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Carolyn Hax: Why it’s called the PTA instead of the GPTA

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My son and his family recently moved back to our area. I feel I've missed so many milestones, though I did make the effort to visit them every month or so.

Once the kids started school, I joined the PTA. I so enjoyed my time as PTA president when my sons were small, and thought I could get to know the parents of my grandchildren's friends. When I announced this, my daughter-in-law started to cry and said, "We never should have moved back." My son gathered up the kids and left, and we haven't spoken since.

I don't understand what happened, though I have always had a frosty relationship with my daughter-in-law. She is not my favorite person. I did not approve of my son marrying her, and found her immature.

Since the kids were born, I tried to let bygones be bygones. She responded with ignoring any advice I've provided and making it as difficult as possible for me to visit. She is cordial but not friendly, and I feel she excludes my husband and me from some events.

What do I do now? I don't trust my daughter-in-law to include me on her own. And I'm sure the school will be upset to lose such a willing volunteer.

— Trying to Be Helpful

Trying to Be Helpful: I wish you could see my expression right now.

Envision this


with lazy ponytail and $4 reading glasses.

Please imagine your mother-in-law wrote this letter about you.

Do you see it? At all?

To say you “let bygones be bygones” is like a felon granting herself a pardon. You were the antagonist — and trust me, there is zero chance she didn’t know — so she’s the one holding the right to forgive.

Your choices were either to be warmer to her, starting with apologies, or to recognize your stiff disapproval meant you stayed on this family’s sidelines — unless and until they welcomed you in.

But you didn’t apologize and, Whoa, Nelly, you didn’t butt out. Instead, you pretended not to loathe her (sort of) and helped yourself to their family experience as you felt entitled to. You visited constantly and advised copiously knowing neither was welcome.

And you put yourself in their PTA!!!! It is one of the most stunning boundary violations I’ve seen. Apparently your only emotional awareness has been of your sense of outrage.

Thing is, you’re the one who stands to lose the most from your refusal to see things from your daughter-in-law’s perspective.

The PTA freakout aside, she has gone along with your heavy presence, despite your seeing her as some mistake your son made.

Please give a good think to how you’d feel if it were your henhouse and your mother-in-law were a self-appointed fox. And how your son feels now, in the awkward position understanding the threat while wanting his parent to be part of his and his kids’ lives.

It’s excruciating.

So he and his — frankly, pretty damn generous — wife agreed to include you in a careful way and leave her room to say no sometimes, because she’s absolutely entitled to that.

So, my advice? See it, please. See what you’ve done to push your daughter-in-law to her breaking point.

Then apologize for overstepping so far, so long, so hard.

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