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Mother-in-law deserves benefit of doubt, despite lack of tact

Mother-in-law deserves benefit of doubt, despite lack of tact

Q: My wife and I have been married five years, and we have a 4-year-old son. We see my mother-in-law often, and we have a very good relationship with her that I want to maintain. My wife converted to Judaism just before we got married. Yet, each year my mother-in-law sends us Christmas cards. Further, she sends my wife and me money as gifts, and we are not financially strapped. I truly appreciate her always remembering our birthdays and thinking of us during the holidays. However, part of me feels like her sending Christmas cards is not acknowledging part of our family identity. And sending money makes me feel as though she (a) has no idea what to get us, (b) thinks we need money, and/or (c) has put little thought and effort into this.

Part of me feels like I am being petty for even complaining, when I realize she is involved in our lives and remembering to send something. Part of me feels as though I should be insulted on both counts. What is your take?

Mixed Emotions

A: My take will be however much of your mother-in-law's unwanted cash you'd like to unload.

I realize monetary gifts can send a loaded message: "You think we're mooches!" or just "You didn't think at all!" But given the perennial rage prompted by knickknack gifts to minimalists, fussy gifts to modernists, frumpy gifts to fashionistas, fattening gifts to dieters, crassly commercial gifts to PBS-ists, and so on — and given the stunning, practical ease in depositing this cash into a college savings account for Junior, accompanied by a thank-you note to Grandma stating as much — I think this loaded message is best ignored in favor of bigger things.

One of those bigger things being, the Christmas cards to a Jewish household. That does suggest cluelessness at best, and at worst an anti-Semitic swipe (a big stretch).

Still, someone with whom you have a "very good relationship" deserves every benefit of any doubt. Certainly your wife can ask her mom, without anger, "Is there any reason you send us Christmas cards, knowing we don't celebrate Christmas?"

Certainly, too, though, you can presume an explanation that will put the issue to rest in your mind. Such as: Your mother-in-law always does a Christmas card mailing every year and hasn't had any Jewish families in her close orbit before, and what's she going to do, cross her own daughter off the annual list? Granted, she should switch to something nondenominational ("happy holidays" haters be damned), or just send you a separate card. But people who don't mean offense often don't even dream of the ways they might give it.

Disclose news of overseas baby when you'd want to learn of it

Q: I got a woman pregnant who lives overseas. Baby is due in August. Baby Mama and I are on excellent terms, but we are not looking to marry or even be a couple. And neither of us is leaving our respective continents. I'm dating. At what point do I tell my dates about the situation?

Trans-Atlantic Baby Daddy

A: When would you want to know about your date's children — at home, living with Daddy, placed for adoption? You can't know where your dates would draw these lines, but you know where you would, so that's the guideline you have to use.

Mother-in-law deserves benefit of doubt, despite lack of tact 03/16/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 15, 2010 6:32pm]

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