Baby Care

My mother-in-law wants me to keep a major secret from my wife

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I welcomed our first child recently and have had our hands full with baby care. Her mother has been a big help, especially as I have returned to work. However, my wife has chafed at times against what she perceives as her mother babying her as she goes through the postpartum healing process. I generally understand where her mother is coming from, as she wants to take care of her child. But her mother is also not being receptive to my wife’s requests on this front. Well, her mother confided in me a few days ago.

She told me my father-in-law received a medical diagnosis that leaves him between six months and three years to live. This is not a huge surprise given his age and medical history. But she does not want to tell my wife for six weeks, until she is more fully recovered from her pregnancy. My mother-in-law told me all of this when I was very tired after a long night of newborn care and I did not push back at the time. After a few days of reflection, I am really uncomfortable keeping such a big secret from my wife. My wife would be livid if she found out, as I would be if she kept a similar secret from me. I am planning to give my MIL a chance to tell my wife, but I’m not sure how to go about all of this without seriously offending/angering her. What do you advise?

—Walking on Eggshells in Windsor

Dear Walking on Eggshells,

Of course it’s not right to ask you to keep this diagnosis a secret from your wife, and it was terribly unfair of your mother-in-law to ask that of you. She might get angry or offended when you broach the subject with her, but I don’t think that’s your main concern right now—and you do need to talk with her again. Tell her that your wife is an adult who deserves to know the truth, and she would be incredibly hurt and upset if she found out that you knew and kept it from her. You don’t want this secret coming between you two at an already stressful time.

It will be hard for your wife’s parents to tell her the truth, but it would be hard news for them to share and difficult for her to hear at any time. Let your mother-in-law know that if they don’t tell her within [a short period of time, say one week max], then you will tell your wife. If your courage falters, think about your wife and how she will feel. I’m sure you’d like to have the best possible relationship with your in-laws, but your priority is to do right by, support, and be there for her.


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