DEAR AMY: My husband and I are in our 20s. We have been married for two years. My husband has three siblings. Each sibling has one child under the age of two. I caught wind from my mother-in-law that one of my sisters-in-law isn’t too happy with us because we don’t see the kids often enough and don’t reach out often enough. My husband’s family all live relatively close by, but they aren’t in daily contact. I am an only child and have never had nieces and nephews before. My husband and I are expecting our first child soon and we own a business, so we are very busy during the week, and our weekends are consumed with remodeling the house to get ready for the baby. I just don’t think they realize that I’m not a stay-at-home mom, and we can’t take days off. How often should we be reaching out to my sisters-in-law to either just check in or to make plans to see our nieces/nephews? How do we make them understand that we’re not being mean, but we’re just busy?
Confused Only Child
DEAR CONFUSED: I’d like to offer a shout-out regarding the special and endearing experience of being an aunt (or uncle). This relationship offers so many opportunities for ancillary parenting: for enjoying, mentoring and loving children who are tangentially your own.
When you are a parent, you will very likely want other family members to develop a close relationship with your child. You should demonstrate toward these other parents and children the level of attention that you might like your child to receive.
And — because you have no experience as a sibling, parent, or aunt — you should fake it ’til you make it.
If your mother-in-law passes along a critique, you should listen respectfully, glean whatever lesson you can from it and then consider making some changes if you are able.
What you should not do is get defensive, or offer up excuses about how busy you are.
There is no “correct” pattern or way to quantify contact with nearby family members, although you should make every effort to attend special occasions: birthdays, religious or school milestones and holidays (Halloween is a great time to pop by and see the littles in their costumes). Also connect with these parents on social media.
Even if you don’t see these family members very often, when you are with them you should lavish attention upon the child, show interest in the parents and follow up with a text or a call letting them know that their toddler is adorable/interesting/impressive/sweet/charming — and/or loved exactly as they are.
DEAR AMY: I’ve been in a relationship with my husband for the last 18 years. We’ve been married for eight years. We have both been unfaithful. My husband has stated that he’s not happy and doesn’t want to be married anymore. How do I show him that things are different now, and save my marriage?
DEAR DESPERATE: You know the saying, “Change starts with you?” Well, if you’re lucky and work hard at it, change stays with you.
Most often, however, we humans make little inroads toward change — but then revert back to our noisy, messy selves.
In 18 years of togetherness, you and your husband have dealt with your humanity (your faults and frailty) by distracting yourselves with affairs. You two could turn things around with therapeutic work and with a mutual guarantee that you will dive in to, versus step out on, your problems.
But he’s done. You should acknowledge and apologize — in person and in writing — for the ways you’ve hurt him (don’t focus on the ways he has hurt you). You should guarantee that things will be different now, because you are different now, and ask him to consider staying with you.
The beauty of you changing is that now you get to be a better version of you, regardless of what your husband chooses to do.
DEAR AMY: Your response to “WTF” was SPOT ON! As a psychotherapist, I am always on the lookout for the health and needs of the children, and your focus on the 14-year-old in this situation was exactly right and made me cheer! I hope mom can gather her strength in the midst of her grief and show up for her son.
Katherine, MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist)
DEAR KATHERINE: “WTF” was aggrieved when his wife mourned the death of her ex-husband. He was clued into his needs, while ignoring his stepson’s. Thank you for your support.