Sharing your adult son's phone numbers without permission

by Karen
(Rochester, NY USA)

Dear Miss Manners,

I am a 47 year old woman, happily married to my husband (age 50) for nearly 23 years. Recently a woman's name I have never seen popped up on my caller ID. A few hours later I received a message from my mother in law, saying that she is good friends with the woman, and she had given her my husband's phone number and encouraged her to call because she was going to be in the town where we now live for a conference. The woman, was an ex-girlfriend of my husband's who has not been mentioned or thought of in about 32 years. I was surprised that my mother-in-law of 23 years would give out the information and encourage a strange woman to call and ask for her married son with no consideration to how his wife might react. My husband discussed the issue with my mother in law and told her I was upset that she did that. She then became defensive, saying she wanted help an old friend and it was just a conversation between old friends. Of course the only reason to call when in town after no contact for 32 years is to get together, but suddenly my mother in law acted shocked that that would be the logical next step in such a conversation. Later my mother in law called to "set this straight" by telling me on speaker phone in front of our children (she insisted in being on speaker to talk to all of us) that if she was fixing my husband up with another woman she would do it behind my back, and that she thought I was more secure in my marriage. What is your opinion on parents of adult married children giving phone numbers out to people their children are not in touch with for years, and namely ex-girlfriends or boyfriends without permission? And what do you think of her treatment of me after being told I thought it was inappropriate and she should not do that again?

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by: Ms PracticalEtiquette

​Hello Karen,

​I think everyone over reacted, however, good manners do tell us to ask permission before revealing contact information. ​Having said that, the following poor judgements resulted:

1. Your husband, not you, speaking with his mother.
2. Your assuming your MIL was up to no good without asking or evidence.
3. Your MIL's speakerphone performance in front of others.
4. Creating an atmosphere of distrust within a relationship.

And many more. Having said that, your mother in law was technically out of line but not unprecedented. Perhaps not the smartest move on her part, but seemingly innocent. Plus your overactive response and your husband's willingness to carry your feelings directly to his mother were problematic. As you can see, a direct question to your MIL after hearing about the situation could have deterred all that followed.

I hope this helps.

Ms. PracticalEtiquette

Diasagree with your response
by: Janie

I think the boat was missed by all, but perhaps mostly by the MIL. Your correspondent did not reveal the current status of her marriage or if she had prior experience with her husband and other women. Regardless, I feel that the wife was entirely within bounds to feel upset. Who better to discuss this with the MIL than the husband. The MIL definitely should have asked her son's feelings about revealing his contact information. At some level the MIL, whether consciously or subconsciously, violated loyalty to her DIL. Further her speaker call was grossly inappropriate and unkind. If she were my MIL I would certainly back off for some time before initiating contact. There is something sneaky going on with the MIL. I do not feel it was ever the DIL position to confront the MIL. In my marriage, if a problem arose with in laws, it was always the job of that son or daughter to speak to the parent.
I don't at all blame the DIL for being frosted. She has every right to feel dissed. Finally, the ex girlfriend's actions were out of line too.

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