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Carolyn Hax: ‘Your family, your responsibility’ means his folks get nothing

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I generally take the path of “your family, your responsibility.” So he handles the details of trips to visit his family, etc., and I handle mine. We have good relationships with them all and this generally works fine.

We now have three nieces and nephews, two on his side and one on mine. The problem is that he consistently forgets the birthdays of our nephews on his side, even with a couple gentle reminders, while I never forget our niece’s on my side. I’m totally happy to help brainstorm ideas, but I don’t want to take on the responsibility of managing his side of the family, including the logistics of ordering and sending gifts. But I also feel bad as they get old enough to notice our lack of gift-giving.

Is this a let-it-go situation or worth bringing up? His sister has never brought it up, but she’s the kind of person who would notice.

— His Nephews, His Problem?

His Nephews, His Problem?: Two choices. One is to leave things alone and let the consequences land where they may. That could include your husband not being close with his nephews. Oh well! And if his sister doesn’t like it, then she can call him out herself, or you, misogynistically, or just roll with it like an adult herself.

(Full disclosure: I raised forgetting birthdays — at random! the worst way — to an art form, and if my sisters and their kids don’t all know that I care about them a ton but don’t make a priority of milestone-marking, and gleefully accept it when they forget my and my kids’ birthdays, then I do see that as my fault for not being clear.)

The other choice is for you to take over the gift-giving, because it’s important to you, and shift something else off your plate to his.

You’ve got a good system and I never ever ever ever want to be responsible for anyone picking up dropped mental-load items for anyone else. But. If leaving it to your husband would amount to making your nephews collateral damage in a chore war, then take over and hand a different chore to your husband. One that either he’s better at getting done or won’t hurt little feelings if not done.

Or, if they’d appreciate money/gift cards, which take +/- 00:00.47, then take it over without an in-kind trade. That’s what a functioning, trust-based, respectful, workload-sharing system allows you to do. Your call.

Readers’ thoughts:

  • They are also YOUR nephews, no? You have a relationship with them too, no? You expect to continue to have a relationship with them, no? So … when the current system is failing these people who are also your people in a way that seems wrong to you, then it’s time to sit down and say, “This isn’t working. How can we fix it?” Even if the current system seems theoretically fair. For what it’s worth, I am the social secretary because my husband sucks at it. On the other hand, I haven’t washed a dish or done a load of laundry in two years. Cuz, I kind of suck at being on top of that.
  • Similar problem with my husband. I created a shared calendar with everyone’s birthdays as recurring events. We both get notifications about two weeks in advance and discuss what to get and who is responsible for buying/sending. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes he does it.
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