Q: How should I respond when my mother-in-law continually shows partiality to my husband's sister and her family? Whenever I call -- far in advance -- about visiting on various holidays, I'm told that she's already made plans with her daughter or that she'll "have to let me know" after finding out what's going on with her daughter's family. I deeply resent the inequity, and I'm tired of making plans around my sister-in-law.
Jim: It's tough to feel like your family comes in "second place" with your in-laws. Unfortunately, it's possible that in your mother-in-law's estimation, you will always play second fiddle to her own daughter.
Nevertheless, it's important that your husband have a candid conversation with his mother. Simple honesty requires that he let her know how the two of you have been feeling. Meanwhile, you should set some firm boundaries regarding future holiday plans. When discussing dates with his mom, the two of you should say something like this: "Mom, we'd really love to spend Thanksgiving with you this year. We'd like to finalize our plans by the first of September, so can you let us know by then?"
If she can't commit because she doesn't know what her daughter will be doing for the holiday, you can say, "Just let us know what you want to do by the first of September, or we'll need to make other plans." If she doesn't give you an answer by the deadline, stand firm and arrange something else.
If she acts hurt when you tell her you can't come, don't buy into her manipulation. Tell her you're sorry she's disappointed and that you'd love to get together another time. It shouldn't take her long to get the message. If she leaves your family hanging because she's hoping for a "better offer," she'll simply lose out on seeing you.
Q: How long should I wait before pursuing a lady who recently broke up with a boyfriend? I realize she probably needs some time and space right now, but I don't want to wait around too long either.
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Time heals, but the amount of time that's needed depends on many factors. For this reason, I can't tell you, "Wait six weeks and then make your move." Instead, you need to keep your eyes open and go slowly. In particular, I'd suggest that you give thoughtful consideration to the fact that this woman has experienced a real loss, and that different people grieve such losses at different rates. You need to approach this situation with a great deal of sensitivity and compassion.
Your level of familiarity with this lady will necessarily dictate the way you relate to her under the present circumstances. If you're already friends, you probably have a good idea of how you might talk to her about her current situation. If not, you'll want to think about slowly building a friendship with her while maintaining an appropriate emotional distance.
When you've earned the right to do so, you might try asking her some questions about the recent breakup. What was this experience like for her? What did she learn from it? Who was responsible for ending the relationship? Factors like these are likely to make a huge difference in the amount of heartbreak she's going through.
Whatever you do, don't push her into some kind of "rebound" relationship. Remember, contentment and self-sufficiency are key factors in the psychological health of the individual, and it takes two healthy people to make a healthy couple. You don't want her to jump into a new connection with you just because she desperately "needs" somebody. That will only lead to other problems down the road.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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