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Grandma The Underminer

Feb22

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Hi Amy!

I had a bit of a disagreement with my mother-in-law last week and I can not stop thinking about it or figure out how to move forward. Our situation is that I work part-time (four days per week) so my two boys who are 2 and 3 years old right now go to preschool for three of those days and to Grandma’s house the fourth day. This arrangement started back when my oldest was born and I had to return to work when he was about 4 months old. I hired a nanny to come to our house to take care of him. My mother-in-law went on and on forever about how heartbroken she was that I did not ask her to care for him and hired “some girl” to come to our home. This “some girl” was (and still is) a friend of mine. I had already known her for about 5 years and she was a college student who needed some part-time work. So my husband asked me to compromise and have his mom watch our baby for one day per week while my friend was at our house with him for the other three days. I decided that it would be a fine arrangement and we have continued with that plan even after our nanny graduated college and needed to move on. At that time, I transitioned the kids to the preschool where they currently attend.

I could go into a lot of reasons why that one day at Grandma’s is totally inconvenient for me (her house is a 30 minute drive from ours and in the opposite direction from my office!) but I decided that the relationship and bond that my boys were building with their Grandma was worth all the extra effort. Even so, I have found myself continuously frustrated with her and the decisions she makes while taking care of my kids.

For example, I have always provided all the food my kids need for each day at her house. When they were little I packed up their bottles with milk and when they were ready sent my homemade purees, etc… I asked her not to give them peanut butter just yet when they were less than 2 years old along with some other foods to avoid based on our pediatrician’s recommendation. One day she tells me, “I had N eat a peanut butter sandwich today and he liked it!” And when I asked why, she replied, “I always gave peanut butter to my kids at this age and they turned out fine. I thought you were being too cautious about that.” I could have choked her. I was so mad and it was not even about the peanut butter, it was the fact that she has no regard for basic requests that I have. She thought my request was dumb and she chose to ignore it and do it her way. I could go on and on about examples of things that she has done that make me upset.

But each week, my boys so look forward to their day with Grandma! They adore her and have a lot of fun with her.

Now I am working on potty training the 2 year old. He is doing a great job wearing big boy underwear and we remind him frequently that it is time to go to the bathroom. At home, he has been able to stay dry and go in the potty. He has had a few accidents, as expected, at home and at preschool. I feel he is very normal for a kid learning to be in control of his body. Last week was the first time I sent him to Grandma’s house in his big boy underwear. I explained to her how we ask him to try and go to the potty about every hour and reward him with lots of high fives, etc. I provided several changes of clothes, just in case he needed them. And she seemed totally on board with the plan. At the end of the day when I picked him up, she tells me “Oh, by the way, I just had him wear a diaper today.” I asked why and she said it was because she does not want to deal with possible accidents so she asked him if he wanted a diaper and he said yes. I just looked at her and said “But you are the adult and he is a kid, he does not get to decide to wear a diaper.” I couldn’t handle it and just walked away. I felt that was complete nonsense.

Later that night, she wrote me a lengthy email about what it is like to be a grandma. She said that she wants to make sure that my boys have a special, fun adventure each and every day with her. So basically, if there is something that could be unpleasant or that my kids will not want to do she would prefer not to ruin the day by pushing them. She feels that if she asks him to go potty and he says no, then she would rather not argue with him so they can continue having fun. In this case, she thought the more fun option would be to just wear a diaper. What?!?!?! As I read her email, I started having flashbacks to all the things that have annoyed me and I can see how most of them probably stem from her not wanting to say no to my kids.

I wrote her an email back and let her know that this week I will take a vacation day so she does not have to deal with helping me potty train my son. I do not want her to just put him in a diaper because it is more fun for her. I get that she wants to be special to my kids and she is! My kids love her. But if she wants to be the care provider for them when I am at work, she needs to tackle some of the unpleasant stuff too like a potential potty accident. Am I totally crazy? Am I over-reacting here? What do I do next week and the week after that? I honestly feel like asking their preschool if they can start attending four days per week and we eliminate this day with Grandma. At least that way, my boys would have some consistency. We could visit her on the weekend (with me present to discipline, etc.) and she can be special and fun then. I don’t want to wreck my relationship with her and make things awkward forever.

Sorry for the long question, but gah!

Thanks,
M

You know how “they” say there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Little-known variant on that saying is that there’s no such thing as free childcare, either. And any other readers out there who get hassled (like I’ve been in the past) over their decision to use a professional daycare/nanny arrangement over family members — because that’s the best! for everyone! you’re crazy not to do it! so terrible to let your children be raised by STRANGERS! — has my permission to print this letter out, glue it to a phonebook and smack that person with it.

What’s most concerning about your letter — beyond the individual infractions — is that it’s a PATTERN, and it’s a pattern of behavior that, even when you’ve directly confronted her and/or expressed your displeasure at your wishes being ignored, she’s made it clear she has no intention of changing going forward. That if she disagrees with anything you tell her, she will simply go ahead and do whatever she wants to. On the record and everything! This is…not okay. You said it best yourself: I get that she wants to be special to my kids and she is! My kids love her. But if she wants to be the care provider for them when I am at work, she needs to tackle some of the unpleasant stuff too like a potential potty accident. She also needs to remember — ALWAYS — that the boys are your children, not hers. She had her time to raise her kids her way, and now it’s time to defer to your judgement and rules, no matter what.

I’m curious as to what your husband thinks about all of this — he’s weirdly absent from your letter and the situation, other than being the one who pushed for you to accept this arrangement in the first place. You’re sending your kids to stay with a Serial Underminer once a week, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask him to have a chat with his mother and issue a friendly ultimatum: Either do things our way (his AND yours, united parental front, what you say is what he says), or we will have to find other arrangements, because WE NEED TO TRUST YOU, GRANDMA.

Feeding peanut butter to your toddler could have resulted in disaster. A completely not-fun-or-special DISASTER. And I say that as someone who has always introduced peanuts at one year because OH MY GOD THE CONFLICTING ADVICE ABOUNDS, but still. I would have gone apoplectic on anyone who fed my child a potentially dangerous food I specifically asked them not to. Your son didn’t have a reaction, thus bolstering her belief that you are rigid and over-cautious and you now don’t know what other pediatrician-approved guidelines she’ll toss to the wind and ignore. And the potty training/diaper thing is just…ridiculous. (Her, not you.)

The ultimatum doesn’t have to be done harshly — honestly she sounds insecure about her place in your boys’ world and has mistaken spoiling them rotten as the best path to keeping their affections. When in fact, kids need boundaries and consistent behavior from authority figures to feel most secure. She needs to be assured that look, they LOVE you, Grandma, and they will love you even if you — gasp — occasionally have to do “not fun” things, like potty breaks and timeouts and healthy snacks instead of a non-stop cookie buffet. And since she’s agreed to be their caregiver for that one day a week, she absolutely MUST agree to be a caregiver, and not just Super Happy Fun Time Grandma. You have to trust her to follow your wishes, even when she doesn’t agree with them. The undermining has to stop, NOW, because you can’t spend your day worrying about what else she may decide is “being too cautious.” (Seat belts? Bike helmets? Choking hazards? Medicine dosing? Good God, the what-ifs alone could turn the most laid-back mom into a helicoptering mess.)

If she really values her day with her grandsons — and it sounds like she does — I would hope she’d do whatever you guys asked in order to keep it. But there’s also the worry that instead, she’ll just get more sneaky and simply not TELL you whether N wore a diaper or underwear or start telling the boys to “not tell Mommy” about the M&Ms or TV shows or whatever. I don’t know if that seems likely to you (I don’t really know the woman, after all), or how to prevent that other than to start talking to your three-year-old about secrets and why we don’t keep them from Mommy and Daddy, or cut out of work early occasionally and “surprise” her.

But lord, who needs THAT kind of relationship with their child’s caregiver? Free or not, family or not, I certainly couldn’t deal with it. Even if things are just fine most of the time, it really doesn’t take that much for trust to be shattered. And I don’t care who is watching your kids — Grandma, a nanny, a daycare center, Good Dog Carl — you absolutely HAVE TO TRUST THEM. If you simply no longer trust your mother-in-law going forward, I’m not entirely sure this arrangement can (or should) be saved.

Could the boys go to preschool during the day and then you and your husband set up a standing weekly Date Night where Grandma watches the boys? Because Super Happy Fun Time Grandma sounds like a perfect evenings-and-weekends babysitter. Pizza for dinner! A movie! Popcorn! Forts in the living room! Staying up a little late because it’s not a school night! Five different bedtime stories! There’s a different vibe and expectation from a nighttime sitter, you know? The worst she can do is get them amped up before bed and maybe skip brushing their teeth. Then you and your husband can stay out late until you’re sure the kids have simply crashed from exhaustion. And Grandma can have her special fun time to spoil without being asked to do anything “unpleasant” like actually assist in the messy business of raising children, the horror.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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36 Responses to “Grandma The Underminer”

  1. Whitney Feb 22 at 1:28 pm Reply Reply

    Everything Amy said!! She wants to be a caregiver and a caregiver steps in as a parent. They don’t simply provide FUN FUN FUN all day long. If she doesn’t want any parenting responsibility, then she needs to be a weekend babysitter, not a weekly caregiver. And yes, your hubby needs to step up to the plate here. She has limited time before your kids start kindergarten and she is going to lose it if she doesn’t follow your rules. Period. Full stop. The End.

  2. Cobwebs Feb 22 at 1:57 pm Reply Reply

    This could definitely be, chapter and verse, my mother-in-law.  From the moment I asked her specifically to put my son to sleep on his back when he was an infant, explaining that it lessened the risk of SIDS, and came home to find him asleep on his stomach (“Tsk.  My kids slept on their stomachs from the time they came home from the hospital and they turned out fine”), she made it clear that she knew more about parenting than I did and was going to do things her way no matter what I wanted.  After two or three similar instances, my response was to not ask her to babysit until he was old enough to be reasonably self-sufficient.

    Since my husband is fully aware that his mother can be something of a trial, we were able to present a united front regarding childcare: It was most convenient for us to use the same daycare all week, we’d be happy to arrange a (supervised) visit whenever she wanted, full stop.  It definitely cut down on the potential drama, since I didn’t have to constantly fight with her about appropriate childcare nor constantly worry whether she was doing something I’d specifically asked her not to.

    The submitter might also try framing the change as a convenience for her mother-in-law; since she won’t obligated to watch the kids once a week, she’ll be free to make other plans on that day.

  3. A Feb 22 at 2:01 pm Reply Reply

    I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. I have crazy undermining in-law stories too (let’s give the 6 month old soda and see what happens! Ooh, DIL got mad, isn’t that funny!) and the only thing that has worked is to either watch the kids like a hawk when the in-laws are around – which obviously won’t work in your situation – or just figure it won’t kill the kids and try to relax about it. It sounds like your MIL is going to do whatever she feels like doing with no regard to your parenting wishes.

    It’s time to have a talk with her and state what your needs in a caregiver are as the kids get older. You can tell her that this diaper thing just made you realize that your kids really need consistency and you would LOVE if she can be on board with that. If she would rather be the fun grandma, I agree with Amalah and say it seems like she’d have a better time watching them at night or on the weekend.

    Whatever you end up deciding you should understand that she is going to do things differently than you do. As long as you don’t feel like the kids are in imminent danger you should probably just try to accept that things at grandma’s house are the way they are. That was by far the hardest thing for me to learn about having kids.

    Good luck to you, whichever way you decide to go!

  4. Rachel Feb 22 at 2:09 pm Reply Reply

    We had a similar problem with my mother and my daughter. We were finding that she wasn’t ever saying no and what bothered us most was that she was allowing her to be disrespectful to her which is so not ok in our book. It sounds like a little less of a huge issue as you are having as it wasn’t once a week and it wasn’ a blatant disregard to what we were asking, but still bothersome. i made a rude remark in front of her and she was clearly upset and hurt. Later that night i emailed and apologized, but very clearly stated that my husband and i are trying very very hard to raise a respectful, polite little girl. I totally understood that she wanted to be the fun grandma, but she needed to set up some boundaries. I think it helped that i pointed out all the areas that i don’t agree with but let slide when she has her (later bedtime, dessert after dinner, etc), but this was non-negotiable. things have improved…she is still spoiled, but i do hear “no” once in a while!

  5. IrishCream Feb 22 at 2:11 pm Reply Reply

    If you do decide to go with day care for all four days, you can frame it as a favor to Grandma, almost. “I was thinking about what you said about keeping your time with the boys special and fun, and you’re right! Now you can have special weekend visits that are just for fun, and I can relax my rules so that you can spoil them a little bit.” 

    That is, if you can get the “you’re right!” out without choking on it. My goodness, that would be tough, I would be livid if any family member was so unapologetic about flouting my rules for MY kids.

  6. SarahB Feb 22 at 2:52 pm Reply Reply

    It sounds like your trust in your MIL went out the window a long time ago, and the fact that she wrote out exactly why she won’t follow your rules…”I understand your need to be the fun grandma, which means it is time for you to no longer be the caregiver.  The children need more reliable structure, and I am weary of driving an extra hour out of my way each week.  It has been so kind of you to watch the grandchildren for so long.”

    Realize that you let your MIL undermine your parenting decisions way back when you compromised on how many days you have a nanny per week.  She’s already had an outsized role in your parenting choices, and that ultimatum talk should have happened a long, long time ago (I am thinking around the time of the peanut butter incident).

    And do not feel that you must somehow replace her weekly visits with the grandchildren with your family time.  She wants to be the fun grandma; she gets to do it on your terms this time, not hers. 

  7. M Feb 22 at 2:53 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you everyone!!! I am the one who submitted the question and I feel so relieved to read the response and comments. I have walked around feeling like the bad guy for the past week and worrying about this situation. Somehow whenever I talk with my MIL, I walk away feeling like I did something wrong, not her. She will never apologize for any misunderstanding. Even after realizing my displeasure with the peanut butter situation, she just acted like I was the one with the problem. I did leave my husband out of my question because I thought it was getting too long. I should have included the fact that he is equally frustrated with his mom as I am. I think we have given her plenty of chances to prove her ability to follow our instructions and it is time to change the arrangement. These are my babies, not hers!

  8. Christen Feb 22 at 3:22 pm Reply Reply

    Oh man, the peanut butter thing…not cool! Like Amalah said, how would she have felt had your son had a not fun/special reaction? You have every right to be upset and say enough.
    We don’t have kids yet, but my husband often talks about how great it would be for his mom to watch our future baby since she’s great with infants, retired, FREE, etc and I see how she disregards my sister-in-law’s wishes with HER kids all the time and think “Hell no.” She smokes (outside but still) and definitely has a case of “Grandma Gets to Spoil/Knows Best” and I can see myself being the OP in a few years, doing battle over things that just shouldn’t be a battle. Good luck to you and know you’re not alone!

  9. CC Feb 22 at 3:22 pm Reply Reply

    Ditch her, and don’t feel bad about it. I’m at that point with my MIL. She also never says no to the point of endangering my daughter (letting her play with bathtub cleanser at 18 months because “she wanted to”), and making me question her mental acuity (letting my 2 year old pick her nose…note:not my daughter picking her OWN nose, but picking my MIL’s nose. WTF?!!). You’ll find another way for your kids to have a relationship with their grandmother that won’t involve potentially endangering them or rage on your part.

  10. Amy Feb 22 at 3:35 pm Reply Reply

    My daytime sitter is a friend of mine, a fellow mom, who has two kids aged 5 and 7 – and she fed my 1 year old peanut butter.  I just assumed that she knew not to, and was surprised when I came home and saw it on his plate, but I decided not to make a federal case of it since he was fine and I hadn’t said anything ahead of time about it.

    The fact that you said something and MIL went ahead and did it anyway is really worrying. 

    I agree with everything Amy said.  Basically, this is why I have a very serious problem with Grandparents as babysitters – and why my dad doesn’t watch my kids for me when I work even though he lives right down the street and is currently unemployed.  It just changes the grandparent/grandchild relationship too much – they can’t spoil them and be fun the way they want to, as grandparents, when they’re in that routine caregiver role.

    The good news is that the kids will be going to school eventually and this will no longer be an issue.  If you can’t confront Grandma now, you could live with it until summer, and then just say, “Oh isn’t it great that the school opened up a 5 day/week summer program!  The kids are bummed that they’ll lose their day with you every week.  Maybe you could start coming over on Friday evenings, instead, so they still get to see you…” and make it something outside of your control, instead of a change you’re initiating.

    In laws are hard.  I just figured out my own weird family, and then I got married and got this whole new weirder family…  :)

  11. Mona Feb 22 at 4:04 pm Reply Reply

    Mommy over here of two boys, with one overbearing know it all MIL and a peanut allergy. Feeling your pain.
    After several run ins, husband and I decided we just needed to set boundaries and be willing to shut down the relationship for a while when they are crossed. The ball is always in her court when she crosses the line, but until she can admit there’s an issue, we just kind of don’t deal with her. It’s peaceful, but I also hate that she / the boys miss out on time with each other. I swear she’ll miss months of their lives at a time rather than ever cop to stepping out of bounds though! We try to be very reasonable and tolerant, but there are just certain things you can’t tolerate or they make life miserable.
    But at some point you just have to decide what your deal dealers / boundaries are, communicate them, and then step back when / if they are violated.

  12. Carrie Feb 22 at 4:05 pm Reply Reply

    Ok, I usually agree with everything Amy says, but in this case I think the advice isn’t harsh enough. Your MIL does not respect you as a parent at all. Not one little bit. You can give her a million ultimatums, but she doesn’t care. She has told you flat out that she is going to do what she is going to do. Does she care about your feelings? Does she care if things will be awkward? No, not one itty bitty bit.

    Time to step up and say “No more.” Call the school right now and move the kids to four days a week or find some other alternative. She’s already blew through her chances. Your husband needs to deal with her and the blowback from this. “Mom, you have told us that you will not respect our parenting choices so we can’t use you as a caregiver anymore.” The end. She doesn’t need any more explanation than that. She KNOWS she is going off the books. Grandma’s don’t have rights, only privileges that the parents extend.

    Maybe you are ok with her babysitting for a smaller amount of time like Amy suggests, maybe not. Sad to say this probably will become a war but it is time for you to do what is best for your family. I really hope your husband sees that.

  13. Jeannie Feb 22 at 5:04 pm Reply Reply

    My mother in law is JUST LIKE THIS. Grandma is FUN! Grandma lets us do whatever we want! Now, to be fair, if there are important rules, she will stick with them (like safety related stuff), and we’ve never had the problem with regular caregiving because she’s simply not in a position to do so, so I’ve been able to let it go as “occasional grandma spoiling”. But yeah — I echo everyone else. There’s a difference between “regular caregiver” who follows the schedule / rules, and “grandma spoiling” and if she wants the latter, then she can’t be the former. Period.

  14. MR Feb 22 at 5:15 pm Reply Reply

    In a way, she totally gave you an out when she sent that email. Now you can simply say, “I heard you loud and clear that you want to be the fun Grandma, and I am glad the kids get that in you. But what I need while at work is a caregiver, not a fun Grandma, so I have made other arrangements.” If she protests, “nope, I’m just doing what you wanted.” End of discussion.

  15. z Feb 22 at 5:38 pm Reply Reply

    Maybe she doesn’t feel capable to manage their responses when they hear “no.”  If you’re not ready to confront her on this, maybe you could try coaching her on what you’ve found to be most effective, and reassuring her that they really do get over being disciplined pretty quickly.  

  16. K Feb 23 at 11:05 am Reply Reply

    As a mother-in-law with 2 sweet grandchildren, I would just LOVE one time to hear that some young woman appreciates her mother-in-law and understands that grandma wants the best for the grandchildren while having a great relationship with the kids and the daughter-in-law. And that maybe the daughter-in-law can understand that there’s a huge difference in how we raised our babies just a generation ago, and yes, our children did just fine! Sorry, but it seems like we spend a lot of time bashing mothers-in-law…makes me regret some of the things I said about my own. :)

    **********
    From Isabel:
    Dear K, we answer specific questions in this space and I hear what you are saying, so I thought I would bring some posts from our archives for you to read:
    http://alphamom.com/your-life/postpartum/not-all-moms-are-mothers/
    http://alphamom.com/family-fun/holidays/mother-in-law-day-free-printable-card/

    • Jaime Mar 23 at 5:29 pm Reply Reply

      Hi K, I’m gonna rock your world! :)

      To begin, I LOVE my MIL. Seriously and without sarcasm, I LOVE my MIL. She is amazing, sweet, thoughtful, smart, and in many ways has been a better Mother to me in the almost 10 years I’ve known her than my own Mother was to me my whole life. She has accepted me as her own and (trying not to cry right now) I am VERY blessed to have her. I tell people that half the reason I married my husband was for his parents, half-jokingly (but only half lol).  They are both wonderful, kind, loving people.

      HOWEVER, I have been having some internal issues with her recently now that we’ve had a baby.  Our daughter is now a year old (omg!), but it’s been a growing issue since she was born. When she was born we were living with the in-laws which made certain things a bit awkward anyway, but then other issues arose once we moved into our own house (only 4 miles away). The baby withdrawal kicked in HARD for her and I can totally understand why.  She doesn’t really undermine our rules so much as she seems to ignore the fact that I’m there at all when we’re all together. When we’re with her, I am no longer Mom, she is. And that bothers me an awful lot, and really hurts my feelings too.  

      When we’re out at a restaurant, or church, or over at their house SHE feeds, SHE controls baby girl’s activities (and hovers like a helicopter too), even clothes her in clothes she has there (WHEN I AM PRESENT). That tells me, whether intentional or not, that I am not capable of doing these things properly myself or that SHE can do them better.  If she were my own Mother I would have no problem telling her to shove off, but I just can’t bring myself to confront her. I love her that much, I don’t want to hurt her feelings even though these things are constant stressors for me.  She is probably doing stuff like that thinking she’s giving me a break, but I’m Momma and that’s my job, I understand that when I and baby are together I do not get a break, as it’s my JOB as a parent and I’m okay with that.  If I need help, I will ask. :)  

      There are also times when she has done things that should have been my “firsts” as a first-time mom and that has bothered me as well.

      So as much as I love and greatly value my MIL, that doesn’t always mean she’s perfect and that there aren’t going to be issues. I think just most of the time posts like these are written in frustration and can come off as more negative a feeling than would be reality.

  17. Hillary Feb 23 at 11:08 am Reply Reply

    I’m going to come down on the other side of most of the people here and suggest you think very hard about the ramifications of how you deal with this situation. While there are many examples of how your MIL has undermined you, only the PB suggests she put your kids in danger, and she’s been watching them for YEARS. Which means that a lot of the time you’ve trusted her to watch them and be a responsible caregiver. Totally pulling out of your current caregiving situation seems really harsh and hurtful. This is your MIL, your family, someone who has taken care of your boys every week and who has a relationship with them, and with you/your husband. Please consider her feelings. Putting your son in a diaper doesn’t seem horrible enough to warrant potentially burning that bridge. I think it seems reasonable to stop taking the kids to her every week, but please don’t frame it like ‘well, you got what you deserved.’

    • Arlene May 08 at 12:10 am Reply Reply

      You are missing the point. You said you raised your babies, so why not let DIL raise hers? DILs don’t have problems with inviting extended family into their lives, DILs have problems with extended family members not RESPECTING their wishes as a family raising kids. The bottom line is that it’s not up to you. It just isn’t. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.

  18. Dayna Feb 23 at 12:20 pm Reply Reply

    I’m with Hillary in thinking that the reactions here in the comments seem really, really harsh and colored by personal experiences that may be much worse than what the OP has outlined. I would have a sit-down with Grandma. Tell her how much you appreciate the relationship. Tell her that you have gone out of your way to drive the boys to her house each week. Tell her that you want the boys to always have a relationship with her. And then tell her that you feel undermined when she ignores your requests and that it hurts you and concerns you because he is being confused by the diaper and the process is stalled by the diaper. Unless you are really ready to make a change anyway, I don’t see this as an unfixable, provided she is reasonable.

  19. Meg Feb 23 at 12:40 pm Reply Reply

    Haven’t ready anything beyond the first letter and OH MY HEAD THAT WOMAN.

    I had a similar situation during a long period of nap struggles. “I didn’t to fight her to take a nap, just put her to bed at 4 if she’s tired!” Oh sure, that works with our home schedule.

    “I didn’t think giving a graham cracker would be a big deal, you’re all wheat *intolerant,* not *allergic.*” Ahem.

    I feel your pain and I will go back and read what everyone says after this but dude. She can either be responsible and occasionally play the heavy on stuff that matters, or she can have visits with everyone as a family instead of taking them alone, so that there is a REAL adult around to make sure the kids get what they need.

    GAH. These people.

  20. Lee Feb 23 at 1:05 pm Reply Reply

    I’m on the more wishy-washy side of telling grandma this is a problem, too.  I would definitely talk to her, but gently.  First of all, any caregiver is going to do things differently than you would.  It sounds like you have a more comfortable arrangement with the preschool, but there must be things they do that aren’t what you would do.  Second, the grandmother relationship is special, and I think it deserves more leniency and different expectations.  I hear the MIL poster above, and it’s true that there’s more than one good way to raise a child, and that most of our mothers did just fine a generation ago — but this is your kid, and it doesn’t have to be a criticism of her methods decades ago that you want to do things differently. I do agree with Amalah that caregiver and super-fun special-time are not the same thing, and it sounds possible that your MIL is ready to understand that, too. If and when you talk to her, I wonder if you might actually ask her her thoughts on this.  I’d say how much you value your sons’ relationship with her (it sounds like you really do), kindly remind her that being a working mom and being absent from your kids’ day is already hard, and that you have a real need to know that important (and you decide what’s important) decisions are yours to make. Then ask her what she’d be more comfortable doing — being special, fun Grandma, or being a caregiver — understanding that of course the final decision is still yours. 

  21. professormama Feb 23 at 1:26 pm Reply Reply

    We all have a limit, everyone’s is different. My parents, and I think most grandparents do things that we newer parents (as in I’ve been a parent for 7 years, my parents have been for 34 years) can criticize and be annoyed by.
    But we need to be able to make decisions for OUR kids, and if our parents won’t respect them, then it’s up to us to decide what to do.  
    For me, the diaper thing is CRAZY, and really selfish on the Grandma’s part, asking a toilet training child to crap themselves is just confusing and cruel.  
    But the food stuff, I’ve always let that stuff go with my parents for the most part.  
    It is important to give grandparents the credit they deserve (when it is deserved) for raising their own kids.  
    But that doesn’t mean they get to run the show, because in most cases they aren’t- they get to hand off an overtired, or over-rested or overexcited child filled with weird candy or chips or other food they wouldn’t usually eat, after doing things all day they probably aren’t allowed to do at home, to a mother or father who now has to get said child to calm down, or go to bed, or eat dinner, or just do normal stuff like take a bath without every damn thing from the kitchen in the tub with you. You know, 24 hour a day parenting, which many grandparents have slowly let slip into very fuzzy memory, when everything just worked out.

  22. Jess Feb 23 at 3:51 pm Reply Reply

    I get how much it sucks to feel undermined as a parent, especially by someone that you have something of an awkward relationship with (the whole in-law thing is fraught, it just is). And yes, your kiddos need consistency, and boundaries. And yes, it is uncool for your MIL to not just GIVE you that because, well, duh. All that said, I think that it’s important to maintain perspective: you have a MIL who LOVES your children, and wants to be with them. She wants to give them good memories and experiences, and for them to feel spoiled and loved and lucky. So many people don’t have that in their kids’ grandparents. My son doesn’t have a grandparent within 1000 miles, and of those he does have, none is chomping at the bit to care for him the way your MIL is. It sounds like you are grateful for that, and want to find a way to honor it. So maybe that’s the best place to start a conversation from with her. Appreciate that she’s in a weird position as the MIL, probably doesn’t entirely know how to relate to you, and is unsure of her own role. I think if you and your husband can have her over for dinner (sans kiddos) as a way to show your appreciation for all she’s done, and then use that as a platform to have a candid talk about expectations and concerns, you’ll end up at a good place. But don’t just yank your kids from her care for a diaper and some peanut butter. I know it’s frustrating, and that’s understandable, but like you said, preserving the relationship should be the priority. Find a way to do that that works for everyone, knowing that of course, as parents, the final decision is yours. I’m sure your MIL is imminently aware of (and terrified of) that fact. So be gentle with her; she’s just trying to love your boys the best way she knows how.

  23. Meg in VT Feb 23 at 10:41 pm Reply Reply

    So I rarely comment, but am an avid reader and usually agree so wholeheartedly with the advice given here. I have to weigh in here, however, and disagree a bit. Even as someone who cares a great deal about the details of my kids lives, I think you are taking things a bit too hard. Also as someone who is potty-training a 2-year-old, the diaper issue is not a real deal breaker. One day in a diaper at Grandma’s house is probably not going to set your son back — potty training is not a continuum and you’ll have ups and downs. If she doesn’t feel comfortable actively participating in the training, it doesn’t have to be a big deal on either side. Why not buy some pull-ups (preferably cloth ones so he can feel the wet) as a compromise? That way she doesn’t have to worry about cleaning up messes on her floors and your son can choose to use the potty at her house when he feels confident and can ask to go. It takes the pressure off everyone, which is often the best way to go in potty training (we’ve found). He’ll tell her when he’s really ready to go to the potty at her house! In the mean time you can make sure he knows where it is and feels comfortable using it (maybe can you spend time helping him the first time to give him confidence?).
    Of course the diaper issue is not really the issue; the issue is the emotions behind it. In my mind, there is nothing wrong with her wanting to be the ‘fun Grandma.’ One day a week isn’t going to undermine the rest of your parenting, especially because the boys seem already to understand that their time at Grandma’s house special and different from time at home.  If the arrangement is really not convenient, then cease making it a regular thing. But I’d caution against cutting ties over a difference in parenting (like the diaper, like feeding different foods than you do at home) which will hardly matter in the long run. 
    The real question is what else is there in your relationship with your MIL that makes these (in the long run insignificant) differences irk so much? And do they outweigh the chance for your boys to have a special relationship with their Grandma? 

  24. ECT Feb 25 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    I agree with the last commenter who said she rarely disagrees with the advice here… but I do disagree a bit here too. I think the original poster is SO lucky to have a grandmother so willing to take care of her grandchildren, and willing to provide such regular childcare.  So few grandparents are willing to do that, and it sounds like your boys really love her and have a real relationship with her.  In the big picture of their lives, I truly think that’s more important than feeling “undermined” on a few issues.  The peanut butter I totally get, but the diaper thing for a few days is just not that big a deal, and if you are getting so much from your mother in law (from free childcare to, more importantly, a wonderful grandmother relationship for your boys) you need to do your own part to make that work, which may also mean meeting her in the middle on some issues and not constantly pulling the “I’m the parent” card.  It IS different to be the grandparent, I think, and you don’t want just another childcare provider who takes care of them becuase they are paid to do so.  In the bigger sense you do want them to have an independent relationship with their grandmother that exists beyond you and beyond the relatively small phases like potty training.  I grew up with grandparents who were a huge part of my life, and not just in the way that my mother dictated they should be, and it’s one of the things I value most about my childhood.  With my own children I try to let go of some of my mandates when they are with my parents and in-laws so that they can develop that kind of relationship – nothing, obviously, involving safety or health — so that the grandparents can have their own routines and rituals that make everyone feel truly connected.

  25. Liz Feb 25 at 8:33 pm Reply Reply

    I’m thinking that your husband needs to tell his mom just what the deal breakers are for you both. Like following diet restrictions. And maybe he can take over pickup and drop off. And maybe really ask her if having the kids every week is too much?

  26. Amanda Feb 26 at 11:20 pm Reply Reply

    What a horrid situation. Yes she stepped over the line, and yes it’s going to be difficult to solve it pleasantly if she doesn’t even think she’s done wrong. All I can think is – I’m so glad I stayed firm, and insisted on daycare every working day rather than agreeing to my MIL looking after him for 1 day a week. I make sure she gets time with him every week, just with us all as a family, not alone – because I don’t like the way she deals with my SIL’s kids. I’ve argued with MIL before, and didn’t want any extra reason to disagree so I stood firm on this one. If your hubby is anything like mine, he agrees with you – but finds it difficult to stand up to his own parent (our parents bring out the child in us sometimes). Good luck, I hope you find a way forward with minimum fuss xo

  27. Ellen Feb 27 at 12:56 pm Reply Reply

    My mother-in-law thinks I’m a little silly for all my “rules” about the kids, but she does her best to follow them.  They live far away, so it’s hardly ever an issue, and I think she appreciates knowing that I care so much about the kids and she knows they aren’t out playing in the street ;)

    As the mother of three little boys, I am already getting worried for the day when they grow up and get married.  What if their future wives are elective c-section, formula feeding by choice, cry-it-out type of parents?  Then when I start talking about the way I did things – natural birth, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, she is going to think those things are stupid.  Mothers-in-law have a fine line to walk and I’m seriously hoping my sons pick wives that I want raising my grandchildren.  

  28. Karen Feb 27 at 3:44 pm Reply Reply

    I can see where M is coming from, but it seems to me like she’s over-reacting. On the peanut-butter issue, though, if she told her MIL not to give it, I’d politely but firmly tell her that the daycare arrangement has to end if she defies your PEDIATRICIAN’s advice. Like back-sleeping for babies, it’s a health issue, and regardless of her own opinion, she needs to respect medical advice. On potty-training a 2-yo boy though, I think M should really reconsider whether it’s an issue worth confronting Grandma over. If she’s still putting him in a pull-up when he’s 4, that’s a different story, but on issues like this one, it’s something to reconsider whether it’s REALLY that big a deal, or if M is over-interpreting MIL’s intentions.

  29. AmyRenee Feb 28 at 11:42 am Reply Reply

    Is it possible that the “fun grandma” email is trying to tell you (either consciously or unconsciously) that she’s not up for being a full day a week caregiver for 2 energetic boys? After all, that’s quite different from 1 infant, which was the arrangement she started with. Potty training & following rule are not the same as cuddling & rocking a baby. We’ve had similar issues with my MIL not enforcing our rules – she NEVER says no and my son comes home a complete brat after spending extended time with her – one time when we were there he threw a tantrum and my husband & I refused to back down, SHE had to leave the room crying because she “just couldn’t stand to see him cry”. Anyhow, what has worked for us is to arrange “Grandma Time” that is for shorter periods – in our case, each Grandma picks up either one or both boys from daycare for one afternoon a week (the youngest is an infant so he doesn’t care yet). A few hours of spoiling doesn’t seem to do nearly the damage of a full day, and it’s easier on the Grandma as well. If picking them up from school doesn’t work for you (with carseat logistics and all), what if you used the 5th day of the week when you don’t work as Grandma/Mommy time? You could drop off one of the boys with her and take the other one with you to run errands or do something special – that way they each get some attention. Or you could leave them both with her and use it as a chance for you to go grocery shopping, to the gym, etc. It would be for a shorter time and therefore could be more about “fun Grandma” and less about following a daily routine. I’ve found that kids can adapt to the idea that there are different rules at different places (Grandma’s, home & school, for instance) but if you don’t like the rules at Grandma’s it’s better if they are “special” times instead of part of the weekday routine.

  30. Laura Feb 28 at 12:11 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t think M is overreacting at all. She obviously values her kids’ relationship with Grandma. This isn’t about peanut butter or diapers – it’s about RESPECT. Grandma needs to respect mom and dad’s wishes whether she agrees with them or not. She needs to understand that no one is saying that she did things wrong when she raised HER kids, but everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to THESE kids or this arrangement is just not going to work. I think M and her husband need to it sit down and have a talk with Grandma and let her know that what they need is a CAREGIVER and that means being a team player when it comes to discipline, diet, potty training etc. If she’s not ready or willing to do that, then they need to let her know that they can make other arrangements for that day of he week. Reassure her that she will still see the kids often and she will still play a huge role in the kids’ lives.

  31. Carrie Feb 28 at 2:47 pm Reply Reply

    I know it can be hard when someone watching your child parents differently than you but this all seems harsh. I currently because of divorce live with my parents. I depend on them to get my daughter to daycare and pick her up because of my schedule. My dad lets my 3 year old watch more tv than I do, my mom is a complete disruption to her bedtime routine at least once a week and sometimes I make a healthy dinner to find out it was replaced with ice cream. My parents have undermined me in small things in front of me, making it a game. That being said we have been there for 2 years while I go back to school after leaving and my husband and you know how much it messed up my kid to have all this happen? NOT A BIT. She speaks well ahead of the curve, loves ice cream but calls bananas and strawberries her favourite foods. Will still pick the outdoors over tv and knows it is her job to feed the dog everyday, set the table for dinner and clean up her toys. So if one day a week you are undermined, so what. If you are a strong parent not trying to be their friend (and it sounds like you are a strong parent) then one day a week won’t undermine anything. I know it can be frustrating but other than the absolute danger of the peanut butter it all sounds pretty small. Nobody will raise your children exactly the way you want when caring for them, not possible. But maybe if you let smaller things like the diaper issue go and fully explained safety issues and why they are safety issues your MIL will be more likely to listen. Rather than being criticized every week for doing something differently than you.

  32. Bananna Mar 01 at 1:56 pm Reply Reply

    I have been lucky enough for my parents to be able to provide nearly full-time childcare to my two children, now 6 and almost 2. It has been wonderful for all of us — the grandparents get to have a very close relationship with the kids, the kids get to spend time with people who love them to pieces, and it has saved us boatloads of money. That being said, I put up with way more than I would tolerate from a paid caregiver… but it is totally worth it in the end. Here’s the thing – the kids understand that different people do things differently. They know that they will eat more cookies, watch more TV, get their way, and have certain behaviors tolerated more with grandma and grandpa than with mom and dad. They don’t see it as you being undermined — it’s just the way things are done by different people. Try to keep the big picture in mind — in a year or two, will it matter if grandma gave a food a few months earlier than recommended or if she got a bit lazy with potty training? Out side of MAJOR safety issues (define those as you see fit), has her care been good? If so, I think that letting these annoyances slide off your back is the right thing to do. I know how irritating these things can be — I KNOW — but life is too short to spend it trying to be right all the time.

  33. AE Mar 02 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    From a very young age we explained to our children that Granny & Gramps’ house was their “special happy place”. The things they were allowed to do, eat and say were NOT allowed anywhere else. Once they understood this principle, the after visit fall out was minimized.

  34. Athena Mar 24 at 6:25 pm Reply Reply

    I know my nana definitely did this with me… in particular, never ever saying no or disciplining me. That is, right up until the time she told me not to touch her sewing pattern and came back to it cut up into tiny little pieces because when nana says no, it doesn’t mean a damn thing.

    After that, she decided maybe always being happy fun time nana wasn’t such a great idea… XD She was still always convinced my parents starved me, though… along with basically anything else under their care that needed to eat.

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