DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother-in-law, Harriet, is the matriarch of a large extended family. She prides herself on close relationships with many of her nieces and nephews, and keeps in frequent touch with them via email.
However, she feels it is appropriate to forward email correspondence she receives from these relations to other members of her family. At least once a week, she forwards an email from a cousin or other relative to eight or 10 of her sons, daughters-in-law and occasionally grandchildren.
Frequently, these are missives from relatives my husband and I do not know well, if at all. And although I am not especially interested in the details of Cousin Jenna’s hip replacement, or her sister-in-law’s cousin’s daughter’s wedding, or the 49 photos of her most recent vacation, they are easy enough to delete.
More troubling, however, is that Harriet also forwards letters from cousins that we do care about, but who clearly did not imagine the contents of their note would be shared. I am quite certain that when Cousin Mara pours her heart out to her favorite Aunt Harriet, confiding the details of her recent bout with cancer, her divorce or her financial woes, she is not imagining that those private sentiments will be shared with anyone else -- let alone with so many others, whom she may not even be close to. It also makes me uncomfortable to see the writer later on, because I am privy to feelings and information they believed (and continue to believe) were private.
I believe that Harriet does this with the best of intentions and genuinely believes that we all want to stay apprised of family news; however, her lack of discretion makes me extremely uncomfortable, and I have found that I rarely send her more than a generic line or two when I write, because I assume that my emails are also being shared widely with her network.
Could Miss Manners suggest a way for me to convey to Harriet that email habits require some boundaries? She would likely not dream of photocopying and passing along a handwritten letter, but seems to feel that emails may be treated differently.
GENTLE READER: Surely it is cousins Jenna and Mara to whom this information should be conveyed, so perhaps another mass email is necessary. Miss Manners has observed that chastising an in-law rarely helps, and often creates more trouble, but you could write Harriet to ask whether she intended to distribute the rather personal messages she may have been sent in confidence. And then CC the rest of the family.