Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared Jan. 15, 2010, and Sept. 2, 2009.
Carolyn Hax: Son’s pushy new wife ‘overreacted’ to bedbugs, right?
How I wish I had switched! On Friday morning, the new wife said she had bug bites. I said that twice in the past I had bites also and thought they were from bedbugs. We had done some internet searching and gone to my dermatologist and discovered bedbugs are not medically dangerous and not the result of uncleanliness. We gave her hydrocortisone and sympathized with her.
That evening, they moved into the hotel. Our son said his wife was absolutely adamant that they get out of our home as soon as possible. She has the reputation of being a “strong” woman, and she earns a very high income, so she can always get her way.
My husband and I felt embarrassed and disappointed that she reacted that way, but we are aware that a first-time, 45-year-old mother probably had mother-bear hormones at play, and we don’t blame our son too much for giving in to her demands.
But what did that accomplish? She washed everything they brought in hot water, as did I with everything downstairs. My husband thinks she threw away their suitcases. We will buy plastic cases for the bed, but what else can we do?
Our relationship with her is significantly impaired, and she wants me to tell her she did the right thing. I think she overreacted. Should I just chalk this up to normal in-law conflict and expect time to heal the wounds, or does this portend more trouble down the road?
Anonymous: Expect more trouble, but not because of your daughter-in-law.
Your contempt for her is breathtaking. Look at your modifiers: “new (second)” wife, “the new” wife, “absolutely” adamant, “very” high income, “always” able to “get her way,” “first-time, 45-year-old” mother, “mother-bear” hormones.
Maybe you preferred Wife 1, or someone 29, or “traditional.” But, oh well! You got a bride with money, mileage and professional chops. Unless she’s oblivious, your contempt registered — and no doubt escalated the bug drama. Either find a way to like her, find a way to respect her or get used to serious tension.
While you’re at it, summon a little respect for the position you put this family in.
Bedbugs may not be “medically dangerous,” but they’re a repulsive, bloodsucking, time-sucking, money-sucking nuisance. I hit the internet, too, and I bet she did the same.
Her “overreactions” populate lists of recommended precautions in the event of exposure (see, “right thing”). And it’s still possible the family brought home some skeevy hitchhikers despite their precautions, which could mean costly and disruptive professional pest control.
I know you meant no harm. But now you’re blaming her for the fallout, and you’re making that mistake with ill will and forethought.
Instead: Call your son; admit you were cavalier about the possible infestation; apologize for exposing them to a headache they don’t need, especially not with a baby; offer to pay for any treatment their home may need; and get your home inspected by a reputable specialist. You can’t expect his wife to drop her dukes until you drop your own.
Dear Carolyn: After several decades of marriage, my parents talked about divorce and my father moved out. Now they both say they really want to reconcile.
I recently came across some evidence that strongly suggests that he’s seeing someone else. I have a fractured relationship with my father anyway, and, since finding this, I don’t even want to see him. But at the same time, my mom thinks they are trying to rebuild their marriage. What should I do with the evidence?
Va.: Nothing. You may have your own motives for wanting to subvert this reconciliation, and meddling is best saved for disinterested parties.
Plus, your parents separated “after several decades”; it’s a natural impulse to use separation to seek out something precluded by marriage, anything from privacy to new passion. Let your parents be human, and let them find their own way.