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My no-shoes policy offended my mother-in-law. Now she won't visit

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: We have a "no shoes" policy at our house. This has caused conflict with family, so we bought my in-laws slippers for when they visit. At a holiday dinner at our house, my mother-in-law put on heels. I politely asked her to remove them, but she and my father-in-law left instead of staying for dinner with the grandkids. She now refuses to visit, saying she feels unwelcome, in addition citing a past incident when I raised my voice at her. My husband won't discuss this or let me talk to her. Any suggestions for fixing this?

An apology is in order

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Learn to be flexible. It's one thing to provide house-sanctioned footwear for day-to-day visits, but your mother-in-law was likely dressed up for a holiday dinner, so understandably preferred heels instead of slippers. As both a family member and hostess, it was ungracious of you not to have made an exception in these circumstances. Your stubborn choice to enforce a household "policy" has sent a clear message that rules are more important than spending time with them. These are your husband's parents, your children's grandparents … there is more at stake here than protecting ivory carpets or keeping tracked-in grime to a minimum. You owe them both a heartfelt apology.

– Randa Doche, Oromocto, N.B.

Invite her to a picnic

I empathize because I don't like people wearing shoes in my home either. Drop it for a while. Plan well ahead for a family barbecue/picnic at a local beach, park, lake, wherever but not at your house. This way everyone dresses as they find comfortable, and you aren't chafing about it afterward. Ask grandma to bring her famous potato salad or family favourite dessert because the kids love it and they miss her. Now the ball is in her court to show, perhaps even in heels. If she declines, then so be it. You are a busy mom and your home is your sanctuary. Don't put any more of your precious energy into this and forget about trying to get hubby on your side.

– Helen Alexander, Surrey, B.C.

Enlist hubby's support

It sounds like your problem goes way beyond footwear: a mother-in-law feeling unwelcome and a husband who isn't in your corner are much more painful than any pair of pumps. Your mother-in-law might well find your home more hospitable if you were to make an exception to your rules, but don't let her strut through your kitchen in her stilettos if that really upsets you. Your husband, who needs to be with you on this one, has to act as mediator. Speak to him about how important it is that he stand with you in speaking to her. Ask her what she needs from you to feel more welcome, but help her to understand that you want to feel she respects what you and your husband expect in your home. By focusing on how to move forward, you may be able to avoid ruminating about past wrongs.

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– Liz Geddes, Toronto

The final word

Muslims clutch their pearls in horror at the thought of someone walking into a mosque or home with their shoes on, so I completely relate to your feelings of unease. I related this story to my own mother-in-law who also abides by a no-shoes policy. However, she believes that certain members of the family deserve an exception: mothers-in-law. I know, I know. She's probably biased.

But her point is family matters more than shoes. Like Randa says, your mother-in-law probably wore the shoes as part of her ensemble. And heels tend to be worn indoors given that they're torture devices made for feet. There's a reason why we see women in full business attire wear sneakers while running to catch the subway. Even in my shoe-phobic community, dressy shoes get a pass because it's assumed they are indoor shoes.

I understand that Liz thinks your husband should back you up but to ask a husband to come between his mother and his wife is like asking him to stick a stiletto in his eye. It's better to deal with this one on your own.

I also understand Helen's sentiment to meet on neutral ground, but I think this problem will only be solved on home turf. Call your mother-in-law to apologize. Tell her that the fumes from your pumpkin soufflé affected your judgment and she's free to wear whatever shoes she likes in your home. Do this over the phone so she won't see you gritting your teeth.

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What will more than likely happen is that your mother-in-law will accept your apology, wear the slippers, saving her heels for the holidays. And the family peace will be restored. And more importantly, my mother-in-law will approve.

Regina-based Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of the CBC-TV sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie.

Next week's question

We have very agreeable next-door neighbours and value their friendliness. However, the wife is a gossip and it really is difficult to know how to get her to stop, at least stop discussing us. Her gossip is not malicious but invasive. For instance, she tells other neighbours we don't know very well when we are on vacation. In another case, the staff at our neighbourhood store have asked about a health problem, something we had shared only with her. Any hints how to preserve a valued neighbour and curtail the gossip?

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