Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I have three sets of parents, two mine and one my husband’s. Only my husband’s family has money, and this is a source of tension with my family; to them, it seems that my affections for my in-laws were bought and paid for.

My mother-in-law really wants to take us to Europe, not once, but twice this year. I feel like I keep telling her “no,” because of work or because it’s the other family’s turn for Christmas or whatever, but this year there is no convenient way to get her to scale down.

How in the world can I strike a balance between all of my families when one set seems to hold all the cards?

Balancing Families

The way you frame this, there’s no “you” anywhere. The entities making all the decisions are the parents, your workplace and holidays.

What do you want? If you want to go to Europe twice, then go to Europe twice, and find some way to show your love for your other parents. If you’d rather not go twice, then say no to one or both trips. “I am so grateful for the opportunity, but going [twice] would mean I don’t see my parents at all this year, and I want to see them.” Or whatever.

And I haven’t even gotten to your “I keep telling her ‘no,’ ” vs. “we.” Both you and your husband seem curiously absent from the meeting to plan your own lives.

Figure this out, together, and then present a kind, decisive and united front on how you want to use your vacation and family time. Money is a trump card only if you let it be.


“The entities making all the decisions are the parents, your workplace and holidays”: This is exactly how it works. My husband and I haven’t gotten to go on a vacation alone since our honeymoon over three years ago. And we do make decisions together, but since I am better with communication than he is, I am the one on the phone to his mother trying to explain why we can’t do such-and-such a trip.

I guess my question needed to emphasize how to deal with the jealousy created by the money. Even though it’s my in-laws’ year for Christmas, I know my families will see us going on a trip and make an assumption that we would have hated spending Christmas with them, at home (not at all true).

But I don’t want to deprive my mother-in-law of a fabulous trip that she wants to plan, so I’m between a sighing rock and a jealous hard place.

Balancing Families, again

You are not responsible for your parents’ feelings, or your mother-in-law’s. If the trip isn’t right for you, then don’t go; she’ll manage. If it is, go; your family will manage.

You are responsible for your schedule. You say you “haven’t gotten to go on a vacation alone,” but that’s not true — you’ve chosen not to. So, schedule a trip just for you and your husband, with confidence that it’s your right to, and enjoy it. Then schedule times to see your families as you can, granting yourself full permission to enjoy those, too.

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