Perspective | Miss Manners: Mother-in-law continually complains about holiday gifts

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Though not shy about handing out wish lists, she was never a gift-giver, so the one-sided dynamic is not new. What makes it hurtful is the way she tells us that she was going to pick us up a card or something, but she “didn’t feel like it.” And she can be counted on to say that our gift is not enough and that we owe her more.

We do not want to be disrespectful, and we do not want her to be hungry or miserable, but resentment is growing after many years of these insults. Is there a polite way to make it clear that all she needs to say is “thank you,” without it coming down to a fight?

Prolonged bad behavior by near relatives is painful and unpleasant. The mildest response is to say, “I’m sorry you are disappointed” — with a delivery that, without being rude or aggressive, makes it clear that your sorrow does not run deep — and then change the subject.

Not responding to your mother-in-law’s bait may, by taking the fun out of it for her, cause her to modify her behavior. But it may not. If the behavior is not irksome enough for you to be willing to cause a breach, then Miss Manners urges you to consider your forbearance a good deed that you are infrequently called upon to repeat. And take comfort from your spouse, who has had to put up with her for much longer.

Dear Miss Manners: In February of this year, I spent two nights in the hospital with what ended up being blood clots in my lungs. One of my wife’s closest friends — someone my children call Aunt, and a person I’ve thought of as family — has not reached out to me one time to find out how I’m doing.

In addition, we recently saw her and her husband, and neither of them asked how I’m doing. Thankfully, the blood thinners are doing their job. I’m wondering if I’m overreacting to her not reaching out.

It is true that friends and family members express interest in, and concern over, one another’s health crises. But they may also have reasons not to inquire: delicacy, redundancy or the simple assumption that, as you look well, the crisis has passed.

Above all, Miss Manners recommends against making assumptions of ill will and of keeping score. We can all hope that, if you overlook this one time, there will not be so many future crises that you will have the opportunity to test your thesis that your wife’s friend is indifferent to your well-being.



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