The Polite Way to Say No to a Mother-in-Law's Treasures
Don’t let those collectibles and heirlooms come between you.
Relationships between daughters- and mothers-in-law are often fraught, and it’s really not your fault (whichever side of the relationship you’re on). Becoming part of someone else’s family while also creating your own can be tricky, and between cooking meals, raising children, and maintaining your home, there’s plenty to disagree about. But one of the things you might not have expected to butt heads with your mother-in-law over is being offered her things. Whether it’s her grandmother’s pearls, a quilt collection, or antique furniture, your mother-in-law may want nothing more than to pass down the prized treasures she has accumulated to her children and grandchildren. While you may have thought the day you’d have to deal with those items was far off in the future, she may decide to begin giving away these treasures sooner rather than later. And you may want nothing to do with them. Is there any way to say no without breaking her heart?
It is in fact a generational difference that baby boomers tended to accumulate things much more than their children and grandchildren are. Between minimalist home design trends and the tendency to eschew the more formal dining and living rooms they grew up with, younger generations are simply not biting at the bit to have a plethora of family heirlooms in their homes. So how do you respond when your mother-in-law is offering you her extensive Nutcracker collection that you personally can’t stand? Or what about her dining room table—when you already have one that you love? The answer is very carefully.
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Whether she admits it or not, her feelings are going to be completely tied up in the belongings she’s trying to pass down—she sees you or her grandchildren keeping them as keeping her around. And saying no to that can hurt. You don’t have to say yes to everything (and honestly, you shouldn’t), but make sure to be kind in responding to her. Be gracious and thankful that she wants to give your family anything, but being honest about whether you have a need or use—or even the space!—for something is also important. There’s nothing worse than silently accepting a gift you hate, putting it in storage or donating it, and then having the giver over to your home only to ask you where such-and-such item is.
Make a bigger fuss over the items you do want or could make use of, and make it clear how much they will mean to you and your family, and the other losses won’t hurt as much. For the pieces you simply can’t accept, ask her about their history and any memories she has of them. If it comes down to having to get rid of some of her treasures, offer to take pictures of them and write down the history of the item on the back for her. Preserving the item’s memory—and by default, her memory—is what’s most important.