Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: Being a mother to boys is tough! Why is it that having male children puts us in second place all of the time? I have three sons and get very sad when it comes to the holidays. Why is it that daughters-in-law feel that their side of the family is more important than their husband’s side of the family? There have been numerous occasions when we don’t get to see our sons and grandchildren because the other side comes first. Do they think that their family loves them more or has worked harder to bring them up than the parents of boys? These are the same women who, when dating, were always around and could not have been nicer. The only exceptions I have seen are when the parent of the girls is not in the picture, either due to distance, death or estrangement.
Dear Mom: I agree that this is a real phenomenon, and I will try to explain it. Daughters-in-law are oriented toward their families of birth — not necessarily to punish their husbands’ parents, but because they have known their own parents for their whole lives.
This orientation toward their own parents and its impact on the couple starts with the wedding and continues through pregnancies and then on to the birth of their children. Men are often marginalized during these important life events, and their parents are also pushed aside. Traditionally, the wife/mother controls the children’s schedules. Because the woman’s own mother has been intimately involved in the kids’ lives from the start, there is a bond between them that the younger mother actively fosters and values.
I don’t think any of this is fair, but it seems to be the default position of many families. However — if your sons work hard to be involved fathers and sons, building close and loving relationships with their children and with you, then they will advocate for the children to spend time with their folks during holidays and other occasions.
This balance is shifting as the “traditionally” assigned roles of parents changes (thank goodness), but it might take a generation for parents of sons to see the impact of this change.
DEAR AMY: My oldest brother is estranged from the rest of us, but we have been able to keep things relatively civil. In the past two years, with our mother’s declining health, he has grown more belligerent and distant. We have moved our mother into a wonderful assisted-living facility. Our brother has voiced his desire to have nothing more to do with any of us and has threatened to stop visiting her. We are planning for our mother’s eventual funeral. How should we handle this? None of us wants him or his family with us during the funeral. Lots of bad blood, burnt bridges and hurtful things have been said by all sides. Do we include him and his family and treat him as a “family acquaintance,” include him as family or completely exclude him? He might be hurtful and unpleasant. I’m hoping our mother lives for another 10 to 20 years, but we are just planning for the eventuality of her death. Can you provide some guidance?
Confused and Hurt
DEAR CONFUSED: You seem to be hoping that you can alleviate the impact of this dysfunctional sibling relationship by planning an exclusion. I think you should stop paying so much attention to him.
Planning to keep your brother away from your mother’s funeral would throw additional weight onto this relationship. Unless you plan a strictly private affair and hire security, you cannot necessarily dictate who attends a funeral.
If he chooses to stay away during the final years of her life, then he will likely only learn about your mother’s death through a public obituary. It would be hard for him to ruin an event if you didn’t even care whether he showed up. Let the consequences of his choices fall upon him — not you.
DEAR AMY: You responded to “Worried in Wisconsin” about the possible consequences of her older husband choosing to fix their roof. I fell years ago installing Christmas lights and never went back up. I got lucky and landed in a large azalea bush. A friend in Las Vegas fell this year and nearly died. He is still in recovery. Please warn your readers again!
DEAR LUCKY: According to the CDC, the No. 1 leading cause of injury death in Americans over 65 is “unintentional fall.” None of the more than 25,000 people who died in 2013 intended to fall, or die of a fall, and yet the statistics are clear.