Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My mother-in-law is an alcoholic. A couple of years ago, she drove drunk with my sister-in-law’s kids, and my sister-in-law cut off all of my mother-in-law’s contact with them. Since then, my mother-in-law got two DUIs and lost her license (but still has a car).

To her credit, she has made some inroads to getting sober.

I am pregnant with our first. Another sibling has been pressuring my husband to let my mother-in-law watch our kid on occasion, unsupervised. Husband is caving, despite knowing of my concerns, saying, “Well, as long as she doesn’t drive Kid and stays sober.” I am completely not okay with this. What do I do? For what it’s worth, my sister-in-law gets no pressure to reestablish contact.

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)


You put your foot down. You say absolutely not. You say this is your child and his, not his sibling’s. You say you will physically stand in the way of his mother’s caring for the child unsupervised. The whole Mama/Papa Bear image is overused, and raising kids is normally a lot more routine than such overuse suggests, but there are, in fact, times you have to get up on your hind legs and roar. This is one of them. Welcome to the den.

Re: Alcoholic mother-in-law:

In addition to Carolyn’s spot-on advice, it couldn’t hurt to go with your husband to Al-Anon meetings. If he’s even considering caving, he needs a cold dose of the reality of his mother’s illness. Because no bleeping way should his mom be with your child unsupervised. Full stop.


Completely apt suggestion, thanks. Even if mom has stopped drinking, her legacy of boundary problems is still plainly in force.

Dear Carolyn:

My family has been planning a vacation for over a year. My adult siblings both live on different continents, so this is a HUGE deal for my family (Mom especially), having us all together for a week.

However. My husband has just been diagnosed with a chronic illness. This week, he hit an all-time low, both physically and mentally. Without going into details, I am terrified of what will happen if I leave him alone for a week.

He refuses to go on the vacation, saying he’s too far behind at work. But if I don’t go, my parents, while being understanding, will be crushed. HELP.

To Beach or Not to Beach

Is he urging you to go or begging you to stay? Or is he hinting but not committing?

What are you “terrified” he’ll do — get sicker, hurt himself, etc.? How much of that terror is founded, and how much is the product of a runaway imagination? Are you susceptible to the latter, or are you usually slow to declare an emergency?

Is he usually brave and this “all-time low” is a marked exception, or is he a tugger of people’s strings or seeker of attention?

Lots of variables here. Your duty, of course, is to your ailing spouse, but that’s a vacation-breaker only if it’s really a matter of his coming to harm if you go — or if he never asks and is asking now.

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