Heavy Meddle: How Much Should I Advocate For My Mother-In-Law?

My husband isn’t great about keeping in touch with his mom. How hard should I push him on this? (shoothead/flickr)
My husband isn’t great about keeping in touch with his mom. How hard should I push him on this? (shoothead/flickr)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice 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,

I am not a huge fan of my mother-in-law. She loves her grandchildren but we don't have much to talk about.

We recently moved out of state and my husband is not great about calling his mom. I feel like he should call her at least once a week and have our sons talk to her as well. I think it's important for kids to have relationships with their grandparents-- and to be respectful. But she's not my mom.

How much should I push?

Not My Mom


Dear NMM,

This is complicated, because I don’t have much information on the relationship between your mother and your sons. Specifically, it’s not clear to me how much a part of their lives she has been, and wants to be. And that matters here, more than anything else.

I say this is someone who doesn’t have a great deal to say to my own mother-in-law (MiL). In fact, if we’re being completely honest, the two of us probably wouldn’t spend any time together if I hadn’t married her amazing daughter. I don’t say this out of spite. My MiL is a caring person who raised the woman I love. For that alone, I’m in her debt. We simply don’t see the world in the same way, or share common interests.

But I just don’t think that’s what matters here.

What matters is that you feel like you’re having to assume responsibility for the upkeep of a set of relationships that don’t actually involve you. You need to level with your husband about this — that you feel he should be in closer touch with his mother. Don’t just bury that feeling, because it will continue to nag at you. And it will get you no closer to understanding why your husband relates to his mother in the way he does (i.e. not reaching out to her much).

So, to summarize: don’t push him to call his mother. Level with him about your feelings, and asked him to share his.

The second issue has to do with the relationship between your sons and their grandma. I know this dynamic because we now have three children who have developed their own relationships with my in-laws.

Some grandparents want to be deeply involved in the lives of their grandkids. And some are okay with more occasional contact. It’s not clear to me how your MiL feels, or how your children feel. Do they want to relate, or do you want them to relate? I ask because I’m not a big fan of calling relatives simply out of obligation and/or guilt.

So again, it’s worth pondering a few questions that go unaddressed in your letter: How much has your MiL done to be involved with your sons? Does she call to speak with them? If not, why not?

What matters is that you feel like you’re having to assume responsibility for the upkeep of a set of relationships that don’t actually involve you.

It’s especially important to think about all this now, because the relationship is in transition. It’s gone from local to long-distance, and there are probably complicated feelings around this move for everyone. Your MiL, for instance, may feel a certain sadness, or even resentment, at your decision to move away. (I mention this, in fact, because your letter makes no mention of your MiL calling you.)

Instead, you’re the person who feels stuck facilitating these relationships, as well.

Again, my advice would be to share your concerns with your husband. This is his mother. Given that you don’t mention a father-in-law, this may be his sole surviving parent. Does it matter to him that his children have a relationship with her? What form should this relationship take, in his view, now that you’re not living nearby?

You have to get on the same page about this, because it’s not fair for you to feel that you have to “push” him. Or, frankly, for him to be pushed, if he doesn’t view weekly calls as necessary. (In our case, for example, we hardly ever speak to my in-laws on the phone. Instead, the relating happens during visits.) You’re just not going to know how your husband views the situation until you talk to him.

I’m not sure how old your kids are, but I’d argue that their feelings matter as well. Do they want to talk to grandma? Do they look forward to speaking on the phone? Or does it feel more like a chore?

Look: it’s hard to raise kids, and my feeling is that parents should receive all the help they can get. If your MiL offers the kids love and support, another compassionate adult to whom they can relate, then it’s worth making sure they get time to relate, whether by phone, post, or visit.

Everyone has to help shoulder that load, meaning your husband, your kids, and your MiL.

Good luck,

Author's note: It’s hard to get a read on this family dynamic, because the husband and the MiL don’t seem to be as concerned about staying in touch, as the letter writer. Is this a dynamic familiar to any readers? If so, what’s it about? Make your voice heard in the comments section below. And please do 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.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Headshot of Steve Almond

Steve Almond Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of 12 books. His new book, “Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow,” is about craft, inspiration and the struggle to write.



More from WBUR

Listen Live