The Grabby Grandparents
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.
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