I feel resentful about my husband, our holiday and my mother-in-law

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers a new perspective on a family problem

by Psychologies

packed suitcase

My husband and I have booked a holiday abroad, forgetting it was his mother’s birthday while we are away. We don’t get a lot of chances to enjoy breaks away together, so I’m really looking forward to it, but his mother is elderly – she’s 86 years old. This year, just like the past few years, there is something of a feeling that ‘this might be the last time’. My family don’t get a look-in on Christmas Day because of the fact that we might not have much longer with my mother-in-law, so although we spend a lot of time together as a couple, I feel like my husband could just explain to his mother that we made a mistake when we booked the holiday, and see her the weekend before so we can still enjoy our trip. Is it the right thing to cancel our time away together (which I will resent), or to try and fit in his mother another time (which my husband might resent)? Lisa

It sounds as if you want me to take sides, so you can say to your husband and your mother-in-law ‘See? This is the right thing to do’. I’m really intrigued that you believe this one definite right thing exists.

The phrase that leaps out to me from your letter is ‘my family don’t get a look-in on Christmas Day’, which packs a lot of unhappiness into a few words. For your own wellbeing, I’d suggest that you have a gentle chat with the part of yourself that is feeling un-cared for about Christmas, and see how that can be soothed, so it doesn’t interfere with this different dilemma.

Meanwhile, one of the three adults in the birthday/holiday scenario needs to find their inner gracious swan and say at least one thing that is both sincere and generous. This is what I would like to see happen in reality (but it is my fantasy script): you and/or your husband visit your mother-in-law and say: ‘I can’t believe we forgot your birthday. How can we make it up to you? Do you want us to cancel our holiday?’ Then maybe she says, ‘Don’t be silly, this way I can have at least two celebrations of my birthday instead of one. Go and have a lovely time’.

Even if this won’t be the actual response of the people involved, there are so many ways around this apart from the two options you suggest. But all of the options have in common kindness, perspective – and forgetting about who’s right.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line

Photograph: iStock

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