Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Figuring Out What to Call Father-in-Law's Third Wife

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am not sure what I should be calling my father-in-law’s third wife. I introduce her as my father-in-law’s wife, but I do not say mother-in-law, since she is not my husband’s mother. Some people I have asked say that she is my mother-in-law, but I do not think that is correct. Please help me! -- Lawful, Silver Spring, Md.

DEAR LAWFUL: For now, it is fine for you to introduce this woman as your father-in-law’s wife, and then add her first name. Be respectful when you introduce her. If they are newly married, you could introduce her with the excitement appropriate for the new relationship. As you get to know her, you may choose to give her a name of endearment.

What does your husband say? What does he call her? You can take his lead on this one as you are talking about his family.

DEAR HARRIETTE: Recently, you responded to a woman who got in trouble for taking a long vacation with her children. She goes back to her country for a month. Her husband never accompanies them due to work. Now he wants her to stop traveling because he wants to share time with the children. You told her to consider that he has the right to spend vacation with the children. But isn't he working during their break?

I have a similar experience. My American husband doesn't want me to go to my country. We don't have children. I still go. There, I have my family who didn't immigrate here. They're having a good life there. I am here just because of marriage.

Why are husbands selfish? My husband doesn't want to come with me either. I go all the same.

I think in this lady's case, she should communicate better with her husband and convince him to go with her. That way, his mind will open up to a different world, not a bad one. He will experience being a member of the family abroad. At least he should try. America is not the only place in the world, and the children are getting richer in traditions, culture and affection. -- Just a Commenter, New Orleans

DEAR JUST A COMMENTER: My point about the original question was that it is wise to work together and agree about vacations with the children. This makes for a healthier, more respectful life. I do not mean, however, that a spouse should not be able to travel overseas -- or anywhere else for that matter -- to visit family. Given the friction that occurs frequently when family members "take" their children abroad without agreement and sometimes do not return, there is a heightened sensitivity right now on this subject.

That said, I agree with you that the American parent/spouse in an international family should actively choose to visit the other family members and cultivate a relationship with them. It should be a two-way street. I do not think it is just husbands who are guilty of not wanting to make that trip, though.