Miss Conduct

Taking a pre-wedding stand with a future mother-in-law

Plus, when one family throws off another’s schedule.

Lucy Truman

My sister is getting married soon and insists she does not want or need a bridal shower. As the maid of honor, I completely respect her wishes, and we’ve decided to plan a more intimate gathering. Unfortunately, the groom’s mother does not agree with our plans, although she and all her immediate family are included in the smaller gathering. This is causing a lot of additional stress for my sister, and she’s considering just having a shower to quiet the argument. Is she obligated to do this? How should we handle objections/disapproval?

T.C. / Waltham

No, your sister doesn’t have to have a shower, and believe me, everyone but her future mother-in-law is totally happy with that decision. Yeah, future mother-in-law. That puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?

Tell your sister to be strong. If the F.M.I.L. complains to you, smile and say, “As maid of honor, it’s my job to help my sister have the wedding she wants” as many times as you have to, like you’re pleading the fifth. That’s all.


Now, hand this column to your sister’s fiance.

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Dude! Hi. You probably don’t know me, but your fiancee needs your help. It’s not her maid of honor’s job to keep your mother off her back. It’s yours. Tell your mother that you’re sorry if she’s disappointed, but that you two are making your own decisions, and you’re not having a shower, and Mom needs to accept that and move on.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t care one way or the other. The important thing is that you and your future wife not set a precedent of giving in to your mother on questions that don’t concern her. To the extent that the annoyances of wedding preparation serve a function, it’s exactly this: giving the engaged couple a complex but low-stakes project on which to practice working together. When would you rather set boundaries with your mother — now? When you have kids? Or when you don’t?

Our son gets together with a friend to play cards, which requires parents to drive, host, provide snacks, etc. Sometimes the other boy’s parents, if their son has not completed his homework to their satisfaction, will delay or even cancel the visit. This puts our day on hold. We want to be supportive of their efforts, but we also have our own family to consider. What should we do?

E.G. / Lexington

I recently learned a marvelous Polish proverb that I’m delighted to be able to trot out: “Nie moj cyrk, nie moje malpy,” or “Not my circus, not my monkey.” This beautiful phrase doesn’t apply to all situations, alas. When it is your cyrk, when that is indeed your malpy swinging from the chandeliers, you have to step up. But these Homework Follies aren’t your show to manage and clean up after.


The next time your son and his friend have a cards date, point out to the other boy’s parents that it’s an inconvenience for you if the plans are delayed or canceled at the last minute, so is there some way you can work around that in the future? Use the same blithe, you-couldn’t-possibly-have-known-but-of-course-you-will-do-something-about-it tone in which you would inform someone that he or she is stepping on your foot. I doubt the family is regularly missing soccer practice, church, or concerts because of homework problems, so the parents need to apply those same strategies with your dates.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

WHAT PROBLEMS ARE YOU FACING AS WEDDING SEASON ARRIVES? Write to Miss Conduct at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams on Wednesday, April 2, from noon to 1 p.m.