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The In-Law Tug of War, Continued

Nov25

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Dear Amalah,

I read your response to The In-Law Tug of War recently and I’m hoping you can help me on a related subject. My son and daughter-in-law have been married for four years and they have an 8 month old son – our first beautiful grandbaby! We have a very good relationship – get along really well…have fun together! My husband and I live very close to them (literally around the corner) and her family lives about a three hour drive away. Our two families are very similar – we are blessed that there is much love to share.

The quality time we get to spend with my son’s family is pretty much limited to the weekends – because of the distance for her family and because my husband and I work full time. Because of our close proximity my husband and I are very conscious to not constantly drop-by uninvited. I know young couples need and deserve their space. My daughter-in-law is the social planner in their home.

What I need help with is that they are so very inequitable when it comes to family time. They literally spend three times the amount of time with her family as they do with ours – even though we live around the corner! I am not exaggerating even a little. Here are a couple of examples: over the past seven weekends they have spent five with her family and the other two with their friends – we were invited over one afternoon but her family was there also. I host a family pool party every summer, and knowing their weekends book up fast, I asked them in early May what weekend they would be available. They told me that every weekend of the summer was booked until late August! Most of those weekends were plans with her family. They have missed several of our family’s important family gatherings (80th birthday parties for great-grandparents), something that my daughter-in-law would not even think of missing if it were her family. They make plans with her family regularly, but only when I reach out are plans made with ours (and when I do…9 out of 10 times they are already booked). I could go on and on.

I have talked with them on three separate occasions about my concern – asking for the family time to be more equally divided between her family and ours. Our extended family (also in close proximity) rarely sees our grandson. I’ve even asked my son to represent and be the advocate for our side of the family. I’ve had both emotional and unemotional conversations with my daughter-in-law about it…asking to be more frequently worked into the family time rotation. They tell me they understand and they will try to be better, but so far not much has changed at all. I understand that my daughter-in-law is very close to her mother & family and I’m happy about that…but I am just as close to my son and in the area of family time he allows her to call the shots (especially since their son was born). So yes, I blame my daughter-in-law for this issue. We are very hurt over this and not sure what else to do.

I do not like the fact that I am now oversensitive on the subject and even becoming resentful. I even find myself  ”keeping score” and I’m sure this is not healthy for our relationship. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

I get a lot of in-law related questions, as you’ve probably noticed. This is one of the first ones, however, written from “the other side.” Daughters-in-law of the world, unite and read. And then stare down at your toes in shame for a little bit, if any of these details seem familiar. (Or roll your eyes so hard you sprain something, if having the “problem” of a close-by MIL who respects your boundaries, goes out of her way to accommodate your schedule and just wants to spend time with your baby sounds like a dreamy dream from dreamland, because IF ONLY.)

I wish I had a sure-fire solution to your dilemma, OP. I wish I could hand you the password and secret handshake to the Good Daughter-in-Law Club or at least a sample script that will get your point across in a non-passive-aggressive, non-blamey way that will get immediate results. But it sounds like even if I could do that, your son and daughter-in-law will nod and smile and say yes, yes, they understand and then change absolutely nothing.

Personally, their life sounds downright EXHAUSTING to me. Making a three-hour drive practically every single weekend? For months and months on end? I get being close to your family but wow. I might be overreaching here but…how would you say your DIL is adjusting to motherhood, overall? Did she have a difficult pregnancy, birth, postpartum experience that you know of? Just because going home to Mom (or having Mom visit) five weekends out of seven — not to mention committing to six hours in the car with a small baby! — does indeed strike me as a tad excessive for a young, otherwise independent couple. (We live three hours away from both of our families and even the one-two both-sides visit punch that we can pack while there isn’t enough to tempt us to make the trip more than five times in a damn year, because it’s a lot to take on with young kids.)

I know it’s awful that I’m all suspicious of a close mother/daughter relationship, but hey, you wrote the letter and she didn’t. Let the wild speculation commence! When you see her with her mom, would you say it’s a nice friendly relaxed sort of relationship or is your DIL maybe a bit too dependent on her mom’s help and input for everything baby related? Do they both retreat to change diapers or do things “together” that really only require one person, or does your DIL simply cede the primary caretaking role to her mother altogether when she’s around?

Even further wild speculation: Does your son really enjoy hanging with his wife’s family every single blessed weekend? I wonder if your conversations with him went nowhere because this is already a sore spot in their marriage. She makes the plans and steamrolls him into going along with them, and then hearing it from YOU just feels like a pile-on/reminder that 1) he doesn’t really get a say in any of this, and 2) his wife would much rather be with “her” family rather than his. Or with him! (BOOM.)

Sure, it could also be that there’s some reason they don’t want to hang with you guys but also don’t have the guts to say it to you, even when confronted directly about the visit disparity. I suspect you’ve already started to wander down this road of paranoia and resentment, and probably know that it’s a very bad, ugly place to be. You mention getting invited over when her parents are there so it sounds like you all get along — any big cultural/social/personality differences? One side drinks and the other side abstains? Super religious vs. curse-like-a-sailor heathens? Politics, bad Facebook behavior, a church wedding that resembled the two sides of the aisles in My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

Or the other, other possibility is that your DIL is a clueless, pushy dolt who doesn’t give a crap about your feelings, or at least not enough to have her change her precious weekend plans. And your son just doesn’t want to deal with it because he’s got a long, established track record of Not Dealing With It that’s working for him. If that’s the case, then you probably aren’t going to change them. And like I’ve said to countless DILs who aren’t going to change their MILs, you’re going to have to focus on the changes you can make to YOU.

DON’T keep score. Don’t count. Don’t start seeing us vs. them sides every time you look at last month’s calendar. It’s hard, but it’s only going to damage the relationship even more and make it SUPER difficult to bite your tongue around her. Thus upping the odds that you’ll say something you regret. (Hi! I have done this. Believe me, however sweet it might feel to just let that snarky, biting opinion out for once is NOT WORTH the bitter, awkward aftertaste of realizing that You Should Have Not Said That.)

I know you really want family togetherness (and for them to choose TEAM MIL), but since you’re getting angry and resentful at her anyway, how about just focusing on grandbaby time for now? (Think back to high school and your mom asking you why do you even WANT to be friends with those mean girls anyway?) Will they let you babysit? Have him over after work during the week for a little bit? Take him to your house for breakfast while they pack and load up the car for Visit #2404582?

He might be a little young for all that right now, but as he gets older YOU’LL be the grandparents with the real opportunity to be a big part of his life. (Provided you don’t, you know, pick a huge fight with them over missing the summer pool party of 2013.) You’ll be the ones who can always be there for preschool graduations and soccer games and whatnot. You’ll be the school emergency contact and be the ones who get called on in a pinch. You’ll know his friends in the neighborhood and keep an eye on him out the front window while he learns to ride a bike. Your proximity will, at some point, give you all kinds of advantages over her family. Mmmm, justice!

Maybe your DIL realizes that and is just crazy overcompensating for it right now. She might be so overly determined that her son bonds with HER family that it really hasn’t sunk in that you’re there, feeling downright shunned from just around the corner. I hope it does, and I hope you can keep the (one-sided) peace here. It takes two to play tug-of-war, and I’d suggest letting go and taking the pacifist, baby-centric route before things get really ugly.

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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51 Responses to “The In-Law Tug of War, Continued”

  1. LMo Nov 25 at 12:36 pm Reply Reply

    Ugh. Their life does sound exhausting! But, that being said, it’s really not your place to say anything else. I am of the opinion that you may have overstepped having an “emotional” discussion with your son and asking him to “advocate” for your side of the family. Ultimately, the way they spend their time is entirely up to them. You’ve expressed yourself, and Amy is right–there’s nothing more to be done. Time to step back. They know the score, and if they are happy to leave things as they are, that’s it. Sowing the seeds of discord between yourself and them, or worse yet between your son and his WIFE, is not good. But, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m speaking from the perspective of a DIL who is hoping to start her own family in the next year…

    • Anne Nov 25 at 2:28 pm Reply Reply

      I have to disagree. I actually would prefer my MIL to have more honest discussions with my husband about what it is that she wants. He is in a great position, knowing both of us so well, to mediate any conflicts. It’s not like the conflict just goes away is the MIL doesn’t bring it up with anyone; they’re going to sense the discord.

    • -k- Nov 26 at 5:33 pm Reply Reply

      Totally agreed. This MIL actually seems, on the whole, super reasonable and considerate. But that point is the exception. I find that it’s really easy for ILs to paint the spouse as the one that’s “calling the shots” when their son or daughter is acting differently than s/he used to or differently than they think is ideal, without realizing how offensive it is to strip the now-adult child of all autonomy. Presumably the son is a capable adult who understands the situation from both sides; what he and his wife do as a family reflects choices *he’s* making as part of that unit, even if that choice is not to act in favor of his side of the family. I think it’s emotionally easier to blame the wife instead of dealing with the feelings around not having the family you once did. 

      The other thing about leaning on the son to represent his mother’s interests is that if he’s already in a difficult position, continuing to apply pressure once your case has been stated makes it way worse for him. It is torturous for my husband to deny his mother anything, and when he sometimes has to because he is a husband and father and has to balance more needs than he used to, my MIL’s refusal to accept our joint decisions creates a ton of unnecessary pain for him and discord for us. 

    • Christina Dec 07 at 4:48 pm Reply Reply

      YES. Agree. Time she zip it and give this couple a break.

  2. K Nov 25 at 12:39 pm Reply Reply

    Hey, Awesome Mother-in-Law, just chiming in about that last paragraph of Amalah’s.  We recently moved so we could bring up our baby near extended family.  We had to basically choose between two different sides of the country, and so we’re now an hour away from my MIL and a two day drive away from my mother.  And it hurts a lot.  I’m excited that he’ll grow up knowing his grandmother and aunt and cousins closely — I grew up far, far away from all my extended family — and, yet, it just stings that he won’t know my mom that way.  (Like, MIL hates baseball, which my family LOVES, and, seriously, when we first moved up here, I found myself holding that against her as a deep character flaw and proof of my mom’s superiority as grandmother.  Which, no.  It is not.  And I know that, now. Mostly.)   Anyhow, this might not be the reason for your DIL’s behavior, but it is possible that she’s trying so hard to make sure her family has a relationship with grandbaby due to fears about the distance that she’s not realizing she’s leaving you in the cold. 

  3. Kerry Nov 25 at 12:50 pm Reply Reply

    Your daughter-in-law sounds like my sister-in-law, kind of. Or at least, she would depending on the answer to this question…with all the family events they have to attend, it sounds like she has A LOT of family 3 hours away. Is she possibly the first or one of the only people in her extended family to dare moving away from home? My sister-in-law comes from a very close knit Italian family that have all lived in the same city for generations. We don’t think it’s just random chance that she decided to break that trend and move about three hours away with my brother, much closer to my significantly less demanding family. But with a new baby, and all of the aunts and grandmothers and cousins (not to mention her) having to adjust to the idea of a more distant kind of family relationship, they do a lot of driving. And hosting guests. The only thing that saves us is that she works weekends and some holidays. None of which especially helps you, except that it may be that things will calm down later – 8 months in seems like it could still be well within the window of figuring out what it really means to have moved 3 hours away from your family to have kids. And I guess hopefully it helps to think that it’s probably not a matter of them preferring her family over yours…they did pick you guys when they decided where to live, after all. And also, as hard as it is to be patient, to consider that your greatest advantage might be in being the more understanding, less guilt-driven relationship. We did a four hour drive with our 15 month old yesterday…which turned into 5 hours and felt like 6 or 7 with all the stops we had to make for her (whereas at 8 months she would have just slept the whole time). And she’s not even potty training yet. 

  4. Lydia Nov 25 at 1:13 pm Reply Reply

    Yes to dropping the score keeping.  My MIL does this and it feels so so so unfair. I see her probably just as much as my own mother, which makes me more annoyed by it.  However, it tends to make me want to dig in my heels and be less flexible about some things, which is NOT the reaction she wants.  Be loving, be available when they need/want you, and don’t talk any trash about her family to her or your son.  She can sense the tension and any side comments coming from you and it is most likely raising her defenses.

    By all accounts you sound like you are doing your best.  Just remember, guilt is not an effective technique to get people to spend more time with you.  

    • Brooke Dec 03 at 2:10 pm Reply Reply

      Lydia, this was also my reaction. This MIL sounds so much more reasonable than mine on every level. My MIL used to throw fits when she saw us literally 2 times a week and my parents (who were 12 hours away for years) only saw us once every 2-3 months or so. Each and every time she threw a fit or confronted me about some perceived slight (usually surrounding a holiday) I felt attacked, annoyed, and it made me much less likely to want to spend time with her. It became a huge wedge in our relationship that has increasingly become too great for me to have any true friendship or intimacy with her. So while I sympathize with this MIL (who seems to be quite justly upset about the inequity in time spent with the grand baby) I think the answer is to move past it and concentrate on any and everything she can do to become closer to DIL. If the ultimate goal is to see her grandson and son more, and DIL is the gatekeeper, do everything possible to forge a bond with her. Bring dinner by when she’s feeling ill, offer to watch the kids so she can have a night out, pick up a thoughtful gift for the house, offer to take lots of pictures of her with the kids and tell her what a great mom she is. She’s probably incredibly insecure in her new role as mom and, as Amy suggested, may be clinging to her a little too much. Feeling attacked or judged for balancing families the wrong way may be causing her to avoid MIL altogether. 

  5. Annabelle Nov 25 at 1:22 pm Reply Reply

    This sounds like my husband’s brother and his wife. BIL has not spent a Christmas with his family since he started dating this woman. I honestly don’t think he ever will. This year they told us that they are booked from 12/20-12/30. DH and I are driving 10 hours to see everyone for Christmas but BIL and SIL are too busy with her local family to see us.

    This pains my MIL and my husband. But the wife is selfish and my BIL is a doormat. We can’t change them. I’ve just accepted that my kids won’t know those cousins.

  6. Diana Nov 25 at 1:47 pm Reply Reply

    Love the idea of offering weeknight babysitting at your place or theirs. That way you can see baby without getting into it about their crazy weekend schedule.

    • Anne Nov 25 at 2:18 pm Reply Reply

      Agree. I’ll give the letter writer the benefit of the doubt that she’s not as annoying as my mother in law, but even I’m always happy to leave my kiddo with my intensely passive aggressive MIL, even if I don’t want to spend a ton of quality time with her.

      On that topic, it might be helpful to ask your son, point blank, if anything about your behavior annoys your DIL. And be prepared not to take that information personally. (Easier said than done, I know.) It’s totally possible that your families are less alike than you think. While I’m sure you’re a lovely person, it can be difficult to mesh with a new, different family dynamic.

    • Erin Nov 26 at 11:02 am Reply Reply

      I grew up with an uncle (mother’s brother) and aunt who did similar things. We all lived close enough that we could have seen each other all the time, but they just…never came over. When I was very small, I have memories of playing with my cousins, but not many. And when my grandmother passed away right before my 10th birthday, that was pretty much the end of seeing them at all–and I mean that almost literally. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen them since then (and that was 1990). I haven’t seen my cousins since we were tweens.

      It’s sad, and I know it pains my mom, but we’ve just had to accept it and move on.

      • Erin Nov 26 at 11:03 am Reply Reply

        Blergh! This comment should have gone with the previous comment (about the BIL & SIL who can’t make time to see the commenter’s family)! Technology, man…

  7. JenVegas Nov 25 at 1:58 pm Reply Reply

    Ugh this sounds….terribly frustrating. I’m sorry. While I agree with Amy on all of this I will say that it is totally within your rights to poke at your son about all of this. As a D-I-L myself I am constantly asking my husband to take a little more ownership of planning to see his family. They are way, way across country and I just don’t have the energy to plan visits/outings with MY family and work, and take care of The Kid and keep the house clean blah blah blah AND also coordinate with husband’s family on when to visit, get plane tickets, rent cars yadda yadda. So I say, although you should ease back, definitely make this something you discuss with your son. If you guys really ARE close then you know if he’s one of these type of boys who just let’s his wife plan All The Things because he doesn’t want to take responsibility. Or, if he’s being steamrolled, maybe he needs help figuring out how to get his wife on-board with being more generous with their time. Or he needs to screw his courage to the sticking place and say “I need us to spend more time with my family, please. When can we do that?”

    • Christina Dec 07 at 4:58 pm Reply Reply

      Oh I disagree with this. The MIL bringing this up AGAIN does not seem like a good idea to me. And trying to “help” her son handle his own marriage — to essentially push his mom’s agenda? No way. Boundaries are needed here in my opinion or the situation won’t improve.

  8. LL Nov 25 at 2:14 pm Reply Reply

    Just for another view on this, I’m a D-i-L who struggles to see my in-laws as much as my own mum, despite them both living relatively close (within like, an hour’s drive). And we have missed the occasional family event, one just this weekend (though that would have involved more driving/been further away).

    The reason? It’s not that I hate my in-laws, or even that I don’t want to go. It’s that my husband is AWFUL at getting himself organised, and I’ve reached the stage where I refuse to do it for him. Visiting my family? Yep, okay, i’ll run around checking dates, making sure things are organised, checking the cats are taken care of. Visiting his family? He’ll um and er for weeks over whether he wants to go, is it a good date, blah blah blah, and by the time he decides the hotels are booked out/can’t find anyone to feed the cats/I’ve scheduled jabs for the day before because it seems like we’re not going.

    I tried to cover for him, but when I kept asking him if he wanted to go he felt I was nagging so I stopped. Running around trying to organise him was stressing me out.. so I stopped. End result: we see my mum more right now because I organise it. I’m pretty sure this will change, as he gets accustomed to the idea that leaving plans to two days before won’t work with a baby but right now.. I’ve kinda got to let him work through that himself rather than letting him keep leaning on me to do the running.

    (In other ways, awesome husband incidentally. Just this one issue, y’know?)

  9. Kh53 Nov 25 at 3:31 pm Reply Reply

    Hi awesome mil. I live equal distance from my parents and Inlaws. 3 miles from each. I see my mom a few times a week and my Inlaws about 3x a month. Here’s something that was touched on but warrants another look. I can ask my mom to help with anything, and actually,ni don’t have to, but when my mil comes over no matter how awesome she is – the house, my self and my child need to be presentable. That’s just how I am. Do I want my Inlaws to know I’ve got issues with that? Nope! It’s the difference between hosting people and having someone let me relax or give me free hands to tend to whatever needs the most attention.  They don’t offer to babysit because they don’t want to pressure us, and you might feel that way too, but if you can offer up specific solutions (drop off a dinner one day with no strings, then offer to babysit “this week” or watch the baby while dil goes to the store or gets her nails done) that might help her to be able to ask those things of you like she does her mom. Also, her mom might make her feel so guilty when they see you guys since she lives far away. Always a problem! Best of luck! 

  10. Christy Nov 25 at 3:43 pm Reply Reply

    My advice is… just wait. Different ages, especially with a first born, will bring about a big tilt in how a couple spends their time. Babies are portable for the most part so perhaps they are getting their time with her family in now. Toddlers however, can be much harder to contain {baby-proofing and naps become MUCH trickier} causing a major cutback to those weekend trips. My in-laws often just call out of the blue letting us know they are open for the weekend and if we’d like to go out without the kids {8,6,1} they’d be happy to take them for a couple hours, all day or overnight and I’d say we take them up on it 75% of the time. It gets trickier again when you have school-age children because they are VERY portable and typically have their own busy schedules so there has been a big decrease in grandparent time because there is also a big decrease in parent time which can be really frustrating. A big second to Amy’s point that you will be the ones there for all the during the week evening activities and that won’t go unnoticed. To sum up? Wait til that baby’s a toddler… I think you’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

    • JMH Nov 26 at 12:40 pm Reply Reply

      Totally agree! As the kids get older..or more children join the family, it will get MUCH more difficult to travel 3 hours every weekend. Living close will win out in the end. :)

  11. L Nov 25 at 4:15 pm Reply Reply

    One thing that I felt was unclear from the letter – was this a big change from the pre-baby days? Maybe its a matter of grandparent expectations.  If they son and DIL have always spent more time with her family, and the OP just assumed that with a baby things would change that is a different situation than if things were pretty equitable before and now with a baby suddenly on the DIL’s family gets to see the kid.  

    That being said, I love the idea of taking the baby while they pack, or on a week night after work – being around the corner has some awesome advantages.  I know a little 20 minute visit is not the end goal, but its a start and might help soften the edges of a tough relationship.

  12. Karen Nov 25 at 4:21 pm Reply Reply

    Here’s the red flag for me. “my husband and I are very conscious to not constantly drop-by uninvited. I know young couples need and deserve their space.”

    I love my MIL. She is very kind and warm-hearted, but she constantly refers to us as “young people” and “young couples” in contexts that usually make me seem like I’m a naive, recent college grad, not in my late 30′s, with a successful career, mortgage, and family. And as much as I love my MIL, (who lives a 6 hour drive away), if she dropped in just once uninvited, it would be too much – your comment seems to indicate that your dropping in is somewhere between “sometimes” and “constantly”…

    My guess is that your DIL probably feels suffocated by having people other than her own immediate family be such a big part of her family. But Amy is right, by next summer this kid will be all yours for a much bigger period of time, if you can just wait it out.

    • MR Nov 25 at 4:41 pm Reply Reply

      Yes, I actually raised my eye at that too. Even a single drop by uninvited or unannounced is too much!

    • Flic Nov 26 at 2:33 pm Reply Reply

      “My guess is that your DIL probably feels suffocated by having people other than her own immediate family be such a big part of her family.”
      I’m sorry, but SHE MARRIED ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. Therefore, it is not just about HER and HER family. If thats how she feels, she should have married someone whose parents are dead.
      And man. 3 hours each way most weekends? I struggled with half that on my own. I cannot imagine with a small child too.

  13. Lrj Nov 25 at 4:38 pm Reply Reply

    This has me kind of raising an eye brow… I am sure my own experiences are coloring this of course BUT…
    My MIL LOVES to blame me for the fact that we don’t spend time with her. We have a 5 year old and are expecting a baby in Feb (her first biological grandchild). She has a drinking and pill habit that make her horrific to be around. After endless talks and pleading we finally stopped all contact telling her we will not have any till she is sober. However if you ask HER you get the whole “My DIL is awful and only likes her family and has brain washed my poor son and I have NOOO idea why” This is obviously BS! I seriously think the LW needs to rethink her “blame” for the DIL though. Her son is HALF if not more the equation. In our family my Husband doesnt want to deal with their crazy drama particularly my MIL. Yet if someone was to ask them this is all one sided and completely my fault! So I am always a bit skeptical when the MIL writes in openly blaming the DIL when her son clearly isnt changing or addressing the issue.

  14. MR Nov 25 at 4:38 pm Reply Reply

    Just another chime in to say, “Patience, Grasshopper!” In a few more months when baby starts to get more mobile and less happy sitting in the car for 6 hours every weekend, this all might change. That’s what happened with us. Travelling with an infant who slept a lot was pretty easy. But, once they got down to being able to move, being strapped in a car seat for hours was most unpleasant for all of us. My family is about 4 hours away, and pretty much all visits switched to them coming here. And then you will be the ones who are here. But, I will also say, my mother-in-law once told me before we had kids (when we were both working full time and in grad school full time), that “ideally, I’d love to see you at LEAST twice a week.” I couldn’t help it, I laughed. I flat out told her that we didn’t see ANYONE that frequently, unless I worked with them. But, from then on, that statement was out there. It has been probably 10 years since she made that statement, and I still remember that. My advice to you is, see if you can make baby only plans. Oh, and you might try setting up a weeknight dinner, at your house, maybe once a month. That way you can offer it as a way they don’t have to cook or do dishes. If not, live your life, and don’t just drop everything any time they want you to be involved. If this is the relationship that they want to have with you, then that means that there are going to be times they want to see you, and you already have plans. Don’t just cancel/rearrange those plans just because they call.

  15. Jessica Nov 25 at 6:45 pm Reply Reply

    Or maybe she feels like the weekends are reserved for her family since they are a 3 hour drive away, whereas you guys, she could literally see anytime. I know you don’t want to impose, but maybe consider gently investigating weekday possibilities?

  16. Nikki Nov 25 at 8:33 pm Reply Reply

    This letter made me sad! I’m going to be more conscious of making time to see both my mom and my MIL. 

    I think at this point it’s a good idea to ask your son or DIL if there is something you do that bothers them or leads to them not wanting to spend much time with you. I think you should just refer to spending “more time together,”.. be wary of calling it “less time than you spend with DIL’s family,” because that’s not going to get you anywhere positive.

    Also, love the idea of weeknight babysitting and breakfasts with your grandson! 

  17. Maree Nov 25 at 8:47 pm Reply Reply

    I sympathise because in-law relations are tricky on all sides. I did want to raise a couple of questions. The OP says
    ” I understand that my daughter-in-law is very close to her mother & family and I’m happy about that…but I am just as close to my son ‘Is this true? DIL is making a LOT of effort to spend time with her family but your son isn’t even dropping over after work for an hour for a visit? I feel that you could be placing the blame on the wrong person. Is it possible that the problem is that your son isn’t making the effort? I have the problem also of a mother who works full time but wants to spend time with her grandkids but she can’t do it during the week because she is tired and Saturday morning she does her shopping and Sunday evenings she keeps clear because she has to work the next day…. you get the idea. Is it possible that like my mum you are trying too hard to force your schedule on them? I also wondered if the problem is with baby being so young. How formal are your family functions? Is it possible that the thought of taking an 8 month old to a 80th birthday party is too much? I felt very awkward taking my first to my in-laws because there was nowhere private to breastfeed or put him down for a sleep – this was a big hassle until he turned one. I do think that things will improve as he gets older, keep sticking it out and remember that your sons primary loyalty has to be to his wife so don’t make him choose.

    • LMR Nov 26 at 1:42 am Reply Reply

      Yep, this was my thought too. My husband and I don’t have kids, so luckily we’re spared that extra bit of drama, but he just doesn’t always care to spend a ton of time with his family; in a lot of ways he seems to prefer hanging out with my family. It’s entirely possible that this woman’s relationship with her son isn’t as good as she thinks it is – I’m sure my husband’s mother thinks they have a great relationship!

  18. z Nov 25 at 10:02 pm Reply Reply

    It seems like you are blaming your DIL for a problem for which your son is also responsible.  You say she is the “social planner” like that’s some immutable fact of nature, but is anything really stopping him from planning a visit with you?  It must be really painful to raise these issues with your own son and have him not do anything about it, but he is a grown man and makes his own choices.  It’s not her responsibility to compensate for his shortcomings as a family member.  Scapegoating your DIL is not the answer!  If she knows you blame her and not him, that’s probably really damaging to the relationship.  Are you making other sexist stereotypes that could alienate her?

    Other possibilities: do you smoke around the kids or in your house?  Do you disregard safety instructions or criticize her parenting, even without meaning to?  You might have unknowingly violated some rule that’s super-important to this generation of parents, like babies always sleeping on their backs, or always riding in car seats, or maybe a food issue? Maybe reading a baby book or two would give you some clues to possible problems. 

    I’d suggest asking your son to meet you for a walk or at a playground sometime, maybe early in the morning so your DIL can sleep in.  That way there’s no pressure on DIL to interact with you or have the house presentable.  Since the relationship is fragile I wouldn’t push for solo babysitting jobs at the moment.  

  19. Andrea Nov 26 at 11:22 am Reply Reply

    Baby is young yet, OP. I second the patience is a virtue crowd. My FIL lives around the corner, and has been taking my two oldest (5 and 2) for dinner once a week since each was able to eat independently. They LOVE their grandpa because of the frequent contact. They don’t spend much time together on the weekends, though he does come to soccer and school events. Start by offering your son a gift certificate to a restaurant and free babysitting. Tell him to take the mother of your precious grandbaby out for dinner, you will hang out at their home, where baby is familiar with all surroundings while they have a date night. Go from there. You may not remember, but eight months is a little young, for a first time mom, to be letting go of easily. Good luck.

  20. Oh Crap Nov 26 at 12:20 pm Reply Reply

    I wonder about the dynamics of her family vs yours. Is her family full of siblings who have kids and therefore lots of aunts and cousins for their baby, while yours is not quite as full and fun for them and the baby? I know I would make a huge effort to see the side of the family with more babies, for lots of reasons.

    I also agree with all the commenters who question the perfectness of this MIL. I don’t mean to offend you, original letter writer, but there may be more to your conflicts than you’ve shared. There is no background on the pre-baby times, which may have been the groundwork for what is happening now.

    My mil relationship is not perfect but not bad. The bottom line for me (in case this sheds light for you) is that I cannot be myself around my MIL. She is one of those perfect types, or fake it til you make it, so here is no room for real ness, while I am let it all hang it type. I relate to other posters who say having MIL over is like having guests, not family. Think about the differences between you and your DIL, and whether here is anything you can do to show her that you accept her as she is. Maybe that will help?

    I refused having my ILs visit from 5hr plane ride away before my baby was 2mos old, because I wanted to protect myself emotionally during the first weeks of adjustment to parenthood. The adjustment went way better than I was expecting but I am still so glad I set that boundary. Maybe these boundaries, although unfair, are what they need to adjust right now. How is your dils mental health? Could she need this extra time because here is more to the story than you know?

  21. Lauren Nov 26 at 12:33 pm Reply Reply

    I think Amy may have hit the nail on the head when she asked if pregnancy/birth/post-partum was traumatic for DIL.  I love my ILs and we spend a lot of time with Them under normal circumstances.  However, this summer/fall was a different story.  I was really sick (and pregnant) and I avoided even the weekly Skype dates with the ILs.  However I welcomed the visits from my mom to help out.  I knew she would take care of everything, and I could just be real, no brave “everything is okay” face necessary.  When we found out that our younger son would be stillborn, MIL offered to come stay with our older son, but we asked my mom instead.  At such a vulnerable time, she was the only one I wanted there.  

  22. JMH Nov 26 at 12:49 pm Reply Reply

    This makes me sad to think that one no matter what I do, one day someone is going to be griping about what a horrible MIL I am…:(

    • Jay Nov 26 at 3:16 pm Reply Reply

      Me too.  It sounds like a lot of these commenters expect the MIL-DIL relationship to be difficult and fraught with tension, and they make any reality confirm to that expectation.  I feel like practically every other letter-writer gets to be taken at face value, but this poor MIL is getting to be a punching bag for everyone to take out her own MIL drama.

      One question I don’t think anyone has asked – how is the MIL’s relationship with the rest of the DIL’s family?  Friendly?  Polite?  Non-existent?  Extending yourself to those people might be a way to build more of a relationship with the local DIL.  I also think that in a few months–or at the most a year or two – those insanely-frequent long car trips are just not going to be feasible, and the parents will be thrilled to have a night out with free babysitting.

      Good luck, and I’m really really sorry.  My mom is deceased, and my MIL (whom I do like very much) is across the country.  I would be beyond grateful to have you as my MIL around the corner!

    • leslie Nov 26 at 5:03 pm Reply Reply

      I agree. While we will never know all of the details, this woman sounds pretty reasonable and understanding of boundaries. To be told in May that they are booked through the end of August? That’s just awful. I cannot ever imagine doing that to my MIL and FIL. Folks, this is her granchild. Her FIRST and ONLY grandchild. It is not unreasonable at all for her to want to see him and have a relationship with him. My heart goes out to LW. Fwiw, not everyone disklikes their MIL. While there are certain things about mine that drive me nuts, I love her all the same. She’s a good person and means well, and she is my kids’ grandma! I want her to have a relationship with them, and we try to foster that as much as possible (they live in another state, though, so not as much as I would like). Like everyone else said, this will likely somewhat resolve itself over time. They will not make these long car trips forever. Your proximity will win out. I know that doesn’t help now, but it won’t be long. At 8 months, this kid will be mobile in no time. Hugs to you grandma.

  23. Chris Nov 26 at 3:15 pm Reply Reply

    I have friends like this! Honestly, they go to the wife’s family at least once a month – if not 2 or 3 times – and they live 6 hours away! We never get to see them on weekends (we’re an hour away) because they are always going to D’s ‘home’.  I don’t think she even realizes, because she’s just *that close* to her parents. Her husband is just now beginning to realize the inequity in it and is trying to cut back some on the trips to her ‘home’ but it’s still a lot of trips they make. No advice (other than take advantage of weeknights and afternoons) just lots of sympathy! It’s hard on us as friends so I can’t even imagine how hard on you as mom and grandma!

  24. Hannna Nov 26 at 7:22 pm Reply Reply

    I know we spend more time with my family but there is a good reason. My MIL has literally said she doesn’t consider me family (married to her son for 10 years, dated for 6 years before that. My only boyfriend!) and that hopefully someday she’ll love me too. Ouch. And she’s said these things many times. The final straw was when I flew out for a family baby shower, by myself with my colicky 6mo old, only to have MIL and SIL badmouth my solo first-baby parenting via baby monitor. It was like a bad sitcom. My solution? (Other than crying that is…) Husband can plan trips to see his family; I make myself and the kids available at any time and I am happy to go with him for however long he wants. But I’m not going to organize it.
    I’ve tried to talk to MIL but she won’t talk about it. Good for you for stepping up to help fix the relationship!

    • MR Nov 27 at 12:44 pm Reply Reply

      Ouch! I am so sorry. That’s truly horrible!!

  25. Kat Nov 26 at 8:05 pm Reply Reply

    This is tough – without more information it’s really hard to say what the problem could be. I do second that it may not be as much DIL’s influence as you think. We see my family regularly and probably just a tad more than my husband’s family, and my husband actually prefers it that way. He loves his family, but there are issues that he has with them (that have not impacted my relationship with them, but we do have some pretty defined boundaries with some of his family members). BUT – my husband likes to spend time with my family because they are loud, funny, like to spend all day cooking and talking, playing games and so on. His family is quiet, small and really just sits in front of the TV. So when we do visit, it’s only for an hour or two, while we spend days and vacation with my family….Not my fault, it truly is his preference. I encourage him to make plans with his family, and even play social planner to make it happen. I encourage our 20 month old to bond with both sides, but when my husband so clearly prefers to see my folks…not much I can do.

    All that to say: maybe ask what DIL and your son would like to do the next time they do visit? Baby is young, so it’s a challenge now but keep it in mind for the future. Do you have a baby friendly/toddler friendly area in your house? How about snacks for the grownups? What about a fun outing/activity?

  26. Christina Nov 27 at 4:45 am Reply Reply

    The OP is totally right thay she should be able to see her grandson.

    That issue is 100% her son’s responsibility. I have a 5 month old (I am up at 3:30 AM nursing, in fact). My husband ans I live one town over from his Dad and 2 hours from his sister and her kids. We moved here to be closer to them. We never see them. That is entirely because my husband never organizes a time to see them. In our marriage, and all the marriages of everyone we know, each spouse is responsible for dealing with their own family. Your DIL can’t and shouldn’t be dealing with this. She’d be undermining her husband and with a baby, she has enough to deal with. She doesn’t need to be fighting with her husband about family he doesn’t want to see. You can certainly mention it to him in her presence but don’t expect that she can be the one to change things.

    Also, think about how you talk to them. Calling them a young couple is a no-no. Even the slightest aura of judgement probably stresses your DIL out further and makes her less likely to advocate for you when they are (privately) deciding on their weekend plans.

  27. Cait Nov 27 at 10:03 am Reply Reply

    “(Or roll your eyes so hard you sprain something, if having the “problem” of a close-by MIL who respects your boundaries, goes out of her way to accommodate your schedule and just wants to spend time with your baby sounds like a dreamy dream from dreamland, because IF ONLY.)”

    DING DING DING! I kinda wish I had this problem. For the past 4 years I have lived 20 minutes from my in laws and 8 hours from my parents but GOD FORBID I actually choose to do anything with MY parents. It’s always a guilt trip and I’m more then sick of it. This will be the first year I will spend Christmas with my parents in the last three, shortly after which my husband and I will be moving 12 hours away from both sets of parents, to a brand new state and as per usual what MIL focuses on is herself and her loss. I wish I had someone sensitive enough to realize that others had feelings and tried to approach me in an adult no passive aggressive manner about their feelings

  28. Diane Nov 27 at 11:10 am Reply Reply

    OP, you sound like you are very reasonable and have a legitimate concern.  Of course you should have time with your son, his wife and your grandson.  

    I echo previous commenters who suggested mid week get togethers.  Invite them for dinner at your home, a trip to the park after work when he is a little older or perhaps a Sunday night movie night on a weekend when they are home.  

    Keep inviting them over, and keep asking when they will be available.  I would also suggest that important family occasions such as 80th birthdays be discussed as far in advance as possible and in a manner that suggests that you just assume they will attend, because it is such an important milestone.  

    I do wonder if the DIL’s family puts pressure on her to visit frequently as well, and she capitulates because that is what she has always done.  I have seen this dynamic in play with my sister’s in laws, and it has come to the point where I have not seen her family in over a decade.

    Finally, I completely agree with everyone who said that the long drives are likely to dry up as grandson gets older.  We visited my in laws (2 hrs away) much more frequently when my eldest was a baby and early toddler.  By the age of two, we knew that the drive would be uncomfortable and she would resent sleeping in a ‘strange’ environment.  She wanted to sleep in her own bed. 

    So hang in there, be positive and welcoming when you make the invitations, and I really hope that they start making more time for you!

  29. Rachel Nov 27 at 2:36 pm Reply Reply

    I wouldn’t necessarily hold my breath on the long trips becoming less frequent as baby gets older. When I was a child, we lived in the same town as my father’s parents and a six-hour drive from my mother’s parents. We still saw my mother’s parents WAY more often. I think this was because a) my father would have been the one to set things like this up and he never did and b) because my mother’s parents were a lot easier to be around. But unless there’s background we’re not hearing about, the OP sounds pretty reasonable to me. It might be that the son is dropping the ball here. I’d try offering to babysit or inviting them out to dinner on a weeknight.

  30. Margaret Nov 28 at 6:38 pm Reply Reply

    I would agree that I think these long car rides will get less frequent as the baby grows. I live four hours from my family and we live in the next town over from my husband’s entire family…his parents are divorced but both live in the same town, and he has a sister and two brothers. We see my FIL almost daily, and my MIL every few months. I see my family on major holidays and make sure that we go out in the summer a few weekends so that my children can meet their (2nd) cousins. We see my parents quite often because they come out to visit us! Which is great. ;) We have a farm, and it is difficult to find time where we can both get away to see my family, so I do make a lot of trips by myself, but I love being so close to my husband’s family. My husband’s father is wonderful with our children and he will always find time to spend with them if we need someone to watch them. My son is spending the night there tonight at my FIL after we had Thanksgiving Day there. (Where he cooked the entire meal himself too!)
    I would say to the OP, just make yourself available. Especially as the baby grows up and your son and DIL perhaps get back to jobs/routine they might need someone available to watch the baby on afternoons, or even when he starts preschool. Offer to drive him to school one day a week, or pickup. My FIL did that for our son, and it was a special time for the both of them. Honestly, we don’t see my MIL very often at all, and that was her call. I really like her, and she is a wonderful person, but she told us that she didn’t want to be the grandmother that you can just take the kids to, or call up when you need something. She had her own things to do and when she wanted to see the kids, she would call US. Which is a handful of times a year. It is always good to see her, but honestly, I feel like she is missing out. So OP, be patient! Be available! Keep being friendly! The first kid is always mind blowing for any parents, life will keep moving and you will always be right around the corner.

  31. Kristin Nov 30 at 12:04 pm Reply Reply

    Dear MIL,

    It is lovely to read about a grandmother who is so appreciative of her family and so eager to spend time with them. There is a lot of positive intentions in your letter and I am sure that, over time, things will work themselves out. Patience and peace to you and your family, patience and peace to your son’s family.

    You say that lately you feel resentful towards your son (more directly, towards his wife). Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that lately you are becoming more and more aware of your resentment. If you have already noticed that they spend more time with the maternal grandparents than the paternal grandparents, you have already been taking measure and figuring out what is “owed” to you accordingly. And to equate, then, the time your son and his family spend with the maternal grandparents to the greater feeling or consideration they have for them, is to keep ticky-tabs on how much your son’s family (or your son, or your son’s son) loves you versus somebody else.

    After all, if your son and his wife spent more time with *you*, would you expect his wife’s family to be upset, or would you rationalize that “after all, they live too far away to visit as often”? Would you suggest that they perhaps spend less time with you and more time with her parents out of generosity, or would you simply assume that they naturally love you just a little more, given how well you all get along together? 

    So there have been expectations from the beginning, whether or not most people (especially grandparents) would find them “reasonable” or “considerate” or not. At the heart of everything, though, is that these are *your* expectations that you have placed unilaterally on your *son’s* family. By complaining about the time he spends with his wife’s parents, you are creating a wedge (no matter how reasonable!) between your son’s wife and her parents (“she should spend less time with them and more with me.”) Furthermore, by asking your son to “advocate” for *you*, you are driving that same wedge now between your son and his wife (“you should be on ‘my side’ and not ‘her side’”).

    While your feelings are very human and very understandable, your way of expressing and acknowledging them are not going to help you establish a close bond with your gorgeous grandbaby with appreciative and supportive parents. Since the expectations, disappointment, misunderstandings and pressure to “advocate” come from within you, then start with you. It is o.k. to feel a little (or a lotta) sadness in all of the joy and excitement that a new baby brings. It is o.k. to honor and even grieve the losses that come with a new grandchild. Even if it’s the simple passage of time; your own soul-stirring shift from mom to grandma; the long-ago days when your son was a tiny, precious newborn; when you and you alone were the whole world to the most adorable, beloved little someone. Those changes and losses are real, and they can’t be “filled up” even with a hundred Sundays of babysittings and family dinners.

    Grandmommy, you can be one of the most important, beloved and needed people in this wonderful little baby’s life for all of your life. But you need your space to feel the changes for you, too … the longer you shove them down (“But I’m fine! She’s the one with the problem!” “But if they’d just visit every once in a while I’d be happy!” “But you don’t understand how much I want everyone to get along!”) the more resentment and frustration and desperation will build, and the more fricticious your relationship with your grown son and his life-partner and his child will be.

    Once your feelings are allowed to bubble up, and be honored, and be expressed, they will create space for positive energies, for peaceful relationships, for true goodwill. I bet you will find that your relationship with everyone in your extended family will mature and blossom. And you won’t have to “do” anything more than be the loving, delighted grandmother you already are.

  32. Laura Dec 02 at 12:23 am Reply Reply

    I would suggest talking with your son and DIL about finding some way to be involved in their lives in a help with baby way.  I don’t know what your and their schedules are like or if baby takes a bottle, but you could babysit one day or evening per week, cook dinner and bring it to their house regularly, come over on the Saturday mornings they are home at 6:30 am (or whatever early hour baby wakes up) and take her on your morning walk while they sleep in, or something else that helps them out.  That takes the pressure off of asking them to plan a social event and let’s you have time with your grandchild. 

    It sounds like a frustrating situation, but remember that their family of three is their immediate family.  I think you will drive yourself crazy if you try and convince your husband to take your side and stand up for “his” family, meaning you. As a married adult father his first consideration should be for his child and wife because they are the most important component of his family.  (That’s not to say you can’t express your feelings in an appropriate way, but try not to think of it as DIL and her family vs. son and your family.)

    Take baby steps to get involved with your grandchild in as helpful a way as possible, and I would guess that things will get better in the next few months and years!

  33. Erica Dec 03 at 11:38 am Reply Reply

    I finally had a serious sit down with my MIL over my lack of ability to schedule and invite because I recognize that this is an issue for me and my husband wasn’t stepping up to get her over to see the grandbaby! So we agreed that she would have one night each week (she picked Monday) when she would be expected to be in my house for dinner and grandbabying. She was very happy to have the standing invitation and it really worked for us. Some weeks there were conflicts, but generally, she was guaranteed to be part of our lives without too much effort in scheduling.
    Could you reverse this and ask to schedule a weekly night were you cook / bring dinner over / have them over for dinner? Just a regular thing? If someone offered this to me I would freak out with joy and it may get all of you in regular scheduling conversations as you sit around the table struggling solids into the baby and chatting about what’s coming up in your lives. It may not immediately address the special events attendance issue, but it could foster a relationship that may open the door to greater sensitivity on their part while taking advantage of your excellent proximity. My MIL has since passed away, and that scheduled, regular time with her has become so meaningful to all of us as we remember her and grieve her loss. I know as her DIL that I did right by her, and that? Is a good thing.

  34. Kay Dec 03 at 5:59 pm Reply Reply

    As a young person and a new mom-to-be, I have to say I don’t think that there is “fair” or “unfair” when it comes to where people spend their time. People do what they want to do, what is pleasant for them, what makes them happy, what is easy, what is worth their time and effort. At some point in being a grown up, you stop living to please others. That includes not thinking, one weekend for you, one weekend for X, one for you, one for X. If someone (in this case your SON–and his wife) does not want to spend time with you, that is the end of the story. The time they may or may not spend with X is actually not relevant. They do not owe it to you to make it balanced or fair. They are living their lives the way they want to. 

    My in laws are lovely, but objectively Christmas with my family is more fun. Our family is more active, and my in laws mostly just watch TV all day. They’re not bad people, but there’s a reason I choose my family visits over them, beyond just being purely selfish. 

    I also take my stepmother as an example. She always bemoans how her sons never visit or call her, and she blames her DIL for this. It is not her DIL’s fault. My stepmom is absolutely crazy. She’s unpleasant to talk to, she always complains about her problems, she’s small-minded, she’s a gossip, and it’s exhausting to be around her. She has no one to blame but herself for the fact that she rarely sees her grandkids or children. Maybe she can’t help the way she is, but I don’t blame her son and certainly not her DIL one bit for removing her toxic presence from their lives or at least not going out of their way to seek it out by visiting her. 

    Bottom line: simply being family does not entitle you to anything. You actually have to be a pleasant, fun, interesting person to spend time around. Not saying that the LW is or isn’t, we obviously can’t tell just from hearing her side. But if no time is being spent with her, it stands to reason that there’s, well, a reason.

  35. AmyRenee Dec 06 at 1:04 am Reply Reply

    I totally agree with the suggestion to try to see them on weeknights for right now. Personally, if I were DIL I’d be slightly annoyed if my MIL only suggested seeing them on the weekends when they were close enough to see anytime.
    Other things to consider:
    -If her extended family is large or has lots of traditions, they may very well be booked up for months in advance. In my family we plan Christmas events at the family reunion in July, and “save the date” emails for picnics and birthday parties 4-8 months out are common. Also,they may be at the age where all of their friends are having weddngs and babies, so they may be traveling back to hr hometown to see her frienss as well, not just her parents.
    -Have you been communicating only through your son? I know in some families that is the “rule” but is it possible he’s not passing the message on to her? Could you call or email her directly to invite them over to your house? In our extended family the unwritten rule is that the women contact each other about event planning, NOT going through husbands, because otherwise it just turns into a game of telephone. Or we email both husband AND wife so they are both in the loop.
    -I know you said you try not to “just drop by” – but maybe you should. Not to stay for a long time, but as in “here’s a frozen casserole, hope you are having a good night, bye!”
    -Another issue may be if your DIL is breastfeeding. I just couldn’t feel comfortable nursing in front of my FIL no matter what, and he was completely clueless about it. With baby #2 I explained to my husband this and if I said “oh, baby seems a little hungry” that was code for “get these people out of this room in the next 5 minutes”. Or its also possible that she’s not comfortable nursing in front of you either, but avoids you rather than admit this.
    -Very little is said here aboit your husband or other family members. Any chance YOU are a great MIL but your son or DIL has an issue with your husband or other children and that is why they don’t want to join in on family events? Have you asked if just YOU could come over on a weeknight and see how they respond?
    -last, encourage your son to come over with the baby and let your DIL rest or do her own thing. If they are just around the corner, maybe he could push baby over in a stroller on an evening – even if it was just a quick stop by in the driveway.

  36. Natalie Jan 13 at 5:35 pm Reply Reply

    I wish my MIL was like you! My in laws live literally around the corner but spend every waking moment with the “other” grand baby (my niece/BIL and SIL’s child). My family lives several hours away yet I find myself visiting as often as I can because its nice to spend time with people who truly want to see their grandbaby and don’t play favorites among the children. I’d recommend MIL speaking to her DIL directly. Men have a tendency to not understand these sort of issues :)

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