Prev Next
MIL (and Grandma) Issues: Is Two Strikes Enough To Be "Out?"

MIL (and Grandma) Issues: Is Two Strikes Enough To Be “Out?”

By Amalah


I came across your site, after desperately looking up other people’s stories regarding their mother-in-laws.  In my opinion, mine seems to be the worst.
Hoping you can give some advice.

When my son was about 2 years old, my husband’s mom was babysitting and she gave my son a buzz cut. Literally sent him home to our house not looking like the same boy that had been dropped off at her home earlier in the day. She was laughing about it saying, “don’t think he’ll need another hair cut for a long time.” Completely unaware of the insane thing she had just done. This was the first major issue. This incident happened when we lived near them, shortly after we moved out of state.

Two years passed, we had another baby and decided we wanted to move back to Colorado. Not the same town the in-laws live in, 3 hours away. We also wanted to move on from on the buzz cut incident, thus my husband asked his mom if she could watch our kids at his family’s condo while we unpacked into our new house. His family has a condo in the new town we live in, but is not at it often. 

Long story short. We went back to condo for dinner and his mom was getting our sons dinner set out for him and she gave him her glass of straight vodka on accident and he took a sip. 

Since that incident she has not acknowledged anything to me. She did not apologize to me. My husband’s family sent her to rehab and she lasted about 5 days.

Sorry for the rambling but this woman has never brought anything good to my life. She texts my husband only to complain about her petty problems, never to ask how we are doing. She doesn’t send the kids birthday cards or presents although she is quite capable of it.

Any advice regarding this woman would be much appreciated. I don’t want her near any of us.

Me, reading this letter:

Hmm, the worst? We’ll see about that; I’ve gotten letters about some pretty awful MILs.




So yeah, she’s sounds like kind of a nightmare. But the decision to cease all contact (which is what I suspect you really want at this point) really does rest with your husband. You can (and SHOULD) put your foot down that she cannot babysit, ever, never again, etc. Two strikes is enough in this game, honestly. You also have just cause to insist she can’t really be trusted to be alone in the same room with your kids, and hover accordingly, even if it annoys or offends her. Sorrynotsorry you shaved my child’s head and gave him VODKA.

If you believe she is an alcoholic whose drinking presents a constant level of danger to your children (even if on the surface she appears to be functional), and you want to cut her relationship off with them completely, you can…but you really, really do need to involve your husband in that decision. (And make sure you’re making that decision from a rational, fact-based place, not because you’re just angry and pissed off and it seems “easier” than dealing with her any more.) Given her overall indifference to their birthdays and the lack of apologies for her mistakes, it sadly doesn’t sound like cutting her off from her grandchildren will work as a rock-bottom tough-love move that will push her to change and confront her addiction, and I’d bet cash money and a box of wine that the complain-y texts and unloading of petty problems on your husband will continue unabated.

Sorrynotsorry you shaved my child’s head and gave him VODKA.

But that stuff is on him. This is his mother, and while he (hopefully) is on your side when it comes to keeping your children out of her care again, it might be a lot harder for him to get on the “we’re never seeing or talking to her again” train, even if the relationship is truly toxic at this point. Mothers — we’re such complicated things!

So talk with him. Try not to go right for the attack (aka “she’s the worst and never brings anything good into our lives and I hate her and SO SHOULD YOU”), but lay out what you think the ground rules should be about her relationship (or lack thereof) with the children going forward. Get on the same page about them, first and foremost. Then ask how he’s feeling about all this — the drinking, the failed stint at rehab, her seeming indifference to his family or anyone but herself. As annoyed as you are (and you have EVERY RIGHT TO BE, let me make that clear), this might all be even harder on him, regardless of if she was “always” like this or if this marks a dramatic change from the mother he remembers growing up with.

I’m a big fan of therapy for sorting out this kind of family drama, but if he balks at that idea, I’m also a big fan of Al-Anon. Look into your local chapter and find a meeting. Offer to go with him, putting aside your anger at her and look at it as possibly finding ways to help her become the MIL and grandmother you wish she could be. She might never be that; I mean, she’s not showing many signs of self-awareness or remorse in your letter, which isn’t a good sign. But I’d consider re-framing the issue from you vs. her where the only victory is cutting her out completely… to more of a you + your husband = working out what’s best for your kids’ safety, for now.

You certainly don’t need to answer any calls or texts or deal with her on Facebook, and can make excuses to get out of the next family dinner at the condo, but if he decides he’s not ready to do the same, try to support that decision even if you don’t 100% agree with it. And then again, keep suggesting the therapy or Al-Anon routes for him. Not because either will necessarily lead to him agreeing to cut her off, but because having a difficult, alcoholic parent (or in-law, as you know all too well!) is really, really hard. But help is out there, even if you don’t think you’re really the person who needs it the most.

Photo source: Depositphotos/cfarmer


Dear readers, you can leave a comment without having to register. Just sign in as a “guest.”  We love and appreciate your insights!

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.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Autumm

    September 21, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    A bit of backstory: when my older daughter was 22 months we had a storm come through and knocked out power. We were bailing out our sump pumps by hand till a friend was able to get his generator over to our place to provide power. My in-laws were in town and we called them for help, and my MIL was to watch my daughter so we could bail/clean up debris/sleep from bailing all night/rest my newly sprained ankle. Earlier in the day MIL had gone bridesmaid dress shipping for SIL’s upcoming wedding. After dinner we were all saying good bye in the front yard. As my 22 month old ran into the street, my MIL whipped out her phone and started texting while we yelled (me, FIL, husband, BIL) that kiddo was running into the street. She replied “just let me finish this text about SIL’s bridesmaid dresses first” On my injured ankle I was able to get to my daughter first.

    Since that moment, my MIL and FIL have never been allowed to be alone with my children. She dug herself a hole she will never be able to dig herself out of. I told my husband his parents were not allowed to be alone with our children after that, and he reluctantly agreed. We have never actually told them this, we just make sure one of us is always around when they come to visit or we go to their place. It’s a bit passive aggressive but it works, and someday the truth will come out.

    So LW, I know my situation isn’t that bad, but basically ignore her, minimize contact, and if you and your kids are around her, you are right there with them every second. If your husband wants to spend time 1 on 1, that’s his business. For us, I don’t know if my husband would really have the backbone to tell his mom no (he’s a people pleaser) so I am just there. And then I have some wine when I get home

  • J

    September 22, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    I’m curious – where is OP’s husband in all of this? It’s clear that MIL makes questionable decisions (at best – I mean…a shaved head and handing a child a cup of vodka is pretty awful…but being thoughtless and not sending birthday cards and gifts is maybe not a deal breaker, especially for young children who don’t know any better) But what does OP’s husband say about his mother’s behavior? Other than the two specific incidents mentioned, does she seem to care for OP’s children and OP, as members of her family? One thing I’ve learned from dealing with my difficult MIL is to draw boundaries (our child has never been with her unsupervised, he’s never even been to her home and he’s 6…and she lived 45 minutes away and within 15 of my SIL who we see regularly), but draw them with an eye towards preserving what possible positive relationship you can for the kid’s sake. We’ve never made a big deal about her questionable choices and behavior, we just don’t invite her to babysit. And it’s honestly just…never been an issue. At first she would mention it and whatnot, but honestly after a while she just stopped asking. She’s respectful of me (and doesn’t have my cell phone or email and never has), and harasses my husband in spurts (guilt trips, terrible text messages. Eventually we blocked her from our FB, and explained that we didn’t want to have political debates etc on there…probably the most drama ever to block her lol). She’s told us she was coming over and not shown up, so now I just don’t say anything to our son until she tells me she is actually on the way. When she is, I make a big deal out of her coming and try to be really polite and supportive of her interactions while she’s in my home/we are out to lunch/whatever – and then we all go to our separate corners and no one needs to make waves. My son thinks she’s nice, sees her maybe once a year, and if she remembers to send a card, GREAT! If not, that’s okay too, we get lots of cards/gifts/hugs/time with other family members. But this all works because my husband and I are on the same page and he is not only in support of those boundaries, but enforces then and was an active participant in setting them in the first place. If OP’s husband isn’t capable of that (totally okay, I get it!), then I second Amy. Al-Anon and therapy is great for building that muscle. But it has to come from both of you, otherwise it’s too easy for it to become “bratty wife” and “pushover husband”.

  • D

    October 27, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    I am the daughter of two functioning addicts, which very much sounds like the case with the above MIL. Both my parents drink to excess in different ways and have abused pills (Xanax for my mom, opiates for my dad). My parents are now divorced from each other and are in relationships with other people. Both my parents hold down respectable jobs in the medical field, have friends, and have their own lives. You would never guess the family struggles we have gone through if you just met them, myself, or any of my siblings. I have not cut my parents out of my life or my family’s lives. It’s a topic my husband and I have had conversations about, but it’s not something easily or lightly done. I agree with Amy’s deduction that taking grand kids away won’t help that MIL reach her rock bottom. Addiction is an odd thing, and in my many years of dealing with it, I have come to realize that it is a separate part of that person from their relationship with you (doesn’t mean one can’t affect the other). My parents still love my family dearly, their addiction has no bearing on that. They aren’t addicts because they don’t love us enough. We don’t cut them out of our lives though because while they may make decisions that I hate to watch them make, decisions I know are hurting themselves in the end, they don’t do anything detrimental to our family.

    My husband and I have had numerous discussions on boundaries (my children are not left alone with either parent, ever. They aren’t allowed to be driven by either parent). We also set boundaries on how much of their drama we will get sucked in to. I don’t answer phone calls from my parents later in the day, because the odds of them not being sober are higher. I don’t answer texts in the evening either. We help them some, but also set limits on that. And my husband and I have check in discussions on if we feel that their addiction is impacting our family in a negative way and if we need to change anything. We don’t talk to my parents about it in front of the children, I have had discussions with my parents about it when I am alone with them, but they have to want to change themselves. And I don’t point things out in front of my children. This allows my children to have a relationship with them that I feel comfortable with. I have also seen a therapist about how to navigate some of the trickier aspects of interacting with an addict.

    I also will add, addicts are selfish. Their first priority is the substance they need. It’s unfortunately, but it’s how they are. They also have memory issues if they having been drinking long enough (if your MIL is drinking straight vodka, I think that is the case. My dad essentially does the same thing). And they tend to get so drunk that they can’t keep track of day to day things easily, like birthdays etc. They also make poor judgement decisions (buzz cut). They also can’t keep up a functioning and in depth relationship with another person. My conversations with my dad are usually about very shallow topics and about his life, and he rarely remembers enough to really ask about my life. Mostly I will say you aren’t alone. It sucks to have an addict in the family and to deal with that. It’s really really hard.