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    Miss Conduct

    Advice on a mean mother-in-law

    Plus, a dinner guest who, well, wants to bring dinner.

    Illustration by Lucy Truman

    > My mother-in-law of 26 years always preferred her oldest son, giving him thousands of dollars. She told me years back that my husband was unexpected and she had hoped for a miscarriage. I kept this secret for a long time. My husband and his brother no longer speak because of her, even during their father’s funeral. How do I get through the holidays? I don’t want her in our home, but my husband feels we have to.

    Anonymous / Boston

    Woman up, Warrior Wife. You are Hera, you are the Woman of Valor in Proverbs 31. You’re Peggy Hill, if those ladies are too intimidatingly majestic. Your mission is not to fix this horrible situation. It is only to find out what your husband thinks is the right thing to do and support him on it 100 percent. Attempting anything else will make you crazy.

    First, converse. Does your husband genuinely feel obligated? Or is it just something he says, because of course people don’t abandon their parents on Christmas? If he decides that rejecting parents can themselves be rejected, mazel tov, you’re going to have the best Christmas ever. But if his moral code insists that parents be treated with respect and affection regardless of their behavior, help him honor that.


    Making the decision to honor a miserable parent as a moral choice can be liberating. It enables the child to stop treating the parent like a relationship waiting to happen and start treating her (in this case) like the human chore that she is. If you do have your mother-in-law over, entertain — guests will dilute her poison. Take frequent brisk walks. Take frequent brisk drinks. Whatever works. And then arrange for a weekend away for you and your husband after the holidays.

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    > We have a good friend whose new girlfriend is nice but a bit pushy. We invited them over to watch football and she announced she would be bringing what she wants to cook for everyone — the entire meal. How do I tell her if she’d like to contribute something, that’s great, but I’ll take care of the meal?

    N.J. / Tewksbury

    Oh, my. One does hate to fall prey to the sexist narratives peddled by romantic comedies, but dang, this chick is trying way too hard. Tell her you like her, tell her it’s your house and you’re making dinner, and then go ahead and prepare for your guests as you were planning to. If Miss Trihard brings a complete meal anyway, well, you’ve done all you can. And either she will have a good laugh at her own folly and somehow redeem herself — just in the way women in those comedies so often do! — or your friend will flee for the high heavens. Either way, you’re in for more entertainment than a mere football game can provide, so enjoy.

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

    NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And read her blog at