Balancing Family Obligations After Baby

How to gently tell your family that your own children's affairs come first.

Q. Before we had our daughter, we always accommodated family get-togethers. We went to every single event in our nieces' and nephews' lives. Preschool graduation, first day with a new puppy -- we were there. But now that we have our Ava, we don't want to build our schedule around theirs anymore. Last week, my sister-in-law went ballistic because I wouldn't drive an hour away to hear her daughter's piano recital. Is she right that we're being selfish?

A. Understandably, your priorities have changed now that you are parents yourselves. If nothing else, you're just busier, and your sister-in-law should be able to see that. Really.

But, but, but -- you did make yourselves pretty darn available for a while -- maybe too available. First day with a new puppy -- that's a little beyond the call of duty, isn't it? And it's quite likely that your sister-in-law's family got used to your presence, maybe even looked forward to it.

We're certainly not condoning your sister-in-law's explosion, but we do suspect she's acting more out of hurt feelings than anything else because, in some sense, she may perceive that you are slighting her and hers. And quite honestly, she may not be wrong. Her family probably does seem a bit less alluring to you now that you have your own child.

That's all okay. You are perfectly entitled to love your own family the most. Just be more sensitive the next time you turn down an invitation from your sister-in-law. In fact, if your last conversation was really bad, be the big person and take the initiative to mend fences -- especially if you want your nieces and nephews to play a role in your child's life. Call her up. Tell her how sorry you are that you couldn't make it to the recital, because you love your niece, but right now you're still working out the complexities that parenting has added to your life.

You might suggest that you all start alternating trips. And why not try to make an extra weekly phone call just to your nieces and nephews? It'll do wonders to assure them that their favorite aunt and uncle have not abandoned them.

Kathy Bishop and Julia Whitehead are the authors of The City Parent Handbook: The Complete Guide to the Ups and Downs and Ins and Outs of Raising Young Kids in the City (Rodale).

Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2005.

American Baby

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