DEAR AMY: I have wonderful in-laws. They take care of my daughter and are very generous. However, they can be extremely overbearing and tend to meddle into our lives. They also push their traditions and opinions on us. For our daughter’s birth they got her a pillow that you decorate at every birthday until they are 21. My husband despised the pillow growing up and does not want it to be a tradition for our family. On her first birthday we “forgot” to bring the pillow. They were very upset and would not let it go. We are in the process of buying a home and every home we like or see they go to the open houses, drive around the neighborhood, and speak to all the neighbors. We feel our privacy is being intruded upon and we want to make our own family traditions. How do we tell them to back off without hurting anyone’s feelings?
DEAR INVADED: Do you remember the old joke that Woody Allen quotes in “Annie Hall”?
“A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, ‘Hey, Doc, my brother is crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken.’ The doc says, ‘Why don’t you turn him in?’ Then the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ ”
Your in-laws drive you crazy, but they are generously providing you with lots of TLC.
You need the eggs. You just need to figure out how to make your omelet without cracking too many of them.
You and your husband must build a virtual picket fence around your family. The fence will have a gate on it. Every time his parents try to climb over a picket, they will get a little bit hurt. But if they learn how to use the gate, they will always be welcomed, warmly and without reservation.
You need to train them to always use the gate.
Don’t share any real estate transactions with anyone. If they ask why you’re being so circumspect, you should frankly say, “When there is anything to report, we’ll let you know.” If they actually follow you around when you’re looking at houses, you will have to come down harder: “Folks, honestly, your involvement in this makes us uncomfortable and we’d like you to stop.”
In terms of the pillow tradition, your in-laws were confronted by the fact that a family tradition they had maintained for years was not enjoyed or appreciated. I can understand why they were upset. Acknowledging this with respect and kindness (“I know you’re upset but...”) will help them to move on. Perhaps they could move this pillow tradition to their house (your husband didn’t enjoy it, but your daughter might).
DEAR AMY: I am hosting an afternoon birthday party for my husband in a restaurant, which includes a buffet and DJ (we love to dance). I am being charged per person. Regarding whom to invite, am I obligated to invite a niece’s live-in boyfriend’s 9-year-old daughter (who also lives with them)? The only children who will be present are my husband’s three grandchildren. Also, am I obligated to invite each nephew’s long-term girlfriend whom we have seen at family functions for at least three years?
Trying To Stay Within Budget
DEAR TRYING: If this were an “adults-only” party, then of course you wouldn’t include a 9-year-old. But it is held during the daytime, there will be other children there, and so it would be kindest to also include this other child.
Many places will charge a reduced rate for children, so you should check with the restaurant regarding this possibility.
If your nephews have long-term girlfriends who have been in their lives to the extent that they are included/invited to other extended family functions, then yes, they should also be included.
DEAR AMY: “Only an Acquaintance” described herself as an introvert, who was basically trying to repel the friendship advances of a new acquaintance, who is very extroverted. I appreciated your advice for her to honor her own nature, but her question had another element: she and her husband had conceived a child through IVF, and her new friend was interested in also pursuing IVF. This new friend was earnestly and aggressively trying to get information. I think you missed an important point. If this couple hadn’t blabbed about how their child was conceived, they would be able to keep their privacy now.
DEAR PRIVACY: These personal details have a way of leeching out, but I take your larger point, and thank you.