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The Mother-in-Law Gift Decoder

mother-in-law gift decoder

It’s that time of year again -- the music, the mistletoe…the panic that your husband’s mom is going to buy you another bedazzled apron or automatic can opener (and you’ll have to pretend that you like it!). We might sound paranoid, but your mother-in-law could be trying to send you a message underneath that glossy paper and big red bow. And just in case you don’t speak Passive-Aggressive, we’re here to translate.

The gift: Framed photo -- which you’re not in
Translation: As if you didn’t have enough silver-plated frames from your engagement party and wedding (seriously, it’s okay to re-gift those), your mother-in-law gives you a shiny new one…with a photo of her and her darling son. You think: Um, thanks? Here, she’s trying to establish that she’s still his number one. Hang onto the frame until she leaves and then slip in a photo of all three of you -- or just you and your husband, if you want to make a statement.

The gift: What to Expect When You’re Expecting
Translation: Yeah, you were going to pick up a copy of this pregnancy book anyway -- in about three years. But congrats, now you don’t have to buy one! (Insert eye roll here.) Your mother-in-law is letting you know in a not-so-subtle way that she wants grandkids, and she wants them pronto. Put the kibosh on her pregnancy pressure by saying, “Thanks! This will be great for me to read so I know what my sister/best friend/coworker’s going through.”

The gift: Flannel nightgown
Translation: So your mother-in-law knows that you have sex, right? Well, sure. But she also doesn’t want to think of her son getting all riled up by you wearing that lace bra-and-thong combo (oh, and don’t forget the stockings!) that you have tucked away in your top drawer. Strange? Yes. Horrible? Not really. As far as mother-in-law gifts go, flannel is pretty harmless -- so take it in stride. Hey, all that unsexy plaid might actually come in handy on a night when you’re not in the mood.

The gift: Crock-Pot
Translation: Spending two hours making dinner every night just isn’t in the cards, but your mother-in-law continually comments on how thin her son looks these days. Her solution: the Crock-Pot. Notice how she can’t help but mention how easy it is and that anyone (gasp, even you!) can do it? This gives her the opportunity to stand on her nobody-takes-care-of-my-son-like-I-do soapbox. Throw her for a loop and show your husband the slow cooker, saying, “Look, hon, you’ve been wanting one of these for that stew you make!”

The gift: DustBuster
Translation: Okay, so your house doesn’t sparkle -- but that’s because you have something called a life. This gift is the equivalent of your mother-in-law telling you to clean your room, er, house…or you’re grounded, young lady! Toss it in a pile with the other gifts and then ask your husband to get the receipt from her the next day so you can exchange it.

The gift: Body lotion
Translation: Attention shoppers: Generic gifts, aisle four! Unless you have an obsession with berry-scented lotions that your mother-in-law knows about, this is a total cop out. She’s telling you that she’s not going to put much time or effort into shopping for a present you might actually need or want. Don’t make a fuss -- just stick it in the guest bathroom for friends and family to use, and make a mental note to get her a three-pack of shower gels for her birthday.

The gift: Workout DVD
Translation: True, you casually mentioned on Thanksgiving that you were hoping to lose five pounds, but just about the last thing you want to open on Christmas morning (after pigging out on sugar cookies all week) is a video of ab workouts. There are two ways to take this: One, your mother-in-law agrees that you should lose five pounds, or she really thought you’d like the gift -- and was actually trying to do something nice. For peace of mind, go with the latter.

-- Caitlin Moscatello

See More: Family & In-Laws , Holiday