Dear Miriam | Password Problem Proves Perplexing

AntonioFrancois iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dear Miriam,

I recently needed to create a family account for an online service.  When I tried to create a login, I received a message that someone in my family already has one. Through a lot of detective work, I’ve learned that 1) my mother-in-law previously created an account, 2) her username is ridiculous and embarrassing and 3) I need her to reset the password and/or give me access to the account so I and the rest of the family can use it. How can I get to number 3 without the awkward conversation about number 2?


Password Problem

Dear Password,

There was a time at the beginning of email and online chatting when, for privacy reasons, people obscured their identities through combinations of cute phrases and favorite numbers. For some people, particularly of a certain generation, that attitude stuck around concerning passwords, logins and other online identifiers. Going back even further, though, in a previous generation, no one could have imagined this particular family problem in any incarnation. Your situation is so of our era, and I must admit I find it delightfully complicated.

I wonder if you can get the company in question to send a password-related email directly to your mother-in-law. Something like, “someone else is trying to login to your account,” which may help her remember that she owns this account and how to get into it. Then you could gently tell her you were trying to log in and see if she broaches the topic of the specific log in, or offers to complete the password task for you to avoid revealing her username.

Ultimately, that suggestion is probably impractical and circuitous and requires too many variables to fall into place. Instead, now that you know the username, I wonder if you can call your mother-in-law (or better yet, have your spouse do it), and tell her that the company has told you someone in the family has an account and has shared the first and last letter/number of the username with you. Perhaps this will jog her memory and she can change her password (which admittedly might require your help).

You also might employ a small lie and say that with the new password, the company can help you log in, and you can avoid mentioning the username altogether.

If she doesn’t remember what you’re talking about, you may have to provide her with more information. You may also need to allow for the fact that it might be less embarrassing to her than it is to you; she chose the username after all and may associate it with identity protection rather than sheer absurdity.

There’s also a point at which you need to decide how important it is for you to share this family account! Consider whether there are any other options that would allow you to avoid not only this conversation but the entangling of family accounts and presumably the related finances, not to mention the hassle you’re currently experiencing. There are some times when sharing just isn’t worth it.

Be well,



  1. This reminds me of what happened to me on the Geni website (which creates family trees and links them to those of relatives in common). Somebody on my mother’s side created one for our family but misspelled the last name of my father, which is also my last name. Partly because I don’t like to see my name misspelled and, more importantly, I wanted my father’s family to be able to locate it, I tried to edit my branch’s name. It wouldn’t let me do it because I wasn’t the relative who created it. I saw who created it and contacted him. He told me that it was actually one of his sons who created it. The next time I saw this son, he wasn’t familiar with the site. So I’m at square one. It’s been more than 3 years since I tried to get this correction done, and I don’t hold out any hope of getting the two parts of my family linked.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here