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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.

Published November 30, 2015. Last updated November 30, 2015.
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 [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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