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Let It Go in text with Elsa from Frozen

The Grabby Grandparents

By Amalah

Hi Amy-

While I have never really gotten along with my GMIL (my MIL’s mother) or really my MIL for that matter, things really hit the fan this past weekend with my 3-month-old.

For some background, GMIL has never really liked me (she is very conservative Catholic and i am NOT what she imagined for her “perfect” grandson. Once told me to quiet down because I was laughing too loud?!?). My husbands’ family seems to have an obsession with “bonding with the baby”. While I was pregnant we told them that while siblings and our parents were the exception, to not expect a visit with baby until she was 8 weeks old to give us time together to adjust to our first child. My family accepted without a peep, and my husbands parents voiced concern about people being able to bond with the baby…an infant (eyeroll). When we had my husband’s grandparents over for a visit, it went surprisingly well and we had a nice conversation and GMIL was able to hold baby.

This past weekend we were at GMIL’s house for a large family BBQ. Baby got passed around quite a bit and did great! I took her when she started to get fussy because she needed a nap and my husband went to grab our carrier so one of us could wear her and get her to sleep. While he was gone, the following conversation took place:

GMIL: Let me know just go ahead and take her inside to another room
Me: No that’s okay, Husband went to get the carrier
GMIL: Oh it’s fine just give her to me
Me: No not right now when she is fussy
GMIL: I need my time with her

And she then proceeds to try and physically take my daughter out of my arms while shushing my protests. I immediately turned baby away and looked her straight in the eye and said “GMIL, I said NO. I won’t say it again”. She scoffed and went inside with a big huff. When my husband came out I just looked at him and said that we were leaving and immediately walked outside with the baby to the car. He gathered up our things and we left. He feels sad/mad/embarrassed of his Grandma’s behavior and I feel like I could die happy never seeing this woman again.

Normally, I guess someone in my position would reach out to their MIL to discuss GMIL’s behavior- after all, it’s MIL’s mother! Unfortunately, my MIL and I do not have that kind of relationship and are currently dealing with some boundary issues of our own. Due to MIL’s medication she takes for her mental illness, her responsiveness to any social interactions isn’t the best.

At this point, I have told my husband there will be no GMIL visits until I get an apology from her for not listening to me and respecting my “No” but if she never apologizes I don’t know what to do. I feel like I am setting boundaries and teaching people the behaviors I will not tolerate, but as many family members were present during this exchange I feel this will become a drama that I do not want to deal with. Please advise!

You aren’t going to like this, but…I think you need to let this one go.

Adjust your expectations especially with older folks

I’m assuming (since we’re talking about a great-grandmother here to your child), that your GMIL is…on the older side. It’s hard enough to “set boundaries and teach people the behaviors [you] will not tolerate” with ANY adult, to be honest, but it grows exponentially harder (to downright impossible) as adults age and get more and more set in their ways. Your GMIL is grabby around babies and thinks she’s entitled to all the time she wants with them. That might just be the way things are with her, and it’ll be easier for you to adjust your expectations than it will be to change anything about her.

Maybe she feels that she’s earned unlimited baby buffet time by nature of her age or role as top matriarch of the family. Maybe she’s keenly aware that she won’t be around for much of her great-grandchild’s life and wants to make the most of every minute. Maybe she believes her experiences as a mother + grandmother + great-grandmother have given her special magic fussy-baby-calming skills and she was genuinely trying to help you out. Or maybe she’s just always been a pushy, grabby grandparent who just wants to HOLD THE BAYBEEEEEEE. (This is definitely a common thing, BELIEVE ME).

Annoying behavior vs risky behavior

In the end: You have to remember that your baby was not hurt or put at risk by her behavior. (Which was ABSOLUTELY annoying behavior! She was being very pushy! I get that!) But I reeeeeally would caution you to not die on this particular drama hill. It doesn’t hurt to let someone else try to calm a fussy 8-week-old for a few minutes until the carrier shows up. It’s not the end of the world to indulge an older relative every once in a while, even if you don’t love said older relative and would rather handle things yourself. But unless you have real reasons to believe that your baby would be in DANGER in your GMIL’s arms (like she’s prone to falls or dropping things or drunk all the time, etc.), insisting that she formally apologize or else face great-grandparent excommunication over this will read more as power play on your part.

(Especially since — if I’m reading your letter right, this was the very first time she got to meet your daughter? After an eight-week wait? I’d cut her some enthusiasm slack and give her a few more chances to chill out in the future.)

Re-frame how you look at your in-laws’ enthusiasm

And while I also get that your relationship with your in-laws is already strained and weighed down with all kinds pre-baby baggage, your reaction (storming out of the house with the baby, making your husband leave immediately, declaring that you could “die happy without ever seeing this woman again”)…is honestly going to come across as an overreaction to your husband’s family (and put him in a really awkward spot as well). They are a baby-crazy baby-loving baby-holding kind of family. Consider re-framing your opinion a bit to see this as a positive for your daughter, and remove yourself and your history with them from this particular equation.

Pick your battles wisely

You’ve already set some pretty strict boundaries with your extended families — not getting to visit a new grandbaby for eight full weeks is a lot!! I’d probably be a little bummed too! — so make sure you’re picking your in-law battles wisely. Your daughter can only be held and passed around like a swaddled-up football for a very brief window of her life. Before you (and your GMIL) know it, she’ll be wriggly and mobile and hopefully they’ll all remain just as engaged and obsessed with her so you can relax at family gatherings knowing there are other eyes and arms out there keeping her safe.

The next time, if GMIL’s behavior is embarrassing, let her embarrass herself. Respond with grace. Hand her the baby, roll your eyes at your husband, and then smugly watch as her magic baby-calming powers do nothing and she has to hand the baby back because OH LOOK, SHE DOES NEED THAT NAP AFTER ALL, HO HO.

Sometimes…yes, we have put our foot DOWN and put it down HARD. But sometimes we just have to swallow our parental pride and keep the peace. I encourage you to do the latter this time.

More on Postpartum Visits on Alpha Mom:

1. The Postpartum Visitors of Doom
2. Post-Baby, Postpartum Visiting Pitfalls
3. Postpartum Visits, Boundaries & Massive Family Drama

 

Photo source: Disney 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 [email protected].

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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IrishCream
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IrishCream

Oh my gosh. I am all about boundaries–we didn’t tell anyone I was in labor or have visitors at the hospital, out-of-town grandparents were only invited for a couple of nights once we made it past the one-week mark–and I do understand the impulse to cocoon yourselves away from the world. Your postpartum NEEDS come first, but making extended family wait eight weeks falls into the “wants” category. If they accepted that edict with relative grace, you might consider reciprocating with some grace of your own, letting annoying stuff roll off your back. Positive family relationships are built on that… Read more »

Jenny
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Jenny

1. I obviously don’t know your situation, but be on the watch for postpartum depression. This letter kind of makes me think something else is going on.

2. You can tell the great grandma that she doesn’t get to hold your kid whenever you want to, but it seems odd that you would get so angry when she wants to. It’s not like she actually took the baby. People like babies. Grandparents like babies. They want to hold them–you CAN say no. But you might want to forgive over enthusiasm.

Meghan
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Meghan

I respectfully disagree with Amy and both of the first two commenters. I do NOT get a PPD vibe here, I get a “there are consequences for disrespecting my boundaries” vibe, and that’s exactly what went down. It was NOT the first time great grandma met the baby, she got her own nice little meet and greet prior to the big family event, and it went well. It was when there was a big gathering that GMIL failed to respect OP’s “no,” and the exact correct response was to remove herself and her child from the situation. Being older does… Read more »

Caroline Bowman
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Caroline Bowman

the 8 week thing seems… long. A week or even two seems fair, but your baby was 2 months before any extended family met her? Is that… not slightly unusual? But I digress. Your GMIL will never apologise. She’ll never pull a similar stunt again because now she is aware you mean business, so I strongly suggest you do not die on this hill, but stick to your specific boundaries nonetheless. If she gets grabby, you leave again. You don’t throw a tantrum or become hysterical, you just take your baby and leave. I suspect you feel even more outraged… Read more »

Gillian
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Gillian

Wow I am surprised by the response here! While I doubt an apology will ever be given and agree that maybe that shouldn’t be an ultimatum, if ANYBODY ever tried to grab my baby out of my arms for ANY reason after I expressly told them no, I am pretty sure my brain would come exploding out of my ears too. That is a matter of respect for the new mom, not a generational thing.

Sue
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Sue

I can see both sides – 8 weeks does seem a long time to make family wait to see a new baby, but I can understand not wanting to run around to a bunch of houses or host a bunch of guests, especially if this is the first baby for OP (guessing it is – by the second or third, I think we tend to be a lot more relaxed about passing babies around and visits and boundaries in general, except in cases like Amy mentioned where the baby is actually in danger). I definitely think you can let go… Read more »