February 8, 2019
Butting heads with your in-laws may very well just be part of marriage, but for one new mom, an already tense relationship was heightened by her husband and mother-in-law's eyebrow-raising actions. The mom, who refers to herself as "Mama Bear," wrote to Slate.com's advice column Care & Feeding, explaining that two months after the birth of her son, she learned that her husband went behind her back while she was recovering from her C-section and changed the spelling of her son's middle name. He said he did it, because his mom "guilt-tripped him" into doing it.
"My son is 2 months old, and I just discovered my husband spelled our son’s middle name as 'Finlay' instead of 'Finley' on all of his legal documentation," the distraught mom shared. "I, of course, am furious, because I told him I was fine with the middle name but it had to be spelled Finley—and he agreed before our son was ever born. His mother even sent a Christmas gift to middle name 'Finlay,' and when I made a comment to my husband he didn’t even have the decency to tell me! He just let me keep believing for two months that our son’s middle name was spelled Finley when it legally isn’t! I discovered this all when I went looking for his Social Security card and birth certificate to file them away properly. He says he regretted it as soon as the card came and has been afraid to tell me."
The mom continued, "Now here is where it gets tricky. Apparently his mother guilt-tripped him into doing this while I was asleep after my emergency C-section. Keep in mind she lives a few states away, so this was all over the phone. She tried to convince him to give our son a first name that I very much hated, saying that I would 'get mad, but get over it.'"
Mama Bear shared that her husband "thought changing his first name was too much but apparently gave in to spelling his middle name the way his mom wanted." The reason her MIL was so hung up on the spelling: "She thinks that 'Finlay' is more masculine than 'Finley.'"
According to Mama Bear, her MIL "has always been a manipulator and I have always known she doesn’t like me. But she blatantly disrespected me and the name my husband and I had chosen for our son. I really think she put his whole name in his Christmas gift as a jab to me, knowing I would see it. She manipulated my husband into thinking it was all right to lie to me about something as serious as the spelling of our son’s name."
She said she knows her husband is "very much also at fault for doing this in the first place and we are working through that together, but I feel as though something needs to be said to my mother-in-law." She asked the advice columnist Carvell Wallace if she should approach her MIL, let her husband approach her, or do it as a team? "What should I say? I have no desire to have any sort of relationship with her moving forward, so I am not worried about playing nice," she wrote.
Wallace said if he was in this mom's situation, he wouldn't "approach the offending in-law about this issue because I’d be afraid an actual fistfight would break out. We’d really have to talk about renaming these hands. That’s how mad I’d be."
He continued, "Secondly, what in the entire fuck is up with your husband? He’s got to decide if you are his co-parent or if his mother is. And until he makes that decision, he can’t be trusted. Period. Purposefully changing the name of your child on a birth certificate behind your back is pretty close to a fireable offense if you ask me. I mean real close. I don’t take divorce lightly, and I’m not recommending it on the strength of this one event alone, but a thing like this gets up to a good 65 percent on the Potential Divorce-O-Meter, and if I were you I would need some time to get over this. He owes you a very significant and full-throated apology, and if he doesn’t see why then it’s hard for me to imagine that you are in a relationship with a trustworthy partner."
The columnist believes that if Mama Bear should say anything to her MIL, it should be along the lines of, "Whether you let or encouraged your son to go behind my back and change the name of our child, it was an extremely shitty thing to do. You can rest assured that I will remember it for a very long time."
While a couple commenters thought that this was a lot of drama over a middle name—"I can't believe the outrage over a middle name! One letter was different!"—most commenters sided with the mom, noting that it really is unforgivable. One wrote, "Change your kid's name to what you want and then just don't plan trips to see your MIL ever again. Your husband sounds like a worthless sack so it's doubtful he will make the effort to do so, you can excise her from your life with little effort."
Another pointed out that while the MIL may seem heinous, the husband is truly to blame. "Yes, the MIL is an opinionated, interfering PITA. But how, exactly, did she 'manipulate' the husband? Did she threaten to cut him out of her will if he failed to change the spelling? Donate his little red wagon to Salvation Army? Post his high school yearbook picture on Facebook? This is 100% a husband problem, not a MIL problem. Make him fix it. Then go forth with the understanding that your MIL is an opinionated, interfering PITA who will likely never change. Let's just hope husband does."
In the scathing conclusion to his response, Wallace clearly couldn't have agreed more. He admitted that he was "mad just reading about this," telling Mama Bear, "You and your kid deserve so much better. Your husband needs therapy, your mother-in-law needs to kick rocks, and you need to be as angry about this as you feel like being for as long as you feel like being angry about it. Be honest with yourself about how you truly feel and don’t be afraid of that feeling. Good luck."