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Just Say “No” (To The In-Laws)

Feb15

by

Amalah,

I have an issue that my husband and I just can’t come to an agreement on. My parents are taking my daughter for 2 weeks this summer (she’ll be 18 months), they live a good 24 hour drive away. I hadn’t planned on telling my in-laws about the trip, since I don’t want her up there without us, but they only live an hour from my parents and are bound to see stuff on Facebook about it so when they asked what we were doing this summer I told them. Of course then they “teasingly” asked if they could keep her for a while too, which I just kind of blew off since they weren’t straightforward with the question.

My problem is that after telling my husband this he was like, well if they want to I can’t tell them no (he will not confront/stand his ground with them about ANYTHING.)

Ok, so they are not terrible people, they love our daughter and make a good effort (for the most part) to keep a good relationship with me and my husband. The reason I don’t want them to watch her unsupervised is because:

1) Their house is like a construction zone from remodeling, they have an exposed beam that I have tripped on and got splinters from.

2) Their house is disgusting to say the least. It has an overwhelming mold smell, their towels get washed but are still dirty and mildewy when done, they don’t clean bathrooms, floors, kitchen etc. Also they constantly have fleas in the house, even in the winter.

3) They only eat carbs. Their idea of a well rounded meal is corn, potatoes, bread, meat, cheese and coke. My daughter has a pretty sensitive stomach and a diet like that will only give her diarrhea.

4) No AC or heat! And it gets hot and muggy in the summers there.

I’m not one of those moms who has to hover over their child every second of every day, they’re going to get hurt, sick, and get into gross things but this is pushing it for sure. I don’t like to stay there myself so I really don’t want to inflict this stay on her even though she wouldn’t really know, so maybe it’s for my own peace of mind. How do I get my husband to lay the law down with his parents, or how should I handle it if I have to?

I really don’t feel like it’s my place, to say anything to them and they will be much more forgiving of their son than they will me. I truly do want my daughter to know her grandparents and be able to have summer visits with them, but I just can’t imagine sending my sweet little baby to such a horrible home.

Anonymous

So, okay. I feel like there are a few different threads to untangle here. First, let me (gently!) point out that you are stressing mightily about a visit that is not actually happening. Your daughter is going to stay with YOUR parents, not his, and there is no concrete plan for her to stay with them anytime soon. They haven’t actually, directly, straight-forwardly asked yet. So. Deep breath. For now.

What you’re REALLY stressing about, obviously, is the fact that they MIGHT ask for a similar visit of their very own, and your husband will refuse to take your side/put his foot down/stand up to them/say no and all of that. And I’m assuming there’s a history there. He says, “If they ask I can’t tell them no,” even though: Yeah, dude, you actually totally can. And sometimes — SOMETIMES! — you need to, and you should, when your child’s welfare is at stake.

You aren’t asking him to cut his parents out of his daughter’s life, you’re just asking him to please put the kibosh on the idea of her staying overnight — without you guys — in a home with a high likelihood of injury or illness. (Note that I do agree with the OP’s concerns here — this is a slightly more complicated scenario than say, grandparents needing to install some babygates and put some knick-knacks away. The house sounds kinda unsafe/unsanitary.) I don’t think it’s much to ask of him to at least put off the idea of a visit until, say, the remodeling is done. (Even if you both know the remodeling will never be done, or plan to come up with an alternate excuse once it is.)

So this sounds more like an ongoing issue between you and your husband. I can’t diagnose the exact issue, but I feel like it’s more important to figure it out and address THAT before throwing all your mental energy into this particular in-law scenario. Is the condition of their house similar to the conditions he grew up in, so he simply doesn’t think any of it is a big deal? Is he maybe hearing your concerns about their diet and cleanliness as underlying snobbery (i.e. your parents are better off financially, or something)? Or is he struggling with worries/denial about his parents’ overall health and ability to live independently and your complaints about mold and bad smells and poor diet are all stuff he’s trying like hell to ignore?

Do you guys just need to sit down and create pros and cons list of sending your daughter to his parents’ home until he sees your points/concerns, or is this really just another plotline in a long, storied history of him Not Taking Your Side Against His Parents’ At All Ever And Pretty Much Letting Them Have Their Way And Treat Him Like A Subservient Doormat? Or is he simply big into grandparent “fairness” and doesn’t think it’s fair for your parents to get a long visit with your daughter and his don’t? Are there things about your parents that he maybe sees as not exactly awesome and compromise-worthy, so he doesn’t understand why you won’t extend the same courtesy to his parents, since your concerns don’t bother him?

Oh my God, I’m sorry for that ouroboros of circular rhetorical questions there, but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say: You and your husband need to sit down and talk this OUT. And not just focus on the “what if they ask to babysit for a week?” hypothetical. Why can’t he say no to them? Why won’t he? Does he simply not agree with your worries *this time*, or is there simply no request too crazy that will make him put the interests/concerns of his wife and daughter ahead of his parents’ feelings?

It’s a messy issue, though absolutely not an unusual one, to have a spouse who won’t take your side against his/her parents, even over small things. And especially over big things, like say, sending a young toddler to stay in a moldy house with poor air quality and exposed construction hazards and stray power tools. Some stuff, yeah, you can compromise over — the issue with their diet can possibly be circumvented with a trip to a grocery store upon your arrival where you purchase acceptable-yet-convenient foods for her and do some meal planning with them. And maybe while he personally can’t deal with saying no, he would possibly agree to letting you be the heavy this time? (Not ideal, because yeah: HIS PARENTS.)

But if you feel strongly and he DOES agree a visit wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s simply a matter of willpower on this part, I would definitely smile and thank them for the offer, but two weeks away from your daughter is already more time than you can comfortably deal with for the next year or so. Talk to your parents and see if a visit with his parents can be arranged during those two weeks so they’ll get more than just Facebook pictures — can they meet up at a zoo, aquarium, all take her to the circus or something? Use the “I don’t think it’s a good idea while your house is being remodeled; she just gets into everything and can hurt herself in the most babyproofed place there is already!” excuse. Dodge the question.

But since there’s a chance they are fully aware of their ability to divide and conquer if they go directly, privately to their son-who-won’t-ever-say-no, I wouldn’t put off having a calm heart-to-heart with your husband about how his inability and/or refusal to say no to his parents (and to side with you and your daughter’s best interests) make you feel.

Has anyone out there had this particular conversation with a partner? Any tips for our OP?

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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21 Responses to “Just Say “No” (To The In-Laws)”

  1. Elaine Feb 15 at 11:45 am Reply Reply

    Ok so I have a husband who used to be kind of like the OP’s husband. His parents are divorced and his mother is….lets say difficult. She always wants things done her way and doesn’t have a great deal of respect for me or my opinions on things. 

    Back when my son was born she asked to stay with us and my husband just felt like he couldn’t tell her no even though I expressed concern over her staying in our house. What ended up happening was that everything I was worried about came true and that bad situation finally forced him to reevaluate his relationship with his mother and his inability to tell her no.

    I’m not saying something bad/not ideal needs to happen in the OPs situation for the husband to get it I’m just saying for me that was the gateway to open up the conversation in a way that put my feeling in context.  These are the kinds of discussions you have to approach really carefully because you’ll get a lot of “but they are my parents” back in response to whatever you say.

    My husband and I worked it out through me expressing that yes, it’s his mom and I get that but at the same time it’s his kid and his wife and those things should be just as important. 

  2. Bekki Feb 15 at 12:22 pm Reply Reply

    Ugh, we have a similar situation going on right now. Through divorce, we have 4 sets of GPs. My husband and I are going away for a week this summer with one set, and the other 3 are all “strongly suggesting” they come stay with our kids. I know that seems awesome, but it’s not. For a variety of reasons, we already chose who we can trust, and now we have to break the news.
    All I need to remember is that the welfare of my kids is WAY more important than hurt feelings. I’m trying to smooth things over by inviting the other sets to come and stay earlier in the summer. But it’s still a really hard conversation.
    Luckily my husband totally agrees, so he can help tell the ones on his side.

  3. Holly Feb 15 at 12:56 pm Reply Reply

    Similar situation here as well. Except my MIL lives about 5 minutes from my parents. She’s older, doesn’t hear well at all, and is basically completely lacking in common sense. I don’t trust her alone with my almost 2 year old for more than the time it takes me to pee. She has a rusty table-sized paper cutter stored on the floor of the guest room!?! She leaves cords unplugged and dangling, breakables sitting on top of tables with tablecloths, potted plants on the floor (more of a prob when daughter was younger and crawling), routinely forgets she’s cooking things on the stove or in the oven.

    Most recent offense – sets up a basket of toys for my daughter to play with on the floor of the living room. She’s playing, so I’m half watching, half talking to my husband. MIL comes in, sits on couch to watch granddaughter – has mail in her hand, with Cutco steak knife as opener. Opens mail, gets distracted. Daughter runs off, I chase after. Come back into the room – MIL is nowhere to be seen, but lovely steak knife is now sitting on the coffee table literally 12 inches from the toys.

    And my MIL has the gall to keep telling me to “oh, let her be. she can go explore and not get hurt”.

    UH, NO. We still don’t know how/when to tell her that my parents are watching our daughter for a week this summer. MIL will flip her lid, I’m sure. My daughter’s safety and wellbeing come first. And, if MIL wants to yell and scream (also, a forte of hers) about our decision, then I guess she doesn’t really care to have a relationship with our granddaughter.

  4. -k- Feb 15 at 1:32 pm Reply Reply

    How is the kid getting to OP’s parents’ house? 24-hour drive (!!) suggests people aren’t flying, but if OP and her husband are going to pick the baby up at the end of the trip, could they tack on a day or two, supervised, in the in-laws’ town? Somehow the fairness thing needs to be addressed, because it does matter.

    I agree with Amy that health and safety are places where lines need to be drawn, but I totally sympathize with the “can’t” and how frustrating that can be. We’ve got some cultural “can’t”s in my marriage–things that are negotiable or even standard in the U.S., but not in my husband’s country of origin–and they really illustrate that “technically possible” is frequently not what that word is about. Never an easy situation.

  5. Jadzia@Toddlerisms Feb 15 at 1:40 pm Reply Reply

    I think this is really difficult.  I was married to a man whose parents were somewhat like the OP’s in-laws and we ultimately divorced, largely because my feelings were never, ever as important as mommy and daddy’s latest demands.  (Mommy and daddy then financed his custody lawsuit — good times!)

    If you REALLY don’t want your daughter having overnights there, and you can stand to have the in-laws in your home, you might just have to suck it up and invite them for longer visits at your place.  At least you’ll be able to keep her basic routine/diet and not have to worry about the safety/sanitation issues.

  6. Cassie Feb 15 at 1:41 pm Reply Reply

    OP, I understand where you’re coming from SO WELL. The parent and inlaw situation you explain is so very much the same one my husband and I have. We live 6 hours away from both sets of parents, and they live only 1/2 away from one another. My parents have a regular, normal, clean house – albeit with maybe a few too many knick knacks. My inlaws live in a filthy, crowded, almost Hoarder-eque house. Thankfully, my husband understands that this isn’t a healthy place for anyone, let alone our toddler, and anytime we visit, we make sure it’s out somewhere – the park, Barnes & Noble, heck even McDonald’s Playland! The difference is that my husband understands this and has made it clear to my inlaws (who also sort of, kind of acknowledge their house is not safe for a toddler. they obviously don’t care about the safety and health of adults though. :S) I’m with Amalah – PLEASE talk to your husband and try to make him understand the source of your objections and WHY he needs to say no – firmly but kindly – should any real initiative on a solo visit happen. Also acknowledge that you understand how visiting/staying with/relying on YOUR parents makes him feel. My husband *loves* my parents and yet the reliance on them vs his own family does frequently cause hurt feelings even though he KNOWS it’s better all around. The more understanding support he gets from you about this, the better. Let him know you aren’t choosing your parents over his – you’re choosing a healthy environment over a not healthy one. Good luck!

    PS: I have to disagree with your food/diet advice, Amalah. Both my parents and inlaws would be so insulted by that offer/suggestion there’d be major hell to pay. We simply suck it up for a week and try to convince them to eat out often as ‘our treat.’

  7. Becky Feb 15 at 1:51 pm Reply Reply

    I have a similar issue.  In the end, my husband didn’t want/couldn’t say “no” if my parents could do it.  Fair was a four letter word.  

    Our compromise: First, that we both understand that life isn’t “fair” and that “equal” doesn’t equate to “love.”  So some people get invited to recitals and others to games – it all works out in the end.

    Second (and much bigger): Our daughter does not stay with or is driven by either set of grandparents.  Ever.  That way it’s a set rule and it’s totally “fair.” 

  8. Kira Feb 15 at 1:53 pm Reply Reply

    We are in a similar situation. My MIL is a hoarder, her house is filthy and so is she. She is also very good at belittling my husband, but because she is his mother, he feels responsible for her.

    Because I know it is emotionally challenging for him to confront her, I only press him on the most important issues. Our rules are, she must shower, wear long sleeves (to cover the open sores from either fleas or rats … I don’t ask), and cut her nails if she wants to be around our children. Any present that she gives us immediately goes into the washer or dishwasher to get cleaned. If it breaks from the cleaning then it wasn’t meant to be. Prior to her visits, I cover the couch with a blanket. Immediately after everything gets vacuumed and disinfected. If she brings food we set it out but no-one is allowed to eat it. I do everything in my power to do these things covertly because I don’t want to embarrass her or my husband.

    We also try to meet her at restaurants instead of our home. We never go to her house. In fact, I’ve never even laid eyes on her house and from how my BIL described it I don’t really want to.

    For now these rules are working for us, but if she becomes insistent about holding the baby, babysitting the kids, or living with us when she’s older then I plan to have a heart-to-heart with my husband. All of those things are unacceptable to me and he can make the choice of either confronting his mother himself or having me do it. I don’t mind being the heavy, but I want the choice of how to handle the situation to be his.

    So I guess my advice is, try to be as compassionate as possible with your husbands loyalties to his mother because don’t you want your children to have those same loyalties to you? But if there is something that is simply unacceptable to you, let your husband make the choice of who/how to talk to them about it.

    No matter who does the actual talking, it should be presented as a united front. Ex: I’m sorry but we’ve discussed Daughter staying at your house and we are uncomfortable with her being in a dangerous/dirty environment. However, we would love to go to the Zoo with you when we pick her up. Would you like some help getting your repairs finished and the house cleaned up so she can stay with you next time?

    Good luck, I know it’s a fine line to walk to keep the peace all around.

  9. Jill Feb 15 at 6:14 pm Reply Reply

    Am I the only one who thinks leaving an 18 month old for 2 weeks is a bad idea?  Is there some really important reason this trip is happening, or are you just vacationing?  Two weeks is a *very* long time for a child so young, and I know family who have done this and dealt with a lot of behavioral problems from their young children upon returning home.
    It brings to mind an advice column from Carolyn Hax when a dad wrote in about problems after he and his wife took off to Europe for two weeks and left their small child with family. I believe she referred to it as “leaving a child who was too young, for too long, for too non-essential a reason.”  Unless one of you is going to be recovering from surgery, or you’re having a baby, or some such thing, I can’t imagine wanting to leave my small kids for that long with ANY family.

    • Natalie Feb 15 at 9:49 pm Reply Reply

      I read through the comments mostly because I had this exact same thought. Two weeks seems like an awfully long time to be gone from an 18 month old. At 18 months my daughter was still very susceptible to other people’s leads, in one weekend my own mother was able to undo all of the work I had done with my daughter on table manners, feeding her self etc. I also think you need to set up rules with your own parents and make sure they understand what is completely unacceptable to you if this an unavoidable separation.

      • Myriam Feb 16 at 9:36 am Reply Reply

        I’m not sure I agree with the two of you. I DO agree that 2 weeks is a long time, but I also think that building a relationship woth grand-parents is indeed a good enough reason. If they live that far, it is not easy to see them often, so long vacations is the best way to go. I live about 2 hourd from my parents, and we see them one week-end about every 6 weeks or so, but they wanted to send a little more time with my 14 month-old. So, I dropped her off on Sunday, and they are bringing her back today. I think that whatever they might “do or undo” in the period she’s gone, and can put right within the same period. And for me, that is a compromise worth making, so my daughter can have a good relationship with her grand-parents. Finally, if an emergency did happen, I’d prefer if my daughter already had a good relationship with her temporary caregiver, rather than being left with “strangers” she only saw on the week-end and never learned how to take care of her…

        • Carolina Feb 16 at 6:29 pm Reply Reply

          I agree that it seems way too long for such a young child. I have an 18 month old and I think it would devastate her if we left her for that long. We left her with my mother for a three-day weekend a few months ago, and my mother reported that she seemed a little subdued the entire time — not her normal, happy self. She sees my parents very frequently, so the problem wasn’t that she was with an unfamiliar caregiver. She didn’t understand where we had gone or that we would be back. She only knew we weren’t there. I don’t think I’ll leave her for more than two nights until she has the language/cognitive skills to understand we’ll be back.

        • Kathryn Feb 18 at 10:35 am Reply Reply

          At 18 months, ”building a relationship with grandparents” is not exactly happening.  Sure, the grandparents will remember and hopefully appreciate this time, but it’s absolutely too young, in my opinion, for this to be anything other than fairly traumatic for the 18month old.  The baby won’t even remember this in the long-term, and in the short-term, she will have no way of knowing when/if her parents are coming back or if she’s been abandoned.  If the grandparents are that far away that they rarely get to see her, it’s even worse — it’s not like they are familiar because the baby sees them every week or something.  To an 18 month old, they may be little more than strangers.  If travel is prohibitively expensive, then the family should make however many trips per year they can afford, for as long as they can afford to be away from work, but they should stay with the baby!  Then, if they go together as a family, they can split time and have some bonding time with the other set of grandparents too, while the parents are there to supervise.  We live 1500 miles from both sets of grandparents, and I know this is tough financially, emotionally, etc.   But building relationships with one set of grandparents (if this has anything to do with the reason for the trip) isn’t important enough traumatize a baby or hurt relations with the other set of grandparents.  Sending a kid to what is essentially summer sleep-away camp can wait until the child is closer to school age.  Apologies if there are extenuating circumstances here, like surgeries or illnesses or something, and this trip is unavoidable.  Even in the case of an emergency or something, couldn’t the travel money be spent to have the grandparents visit at the baby’s home?  Without more details of an extenuating circumstance — and again i apologize if i dont know the whole story –I just think this whole trip sounds really ill-conceived.

  10. Myriam Feb 16 at 9:38 am Reply Reply

    Sorry for the typos… using my phone to write this…

  11. Meg Feb 16 at 10:01 pm Reply Reply

    I hate to add fuel to the fire, but here’s another base you may want to cover:

    Make sure that if the grandparents all meet up to share a day of visiting with the kiddo, that the custodial grandparents won’t get pushed into splitting the visit. If my MIL and mom took my son out without me, MIL would be pushing “Can he stay with me for just a couple nights? You get him for two full weeks and we’re an hour away and we never see him and wahhhh…” And depending on the day my mom might stand firm or might say, “I really wasn’t comfortable saying no, and figured you wouldn’t mind!”

    And I have to join in with the crowd… 18 months is really young for such a long trip, especially because your parents will be pretty foreign to her. Looking at things from her perspective, she’ll be taken away from mommy by two people she doesn’t know very well, and won’t be allowed to see you for two weeks. That sounds pretty scary, especially when she is so young she won’t be able to adequately express or process how she’s feeling.

    Sorry if that sounds overly dramatic. I just… my heart leapt into my throat when I read how young she was and how long and far away the trip would be. My son’s the same age and he would lose his mind looking for me by the time he was ready to go to sleep.

  12. Sarah Feb 17 at 3:24 pm Reply Reply

    I have to agree with these commenters above who are concerned about why the initial trip/visit is occurring in the first place. It seems the whole issue could be moot if the visit were cancelled or if the parents of the child stayed WITH her and the grandparents during the visit. Are the parents taking a vacation or perhaps going on a work/charity/missions’ trip during these two weeks? Or… what? It just seems kind of unusual to me, to leave such a young child for so long.
    Nor that parents don’t deserve some downtime, but I have a sixteen month old myself (third child) and I honestly would never consider leaving him for that long with ANYONE if I wasn’t there too or if I didn’t absolutely have to.

  13. kimm Feb 17 at 11:47 pm Reply Reply

    18 months is still so little, still a baby really. 2 weeks is way too long, unless there is a medical reason? But I agree with Amalah about really needing to ask your husband why he can’t stick up for his own baby daughter’s safety, and at least discuss ways for his parents to improve their living situation to accommodate a toddler, with them.

  14. Cc Feb 18 at 2:43 pm Reply Reply

    For those who would call the trip ill conceived or worry the child may be traumatized, consider that every family and every child are different and this mother very obviously loves her child. 

    I hated to leave my son at all at 8 months, and tried to convince my parents to come with us on a work trip (we both had to go for 5 days) but they couldn’t. I left my son and when I came home he was the same happy bright child upon my return and while I was gone. When he turned 18 months we had to go on a similar trip but for a week. Same results. And a few months later we needed to reaffirm our relationship a bit. And went on a personal vacation for a week. We came back better parents and better spouses. Consider for a moment that these parents know what’s best not only for their child, but their family and are doing their best before throwing out judgements. 

  15. Erica {let why lead} Feb 20 at 12:35 am Reply Reply

    I thought you hit this right on the head! 

    Without knowing anyone involved, I’d say sidestepping the parents *could* be simple compared to diagnosing the real issues here with the husband. Good luck to the mom! It’ll all work out!

  16. Tracy Feb 22 at 9:19 am Reply Reply

    People tend to get hung up on “fair” as if it were “fair” to let a child spend as much time in an unsafe environment as a safe one. The truth is that “equal” is NOT the same thing as “fair.” It’s fair to give people what they deserve. What they have earned. And if one set of grandparents can’t maintain a house that’s safe for such a young child to visit, it is by no means “fair” to insist that they get that visit anyway.

  17. Holly Mar 10 at 8:25 am Reply Reply

    I have a similar situation, but the one big difference is it is not my husband’s parents but his sister.  My MIL passed right after our daughter was born and my SIL somehow feels the need to be a replacement mother, but in only the terrible ways and none of the nurturing.  She is rude, selfish, says terrible things, and insults everything we do as parents because “she has been there.”. Meanwhile, she seemingly has an extremely unhappy marriage and a child who is 10, whines all day, and is equally as mean to my daughter!  I feel terrible because it is my husband’s sister -but- I have to put my relationship and my daughter’s wellbeing first.  We have very limited exposure to them (mainly holidays) and that is enough.

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