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The Anxiety-Inducing Mother-In-Law

The Anxiety-Inducing Mother-In-Law

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

First, just a bit about me. I’m a first time mom and only 23 weeks along. I have several social anxieties, and am pretty dependent on my husband or mom to stay calm when around people I don’t know very well. I’ve only met my husband’s parents a hand full of times, and the extended family only once. Neither my husband, my family, or myself are religious, beyond celebrating the conventional holidays (Christmas, Easter, Etc.) However my husband’s family is very traditionally Mexican Roman Catholic. We were very lucky with them accepting the baby since we found out I was pregnant after we were engaged, but before we were married. Of which our wedding had an entirely different set of drama challenges from my husband’s mother. (“What do you mean you aren’t having a big ceremony?! How can you do this to me?! You need a rock on your engagement ring, it’s too plain.”)

The things I’m struggling with are stemming from my Mother-In-Law. We were very firmly told that our child will never call her anything related to “Grandma” and will refer to her by her given name only. With how excited she seems about the baby, this confuses me. (Although now that I think about it, she has several times mentioned that she doesn’t even like being called by her married name.) My own mother is delighted and has already called dibs on being “Grandma.” I’m not sure how to respond to this from my MIL, as I really don’t want my child to call her grandmother by her given name.

Another issue is that we were told our child will be baptized. No ifs, ands or buts. While my husband is willing to go along with this to prevent his mother from causing drama, I feel resentful in being told it will happen, with no input whatsoever. I feel that baptisms should be something that the parents should agree to for a child, or really should be done when someone is old enough to understand and commit to the statement they are making by undertaking this ritual.

Lastly, so far anyways, is that my MIL has told me she is throwing me a baby shower for the Daddy’s side of the family. Great, awesome. That entire side of the family all live in one town, 3 hours from where we live. She loves planning things, so I’m all for this… Except… My mom won’t be there… And my husband has been forbidden from attending, as it is “just not done for men to attend baby showers.” So I’m going to be surrounded, for who knows how long, by literal strangers… And he has a very large family. The small estimate that she gave me was 40+ guests at the party. I also have no say in any part of the party… I just show up when told. I already feel panic when I think about it, and the party isn’t even until September!

Please… Any advice on these kinds of things would be sooooo appreciated. I don’t know how to deal with this personality type, and I dread what will be demanded once the baby is actually here.

A very nervous Mom-To-Be

My face while reading your letter slowly turned into that gif of Whoopi saying “You in danger, girl.”

I understand there are some obvious cultural and religious differences to take into account here, but LINES NEED TO BE DRAWN. Because believe me, every you guys cave or “agree to go along” with her demands in order to avoid “drama,” you are just biding your time until the NEXT demand, and the demand after that. Religion and culture do not give anyone permission to be a bully, steamrollering over your life and decisions. If you (or more accurately, your HUSBAND) don’t start putting your foot down and and exercising your right to make your own decisions…well, this letter will be your entire married life and parenthood. Issue after issue, demand after demand, boundary-smash after boundary-smash.

So first: The “don’t call me Grandma” thing. I’ve written about this before, and while it’s generally nice in theory to let grandparents chose their monikers, sometimes conflicts crop up. You might get people calling dibs on the same title, people rejecting the traditional options in favor of something you as a parent aren’t comfortable with, etc. In these cases, I think it’s okay for the parents-to-be to overrule, or at least propose a creative compromise. That said, given the other conflicts you’ve got in your current Drama Pipeline, this one is relatively minor and probably not worth a big confrontation about. (Although you could always tell HER that sorry, “it’s just not done” for children to address adult relatives by their given name, and ask her to select something else she’s comfortable with.) She might change her mind because she’s just being dramatic about it right now.  Or your child might come up with his/her own name for your MIL. OR you can pretend to agree but always refer to her as “Nana/Grandma/Abuela FirstName” around your child and then just toss up your hands all innocently like, “WOW KIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS.”

Second: The baptism. Yeah no no no no no on this one. I get this demand is steeped in a lot of cultural and religious traditions, but I see it setting a VERY dangerous precedent with your MIL. She has absolutely no right to make religious decisions for your child, and speaking as someone with deeply religious in-laws, BELIEVE ME, it’s a super-slippery slope. And before you know it, “going along with” one thing that seems harmless or no big deal has sent you ass over teakettle down that slope, desperately trying to climb your way back to the top, mid-avalanche. (Wow, that metaphor got weird.) And again, just avoiding her “drama” over this issue will only GUARANTEE that she’ll use the threat of “drama” to get her way on another issue — perhaps one that’s even more of a dealbreaker than forcing non-religious parents to baptize their child. (Which, to me IS a dealbreaker — we simply said “no” to our religious parents when they asked and accepted their disappointment/judging/fears of eternal hellfire. But we made it clear that it was OUR decision and not up for debate or discussion.)

And now, third: You need someone here to advocate for you, if you feel unable to advocate for yourself. Your husband needs to insist on attending, it’s 2016 (also hey what was that about you wanting the baby to call you by your first name??), it’s totally done these days. If she bars him from attending, he’ll have to explain that you, too, will be unable to make it. I understand she means well and you probably don’t want to share your anxiety issues with her, so maybe you guys can come up with a creative white lie about your health or the pregnancy. (The doctor doesn’t want you driving long distances by yourself! Your husband needs to help you with medications or fainting spells or blood sugar stuff!) Or your husband can just straight up be like: She wants me there, I want to be there, I am showing up and you are just going to deal with that.

And finally, I know this isn’t technically part of your question so I apologize for overstepping: But if you have not recently sought out therapy for your social anxieties, I very much encourage you to do so now. Not only are high levels of anxiety/panic not good for you or the baby during pregnancy, unfortunately women with a history of anxiety are at a higher risk for postpartum depression/anxiety. I want you in good hands, both helping you stay centered and peaceful for the next 17 weeks or so, but also to monitor you and your anxiety levels after the baby arrives. Best-case scenario: Everything stays just fine and you maybe get some new coping strategies for social situations…AND the force of nature that is your Hurricane MIL.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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

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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  • Myriam

    I don’t have a lot of input on issues #2 or #3, but I would just say, on issue #1, that this could be a non-issue, at least for now. I would tell her the baby will decide himself how to call her when the time comes. I would refer to her as “grand-ma so-and-so” (making a point to include her first name) when eventually talking to her with the child. I don’t think it is disrespectful of a child to call a grand-parent by their first name, if that’s the expressed wish of said-grand-parent. Why not try to see this one as a reasonable request. It actually has no impact on you or the way you will parent your child. I’ve always called my parents by their first names and my daughters still call my mom by her first name, my Dad and his wife as “grand-papa Michel and Grand-Maman Kim” and my in-laws by “Mamie and Papi”. I don’t personnally think parents should dictate how grand-parents are called (except for outrageous demands like being call “mama” or something like that).

  • Kelly Vallejo

    I completely agree with Amy. Use your MIL as practice for when you have a toddler. I don’t give into my toddler’s tantrums and I won’t give into a grown woman’s tantrum/threat of drama. There’s a reason my MIL isn’t allowed to visit, plan, or have anything to do with us. She can’t control herself. And the minute she started losing control, she told her son, my husband, that he was no longer her son. BTW, they are also Hispanic/highly religious people.

    I don’t want to tell you what to do, but therapy really helped me. I have huge anxiety about things and just having someone to bounce things off of or let me work through scenarios (including how to talk to my husband) really helped. Good luck.

  • Caro

    I call my dad by his first name because he is 12 years older than my mom and that is how it was done for his generation in Germany. Doesn’t seem weird at all to me.

    For the baptism, would a christening event be a compromise? Nice to have a get together after the baby is born.

    And your husband should totally go to the shower! It’s a good chance for him to see lots of family and friends.

  • Diane

    I had a Gramma and a Granny. Both were the traditional names in my parents’ respective families. My husband’s family refers to the grandmothers as Nanna. So, when our first was born, that is what my MIL was called. When it came time for my daughter to call her by name, it became Nannny! So, that is what she is called to this day. My husband’s father was content with Grandpa, but he ended up with Pappa when my daughter began to call him by name.

    I agree with Amy. Call her Nanna/Gramma/whatever- first name, and let the child come up with their own term of endearment. I will be bet money that good ol Gramma will melt when she is first addressed by your child.

    Your husband should attend the shower. You will be very far along by September, and you will not be in any mood to undertake a 3 hour drive each way. What if you go into labour? It’s not unheard of!

    Baptism- entirely the parents’ decision. Gramma needs to respect the wishes of you and your husband on this. We are not religious at all (and have recently decided that we are athiest in fact), but we decided one year shortly after my son was born (18 years ago) to have the kids baptised in my husband’s family church. At the time, I had no moral objection to the ceremony and neither did my husband and it made his parents very, very happy. We both figured that it was a little water and a blessing and neither was offensive to us and our children would be welcomed into the church community which was important to us as his parents were very involved with the church. Moreover, we had not come to any personal decisions on where we stood about the whole God issue, so we were not mocking the Church or its teachings by so doing.

    All of these things are intensely personal to you and your husband and you both need to come to mutual decisions on how to handle these issues. What you do now will affect you and your children for many, many years to come.

  • Liberty

    My husband’s family (mother is especially devout) is Catholic. She asked us many times when we would baptize the baby. I did not want to, but I told my husband if YOU really want to and feel like YOU are making this decision, then, yes, I will go along with it. But we are not doing it to placate your mom. We didn’t baptize him.

    Also, I totally agree with having the husband at the shower. It’s his baby, too. If we continue to exclude the dad from the shower, we are sending an antiquated message of only the mom can get excited about diapers and outfits and swings when that’s not really true any more. The men deserve to be included!

  • Life of a Doctor’s Wife

    Nothing to suggest outside of Amy’s excellent advice, but I just wanted to offer my sympathies for undergoing such a struggle while pregnant. Drawing boundaries with in laws is SO HARD but so important. Wishing you the best of luck and happy baby!

  • CKD1

    Re the name thing: the baby may end up coming up with some nickname that your MIL will find delightful and this will all be a non-issue by the time your child is able to recognize and verbalize who’s who in the family.

    Re the baptism: this needs to be a decision you BOTH feel good about, and not a way to placate his mom, because Amy is right: she will find another thing to push for as time goes on (i.e. if you have more children it’s not like she’s going to let you get away with not baptizing them). You say your husband isn’t super-religious, but I’d dig a little deeper and make sure this isn’t something he actually DOES feel strongly about. My mom wasn’t an observant Catholic either, and my dad (who was Christian but not Catholic) was surprised when suddenly she wanted to baptize me, to share a little bit of her family tradition and also give me a foundation that I was free to accept or reject (I opted out of being confirmed). Anyway, all this to say, it might be something your husband wants and he’s using his mom as the reason, so I’d talk that through first. If it really is his way of getting her to back down because that’s how he’s used to dealing with her, this is a great time for you to remind him that you’re a team now and you will deal with her freakouts together. 🙂 Whatever you two do, you both need to feel good about it.

    Re the shower rules: I get that this is supposed to be for HIS family, and if she’s going to be weird about a man being there, ask if your mom can attend and cite the health/safety reasons. Maybe tell your mom, though, that this is not the place for her to gift you a whole new nursery, because it sounds like your MIL might get upset if she feels upstaged in some way (just a guess – I may have one these in my life haha). If that’s not going to fly, then your husband comes, even if he’s chilling in the kitchen with a few other relatives and isn’t front-and-center with you during games and gifts. I don’t think it’s weird or unreasonable at all to want him there!

    Re the social anxiety and seeking help: I agree with Amy that now is the time to seek some help. Not only because you might be at risk for PPD, but because you are going to be the mom now and you will have to be able to navigate situations and advocate for your child, and your mom or husband may not be able to be there. The sooner you can get yourself feeling confident and capable in new situations around strangers (doctors, teachers, other parents) the better you’ll feel. Plus you need all the help you can get with that MIL of yours. 🙂

    Also: congratulations on all these big events! Sounds like this is an exciting time!

  • Renee

    Your MIL has a strong personality, to be sure, but I’m kind of missing why this is so bad. So she has an unusual name request. Does it matter? She wants the baby baptized so they can be part of the traditions she had for her own children – very common. You shouldn’t do it unless you want to, but it’s not an outrageous request. She’s throwing you a huge party to welcome you and baby – very kind. I have social anxiety too, so I feel your pain. I felt sick at my own shower, so def bring some moral support,
    But the gesture is kind. Seems like she genuinely cares and is trying, just maybe a little forcefully.

    We too dealt w some strong opinions, and thought it was a harbinger of things to come, but as soon as baby came out they visited and then left us pretty much alone. We can barely even find babysitters when we want one. So, sometimes baby excitement gets people worked up, but it fades. Just a thought.

    • Watashi Zenaku

      Setting boundaries and having a respectful relationship where respect flows both ways is important in starting and maintaining a healthy family dynamic. When it comes to values, religion, and priorities, unless the parents are unfit or unable to make such decisions in a healthy manner (ie, mental illness, addiction, unhealthy dynamics) it is the mom and dad that set those precedents, not the grandparents. Their insights, wisdom, and preferences can be taken into account, but the ultimate decision rests with parents of the child.

      My ex-husband and I had issues with his mother, but not his stepmom, in terms of boundaries and her respecting that we were our own separate family entity with our own values, culture, and priorities. It took many repeated discussions, being firm yet respectful in speaking about what we valued, and being creative in our ways of including her, yet minimizing the amount of control she could exert in our relationship. I still talk with her and include her in celebrations for her grandson, but she finally has gotten the message that her son and I are the parents, our parenting style and values are different, we do things differently, but in the end, she has a wonderful, smart, creative, respectful, and caring grandson.

  • No to the baptism if it’s not what you want. Stick to your guns on your husband coming to the shower with you. It’s his baby, too, and you need the support. But on your MIL’s name? Let her have that one.