Much ado about dunking
June 17, 2009 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Infant son's getting baptized, and our sister-in-law feels she should be allowed to invite several friends of hers who're not of our faith and not acquainted with either us or the baby. I think she's out of line. O wise Hivemind, which of us is right?

**Mostly for my own satisfaction, I'm including the inevitable loooong blow-by-blow account... but the executive summary above pretty much gets to the heart of the question, so feel free to address that directly and skip all the tedious detail below!**

[Background: my husband and I are practicing Catholics; his side of the family is atheist/agnostic/New Age. They're not virulently anti-religious, though, (if a little down on the Catholic church), and we're not at all the proselytizing types, so this has never been a problem before. Inlaws are perfectly nice people, and we've always gotten along well in the past. For brevity, I'll call husband's mom MIL, sister-in-law SIL, etc. Oh, and while this is not a money issue, Husband and I are hosting and paying for everything, if that makes any difference.]

MY infant son is scheduled to be baptized in a few weeks. In our parish, the ceremony is performed during mass, and it's traditional to have a small get-together over a meal afterwards for whomever attends, usually close family and godparents.

So that SIL could attend, we delayed the baptism until her grad school classes were over, and her parents arranged for her and her boyfriend Bob to fly in for the weekend. Several weeks ago, we got a call from MIL letting us know that SIL had decided that this would be a perfect time for Bob's parents and sister to meet her parents, so they'd be driving in from their home a few states away(~5hrs) to come to the baptism as well. Bob's parents don't know us or the baby; indeed, we barely know Bob, so I felt pretty uncomfortable with this-- but it was clear that the invitation had already been extended, so I kept quiet.

Last week, we got another call from MIL. SIL also found out that a high-school friend of hers, Jane, now lives in our town, and she'd love to see her after all these years, so she's invited her, too. Could we add one more to the guest list?

At this point, we were (a) hurt that SIL felt the need to engage in this kind of social multitasking on such an important day for the kid, and (b) frustrated and sad that what's supposed to be an intimate occasion of deep spiritual significance for our son was now being made into this crazy baptism-cum-meet-the-parents-cum-high-school-reunion dog-and-pony show. It wasn't a huge thing, but it did seem disrespectful to our faith and to the importance of the occasion. So we called MIL and suggested a compromise: since their being in town understandably involved a certain amount of meeting-and-greeting unrelated to the baptism, would it be possible just to have a generic get-together lunch or dinner at some other time that weekend, unrelated to the baptism, and invite the boyfriend's parents and high-school friends and whatnot to that, instead? If convenience demanded it, we could even have the lunch at exactly the same time/place as the originally-planned baptism luncheon, just as long as all the hangers-on didn't have to be dragged to the baptism itself.

Completely to my surprise, MIL FLIPPED OUT over this suggestion, said that to her, baptism is about family (it's not), and that since she considers boyfriend's parents and SIL's friend to be part of their family, she would be deeply offended if any of the original plans changed. Subsequently, she left a tearful message not acknowledging our perspective in any way, but saying that we could do whatever we wanted, since she mostly didn't want her son to be hurt by the quarrel. At that point, it became clear that there was no winning this one, so I called, offered vague apologies, and agreed that we'd just continue with the original plans and SIL could invite whomever she'd like. Although at that point I didn't really care, MIL insisted on not inviting Jane after all, but Bob's parents are still coming.

A few days later, we got a call from SIL, who was furious that Jane couldn't come, said we were being backward and exclusionary, and then proceeded to berate my husband for letting me have my way so often in our marriage. Husband claims to agree with me, but obviously mostly just wants everyone to get along.

At this point, nothing will change the actual outcome, but I'm interested in knowing for my own sanity which of the two parties was out of line here. Mostly, I can't fathom (a)how anyone would think it was OK to take the guest list into her own hands this way, and (b) why on earth everyone has reacted so violently to our efforts at compromise. If you're not Catholic (and to my knowledge, neither Jane nor Bob's parents are), then baptism must be at best a quaint mumbo-jumbo, at worst an actively pernicious ritual. Why on earth would you care who does or doesn't attend the ceremony, or feel that it was necessary to impose your idiosyncratic personal view of somebody else's sacrament? Unfortunately, SIL and MIL are both highly partial, emotional arguers, while I'm more of an analytical premises-->conclusions type, so our conversations haven't been productive of much mutual understanding so far-- and with religion involved, it's been all-but-impossible to talk openly and clearly about things.

Maybe, though, this is just how kids roll nowadays, or maybe there's some obvious social norm that I'm just missing (wouldn't be the first time!). I'd like to know whether I should spend the upcoming weekend being grovellingly penitent, or merely cordial-but-guarded. So... who gets the high ground here? Do I have some serious 'splaining to do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (65 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You're right to be annoyed. It's not SILs event to invite whomever she wants. Do they not understand what a baptism is in the Catholic church? It seems to me that they're treating this more like a baby shower than an important religious rite of passage for your son. It'd still be rude for your SIL to invite other people to your shower but to the baptism, just seems weird.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:04 PM on June 17, 2009

Several weeks ago, we got a call from MIL letting us know that SIL had decided that this would be a perfect time for Bob's parents and sister to meet her parents, so they'd be driving in from their home a few states away(~5hrs) to come to the baptism as well.

This part seems very much not okay to me, especially the fact that neither SIL nor MIL seems to have asked first - they just went ahead and did it. I'm not very familiar with baptisms, but it would be uncool (to say the least) to do this with a bris or a bar mitzvah or a wedding.

The response to your (eminently reasonable) pushback was out-of-line and borders on abusive, imho, especially the part about your SIL trying to interfere in her brother's relationship with you. I know that if one of my siblings had the temerity to talk shit about me vis-a-vis my relationship with my wife (not that they ever would, fortunately), I'd be apoplectic.

At this point, I would just grin and bear it.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:07 PM on June 17, 2009

I am a Roman Catholic.

Invite anyone who wants to participate to attend the baptism. By participate, I mean: recognize BOTH the personal and spiritual sense of the event. Catholic means universal, means welcoming, means open: Christ would welcome the little children (metaphor: welcome the non-Catholics), and so "should" you.

Bt "should," I mean, you dont have to. But if you have family and friends who want to attend a Mass in your child's honor, that's a positive to you, your spouse and your child. Find the patience and love in your hear to share this MOMENTOUS event of your faith with them. By doing so you will be setting an example for your child of INclusion, acceptance and love; that will be a blessing and Christian grace to your child.

Those who are not R.C. should not share in Communion, but to include them in the ceremony, according to the Catholic rite, is graceful and good. My suggestion is that you let the family members' wish to participate UNITE the family rather than divide it; that's a choice you can make, and again one that shows love and grace.

No, you don't HAVE to. Yes, it IS rude to invite oneself to a religious ceremony for a faith to which one is not a member. But you can try to find it in your heart to nevertheless be welcoming, and set a good, strong, family connection for your child, that will set the groundwork for strong family connections in the future.

Summary: You are right, but be the stronger person regardless, for the baby's sake.
posted by bunnycup at 7:11 PM on June 17, 2009 [29 favorites]

A church service is public- anyone can attend, it's not like you can keep any of those people from coming if they really want to. And why, as a practicing Catholic, wouldn't you want your sister's friend to experience a Catholic mass and learn more about what being Catholic is all about? To see one of its sacraments and share in the joy of your child's baptism? It's odd to me that you made a religious ceremony in your chosen faith a battleground for this power struggle.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:11 PM on June 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

If convenience demanded it, we could even have the lunch at exactly the same time/place as the originally-planned baptism luncheon, just as long as all the hangers-on didn't have to be dragged to the baptism itself.

This is incredibly gracious and reasonable. I think otherworldlyglow has it right--your relatives do seem to treating this as a baby shower and don't seem to understand this as an important religious rite. Depending on your SIL and MIL's personalities, might you be able to explain to them why this matters to you as a religious event rather than a family gathering?

Then again, people who try to hijack your religious ceremony, and then get offended when you call them on it, are perhaps not going to be receptive to any explanation or dialogue. Regardless, you don't have any reason to apologize. And now you know to be prepared for an extra dose of crazy when planning your next family-included event.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:13 PM on June 17, 2009

we were (a) hurt that SIL felt the need to engage in this kind of social multitasking on such an important day for the kid

As the "kid" in question here is an infant, this is not going to be an important day for him. A more accurate assessment is that your son’s baptism is a very important day for you, and perhaps a bit of recognition of this on your part may help you view your SIL’s and MIL’s somewhat thoughtless behavior along a spectrum of self-involvement here in which you, as well, play a part. Your son’s baptism is important. But family is also important.
posted by applemeat at 7:20 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

You are right. It's your kid, your event, your church. It's entirely your decision.
posted by rhartong at 7:21 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You know, I've said this a million times in threads like this, but your husband really needs to step up the plate and set some boundaries here. It shouldn't be up to you to leash his family when they're showing their asses.

Also, of course you aren't wrong, but you gave in, so now it's up to you to be gracious.
posted by sugarfish at 7:23 PM on June 17, 2009 [8 favorites]

One reminder - the SIL and MIL, however out of place, are your son's aunt and grandmother, and they always will be. You may never have a good relationship with these people, and it may be none of your doing, but how you handle the situation now may affect his relationship with them for the rest of his life. You certainly don't want bad blood between these important relatives and your son over his baptism. So, you are not wrong, but be gracious for your son's sake.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:26 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds beyond rude to me to invite others to any event without even asking you if it is all right first. Why can't she visit Jane and Bob & Bob's Parents after the service? Mass is not exactly the time and place to catch up with old friends or meet the future-inlaws. Does SIL understand what Mass actually entails? I hope whatever their faith these people will be respectful of the ceremony.

And I don't think you'll have to worry so much about how to treat SIL at this event, sounds like she'll be so busy with her own little social life you won't have to spend much time or thought on it. Just focus on your son and try not to let their rudeness taint the day.
posted by Caravantea at 7:27 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sometimes relatives act crazy over things. Having gone through similar stuff, I say put your foot down, firmly and politely. If they want to get bent out of shape about it, fine, but as a an individual and as parent, I think it's important to establish some boundaries about who's in charge of your life and your child's life. Otherwise you're just going to dealing with versions of these battles for years.

Bob isn't family. Bob's parents aren't family and neither is Jane. This is a family gathering and you're footing the bill, so you have final say so. If SIL has a problem with that, tough. You, as parents, have final say on how the baptism of your child goes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:29 PM on June 17, 2009

Your event, your guestlist. At the point SIL decided she could bring Jane to your event, she crossed the line - catching up with old friends should be done on her own time imo. Your proposal for a group lunch unrelated yo your event was gracious and reasonable, and MIL is also crossing the line in being possessive about this event that is yours, not hers.
posted by Billegible at 7:31 PM on June 17, 2009

You're right - regardless of the nature of the event, it's rude to invite other people to someone else's event (and it's weird to invite an old friend to catch up with you at your nephew's baptism). That said - the church is going to be full of people who aren't important to you anyway, so the place to put your foot down (nicely) is in deciding who will stand with you at the baptismal font, and if you don't want Bob's parents and Jane there, fine.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:34 PM on June 17, 2009

Even without the religion angle, it's obnoxious. It's your kid, not hers. Why should she be allowed to invite people?
posted by delmoi at 7:37 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you have been getting some raw advice here in AskMe. From a few of the last responses, it sounds like you are being attacked for standing up for yourself. Yes, family is important, but that isn't an all-encompassing mantra. You are going to end up a doormat for all your relations if you turn the other cheek and hope for the best in every family related scenario. You were not afforded respect in relation to your plans for this day. If this isn't addressed, you will be checkmated at every opportunity by members of your family who will act in self-interest, under the banner of "family first". Neither your sister-in-law or mother-in-law can dictate the terms of your child's baptism. Your offer of a dinner was kind and gracious. To be verbally abused for your compromise is unconscionable. Do what's in your heart- what you think is best for you, your husband, your son and your faith. But whatever you do, don't take the advice that being meekly conciliatory is the only moral solution.
posted by cascando at 7:37 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Of course, the responses I was referring to are now several answers above mine. Sorry.
posted by cascando at 7:41 PM on June 17, 2009

What I think is fairly rude is your MIL and SIL putting Bob's family in an awkward position. Obviously SIL and Bob are moving towards marriage and I'm sure Bob's family is looking forward to meeting the potential inlaws. It would be difficult for them to say they would prefer not to attend a religious service, since they don't know what they're walking into, so they are being gracious as well. I bet they're nice.

I agree with Clarkstonian that although this is annoying, you've got to buck up and pretend this isn't any kind of imposition 'cause family is family, and these are your son's closest female relatives besides you.

Your mother in law probably overreacted when you suggested an additional generic get together because she was being defensive. Some people act that way when they realize they're wrong and it takes them some time to get over themselves.
posted by readery at 7:45 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree that, although you are RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT, and SIL and MIL are so very wrong and presumptuous and rude, that it wouldn't be a terrible thing to include them in the spirit of wanting to allow your baby's grandma and auntie to be included. Hopefully Bob's parents and Jane are very gracious, lovely people and they will sit quietly at the back of the church and respect and preserve the sanctity of your experience with your baby.

Side note: I think it's really, really interesting that Jane, although SIL hasn't seen her in 6+ years (you mentioned "after all these years" and college plus grad school is at least 6 years, could be 8 or more!) and didn't even know where she lived until 10 seconds ago, is "family" to MIL. That in itself strikes me as a freaking WEIRD thing to think.
posted by so_gracefully at 7:46 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

i can't figure out why all of those people would WANT to go to mass. they do realize they'll be sitting in uncomfortable pews, in uncomfortable clothes for an hour to an hour and a half? if none of them are catholic and none of them honor the ritual you are taking part in AND they aren't YOUR family, then i think it's beyond weird that they want to turn it into a social gathering.
posted by nadawi at 7:49 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

so_gracefully has an amazing point. I mean MIL deputized an old high school friend into "family" just to use against you. That's unsettling to say the least.
posted by cascando at 8:02 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I grew up Catholic, but do not believe, did not get married in the church, and politely declined multiple requests to be godfather to my nieces and nephews. I'm generally antagonistic to church stuff.

That said. SIL is completely the fuck out of line. Absolutely, grow the fuck up past your grad school self. MIL is only half an order of magnitude down from SIL's level of egregiously bad behavior.

However - you already allowed th Bob thing to go, so that's your cross to bear. The jane thing, fuck 'em. And your husband really needs to get his balls back from his mom's purse.
posted by notsnot at 8:08 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's too late now, but maybe you should have emphasized to the non-Catholics that mass+ baptism is long and probably really boring for non-Catholics, especially non-religious people, plus they will be excluded from Communion, rather than the it being your kid's day.

I say this as a person of a Protestant background that has sat through way too many Catholic events.
posted by ishotjr at 8:09 PM on June 17, 2009

*rather than the it being your kid's day *angle*
posted by ishotjr at 8:10 PM on June 17, 2009

Your sister-in-law is out of line. It's not her place to invite anyone to your child's baptism, much less people you don't know. It would have been one thing for her to suggest people you do know who she thought would like to come, but that's it. Her behaviour is appalling. Doesn't matter that they're atheists - I'm an atheist and I would expect anyone, irrespective of their religious beliefs, to have enough understanding of and respect for the religious ceremonies of a family member that they don't feel they can just invite people along as if it were a big backyard barbecue. Anyway, what the hell kind of occasion is this for significant others' parents to meet?

This isn't just about your sister-in-law, though. If your husband's family really is this crazy, then this is not going to be the last such incident you deal with. You need to set the tone now. You have to be able to rely on your husband not to just let his family bully you in the hopes that this all goes away. It won't. He should be the one interceding on your behalf. You need to have a serious conversation with him, because if he's willing to let his family walk all over you to avoid a confrontation now, then this is going to happen again and again, in equally ridiculous circumstances.

Have your husband call his mother and sister. He's sorry that there's been such a miscommunication over this whole event, but you've thought about it and you're not comfortable with having Bob's parents come, since you don't know them. This is a religious ceremony for your family, not for whoever she considers her family. Tell her that whatever arrangements she wants to make to meet Bob's parents need to happen independently of the baptism.
posted by Dasein at 8:37 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is another vote for their request being completely over the line. No one should ever feel free to invite people to someone else's party, and this has to be doubly true for religious rites.

However, I was raised Catholic, and hope that you are able to get some measure of schadenfreude from watching their confusion as they try to figure out when to sit/stand/kneel next.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:38 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

On second thought, it may not be worth the fight this time to exclude Bob's parents, but this is a pattern that has to change, and your husband has to put his foot down the next time his family acts crazy.
posted by Dasein at 8:41 PM on June 17, 2009

God, the criers. Please, everybody, stand up to grown-ups who cry to get their way. Just raise an eyebrow and offer them a kleenex.

So yeah, you're right, and the in-laws are wrong. They're also emotional manipulators. But much good it does you to know that, when your husband cares more about family harmony than about defending you from their BS.

(Did he really listen to his sister complain about you? That would've been a real short conversation around these parts.)
posted by palliser at 9:00 PM on June 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

You know, I'd typed up this big long response about how I agreed with the folks who say that you'd be better off acting the bigger person and allowing this self-involved drama queen to have her invitees attend if that meant preserving the peace in the long run, but now I'm on the fence after reading Daesin's very astute point about how you'd do well to "set the tone" for future interactions with her early on ... inadvertently teaching her that her little spaz-outs will allow her to run rampant over whatever wishes you have seems like a bad precedent to set.

More than anything I keep thinking about the people she's invited, and the fact that they are (apparently?) willing to go along with these plans. I don't know about you, but if someone wanted ME to show up to some more-or-less stranger's child's baptism as a means of socializing, I would find it intensely awkward at best and outright boorish at worst. I would definitely feel like I was imposing upon the family whose ceremony it was, and the only way I might even CONSIDER such a proposition would be if I knew the person doing the inviting was liable to go off on me if I didn't comply with her plans. This makes me think that the SIL has long since learned that when she pitches a tantrum she gets her own way, which in turn makes me think that this would be a VERY good time to stand your ground and hopefully get across the message that such behavior will not work with you and your burgeoning family.

I would think that limits set early on would be far easier to maintain in the long run, so I'd advise you to respond with something like "I'm sorry you're disappointed but we've planned for this to be an intimate affair; we look forward to meeting your invitees some other time during their visit, though". She's not going to die if you stand up for what you want, and quite frankly I suspect her invitees would be grateful to you anyway.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:07 PM on June 17, 2009

Your kid isn't going to remember it anyway, so what's the big deal?

Let your sister-in-law bring her friends.

Seriously, what's the harm?
posted by wfrgms at 9:23 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're right. It's rude of them to invite people and it's rude to be a drama queen, but I don't get your stand here.

You're willing to have them at the lunch that you hosting. That's very gracious of you. You don't have to do that, but it's a nice gesture that you're doing it and hopefully your in-laws appreciate that. The lunch invitations are something that you can/should/do control.

The baptism attendees is something you can't/shouldn't/do not control. This is a public gathering that anyone, Catholic, non-Catholic, anti-Catholic, anti-religion or *WHATEVER* can choose to attend. If you want only people you know and approve of at the baptism, you'll have to arrange for a baptism at some other time and in some other (non-church) place. The church building is always open to the public when it's open, even during weddings I was taught that strangers could come into the church at any time since a) they have the right to pray and b) a wedding (like a baptism) is a community event (at least that's what they told me in Catholic school). So while you're right that it was rude of your in-laws to multi-task their socializing, these friends have as much "right" to be at the baptism as the many other strangers who will be there. They don't actually need an invitation and they're not crashing a private event.

Finally, views will differ on this, but baptism is at least partly about brining a person into a church community. Now I realize that some of the people in question are not part of the *church* community, but they (particularly the bf) may well be part of your son's community of support for some time. Why not try to see at as something nice that these people (regardless of your in-laws' rudeness in inviting them) apparently want to bother being supportive of your son and of your family? Your SIL's bf, in particular, may be thinking that your son may one day be his nephew and that now is as good a time as any to be start being a supportive family member.

Yes, they're rude but if you're willing to let the lunch go, you should just let it all go.

Oh, and practices on how intimate a baptism is vary widely. My goddaughter's baptism was done at home (so it was a private ceremony), but certainly with more than a few close family members preseent. I've also been to a number of baptisms that are followed by parties held in banquet halls. I understand you want something small and that's your right, but don't assume that small and intimate is some universal custom that they should have known about.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:46 PM on June 17, 2009

Another vote for you being right and SIL and MIL being way over the line.

As far as setting the tone for the day and future events, I'd be VERY clear about the parts of the baptism that are for family only (maybe even going as far as "immediate family in this pew only"?). You don't want some strangers in your son's baptism pictures or trying to hold the baptismal candle or whatever else family is asked to do.

You have every right to ask the ancillary guests to please remain with the congregation when it comes time to go forward with baptism and SHOULD ask them to do so. Hold your ground on that; it will go miles.
posted by moojoose at 9:49 PM on June 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Obviously, the plans are already set...but yes, the SIL and MIL have brought TeH Craaazy...and you should be prepared for that in the future.
posted by dejah420 at 9:51 PM on June 17, 2009

(Err....time to go to the front for the baptism.)
posted by moojoose at 9:51 PM on June 17, 2009

Oh, and I hadn't seen moojooses' comment when I posted, but that is an ABSOLUTE must. Do not, do not, do not allow yourself to get bullied about the actual ceremony. Trust me, strangers in the ceremony will be something you'll be angry about 40 years from now.

Strangers in the church? Sure...whatever. Welcome to mass, here's your kneeling guide. But the actual ceremony? No. Absolutely not.
posted by dejah420 at 9:55 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

(a)how anyone would think it was OK to take the guest list into her own hands this way, and (b) why on earth everyone has reacted so violently to our efforts at compromise.

You're not crazy.

Breach of manners in this instance has nothing to do with disrespect of your religion, this is garden variety manners. (More accurately, the lack thereof.)

The greater good probably involves you taking one for the team, here.
posted by desuetude at 9:55 PM on June 17, 2009

I'd be concerned that they actually think this WILL be an occasion to socialize. As in, they think it will be cool to chat throughout the mass. You may want to let your husband inform them that it's a solemn religious event lasting more than an hour where the only talking they will be able to engage in are the congregation responses of the ceremony. If they're not religious people they may actually think it IS like a baby shower with some minor religious additions.

and I say have him tell them because, well, it's HIS damn family and he should be dealing with this shit, not you. Plus, growing up with them, he'll perhaps know how to phrase it so they'll understand just how utterly dreadfully boring a catholic service can be to a non-catholic who has no interest in becoming catholic. Maybe something like "that scene at the end of the godfather? yeah, remove the murders, and replace them with 50 more minutes of a priest talking about god, jesus, and sin."

If they don't really understand the logistics of a Catholic ceremony perhaps they will lose all interest into turning it into a social event once it is explained to them.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:58 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


But, and I'm saying this as a mother of a baby, you have a million other things to be concerned about right now and letting this go for now may be the best for your own sanity.

If your husband isn't willing to step in and fix this mess, you need to start thinking about what is best for you and your child and your collective sanity.

How much emotional effort are you putting into fighting this? Is the outcome going to change? I'd be willing to bet that this is one of many things that annoy you about the in-laws.

Someone here said to me once though - even though family is often crazy and your MIL in particular may drive you up the wall, with few exceptions, Grandmothers love those damn grandkids in a way that no 14-year-old sitter will. Grandmas can be abused as sitters. Grandmas will make homemade organic babyfood even though they're tired. Grandmas will sing that song that the baby loves all day if it makes the baby happy.

And, even though they come with teh Crazy, Grandmas win quite a few points in my book and their Craziness is a bit more excusable. YGMV.
posted by k8t at 10:08 PM on June 17, 2009

Honestly, from their perspective they probably saw it as inviting some friends and family to an already planned Sunday brunch. If I was in their position I probably wouldn't have invited that many people, but at the same I don't think it's that big of a deal.

From the tone of your email it sounds like you feel that inviting all these random non religious people degrades the sanctity of the baptism or at the very least fails to show respect for the baptism. You seem quite stuck on the fact they aren't all catholic and I really fail how it would make any different if the bf's family and her high school friend were catholic.

If you're not Catholic (and to my knowledge, neither Jane nor Bob's parents are), then baptism must be at best a quaint mumbo-jumbo, at worst an actively pernicious ritual.

Really? I mean I'm about as militant of an atheist as they come, but I was raised Episcopalian and have a lot of respect for what religion means to people. I mean yeah I have a lot of problems with organized religion, but baptism, mass, etc are not one of them nor is general spirituality. You seem to have at least a slightly bigoted attitude towards non catholics or non religious people. Don't assume that just because you have a problem with non believers that they must feel the same way about believers.

You said that the baptism was going to be during a mass, which I assume is open to the public? How do you know that everyone their is observant? I mean I was dragged to church throughout my youth and still fake it now and then because I love my grandmother. My father is dragged to catholic church every Sunday by my stepmother just because she doesn't like to have to go alone. He sits in the back and reads. I'm sure he's sat through lots of baptisms over the last 10 years.

I have to admit when I first read your headline, I was totally on your side and then I thought about it. This is an open event. This is a joyous and special occasion correct? They invited 3 more people who they know well right? They are including the people who could be part of your family at some point in the near future in a family event (and yes a baptism is a family event even if it isn't technically, just like a wedding is). I think you seriously need to sit down and think about why this bothers you so much that you would cause a rift in your family over your MIL being excited about her grandchild's baptism and inviting some extra people without asking first. I mean this should be a minor annoyance at best.
posted by whoaali at 11:28 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

said that to her, baptism is about family (it's not)

It is. To her. Not to your church, but to her. You have to understand the difference for this to make any sense.

If you're not Catholic (and to my knowledge, neither Jane nor Bob's parents are), then baptism must be at best a quaint mumbo-jumbo, at worst an actively pernicious ritual. Why on earth would you care who does or doesn't attend the ceremony, or feel that it was necessary to impose your idiosyncratic personal view of somebody else's sacrament?

Well, here's a thought: I'm not religious, although I was raised Lutheran. I attended my niece's baptism, and I lit a candle etc., and to suggest that my view of baptism is "quaint mumbo-jumbo" or "an actively pernicious ritual" is as disrespectful to me as you suggest my view of baptism is.

I love my sister; I love my niece. My sister wants to have my niece baptized, and it's really important to her? Then it's important to me, because I love her, and because I love my niece. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was in another state, but if I could have brought other loved ones to sit quietly in the pews thinking thoughts of love and support, I would have done it without question.

Odds are that your SIL feels the same way. She loves you and your husband and your child very much, and is excited and proud, not trying to "impose [her] idiosyncratic personal view." She's not going there to make trouble, and her "view" of your sacrament isn't one she's trying to force on you. She was simply raised to believe that church is an inclusive place, where even a stranger can walk off the street and attend service -- so filling the pews with a few extra people that she loves to bear witness to the baptizing of a child that she loves is not merely harmless or well-intentioned but actually a supportive and heartwarming thing. Bringing together all these people she loves for an important event in your child's life.

And you have rejected it, outright. You have essentially said that these people she loves (who may even be Catholic!) are not welcome in your church on this special day, even though a stranger off the street would be welcome. And you wonder why she's hurt.

Correct me if I'm wrong; did you rent the church for a private event? Does your church not allow visitors to attend mass unless they "know" the right people, or have been vetted somehow? Does your church require that everyone attending a baptism stand and join in the sacrament? If so, you can disregard everything I've said, and I apologize. If not, however, then you can see why she might be offended -- you have told her that her loved ones are less welcome in your church than a total stranger; that the people she loves and cherishes are less than nothing to you, and to be shunned.

I truly believe she wants to share this important day in your child's life -- a child she loves -- with other people she loves, in a way that's unobtrusive and respectful. Projecting some kind of ill will on her part is, I believe, quite unfair, and the source of all the stress surrounding this.

In conclusion: if she had invited these people, and they had sat in the pews to attend the mass, and then left, you never would have known they were there and nothing would be wrong. The problem seems to be that you know they're going to be there, you assume they're going to be sitting there quietly mocking you, and that makes you feel insecure for some reason. Take a deep breath, and realize nobody -- nobody -- sits in an uncomfortable pew for an hour or two for a mass for the opportunity to mock or judge someone...they do it for the opportunity to love and support someone who is loved by someone they love.

I won't make any friends saying all this, but I simply can't stay silent on this.
posted by davejay at 1:35 AM on June 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'd be concerned that they actually think this WILL be an occasion to socialize. As in, they think it will be cool to chat throughout the mass.

This made me laugh out loud; I don't know anyone -- myself included -- who isn't terrified to talk in church lest they offend someone. I'd argue that the less a person knows about the service they're attending, the more fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing they will be.
posted by davejay at 1:39 AM on June 18, 2009

I think you are justified in feeling frustrated, because your in-laws don't seem to be trying to see things from your point of view at all. It's true, anyone is welcome to attend mass and be present for the baptism, and that's as it should be, but randomly adding people you don't even know to your guest list for a private lunch celebration afterward is presumptuous. Also, your SIL's shit-talking of you to your husband is completely unacceptable (and he needs to tell her that if he hasn't already).

However. I am wondering if this whole situation has arisen because his family and your family have different cultural styles. Maybe your family places a lot of importance on the individual or on the nuclear family/close family unit, and maybe your husband's family views things in a more collective or communal style.

I could see a misunderstanding like this one coming up with my family, because my mom's side comes from a very collective culture, where the more people (friends, family, whatever) the merrier, and individuals are expected to embrace the inclusion of said people who are considered important to the family. Protestations about this being a special or meaningful event to an individual or a couple are not really that well understood, and that sometimes creates confusion and hurt feelings from the 2nd generation (like me) who don't always share the same collectivist attitude.

That said, if I were really upset by something and told my family that what they wanted was not OK with me, while they might not understand, if they knew it really bothered me they would try to suck it up and NOT do the thing that was causing me angst. I do think your in-laws are falling down in this department.

I wonder if a chat with your in-laws (after this baptism weekend is past) would be helpful to get them to understand where you are coming from. Who knows, maybe they are just incorrigible, but it could be that they honestly don't get how their family style (inclusion of many, no matter how distantly connected) differs from yours and your husband's (inclusion of a small group who are closely connected).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:08 AM on June 18, 2009

I couldn't disagree more strongly with davejay, who seems to have a very different idea of appropriate boundaries than the OP and most of the commenters in this thread. Just because a baptism takes place at a public venue doesn't mean normal propriety about guest lists goes out the window. What's more, there is a private meal scheduled for afterwards, to which SIL expects her entourage be invited - which leads me to believe that the public nature of a baptism ceremony had nothing to do with SIL's motivations here.

There's also no evidence that the SIL "loves" all of the people involved. (What, do we really think she "loves" this long-lost friend Jane?) And on top of that, the idea that SIL is interested in proudly sharing this moment with family and those she loves is directly contradicted by the only evidence we have - the OP's statement that "SIL... decided that this would be a perfect time for Bob's parents and sister to meet her parents." In other words, SIL wants to use this as a meet-n-greet social occasion, not to bring "together all these people she loves for an important event in your child's life."
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:10 AM on June 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

What would Jesus do?

I'm deadly serious.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:00 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

She's not Jesus, not does she have to pretend to be.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:16 AM on June 18, 2009

Because you already relented, I think you are stuck trying to make the best of it. So try to look at it in a positive light. As an earlier poster suggested, Bob and his parents may be family someday and having them at the baptism may cause them to feel more bonded to your child. Assuming they are good people, I think having more people love and take part in your child's upbringing is a good thing and the baptism is a great place to start forming this bond. And though I am not Catholic, I think Bunnycup's thoughtful ideas may help to put a positive spin on this whole thing for you.

That being said, I whole-heartedly agree that your in laws are WAY out of line here. They absolutely should have asked you all first if this was acceptable and respected your answer. This is a basic manners thing.

But you have seen (and I would guess you have seen before if you look back now) that they are enmeshed with each other and lack appropriate boundaries. The family dynamics are showing through here and you must pay attention now or be forever damned to a life of having your boundaries crossed.

MIL clearly puts her children's desires before yours and will use emotional blackmail (i.e. tears and martyrdom .."you just do what you want despite how hurt I am") to make you back down. So be it. SIL is selfish and wants to make you out to be the "bad guy" to preserve her image of her brother. Again, so be it.

When you have to deal with people like this, all you and your husband can do is to set appropriate boundaries. And that brings me to your husand. Your husband's entire history has been formed around these people. I would guess since the SIL felt entitled to call him up and label you both as backward and exclusionary and to chide him on "letting his wife have her way" and judging you both so harshly, he has never set boundaries with them.

But he is a big boy now and you and your child are his immediate family. And IMO, your feelings and boundaries deserve priority over his mom or sister's. If he did not tell your SIL that her comments were way out of line when she called and bullied him and essentially bashed you, you have a bigger problem than the baptism.

Extended families are a tough business...but you and your husband need to discuss what boundaries are jointly acceptable and he needs to enforce those boundaries in the future with his family, not you.
posted by murrey at 5:03 AM on June 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

You have the rest of your life to fight battles with your MIL and SIL.
Given the nature of this ceremony, I think it is a good day to for truce, a one day peace (even if it mean that you have to turn the other cheek and get slapped again.)
posted by Flood at 5:39 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Extended families are a tough business...but you and your husband need to discuss what boundaries are jointly acceptable and he needs to enforce those boundaries in the future with his family, not you.

Yup! The little tyke is an infant, so the sooner the better, especially if your husband is from a "collective culture."

Nthing that a baptism at a Mass is a joyful, public event, but establish firm, firm boundaries on the Sacrament itself - seating, photos, holding the child during the ceremony, and the like. Find out beforehand if photos are even permitted during the service.

It might be good to find a way prior to Mass to provide a general overview of what will take place.

And, besides. In spite of the hangers-on, this is going to be an adorable baby, all in angelic white!

He'll have 'em in the palm of his hand.

As will He.
posted by jgirl at 5:47 AM on June 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hmm... inviting her parents and friends... Is it possible she's planning on using this occasion as an engagement announcement?
posted by Gable Oak at 7:17 AM on June 18, 2009

You've stated that apart from this episode your relationship with the in-laws is otherwise good. My mother tends towards the "family first" for events, but is otherwise harmless. You have every right to be upset at SIL for her imposition, surely she can meet her college friend at another time? The SIL's prospective in-laws will be on best behaviour since it's the first time they've met any of her family, so you shouldn't have to worry about that.

I'd agree to MIL's compromise of Jane not coming (like she's interested anyway?), welcome the others but only have those who are important to your son's spiritual upbringing at the actual ceremony at the font. In these circumstances, it's up to you to be the bigger person in the face of the SIL's stupidity. It's an investment in family harmony.
posted by arcticseal at 7:46 AM on June 18, 2009

Fellow papist here, and you're right. This situation is caused by a confused sacramentology that promotes the celebration of Baptism within the Mass and making it a part of the Mass. It's not illicit, but it just makes the Mass lamely chummy and confusing. Baptism is just for your son. The Sacrifice of the Mass benefits all present who re-unite themselves to re-presented Calvary. Baptism is not about family (other than in an entirely indirect way). It's a sacrament that directly leaves an indelible mark only upon the one receiving it. So it is your kid's day.

But forget it, just invite them all to Mass (ask non-Catholics not to receive holy communion) and lunch afterwards. Families are all ridiculous and hopefully this will be the worst thing that they ever do. You're not a proselytizing person, but think of this as a teaching moment. What would Jesus do, indeed.

BUT only (1) the parents and (2) one or two godparents (technically "sponsors" in canon law) should proceed to the baptismal font for the Rite of Baptism itself, since they can't take any 'part' in the ceremony anyway (unless they are a mere "witness"). (Can. 874 sec. 2.) So they should not be 'lighting candles' or 'holding the baby' or any of that stuff. Those are roles specifically reserved to the parents and godparents/sponsors by canon law and the rituals prescribed in the Rite of Baptism. If you don't want to tell them to stay seated, then ask your priest or deacon that's administering the sacrament to call up just the parents and godparents. This is also what Jesus would do.

Hope it's a great day for you! Don't forget to record the kid's date of baptism, the church's name and the minister's name. Put it on your calendar like you would a birthday. You can pray for them all on that date each year, have a little party or whatever, and in that way make your kid's baptism more special to him.
posted by resurrexit at 8:27 AM on June 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Also don't forget to pray for everyone involved. Maybe receive communion for them that day. I don't know. It's good for you and good for them, both psychologically and spiritually.
posted by resurrexit at 8:30 AM on June 18, 2009

You're right, but also wrong -- in the same way that I'm wrong every single time my (or my husband's) family gets together. At first I blamed it on one or another of the parents, but now I see that the same folderal happens even when it's just the siblings.

Your sister-in-law has her agenda and her way of doing things, and certain assumptions about how other people should respond. She and everyone else has characteristic ways of interacting within the family, which will probably never change. You have the crazy idea that because your baby is being christened and you're footing the bill and hosting the gathering, your preferences should be considered. They 'should,' but that's never going to happen. Anytime you win, they'll be angry; you'll be the inflexible one who took something from them just because you wanted to control things.

You need to cleanse your mind of ideas about how things should be, and of rational thinking such as, "Why would non-Catholics even want to go to the church?" Bend to the reality that things aren't going to go your way. You're never going to like it, but it'll lead to the best outcome and the least stress for you.

I recommend that you include Jane and give a genuine apology to anyone who's pissed at you over this party. It'll make things easier for you for the rest of your life, because those people are never going to forget how 'unreasonable' you were in June of '09!

I've been married more than 20 years and various family members still think that every occasion is about them -- as does my own family. Seriously, you're the only one who can make things better for you. Give in.
posted by wryly at 8:43 AM on June 18, 2009

Upon re-reading, this really jumped out at me:

A few days later, we got a call from SIL, who was furious that Jane couldn't come, said we were being backward and exclusionary, and then proceeded to berate my husband for letting me have my way so often in our marriage.

This says a couple of things:
1. negative decisions (i.e. no your friend can't come) are being seen as originating from you, not the family unit of your husband and yourself. So either your husband is phrasing it as YOU don't want them to come, or they already have some hostility towards you and automatically attribute any actions of your family unit that they don't like onto you and leave your husband out of it.

Both of these possibilities are bad. Both make it highly likely that this whole brou-haha is less about bringing family together than it is about bringing THEIR family together - minus you. I have a hunch they see this event as being "your" event and are trying to take it over as a "family" event i.e. their family.
FWIW, this often happens in families where one household is religious and the others aren't. The religious bent is uncomfortable for the non-religious households, and they tend to blame the newcomer for it, whether or not they introduced it. So they're treating your spiritual concerns with disrespect because, well, they don't respect them.

I think this antagonistic attitude towards you as exemplified by this baptism incident has no hope of improving unless you address this core issue. I suspect that your husband, being a compromiser, has tried to remain neutral in things by passing on requests from both of you as being solely from you, leading his family to view him as being controlled by you. If you really are making decisions together, as a family unit, he has to present them to HIS family as coming from BOTH of you - otherwise you will always be the vilified "other" in the name of his conscience. Hubby has to back you up and start thinking "we" means you and him as well as him and his extended family.
If he has been doing so, then it's likely you're the bad guy with the bible, taking the heat for their discomfort with their brother/sons religiosity.
posted by Billegible at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ask them which vigil hour of silent prayer they would like to sign up for. 3:00-4:00AM or 4:00-5:00 AM?
posted by yeti at 9:20 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly, from their perspective they probably saw it as inviting some friends and family to an already planned Sunday brunch.

This is why I think you should make it clear to them that you expect them to attend the actual Mass. I have a feeling -- being a non-churchgoer and all -- that what Jane and SIL's bf & co. are going to do is skip the service and show up at the brunch, thinking, perhaps, that this is the *right* thing to do because they aren't religious/close family.

Make your expectations clear to them.

PS You are totally, totally, totally right. And I think Billegible has it nailed.
posted by artemisia at 10:05 AM on June 18, 2009

Holey moley, that is a great title for your post!
But yeah, I agree with pretty much everyone, in that MIL and SIL were way out of line here.

And it's your money, it's your party.
It's a sacred event followed by a little get-together, not a party with a baptism on the side just to make it legit.

But Bunnycup makes a most excellent point, and you need to show your child that you are a welcoming family. You will be a better person for it!
posted by bitteroldman at 10:35 AM on June 18, 2009

Wryly's comment rings bitterly true for my own experience:

Anytime you win, they'll be angry; you'll be the inflexible one who took something from them just because you wanted to control things.

I too have family members who "think that every occasion is about them." But I don't advocate giving in, as wryly does. I'd rather have people be angry at me than spend my life apologizing for doing nothing wrong. I once was in a relationship with a woman who constantly made me feel like I was always doing something wrong, and that I always had something to be apologizing for. I fucking hated how I felt then, and I was glad when I ended it. I certainly wouldn't want to let my family make me feel that way.

Mostly, I just try my hardest to avoid these situations with my family altogether.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:52 AM on June 18, 2009

I certainly don't take issue with you disagreeing with me, CCoDoD, but I wanted to say...

There's also no evidence that the SIL "loves" all of the people involved. (What, do we really think she "loves" this long-lost friend Jane?)

Why not? I don't personally have deep attachments to people I haven't seen in twenty years...oh, wait, yes I do, two in fact that I recently reconnected with and care about very, very deeply. And my wife, don't get me started; she has friends she cared about in grade school, and hasn't seen since until recently, but they picked up their relationship as if no time had passed.

Sometimes, people's love and affection lasts without day-to-day maintenance. That's because love and friendship isn't about duties or what-have-you-done-for-me-latelies, it's about caring for another human being regardless of time or distance.

I'm truly sorry if you don't think that sort of relationship is possible; I hope you soon find out otherwise, because everyone deserves to love and be loved that way.
posted by davejay at 11:51 AM on June 18, 2009

My advice? move. Heh (Only partly kidding). MIL and SIL obviously have issues and they want you to roll over. You've done it once, and it doesn't sound like you're going to have much support from your husband in standing up to them (which is understandable, but not helpful). I'd just minimize the times things like this could come up in the future because it really seems to me that they're either consciously or unconsciously trying to fight with you.
posted by lemniskate at 12:40 PM on June 18, 2009

Again, there's no evidence to suggest that the SIL loves the people involved. Just because it's possible doesn't mean it's actual.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:23 PM on June 18, 2009

Again, there's no evidence to suggest that the SIL loves the people involved. Just because it's possible doesn't mean it's actual.

Oh, I dunno; I personally think that inviting them to such a personal event certainly implies it, as does her reaction to being told they can't come.

The alternative is to believe that she's picked some random people she doesn't really give a fuck about, and is getting upset for a completely irrational reason. Perhaps I just assume the best in people rather than the worst.
posted by davejay at 1:31 PM on June 18, 2009

We don't even know if SIL has even met Bob's parents before. As the OP said, SIL's stated reason for having them come was to meet SIL's own parents, not out of any love for Bob's parents.

And yeah, I've spent a large chunk of my life dealing with people who throw unreasonable tantrums. I suspect I'm not the only one on this thread who has more experience than they'd like with that.

So the alternative, as I see it, is that SIL is self-centered, wants to use the baptism to further her relationship with Bob by taking care of the obligatory "parents meet each other" business, and is pissy because the OP doesn't think that's a suitable part of the baptism. Based on everything the OP has said here, I choose to believe that version of events.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:44 PM on June 18, 2009

She's not Jesus, not does she have to pretend to be.

Thanks for that, Captain Obvious. I hoped nobody would notice she doesn't have a beard or sandals, but we can always trust you to set things straight.

Nobody's suggesting she do miracles. All I'm suggesting is that perhaps a little 'love thy neighbour' and 'turning the other cheek' might make all this go away, as well as preventing the hypocrisy that arises when a person professes to believe in particular things but then acts as though they don't.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:27 AM on June 19, 2009

All I'm suggesting is that perhaps a little 'love thy neighbour' and 'turning the other cheek' might make all this go away, as well as preventing the hypocrisy that arises when a person professes to believe in particular things but then acts as though they don't.

This is exactly what I'm talking about, the insistence that since a person is Christian, they must, live as a man from 2,000 years ago supposedly did and if they don't they're being hypocritical. Jesus said all that and more and still ended up nailed to a cross, no need to closely follow that example.

Just 'cause you're Christian doesn't mean you need to roll over when someone is attempting to bully you. It's not like the original poster was asked if these other people could attend and she refused. Someone else attempted to make a decision for her and she's rightly pissed about that.

"Love thy neighbour" won't work if the neighbour doesn't respect you. "Turning the other cheek" doesn't either if someone views it as a chance to blindside you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:29 AM on June 19, 2009


"What we've got here is failure to communicate."

Unfortunately, the one message that is coming through, LOUD and Clear, both from the OP and the bulk of the pile-on, is the message of exclusion: The message that they are not welcome; they don't understand or believe the correct thing; they are wrong, while you are completely in the right... (you know the drill; you've noticed this sort of thing in other religions, right?)

Do you really want to drive a Religious Wedge between your husband’s family and your (& I presume, your husband’s) child? Just because they are ignorant of your particular interpretation of your particular denomination does not mean they are evil, or intentionally malevolent. How much effort has been put towards discussing the tenets of your respective beliefs? I suspect your husband went through the standard training/education regarding Catholic beliefs, and how they might differ from other religions; has any similar effort been extended to the family? Have you made an equivalent effort to understand their point of view?

This entire thread reminds me of the drama & angst filled pre-wedding posts. In a world, folks should chill.

And also make an effort to communicate, and stop re-enforcing the negative caricatures that exacerbate religious strife. This really, really, should have been counseled over before the wedding; it seems like you guys are almost willfully miss-understanding each other.

I suggest trying to look at it (in a charitable light) from their point of view: davejay articulates this very well. Strongly recommend re-reading Bunnycup's post as well.

Oh, yeah, and you’re correct: generally, self-invitation is rude.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 11:40 AM on June 19, 2009

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