The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Taking the wrong step over visiting in-law’s request


Dear Carolyn:

My brother, sister-in-law (SIL) and nephew, 5, live halfway across the country from us. I live near my parents where we grew up. There was some significant upheaval between my parents and brother’s family a couple of years ago, and it was very tense.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

The few times a year that SIL and nephew and sometimes brother (who cannot always come) visit, they are up and down the state visiting family and friends. The last visit, my parents were away. SIL and nephew stayed with us for a couple of nights.

Now they are coming again in a few weeks. SIL e-mailed to ask if they could stay with us again, before they visit with her family. Her e-mail made it clear she is not excited about seeing my parents and mentioned (half-heartedly) setting aside one night “so they can see [nephew/brother].”

I feel she is putting me in a position of choosing her over my parents. I responded that I would be willing to have them stay with us if she made seeing my parents with my nephew more of a priority. I am heartbroken for my parents (and feel a little used, too). They are good and very loving people, at times argumentative (Dad) or fussy (Mom), but always wonderful grandparents.

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

I have not heard back from her. Do I just wait? My sister thinks I am right to be loyal to our parents. My husband thinks I should tell SIL that she can stay with us if she lets nephew stay overnight with my parents without her. Is there anything to be done besides wait?


You can apologize to SIL for overstepping your boundaries. No hedging.

And you can stop acting on advice only from those in your camp. You see your parents as “argumentative” and “fussy,” and you’re their loving child! Imagine how those traits come across to someone they didn’t raise — someone who is raising their grandson, no less, a process that can bring out the fuss and argument in the best of us.

While you’re entitled to and surely justified in your heartbreak, it is so not your place to dictate whether SIL brings nephew to your parents’ home, when, how or for how long. She and your brother visit as they see fit. Period.

By imposing conditions on hosting SIL, meanwhile, you not only failed to make your parents more appealing to visit (seriously — when was the last time being pressured into something opened your eyes to its beauty?) but also probably damaged one of the connections between SIL and her husband’s family that is sort-of working. She made a point of visiting you without your brother present. You interpret it as her using you, but I see it as a bridge between families of her design.

Dynamiting that bridge stands to cost your parents a lot more than a forced and grudging nephew overnight would benefit them — and that’s assuming you actually got SIL to agree to it, which her silence says isn’t likely.

So, apologize, unconditionally. You put yourself in the middle when you didn’t belong there; it’s on you to take yourself out. Assure her that of course your home is open to her. Say you’re sorry you meddled. Hope it’s not too late.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



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