Q: My mother-in-law habitually plays favorites with my husband's sister and her family. Whenever I call my mother-in-law (well in advance) about visiting on various holidays, the answer is always she'll "have to check with [her daughter] first." It's deeply hurtful to my husband and me. This year, once again, we've been forced to adjust our Thanksgiving and Christmas plans around my in-laws. What can we do in the future?
Jim: This is certainly a difficult scenario -- but unfortunately, it's also relatively common. Realistically, it's possible (but regrettable) that in your mother-in-law's eyes you will always play second fiddle to her own daughter.
That said, it's crucial that your husband step up for a candid conversation with his mother. Simple honesty dictates that he tell her how the two of you have been feeling. Moving forward, I'd suggest setting some firm boundaries regarding future holiday plans. Next year, when discussing dates with your mother-in-law, say something like this: "Mom, we'd really love to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with you. We'd like to finalize our plans by early September, so can you let us know by then?"
If she can't (or won't) commit because she doesn't know what her daughter will be doing for the holidays, 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 your mother-in-law doesn't give you an answer by the deadline, stand firm and arrange something else. She might act hurt when you tell her you can't come, but don't buy in to the manipulation. Simply tell her you're sorry she's disappointed and that you'd love to get together another time.
Hopefully, it won't take long for her to get the message. If she leaves your family hanging because she's hoping for a "better offer," she'll just lose out on seeing you.
Q: When -- and why -- do babies start smiling?
Dr. Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: I treasure a photo I captured of my then-newborn son in the hospital -- eyes barely open, but smiling. I vividly recall thinking at the time: "Is this a real smile or just a random expression?"
Researchers report that at about 6- to 12-weeks of age, babies begin truly smiling in response to people, voices and sounds they find stimulating and enjoyable. In fact, at the 2-month check-up, pediatricians often ask whether your baby has started smiling at you or other things they find enjoyable.
A smile is powerful and deeply connected to a child's social-emotional development. Here are four key things to keep in mind with infants:
-- Smiles and laughter help strengthen your child's immune system. For all of us, smiling helps calm stress response and inflammation.
-- A positive response from others, through their smiles and laughter, helps build a child's self-confidence. The body releases dopamine and serotonin, which are mood regulators, in response to smiling behaviors.
-- You might occasionally notice your baby look away when you are smiling at each other. The reason is that they're learning to manage the intense feelings that come from face-to-face gazing. So be patient as your little one acclimates to these exchanges. Your smile is just as contagious and beneficial as your child's; have "smile parties" with your baby and bring plenty of them along.
-- While you may realize how genuine smiles help elevate mood, reduce stress and create connection, it can be easy to forget to smile throughout the day -- especially when you feel sleep-deprived and/or stressed. So, as your baby learns to smile, make sure you remember to use yours, too!
You can sign up to directly receive free practical content based on the age of your child; go to MyKidsAge.com.
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 jimdalyblog.focusonthefamily.com or at Facebook.com/JimDalyFocus.
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