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Carolyn Hax: Wife is tired of spending Mother’s Day with husband’s family

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I have two elementary school-age children, and my in-laws live about an hour from us. Every year, we end up spending Mother’s Day with them, church followed by a Mother’s Day brunch at some restaurant, followed by hours of sitting at someone’s house talking.

That probably doesn’t sound so bad except that the weather in May is usually lovely and I like to spend my weekend time outside. I like to do active things, not eat a lot of food and then sit. And the talking revolves heavily around news about their family friends (people I do not know), usually gossip – they are so negative and critical of other people’s lives.

I hate to sound selfish, but I’m a mother, too! My husband gets mad when I suggest that we not spend the day with his mother, and offended if I object to the day he has planned. Last year he asked what I wanted to do, and then ignored my requests and planned yet another day with his family. Am I being completely selfish here in wanting to have a say in my own celebration?

– All About His Mother

No, your husband is being obtuse. I’m sorry. Hold your ground, say you don’t appreciate being told how you’re going to celebrate anything– Mother’s Day or anything else. Right? Marriage is a partnership, so it’s no more right for him to declare that visiting his mom is Mother’s Day law than it would be to insist that you, I don’t know, cancel Christmas over your history of disappointing gifts.

Because his getting angry and taking offense are an odd and disproportionate response, there’s likely some bigger issue or sensitivity at the foundation of this problem. If you know what it is, then you have to deal with that first instead of just addressing this Mother’s Day symptom.

And if you don’t know, then make sure you don’t make the same mind-closing mistake he does: Ask him to explain his motivation to you. Not in an accusatory way, but calmly to draw him out. “I don’t understand your vehemence here. If you explain it to me, then maybe we can both do a better job of getting what we need.” You can acknowledge his need and still hold the line on being a partnership versus a dictatorship, saying you want to decide together how to deal with this day – you know, the one that is, er, in your honor?

If he has the courtesy and presence of mind to recognize that you have a point, then a thoughtful offer would be an alternate-years plan, where you celebrate your way, his way, repeat. Excuse yourself from the gossip-fest as needed to “stretch your legs.” Good luck.

Re: Mother’s Day:

She can ask her mother-in-law about her best memories of Mother’s Day when her son was little, and what all he did for her. “He did? Oh, how cute.” She can then announce that next year she wants her own cards and breakfast in bed, or a beach picnic, whatever, the same kind of thing her son did for her. Their kids probably want to do something for mom.

– Anonymous

Pointed and unimpeachable, thanks.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online each Friday at washingtonpost.com.