Advice Columns

Miss Manners: Wife who cares for mother-in-law should ask for more help

Q: I have been caring for my mother-in-law for 11 years now. Her daughter does not want the job, but I have been doing this because I believe she would not have lasted long in a nursing home.

My mother-in-law will be 96 in March. Her doctor has issued her a bill of good health, and she can easily live into her hundreds.

Is it impolite of me to dislike my sister-in-law for her lack of involvement with the care of her own mother? I really am developing a strong dislike for her selfishness. Is this normal? What is a proper way to express my feelings politely?

A: Etiquette does not dictate how one should feel, only how one should behave. But Miss Manners has made a career out of expressing the former through clever use of the latter.

While outwardly expressing your feelings to your sister-in-law would only escalate hostility (although if your husband is her brother, you might suggest that he do it), you could attempt to alleviate the logistics of the situation by enlisting her help for specific tasks – a lot of them. The constant requests might make it easier for her to just to initiate participation. At best, you will get some help. At worst, you will have a productive outlet for your frustration.

Q: I am in my late 20s, finishing a master’s program at the same institution where I earned my bachelor’s degree, and am in the process of applying for doctoral programs.

A little more than a year ago, I sought counseling for problems I have had since my late teens, and was diagnosed with a moderate learning disability, along with severe depression and anxiety.

Since receiving treatment, I have found the quality of my life and my academic work has greatly improved. My academic transcript will be a part of my school applications, including my lackluster performance as an undergraduate, which I believe can be partially attributed to my undiagnosed issues.

Is there a polite and professional way to convey this to potential schools, without disclosing too much personal information, or sounding as if I am making excuses for my past failures? Or should I remain silent on the subject and just hope that my recent work will indicate to reviewers what my abilities and potential as a student and academic are?

A: Your current record, and commendable instinct to be discreet and not make excuses, seem to Miss Manners to count far more than a blip on your transcript. Professional institutions would benefit greatly from recognizing – and rewarding – the difference.

If you are asked directly, or if there is an essay or place to discuss your achievements and goals on your application, you could briefly allude to the discrepancy there. There is no need for going into unnecessary detail. Just say that you discovered a medical condition for which you had to seek treatment, with gratifying results.

Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.