, but I find it interesting that my in-laws are okay with the variety of names in their daughter’s family, but our inclusion of my last name is offensive.
My extended family isn’t prolific, and I don’t believe only men have the right to have their names carry on. If I disliked my last name, I’d have no attachment to it and would gladly change it.
As much as we talk as if we’ve come so far as a society, the pushback from relatively minor matters like this (in the grand scheme of things) shows we still have a long way to go.
Every time I open a card addressed to our young child incorrectly is a reminder of my in-laws’ rejection. That won’t be changing. I find myself irritated by this and am hoping you can advise me on how to handle this for myself.
— Name Game
Name Game: Every in-law problem is a marital problem if the couple aren’t in agreement.
What does your husband think of his parents’ disapproval and of their petty insistence on calling his child the wrong name? (Those are two different things.)
If he’s less bothered by it than you are, then does he at least respect how you feel? Is he prepared to stand up to them — for you, for his own reasons, on principle?
If he is not prepared to do that, then can you respect his decision to let it go?
Your in-laws stirred up this trouble, but now, unfortunately, it’s yours unless you can neutralize it somehow — by finding their pettiness too sad, for example, or too pathetic to be worth mounting any resistance to it. If you can’t get to a place honestly of no fluffs left to give — about what they think of your name choices or what name they use — then it’s important to talk to your husband about coming up with a strategy together to neutralize your anger. Yes, they’re your feelings and are therefore yours to manage, but your nursing along a seething hatred for his parents is a problem that will quickly become his, too.
That strategy can be something such as laughing them off, deciding they’re not worth the rage, marking their letters “return to sender” or withholding access to their grandchild. Whether he talks you off the ledge or you talk him onto it doesn’t matter; what does matter is that you both commit unflinchingly to the family you two have formed.
That’s why, after all, the in-laws’ resistance is so offensive; it’s an assertion of their supremacy over how you conduct your family. There are as many ways to deny them that claim as there are couples. The two of you need only find your one.