Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Offer mother-in-law an apology, and keep bacon out of pants
Cleveland: I just sent out invitations for my son's second birthday. My mother-in-law responded that she was happy to receive an invitation considering she was not invited to his first birthday party.
I did not send out formal invitations last year (it was a brunch at our house with my family), and, when I mentioned the brunch several weeks prior, she said she would be out of town. She said she still should have been invited. Her comments about this are driving me to go take a swim in bacon pants.
Carolyn: Don't forget the shark-infested waters.
She should have been invited. Maybe she would have liked the chance to change her plans.
I certainly won't defend her guilt-tripping strategy; anyone in her position needs to stop peck-peck-pecking and just say it — "You really hurt my feelings last year" — and be done with it.
But from the way you phrased your question, it sure sounds like you heard she'd be away, said a private "Phew," and went ahead with your preferred plan of having only your family. This is your notice: She feels left out, and your "body language" (the written version of it, at least) says you wish you could leave her out more. Be the bigger person — admit you screwed up, and mend the fence.
Cleveland again: Not sure if more details make a difference: My son's birthday fell on Thanksgiving last year, so my family came to our house to celebrate the holiday and the birthday that long weekend (they live eight hours away). My in-laws live 15 minutes away, and decided to fly to California to spend the holiday with my brother-in-law. My husband mentioned when they planned the trip that they would be missing our son's birthday, but they went ahead anyway. She is mad because I (and not my husband) did not formally invite her anyway.
You read between the lines correctly. I do not like my mother-in-law. And I could have moved the birthday celebration to another time, but then my family would not be there. Yes, I chose my family over my in-laws. My conscience is clear about this decision.
But I will apologize to mend the fence (and then take that swim).
Carolyn: I still think your mother-in-law's comments are petty, but now I'll add that they're directed at the wrong person. Where's your husband — is he sticking up for you here?
I also still think you need to apologize, since you did do the happy dance when you heard she'd be away — but the substance of your apology should be a little different from what I suggested before. Now, it's: "I should have realized how important this was to you, and held a separate celebration when you returned."
That's not only credible as something you could and should have done, but it also gives you a chance to say, "Please, though, in the future, tell me what you're upset about so I have a chance of making it right. A year later, there's just so much I can do."
It's both a bona fide attempt to mend the fence and a return of the ball to her court.