What Would You Do?

How a Trip to the Bathroom 20 Years Ago Means I Never Pay For Dinner With My Mother-In-Law Again

relationships with mother-in-laws, eating out, paying for the billIt started out as a joke almost twenty years ago while my now wife and I were still in college.

Her mom would come to the city where we were attending school, and take us both out for lunch or dinner just to catch up on how we were doing. Since we were college students we didn’t have a lot of money so she would always treat us.

One Christmas, I received some gift cards for my favorite seafood restaurant as a gift. The next time my future mother and father in law came to town, I stated we were going to that restaurant, and I was going to treat them. After we were done eating, I excused myself to the men’s room. By the time I returned, the bill had come and was paid for once again by my future mother in law.

They started making jokes insinuating that I had gone to the bathroom at just the right moment in order to avoid the check. We all knew it wasn’t true, and we all had a good laugh over the situation. The joke was used for many years. Whenever the bill was about to arrive someone would ask me if I had to go to the restroom. They my mother-in-law would grab the bill holder and pay.

The restroom incident hasn’t been mentioned for quite awhile, but it’s almost become tradition that my mother-in-law picks up the check whenever she’s present. If we’re ever discussing meeting at a restaurant, my brother-in-law will suggest a nice place, “Because mom’s paying anyway.”

She always smiles and agrees.

I sometimes wonder if she does it because she really wants to, or if she now feels it’s expected of her .It’s not like we don’t try to return the favor. There’s times I’ll grab the check and even put my method of payment inside the little binder, only to be given, “The Look,” and demanded to hand it over to her.

On more than one occasion, I’ve said to her, “You have to let us pay sometime.” She looks up briefly from signing the receipt, smiles, and says, “You can buy next time.”

Only next time never seems to come.

What do you think, did my simple trip to the bathroom twenty years ago start something that my mother-in-law feels she is now obligated to do or is this all in my head? Should I force sharing the burden of the check, or should let it go and enjoy a good thing?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • It’s way past your turn. She’s probably tired of paying but doesn’t want you to know that. So pay the next time, and the next.

  • I think it’s just a parent thing. No matter how old or accomplished or wealthy you get, they’ll always see you guys as the kids and feel like they want to provide. My grandparents are the same way toward my parents, who are in their 50’s and quite wealthy. Although my grandparents live comfortably, they are by no means rich, but they still insist on picking up the check, because that’s what parents are supposed to do.

    If you’re really feeling guilty you could always buy a gift certificate ahead of time, and when the bill comes, let them know “it’s already taken care of.” That way there won’t be a mad rush to grab the check.

  • That’s a cute story, but I really think you should try to pay for her the next time. Even if that means telling the waitress in advance (when you get up from the table to use the restroom long before the bill will come). I bet she doesn’t want to pay every time, but thinks she needs to. If you pay the bill long before she is aware of the fact you can gauge her facial expressions to see if she is relieved. If that all seems like a bit much then just have a heart-to-heart with her. Preferably when the two of you are alone so she doesn’t feel pressured one way or another.

  • I don’t know. It seems like a contest of wills. My mom always likes to pay when we go out. She says paying at a restaurant is better than if she were to cook for us at her house. I have snagged the check to pay in the past, and have also gotten the “The Look.” She gets upset if she is not allowed to pay for our meal. I think it goes back to the days of feeding the kids. It sounds like your MIL is coming from the same place.

  • That’s so sweet of your mother in law. We take turns paying with all of our parents. A little tip if you want to treat her some time – when you get in the restaurant initially, go to the “bathroom” and find the waiter and give them your credit card up front and then ask them to charge it before they bring the bill!

  • @Kimberly – Good idea, although I’d still have to get the check and convince her to not tell me to use the gift certificate some other time. Although, if the certificate is specifically to THAT restaurant maybe she’d go for it. 🙂

  • @OneFrugalGirl – I like this idea….excuse myself sometime during the meal and give the server my debit card. That way when the bill comes, it’s only to have me sign the receipt. YEAH, I’m gonna do it – thanks for the suggestion!

  • @Bryce – that very well could be…I know I already have the same perspective with my son. When we go out to a movie, we usually tell him that we’ll buy the ticket, but he has to buy any snacks with his own allowance. But when I get to the register, I always tell him to put his money away.

  • @Robert – Traditions are great….as long as everyone is comfortable with them. I’d be OK with this one too if I knew for sure she didn’t resent it. But then again…she’s a strong, successful woman – I would think that she woudn’t grab the check if she didn’t want to.

  • @Daisy – Hey, great minds think alike, this was mentioned in a previous comment, an didn’t even read ahead to yours. That settles it, that’s exactly what I’m going to do next time we go out for dinner with her. thanks for stopping by, Daisy!

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