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Using mother tongue makes talk difficult

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Dear Abby,

My son married an educated professional woman from another country.

When their twins were born, my daughter-in-law immersed them in her native language so it would become their mother tongue. Although I understand and respect the benefits of being bilingual, this caused a lot of communication gaps and frustration between us and the grandkids during their early years.

They attend a bilingual elementary school now, and their English is superb and communication between us is great. The problem is, when we are together, my daughter-in-law speaks to her children exclusively in her native language. My son understands the conversation, but my husband and I do not know what is being said.

We think this is rude and inconsiderate.

Are we being overly sensitive, or is this common practice in families with multiple languages? Our relationship with our daughter-in-law is polite and cordial, but not close or intimate. Any advice?

– Left Out in Florida

Dear Left Out,

This is not unusual in multilingual families, and I agree that it is inconsiderate. Have you spoken to your son and daughter-in-law about how this makes you feel? If you haven’t, you should, because she may not be deliberately trying to make you feel excluded.

When you raise the subject, choose your words and tone carefully. Because if you don’t, your relationship with your daughter-in-law could become a lot less cordial than it is.

Dear Abby,

I’m a 55-year-old gay male who has been with my now-spouse, “Owen,” in a loving, committed relationship since 2005. While earlier we could not legally marry, in 2006 we had a commitment ceremony bringing together close friends and family to acknowledge and celebrate our relationship. In 2013, Owen and I were finally able to legally marry in California.

My dilemma comes from people who don’t know what to call us. People often refer to my spouse as my “friend” or “partner.” At times I say nothing, but more often than not, I find myself saying, “Oh, you mean my HUSBAND.” Some of them thank me for the clarification; others just look at me with a blank stare.

Owen never corrects them because he feels it isn’t his place. I feel it’s my responsibility to do so, first so as to not play down the significance of our relationship, but also to educate these people. Do you think this is inappropriate?

– Married in California

Dear Married,

Not at all. The people who refer to you and Owen as “partners” and “friends” are using terminology that is evolving because marriage among same-sex couples is still relatively new. As it becomes more commonplace, that will change. In the meantime, it’s completely appropriate for you and Owen to speak up.

P.S. For any reader who may not already know, gay men refer to their spouse as their husband and lesbians refer to theirs as their wife.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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