Share this article

print logo

Carolyn Hax: Parents get to say no, period

Dear Carolyn: My mother-in-law wants my 5-year-old to sleep over at her house. The problem is that even though she has been living with the same man for several years and my husband and I think he is very nice, we still don’t feel comfortable with our daughter sleeping over at her grandmother’s house with him there.

We have offered to let my mother-in-law spend a night at our house, but that isn’t a good enough option for her. She told her live-in that we thought he was a child molester and now we have an estranged relationship with him and her. How can we repair the relationship without giving in to her demands?

– Inadvertent Insulter

A: You can’t, and please don’t.

You’re not in this spot because you implied Grandma’s boyfriend is a child molester. You’re in this spot because Grandma wouldn’t take no for an answer. She applied enough pressure to force you either to make up flimsy excuses or admit something you’d rather have left unsaid.

Your reservations about Grandma’s boyfriend are so devastating that there was bound to be some strain whether your mother-in-law pushed or not. But even if your discomfort was entirely unfounded, refusing the overnights was your only choice.

And as someone who loves your daughter, Grandma would likely agree. Let’s say we could go back to before things unraveled, allowing you to pose this scenario to her in conversation as a hypothetical – say, in response to a news story. She’d likely be unequivocal in agreeing that these hypothetical parents should never leave a child in a situation they felt uneasy about.

Not to mention: Parents get to say no, period, even for their own stupid reasons.

Trust this, please. Trust that your mother-in-law put her feelings and ego and need(iness) above your fundamental entitlement to decide what’s best for your kid. Her error has cost you dearly, too, I get that, but better that than the much higher possible price of overruling your gut.

A right to make mistakes

Dear Carolyn: My sister (young 20s) has been dating her high school boyfriend for six years, the past five long-distance. They plan on moving in together later this month.

She’s made comments about him “chipping in” with rent and bills. I suggested that he needs to pay half of everything until the day they get married. I’m worried that if they break up she’ll be left with a much lighter bank account than if they were to split things evenly. She seems to think nothing can go wrong.

For what it’s worth, I used to live with the man I thought I was going to marry, we broke up, he owed me thousands (which I never got back) and she saw this firsthand. I’m hoping to let her learn from my mistakes versus make her own. How do I approach the subject with her without coming off the wrong way?

– Protective Big Sister

A: If she genuinely believes “nothing can go wrong,” then you need to accept that she’s not absorbing any information she doesn’t want to hear.

If you’re just projecting that belief based on her decision not to take your advice, then you need to accept that she’s going to do what she wants, not what you think she should do.

Either way, any attempt to approach a subject you’ve clearly already approached, unsuccessfully, puts you at high risk of coming off the wrong way. Acknowledge that, maybe, and frame your concern accordingly: “I know I got into your business about sharing expenses with Boyfriend. It’s just that Ex owes me thousands that I doubt I’ll ever see, so I felt a duty to speak up. But I’ll butt out now that I’ve made my point.”

Even then, tread lightly. No one likes to be badgered, even by people bearing sensible, well-meaning advice forged in the heat of the bearer’s own suffering. We all have an inalienable if over-exercised right to make mistakes.