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Hax: Pick your battles with mother-in-law

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 5:49 p.m.

Good Morning, Carolyn:

I'm hoping my debacle makes it to your column because I desperately need advice!

Each year, my mother-in-law sends out a ridiculously braggy and self-righteous holiday “letter” updating her friends and extended family members. She recently sent a group text to my husband, his sister and me asking for our favorite pictures from the year to include in her Christmas letter.

My issue isn't that she ignores the concept that our favorite picture would be used for our own purposes, it's that she insists on having us be a part of this letter.

I plan to call her and say that although I'm thankful for her thinking of us, we will again be sending out our own holiday card and do not need to be explicitly included in hers.

Background: My mother-in-law tends to be selfish. One brief, childish example, of which there are many — she demanded her husband wear a white tux to our wedding. The only men wearing white at our ceremony were members of the military that were involved in performing the traditional sword arch. She staged this argument the week before the wedding, ignoring that my husband and I were deliberate in asking our fathers to wear traditional black tuxes.

Is it possible that we should just roll over?

— Adults Treated as Children

When you tell me that a photo request for Ma's Christmas newsletter is a “debacle,” this is how I want to respond:

Famine. Human trafficking. Syria. Hello?

But the examples you give of outrageous behavior from your mother-in-law are so trivial, they throw your judgment into question right along with your mother-in-law's. Her pushing back on your black tuxedo request, for example. That was childish of her, certainly, but consider the worst case: The wedding doesn't happen? Nope. You suffer lasting emotional scars? Nope.

As for the holiday letter, I could spend days trying to figure out why the content in her Christmas letter and your grown-up holiday card has to be mutually exclusive, and why her request for your “favorite” picture can't be satisfied with your second- or fifth- or 19th-favorite shot from this past year.

But while that sounds delightful, I'll pass, because it's beside the point. You aren't looking to present legitimate arguments against your mother-in-law, you're looking to present any argument against your mother-in-law.

Please trade that for a strategy of sorting. Imagine a giant wheely trash bin — label it “Ridiculous.” Imagine an old-school desktop in-box — label it “Real.” From now on, you're putting everything your mother-in-law throws at you into one of these. White tux? Ridiculous. (Thump.) Wants a photo for her insufferable annual brag rag? Ridiculous. “Here. It's of all of us on St. Crispin's Day.” (Hook shot! Thump.) Um ... I'm going to have to make something up here ... her trying to dictate how you live, love, worship, spend money, raise kids or schedule your time? Real — inbox. (Swish.) That's when adults “assert ourselves as adults.”

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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