In-laws keep hinting they want her baby clothes

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: I am the new mom of a daughter. My in-laws are having a second child. Their first was a boy. They have started making statements in earshot of us such as, "We're just glad there's both sexes in the family so we won't have to buy new." This has happened so many times now I suspect it is on purpose to set the expectation.

I know a lot of people wouldn't care, but, honestly, I just don't want to share my daughter's clothes yet. We want to have more children, and I'm not ready to hand them over even if I'd get them back. Maybe it is selfish, but I guess I want to be selfish. I did not and would never ask for their child's things. But my husband and I also have higher incomes.

My husband feels the same as I do. Can we refuse, or should we give over the clothes?

Answer: You always "can" refuse. You can also decide that comments made within earshot don't constitute a request for anything, except perhaps attention. Do they actually do that, say things to "set" an "expectation"? Or do you think that because you do so yourselves?

Anyway, if you are asked outright by grown-ups using their words, then you can get (mostly) what you want and still be a good sport if you say straight out that there are things you want to hold on to for sentimental reasons but you're willing to share others - because surely there are some basics you aren't particularly attached to.

If it's the whole load you don't want to share, so be it - you are, of course, entitled to hold on to your things just because they're yours, and, technically, they should respect that and not judge you for it.

They shouldn't even be asking if they aren't ready to take no for an answer.

Reality and the word should have a relationship that's touch and go at best, though, so you have to expect they'll harrumph about you. It helps to figure out beforehand whether that would change your decision.

Comment: Just to follow up, they do the "in earshot" thing all the time and openly admit to it - as in, they've even said out loud to me that they want something from someone else and are going to start setting the stage by hinting about it. Maybe that is part of it: They are takers in general, and though I usually don't care and give willingly because in the end it doesn't really matter, this time, I just don't want to, even though I know that sharing baby clothes is a normal thing to do.

Reply: I want to say this changes everything, because the hinting is so obnoxious.

But it's really the same answer: When they ask directly, you are free to say yes or no based solely on what you want to do.

If they ask only by hinting, it's OK to proceed as though you haven't been asked.

By the way, the next time they discuss their tactics out loud, say, "It annoys me when people drop hints. I respect people more who just ask."

tellme@washpost.com.

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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