The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Sister-in-law jealous of attention on traumatized new mom

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: The past two months of my life have been crazy. I was pregnant and broke my water about three months early. I had to stay in the hospital for five weeks, so they could try to keep the baby in. Then I had a C-section and my baby almost died. The baby was in the NICU for a month after birth. During all of that, we were undertaking a kitchen renovation. Oh, and this was after three years of infertility, surgery to remove my fibroid tumors, etc. Needless to say, my husband and I are exhausted.

However, my husband’s sister, after hearing we were expecting, decided to try to get pregnant ASAP (and succeeded), so our kids could be “close in age.” She already has two kids. But now she is upset that she’s not getting the same amount of attention we thankfully did from our friends, family and community during our crazy time. She feels we didn’t show enough excitement when we found out her baby’s gender. (Our baby was still in the NICU at this point.) She is upset people aren’t showing the same excitement over her pregnancy as they did for ours. She now has demanded that her mother throw a “sprinkle” for her, because we had a shower.

It’s just exhausting. I’m an introvert and didn’t even WANT this attention, and it was for bad reasons: I was in the hospital and our baby almost died.

Now my mother-in-law and husband say I need to attend this sprinkle for my sister-in-law, and, frankly, I’m fed up. She’s always been a bit demanding and needy, but I didn’t really care before. Now I don’t have the freaking energy to make sure we provide the correct amount of excitement for her third kid while we’re just recovering from a trauma.

My husband wants to keep the peace, plus my sister-in-law did do a lot for us and our kid. Am I being selfish? Do I need to just suck it up and attend the sprinkle?

— Driving Me Nuts

Driving Me Nuts: No, you’re not being selfish, but you can suck it up and attend anyway.

Here’s why:

Her needy dysfunction is her problem. Your part is to decide whether and how you’ll engage with her (if at all), and for what purpose — then put that into practice.

So, for example: Your purpose can be to remain involved but sane as you support your husband in his peacekeeping.

Your methods can be — again, just for example — to engage with your sister-in-law only on your terms, often enough to evade detection but infrequently enough not to get sucked in. Or just (eventually) through your kids.

You can also choose to engage with her in the easiest ways available. Thus events such as “sprinkles”: You go, you smile, you leave.

When you’re ready, though. Party attendance and strategic thinking on sister-in-law management don’t belong on a traumatized new mom’s to-do list.

Congrats on your new little person.

Re: Sprinkle: I would say skip it because you have a medically fragile baby. I would also say, as someone whose kiddo spent two months in the NICU: Please, please, please seek out a therapist. You will be amazed what can trigger a breakdown or a PTSD moment.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Right, of course, thanks. Best part, it’s a reason that is just beyond argument: Can’t risk exposing the child.

Post-healing, though, to summarize: Think contained, strategic engagement. And yes to therapy if it’s accessible. Thanks again.