Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Sister-in-Law Resents Assumption That She'll Provide Maid Service

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband's sister has two children, one of whom was born recently. Throughout the pregnancy and after the birth, we were expected to go to their house often, although they never come to ours. I understand this because we have no children and it makes sense.

However, when we go there, we're treated a bit oddly. His sister often won't come say hello for an hour or two and will stay upstairs or on the couch. I do understand that she may be tired certain days, but it's becoming a real pattern. I'm also expected to do odd jobs or clean the entire time. One of the grandmothers will put me to work, and while I of course understand that I should help with setting the table, the food, etc., it's to the point where I'm left feeling more like a maid when there's basically no socialization the whole night.

In one night, I set the table (and was asked to make animals with the napkins), loaded the dishwasher with their dirty dishes from days past, made most of the food, made drinks, wrapped presents for the children, cleaned the kitchen (again from days past) and walked the dog.

My husband bought the majority of the food, as he tends to do, and has frequently been involved in multi-day, intensive labor projects around the house.

I understand that birth order does come into play (it's only the two of them, and he's about seven years younger), but I'm starting to not want to go there. I can't exactly politely express this -- plus, a guest is supposed to be helpful. I'd love to get your thoughts on the issue because I'm at a bit of a loss.

GENTLE READER: Helping out with some light cleaning after a new baby is born is one thing. Demanding origami napkins, however, is quite another.

The need for family assistance is generally tolerated because it usually subsides as the baby gets older and the parents become more self-sufficient. But this is a second child. When will it end?

Miss Manners is confused about how the adult birth order enters into the equation. Is the logic that the younger one is eternally subservient to the older? If that is the case, even your unborn baby, faced with two older cousins, should become resigned to a life of servitude.

To avoid this fate, Miss Manners recommends that you start making your visits shorter and less frequent -- and weaning yourself off of asking the question, "What can we do to help?" This is not to say that you cease providing services, only that you start doing it reasonably and on your own terms.