The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Mother-in-law now treats her like grandchild’s ‘vessel’

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My mother-in-law and I have always had a warm relationship, but since I’ve become pregnant, I’ve noticed her talking about me more as the vessel of her grandchild than the person she always treated me as before. It’s just little things, but those things nonetheless get under my skin.

For example, my husband still gets asked about work; I only get asked about doctors’ appointments. Or last night, she asked what we were doing for dinner, and when I said, “Thai food,” her response was, “As long as it’s what Baby wants.” In that instance, I laughed and said, “I’m pretty sure I’m the one who wanted red curry,” but is that the best way to deal with the comments if they keep coming? Lighthearted and on the spot?

— The Vessel

The Vessel: On the spot, yes, and lighthearted, mostly — but I think it’s time to say outright, comically: “Aaaaaaah! I am not a vessel! I am [Name]!”

The urgency here is to say it while you can still laugh — as a precursor, if needed, to a more serious statement of how she has changed toward you. Her reasons are understandable, you can say, because you know and appreciate how excited she is! But you’re getting sensitive to your general erasure, not just by her, presumably (because this is definitely a thing), but by others, too.

If you wait till you’ve got nothing left but anger, then your mother-in-law could not only take this as a slap, but also have a legitimate gripe that you held this in all along without giving her a chance to fix it. True of most aggravations.

Re: The Vessel: I’ve also had some success with the “answer the question you wish was asked” strategy. For instance:

MIL: How are you feeling? (Sympathetic look at belly.)

Me: I had this big work project/I’ve started a new book/read an article on X that I found interesting/met up with a friend with a really interesting perspective. Here are my thoughts. What do you think?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Sounds perfect, thanks.

Dear Carolyn: When is it too much to add to one’s plate? I have a lot of kids in many activities (which include travel around the D.C. area every weekend), a dog, I work full time pretty hard, took on an extra unpaid position at work, am exercising decently often, managing one kid’s team, organizing Girl Scout activities for another kid, keeping up with friends and spending quality time with my spouse and kids.

I am considering running for the board at my kids’ sports club, which would probably entail five to 10 hours per week. I don’t need much downtime, but I’m worried this would be stretching myself too thin. I feel as if I can do it and would help make some positive changes, although I won’t know how much work is involved until I join (if elected).

How do you decide when to take on more? When do you know you would be spread too thin?

— Full Plate

Full Plate: I’ll take a nap for both of us. Yikes.

So, okay. List everything you’re willing to drop to make room for this (if you win the spot on the board). Up top, put the things you will drop automatically — because, wow. After those, list things you can drop if you need to when you realize there’s more work than you expected. Prioritize the list carefully. Just thinking it through will help.

Engaging in kids’ lives and your community sets an excellent example, but so does engaging in stillness. In peace with your thoughts. For your kids’ sakes, if not yours, please make room for some.