I met my husband 10 years ago and at that time had a son, 2, from a previous relationship. We married and went on to have three more children.

     My husband is a father to my son. My mother-in-law says things aloud to me and my husband about how blood relatives are different and basically if you’re not blood you don’t matter. If you ask her how many grandkids she has, the number is one less because my son is not counted.

     Well, we don’t live like this. My son is also my husband’s son and a member of this family. I am upset because my mother-in-law sends cards for birthdays to the other three kids and not my son. My husband told her that’s not right. She doesn’t care.

     My husband’s brother lost his first marriage because of this family. They blame his wife when I know it was them. They are terrible and have never accepted either my son or me. They talk about their other in-laws badly. I can only imagine what they say about me.

     I have tried so hard. I used to call all the time since they live out of town. But they just don’t think I am good enough. I don’t care. I can deal with my end. I just can’t deal with them not acknowledging my son.

     My son’s birthday is in January, and if they forget again, my plan is to write my mother-in-law a letter and send back all the old cards. How is it that he is the oldest kid and they simply forget? Is sending the cards back the right thing to do? Should I call on the phone?

     I am to the point where it is going to be hard to be nice and decent about it. Everyone tells me to tell them to their face, but I am afraid my marriage will suffer. My husband just doesn’t have the guts to stand up and deal with confrontation.

     Susan

     Susan, on Sesame Street, characters often played the game One of These Things. Four objects would be grouped together, like three shoes and a spoon. Then a puppet or person would sing, “One of these things is not like the other, One of these things just doesn’t belong.”

     In a terrible variation on that game, your mother-in-law is teaching the younger children that your son doesn’t belong in the family. What she is doing is cruel.

     Your son is brother to the other three children. The four are being raised together, and your son has existed throughout their existence. Your mother-in-law diminishes and dismisses that relationship. In effect, she is telling the other kids your son is not their brother.

     In his book Monday Morning Choices, David Cottrell makes an unusual statement. “Choose the right enemies.” That remark takes people aback, but it’s true. Based on the values you hold, some people will be your friend and others your enemy. Accept it.

     Treat her in accordance with how she is. Don’t think kindness always works. It doesn’t. It often reinforces bad behavior, rather than changing it.

     Aside from this problem, there is another problem. Your husband has diminished himself in your eyes. He is supposed to be the love of your life and your champion, yet he won’t stand up to his mother. If he won’t stand up for equality of treatment, you must balance the scales for the well-being of all the children.

     The birthday cards are like the wedges used to split logs, and your mother-in-law is using them to split your family.

     Send the cards back with a note. Tell your mother-in-law she is not allowed to create a rift among your children. Tell her your son is something to her: he is half-brother to the other three children, and in your family, a full-fledged brother and son.

    Wayne & Tamara