Heavy Meddle: My In-Laws Are On The Warpath Over Our Baby’s Name

Choosing the baby’s name should be a joyous event, right? Wrong. (Frank de Kleine/flickr)
Choosing the baby’s name should be a joyous event, right? Wrong. (Frank de Kleine/flickr)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.


Dear Steve,

My husband and I have a dilemma. We have a baby boy due in two months and the name we have chosen seems to offend my husband's dad and stepmom. The middle name we have chosen is that of hubby's stepdad, who married his mom when he was 8. He is a good man with integrity, a faithful man of God and a police officer. Also, we feel that my hubby has been very fortunate to have two good male role models in his life. We have already named our first son after my hubby's dad's side of the family — his middle name being the same as my hubby's middle name, his dad's middle name and his great-grandfather's first name.

My husband spoke with his stepmom a couple of month ago and she mentioned that his dad would be upset over this name, but the conversation was brief. (His dad is not as easy to talk to about things like this.) A few days ago, I spoke with his stepmom and she proceeded to tell me about all of the times hubby's mom did his dad wrong after the divorce. I tried to explain our point of view, which is that my husband doesn't know many of these instances and has purposefully remained neutral because he loves both his parents. She cut me off and threatened (with a raised voice) to cut us and our children out of their lives if we chose to use this name. Unfortunately, I lost my temper at this point, raised my voice and told her I didn't care and wouldn't let anyone dictate what we did or did not name our child and I dropped a curse word, which I normally don't do.

We don't want to back down to threats and have them think that they can control what we name our children in the future.

My husband's mother has never spoken an unkind word about his father to me, or told me much of what happened between them. Also, I have respected my husband's decision to remain neutral and have not passed along information I've heard from the stepmom over the years.

We've both been leaning toward using this name for months and are pretty settled on it, even after this incident. We do not want our son to have a first and middle name without significance. We strongly feel that it is our privilege to pick our children's names and nobody else really should be able to do much more than throw out suggestions. At the same time, we don't want there to be a rift in the family and we certainly want our children to have all of their grandparents in their lives.

I have thought about sending my in-laws a letter to let them know we do want them in our children's lives but that we do not appreciate being threatened, and apologizing for my part in the way our last conversation ended. We don't want to back down to threats and have them think that they can control what we name our children in the future. Is there any way to salvage this relationship and keep the name that we both love?

Bothered by Family Drama


Dear BbFD,

Oh my. That is a doozy. What’s most troubling here is that your mother-in-law (and perhaps your father-in-law) are marring a joyous event with old grudges and grievances. After all, you’re just about to have your second child. Mazel tovs are in order, not threats and recriminations. Your instincts are spot on here: you’re the one who’s carrying the baby and will birth him. You and your husband will raise the baby. It is presumptuous for anybody who isn’t doing that honest labor to assume naming — or vetoing — rights, or really to do anything beyond offering suggestions.

Your plan to send a note to your in-laws is a fine one. But I’d like to suggest that before you do so you think about the larger family dynamic here. In essence, this naming dispute hasn’t caused a rift in the family. It has merely put into sharp relief a rift that’s always been there. One set of your in-laws is harboring negative feelings about the other set, and you are having to absorb these. That’s the rift in question, and it’s the pattern that needs to be addressed.

Honestly, I wouldn’t try to “defend” your decision to name your son. It’s a distraction from what you really need to say to your in-laws, which is something more like, Please stop using me to vent your angry, unresolved feelings about other people in the family. If you have complaints, direct them to the parties you feel are responsible. This stepmom needs to recognize that you have boundaries, and that venting her spleen to you is no longer acceptable.

[She] needs to recognize that you have boundaries, and that venting her spleen to you is no longer acceptable.

Think about it, BbFD: this is a woman who appears ready to sever a relationship with you, your husband, and your young children because of family grievances that took place before you and your children were even in the picture. It’s not just inconsiderate, it’s psychologically unhealthy. There’s a decent argument to be made that you and your family are better off without her energy and agenda.

But I realize that your hope is to find a way to peaceably resolve this. So in crafting a letter to your in-laws, I would emphasize how much you value them, as parents and grandparents. Make it clear that you very much want them to be a part of your lives, and that of your children. But I would also be quite direct about the boundaries you’re setting out — no more backbiting, or threats or petty feuds. Then the decision is really hers, or theirs, to make.

One final thought, which has to do with the way in which your husband and your father-in-law have avoided participating in these discussions … in the case of your husband, I get why he’s shied away from these disputes. But I’d make sure that he’s an active participant in your efforts to resolve this situation. You need to put forward a united front, especially given that the stepmom seems to have a gift for unloading her burdens onto you in a back-channel manner.

I wish you courage and grace.

Author's note:  Okay, my fellow baby namers — it’s your turn to weigh in. How many have had experiences like this, where family members lodge objections with your choice? What did you do in the face of these objections? Please send your thoughts along in the comments section below. And hey, send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A..

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.


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