DEAR AMY: My younger sister and her fiance are expecting. They found out not long after getting engaged, so the plans for a formal wedding got put on hold. My sister just wanted to have a small courthouse wedding and wait for a big ceremony. She has been (more or less) bullied into a larger ordeal by her future mother-in-law. The in-law family is large and loving, but prone to dramatics and fighting. They have gone as far as to ostracize offending family members. Her fiance is a wonderful young man, but he is a bit of a mama’s boy and very passive. With her delivery date looming ever closer, my sister is terrified her delivery room will be full of people, when all she wants is her husband and me to be present. She is so stressed about the future big wedding, she confided that she may try to get pregnant again just to avoid it! I want to make sure my sister’s wishes are respected by the family in the delivery room and in the future. I realize I can’t be the one laying down the law. I know this should come from her and her husband. How can I help and support him in standing up to his family and manning up? Otherwise I fear it will fall to me to police the delivery room.
DEAR CONCERNED: You cannot change their behavior (or their relationships) for them, but you can encourage these two to develop more of a backbone, in order to protect the integrity of their little family.
(Please, do not refer to a man as a “mama’s boy” and describe him as someone who needs to “man up.” Both descriptions are pejorative and will not help.)
Encourage both of them to start to see their family as a unit at the center of their own lives, with all other relationships being secondary (including the one with you). As young parents, they will need to work hard to create a healthy family structure for their child’s sake.
They must state explicitly to the family and the staff of the birth center exactly who is permitted in the delivery room, and all others will simply have to abide by their wishes. Hospitals and midwives are familiar with this crowded family dynamic and will work hard to give these parents the birth experience they want to have.
Your sister’s problem is bigger than the wedding and birth of her child. If she can learn to establish firm boundaries now, it will help her throughout her married life. The best way to do this is with her partner by her side, presenting a united front, but given the dynamic you describe, she may not realistically expect her husband to fend off his family.
She needs to marshal the power of a positive, calm and definite “No,” and tolerate the discomfort of not pleasing these overwhelming people, who may try to punish her when they don’t get their way.
They should both read the book, “Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage” by therapist Susan Forward (2002, Harper Perennial).
DEAR AMY: I have three adult children who were all breast-fed until they were a year old. They were never given a bottle. But here’s the deal — it is completely unnecessary to pull out a breast in public. What some women are doing smacks of exhibitionism. I would be offended! That is not what breast-feeding is about. My kids were fed in restaurants, airports — wherever I happened to be at the time — complete with a special bra and a discreet baby blanket. Feeding was between me and my child, not the public at large. Not once was I admonished or criticized. Breast-feeding can be done in public — with planning and the right equipment, and most people won’t even notice.
Mom of Three
DEAR MOM: I also breast-fed, sometimes in public, also discreetly. But it is not for you (or me) to tell other mothers what breast-feeding is supposed to be about.
As an advocate and supporter for women breast-feeding children, I can’t imagine being offended by the sight of it. If you are offended, you need only avert your gaze.
DEAR AMY: I was so shocked at the terrible lesson in gift giving “Upset Mom” gave to her young children. She trashed another family for not offering a “new” gift. I shared your answer with my children, and we all agreed that a gift doesn’t have to be “new.” It should be from the heart.
DEAR PARENT: Thank you for involving your children in this important lesson.