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Carolyn Hax: Mother-in-law doesn’t see bedbugs as a big problem

Published: Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 - 12:15 am

Are there letter-writers you wonder about to this day? While I’m away, readers nominate some who stayed in mind.

DEAR CAROLYN: Both of our sons came home for Thanksgiving. We put up our older son and his family in a hotel and had our younger son, his new (second) wife and their baby stay in our guest room.

On Friday morning, the new wife said she had bug bites. I said that twice in the past I had bites also and thought they were from bedbugs. We had done some Internet searching and gone to my dermatologist and discovered bedbugs are not medically dangerous and not the result of uncleanliness. We gave her hydrocortisone and sympathized with her.

That evening, they moved into the hotel. Our son said his wife was absolutely adamant that they get out of our home. She has the reputation of being a “strong” woman, and she earns a very high income, so she is always able to get her way.

My husband and I felt embarrassed and disappointed that she reacted that way, but we are aware that a first-time, 45-year-old mother probably had mother-bear hormones at play, and we don’t blame our son too much for giving in to her demands.

But what did that accomplish? She washed everything they brought in hot water, as did I with everything downstairs. My husband thinks she threw away their suitcases. We will buy plastic cases for the bed, but what else can we do?

Our relationship with her is significantly impaired, and she wants me to tell her she did the right thing. I think she overreacted. Does this portend more trouble down the road?

– Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS: Expect more trouble, but not just because of your daughter-in-law.

Your contempt for her is breathtaking. Look at your modifiers: “new (second)” wife, “absolutely” adamant, “very” high income, “always” get her way, “first-time, 45-year-old” mother.

While you’re at it, summon a little respect for the position you put this family in. Bedbugs may not be “medically dangerous,” but they’re a repulsive, blood-sucking, time-sucking nuisance.

Her “overreactions” populate lists of recommended precautions in the event of exposure. And it’s still possible the family brought home some skeevy hitchhikers despite their precautions, which could mean costly and disruptive professional pest control.

I know you meant no harm. But now you’re blaming her for the fallout, and you’re making that mistake with ill will and forethought.

Instead: Call your son; apologize for exposing them to a headache they don’t need, especially not with a baby; offer to pay for any treatment their home may need; and get your home inspected by a reputable specialist. You can’t expect his wife to drop her dukes until you drop your own.


Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.



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