Question: My parents make a strong, overt distinction between married and nonmarried significant others, meaning the former are included in everything, appropriate or not, and the latter are excluded from things that are family-only.

My sister's husband was invited to (and attended) my baby shower, while my boyfriend, the father of my child, was not invited to our vacation. Mom's argument is that being treated like family is one of the benefits/incentives of legal marriage. (I would like to get married, but realize it's not right at this time.)

I declined to go with them, but now I'm seething at being forced to make that choice. I'm trying to see things Mom's way. What are your thoughts?

Answer: Mom sounds bullheaded and arbitrary, and from an outsider's distance I dig the irony of a "pro-family" move that splinters a family. But dwelling on the rightness or wrongness of Mom's policy hasn't gotten you anywhere (nor is it likely to).

Are you doing all you can to serve your child, your sense of what's right, the health of your relationship? If not, answer your Mom agitation by focusing on what your own family needs — not by your mom's standards, but by yours. And if you feel you are meeting those needs already, then use that as an internal rebuttal to your mother.

Question: What do you say about two people who have a child together, but insist they are not ready to make the marriage commitment? Are these two types of commitment really so different, or is that (as I see it) just a huge load of bull?

Answer:As everyone knows who has been to a traditional, all-hoops-jumped-through wedding of two people who turned out to be terrible together, there can be a whole lot that's off about something that appears sound.

To give an example of something I'd call reasonable, take a statistic that I dug up a while back for a column. A couple of sources put the rate of premarital sex among American adults at 85 to 95 percent. So, darn near everybody. And since birth control (and self-control) can be imperfect, sometimes unready couples conceive. And sometimes these couples decide that despite their unreadiness as a couple, they like each other enough and want children enough to want no part of abortion or placing their child for adoption. So, they step forward gingerly into the business of being a family.

That's just one example of a cart-before-horse couple who I wouldn't call a "huge load of bull" or banish from Christmas — but then, I can only Christmas for myself.

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