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Full-Time Grandma Is a Full-Time Problem

Full-Time Grandma Is a Full-Time Problem

By Amalah

Myself, my fiancé, her 5 year old son (who’s life I’ve been a part of since he was 2.5 years old), and my mother-in-law-to-be (grandma) live in the same house. At first, it was just the three of us and after she suffered some financial issues we let grandma move in with us.

Well, after a few months of her living with us we’ve faced a fair amount of issues. For example, if our little guy doesn’t sleep upstairs in her room at night with her, she sobs and won’t speak to us (tantrum like). And when he sleeps in his bed at night, she sleeps downstairs in his bed. During Dr. appointments she answers the doctor’s questions that were asked to mom. If our 5 year old wants to spend time with us as opposed to her, she makes him feel bad with guilt trips until he decides he doesn’t want to spend time with us but rather with her. At the slightest cry for help (even during tasks he’s very capable of doing) she jumps to assist him, limiting his independence and making herself the one he needs to depend on.

We’ve tried to tell her that these behaviors are unacceptable and that she is grandma and not mom. Our requests have gone unnoticed. We don’t want to make her find her own place until she is ready but we also need her to respect our wishes. I put my foot down when things get too out of control, but being step dad, I’m met with criticism and a lack of “power” in the situation. Grandma is our little guy’s go-to-person for personal issues and comfort because she’s put him in a position where he needs to rely on her instead of teaching him independence, so when we intervene he becomes very upset at us. When it’s just us three, he’s a phenomenal kid. Respectful, independent, well spoken, and fun. The moment grandma walks in the door he turns into the opposite of those things. We’re just not sure what to do.

Shop talk: This question has sat in the queue for awhile, unanswered, because…well. Jeez. Talk about a culmination of every common in-law/grandparent complaint (spoiling! boundary-crossing! guilt-tripping!) only all the time, 24/7!

I completely sympathize and understand the particularly awkward position you’re in as a not-yet-married step-dad-to-be, since it’s a more extreme version of what one typically goes through when dealing with a partner’s parent. It’s not “your place” and a weird power imbalance. There’s a lot of “we’ve tried” and “we want” references in your letter so I’m going to assume you and your fiance are on the same page about Grandma’s behavior, but in the end, the only Foot Put Downing that’s going to change anything has to come from her. This tends to be true in most in-law disputes, and other than pushing up the timeline for her to move out, I don’t really see any other solution here.

I would focus on a couple Non-Acceptable things and have your fiance make more than a request, but make a rule. (And of course you can be present and supportive as a united front, but I think the words need to come out of her mouth.) Staying home and NOT accompanying your fiance to doctor’s appointments, school conferences, stuff like that is one thing that needs to happen. And OH MY GOD: The sleeping arrangements need to change, like, IMMEDIATELY. It is so totally weird and unhealthy that a grown woman is throwing tantrums over sleeping alone and dragging a small child into it as her sleep crutch. Nope nope nope. Your son needs to learn to sleep alone and so does Grandma. Full stop. Ignore her tantrums like you’d ignore them from a toddler.

If she refuses to sleep in her room alone and breaks the rule, she needs to move out. I know that sounds so heartless (HAPPY HOLIDAYS) but that behavior is completely unacceptable. A 5 year old should not be sleeping in the same bed as Grandma. Especially when the arrangement is really All About Grandma.

If she’s not financially ready to secure her own place, is there any way you guys can help? Put down a deposit on an apartment and maybe commit to a small portion of the rent for a set period of time? Because given what you’ve laid out here, I feel like the “cost” of having her stay with you is already getting pretty out of hand and your son’s general development/independence is being seriously stunted by her presence in the home.

Occasional spoiling by grandparents isn’t a big deal, but her full-time over-attachment to her grandson kind of is. (Again! With the sleeping in his bed! WTF NO NO NO.) The fact that you’re seeing a regular, definite regression in his behavior around her elevates this above your typical “ugh my 5-year-old gets too much sugar at Grandma’s house during Thanksgiving and it takes us a couple days to regulate his behavior at home” issue.

I’ll be interested to hear if the commenters can find any middle ground here, but like I said, I’ve been sitting on this situation for awhile now hoping to come up with anything other than what I’ve said already. Which is basically: your fiance can try one last Hail Mary Foot Down Here Are The Rules and seeing if she’s capable of obeying…or doing whatever you guys can do to get her out on her own and back to the appropriate role as Grandma Is A Sometimes Food, as it were.

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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Amy
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Amy

I have never been in love with someone who had kids from a prior relationship, but if I were the letter writer I would be thinking long and hard about whether or not to break off this engagement.   Grandma is not going anywhere.  If she won’t go to bed without a tantrum about the son, do you honestly think she’s going to move across town – or even next door – without an epic meltdown? Hint: she won’t. You have to assess the situation you are in, not the situation as it would be ideal.  Do you really want… Read more »

Stephanie
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Stephanie

Not that I don’t agree with your comments, but those new children would still be her biological grandchildren, not her step-grandchildren. They’d still be “hers”.

Amy
Guest
Amy

Oh, good point. Duh.

Caroline
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Caroline

I’m with the previous poster. You go out with your fiancée and explain that though it breaks your heart, you cannot continue like this and granny must move out on a set time line and unless she can agree to and stick to boundaries (the sleeping thing… ew…), she must leave immediately. I’d make it a 3 month timeline because that is long enough for her to get organised re another place (no you do not have to in any way facilitate nor finance any of this. Clearly this woman has raised at least one child, hasn’t she? A great… Read more »

Kerry
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Kerry

There’s a biography of Lyndon Johnson in which his younger brother describes how he used to end up a pawn in Lyndon and their fathers’ power struggles, with both of them wanting the younger brother to sleep in their bed to help keep warm. However….this was in the 1920s in the foothills of Texas, in a house they couldn’t afford to heat in the winter. But remembering that makes me think that the first question you might need to ask if there are some major cultural differences (either generational or foreign) between you and the grandmother about what bed sharing… Read more »

JPG
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JPG

Anybody else want to agree with Cry It Out sleep training for grandma?

Autumn
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Autumn

Like my 4 year old is learning, temper tantrums are less fun if nobody pays attention.  Also around here you loose your netflix privileges.  Which might be enough to get Grandma’s attention

All kidding aside, not a healthy situation and Grandma needs to follow some rules (including why is she coming to doctor appointments?) or move out.  

OP:  I’m glad you are trying to solve the problem and be supportive of a better situation for this little boy rather than just walking away.  

JPG
Guest
JPG

This paradigm that Grandma is sowing is a presage for a toxic relationship in the future with all parties involved. It’s very controlling, manipulative, and quite frankly reminds me of controlling, emotional abuse type behavior that I experienced with a former partner and continue to see in other relationships that have some form of emotional abuse, narcissism, and boundaries issues. I can recall a former partner of mine who isolated me, made me rely on his financial and emotional support, and essentially crippled me from extricating myself from the relationship. I don’t mean to be so dramatic, but when a… Read more »

M
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M

when I first read this alarms were SCREAMING in my head. THIS IS NOT GOOD this is not healthy. Then I got to thinking why on earth someone would act that way. Is something going on or has something happened in gma’s past that is making her feel like she needs to guard that child when she is sleeping ?? have her daughter talk to her calmly. set some firm boundaries and expectations. I think the answering questions issue is normal to being the mom – the one is charge – I imagine it is difficult to turn that off… Read more »

Jeannie
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Jeannie

If it were me, I’d be wondering if Grandma wasn’t suffering from a mental health crisis. If this behaviour in keeping with how she’s been all her life? Or is it new? Because it sounds like a woman who is mentally ill and needs help. It’s simply not normal to weep over not being able to sleep with a five year old grandchild. And it’s certainly unhealthy to guilt blackmail a small child (even if alas more common than we would all like). So maybe if the family isn’t comfortable with ultimatums, a doctor’s visit might be a good idea?

Robin
Guest
Robin

The sleeping situation is INCREDIBLY concerning to me. It is very inappropriate, and I don’t know your family, so I can’t know for sure if anything beyond an “emotional crutch” is happening, but what your letter describes sounds a lot like Emotional Incest. Please look into this immediately, as even if nothing physically inappropriate is happening, this type of situation is very emotionally damaging.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemplating-divorce/201107/when-parents-make-children-their-friend-or-spouse

K
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K

Everyone is so kind and supportive on this site – even Amy suggests possibly paying to help Grandma move out. That sounds…a lot like taking responsibility for someone else. And I’ll even be meaner and say that this doesn’t sound like just a “grandma’s overbearing/crazy” but a “‘my fiancé isn’t capable of setting normal, healthy boundaries for herself and her child”. My mom/parents are very close to us (we live a few blocks from each other), but I would never allow her/invite her to my son’s doctor appointment. That seems…very strange. As strange as having anyone sleep in my son’s… Read more »

Rachel
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Rachel

Thank you!!! How is giving yourself new financial obligations to someone going to free you from their control? They need to set a deadline for her to be out and stick with it, no matter how much she throws a temper tantrum. It’s not setting boundaries if you are just switching which area she has control over. Her behavior is at best controlling, manipulative, and borderline abusive!

Another K
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Another K

YES re: fiancé’s poor boundaries. LW, let me tell you, if she’s close enough to grandma to invite her to move in, these are family dynamics with a long history and a long reach. They WILL factor into your relationship going forward, and your fiancé’s tacit acceptance of this behavior should be a huge red flag for you. Proceed with caution, possibly with therapy. 

Kari
Guest
Kari

I agree with Jeannie, if this is new behaviour for grandma, I’d definitely concider something like early onset dementia. But if she’s always been like this, a hard line is the only way to go, because her behaviour is totally unacceptable.

S
Guest
S

Get out. Holy crap, get out. Are you thinking about having kids? I mean, more, your kids? If so, holy oh my God now GET OUT! This isn’t something you need advice to fix. It’s beyond effing insane.

Kim
Guest
Kim

I have an uncle who married a woman and their marriage was toxic. When they had kids (my cousins), they had his mom (our grandmother) move in to take care of the kids. What happened was that the kids ended up being very dependent on grandma but in my opinion it was a healthy level of attachment. She was more of a caregiver than the parents were because both parents worked. We all would prefer that grandma goes back to our home country to retire than to remain an unpaid babysitter to my uncle and his back-then-wife. But she was… Read more »

Jay
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Jay

Just wanted to point out that working parents can also be caregivers.  And just because someone isn’t working doesn’t mean they are a good caregiver.

Kim303
Guest
Kim303

I’d like to offer a perspective from the child’s POV, if I may… Speaking as someone who was sexually abused by a close relative and had a caregiver (not the same person) who was extremely emotionally manipulative, I feel I can speak to both points here: The inappropriate level of physical intimacy your MIL is requiring of your stepson and the manipulative manner in which she’s running your house.  The long-term damage done by both people in my young life was extensive. I certainly don’t know your family well after reading only one letter, but oh my–it was like reading… Read more »