Grandparent Guilt Trips
I’m so happy I found your column. My baby is 4 months old and ever since she has been born, I’m faced with the same dilemma. Our extended Greek and Italian families are driving us insane! My husband works long hours Mon to Fri and some Saturdays and we agreed to have one family day a week (just us three). Our family knows this but they still push to see our baby whenever possible. They make comments like “I really miss her” (even though they saw her a week ago) or “I haven’t seen her in almost 2 weeks!” Even though it’s only been a week… etc. The list goes on..they want to drop by when it’s convenient for them.
My husband is an introvert and doesn’t like to have so many social gatherings. He likes private time. I myself would say I’m an extrovert but I even want my own space and I enjoy our “family days” just us three. We came to a compromise that we will see one family on the weekend and during the week I can see other family members while he is at work. He doesn’t want to come home to people in the house, which I totally understand after a long day of work.
The drop-ins have stopped but I do sense resentment from my family towards my husband. They are not used to me setting boundaries and they think it’s not my decision. They also don’t understand how we could be this way and that they would never do this to their parents and they would be so grateful if their parents popped in unannounced (which isn’t true). Also, my husband had an argument with my dad because my dad sent a video of our baby crying hysterically when they babysat, while we were on a date. My dad couldn’t handle the confrontation since my husband was direct and firm.
As you can see, boundaries and confrontation don’t seem to work with our extended family and I’m stressed every day trying to please everyone and divide their time with their granddaughter. This weekend we are going to my mother-in-law’s on one day and my parents on another. I also have my father-in-law asking us to go to his place. It just doesn’t stop! This isn’t the half of it.
Holy guilt trips, Batman.
Here’s the thing: You’re doing nothing wrong!
Repeat that, in the first person: I am doing nothing wrong!
Your just-the-three-of-you “family days” are wonderful, healthy and important. Your boundaries surrounding unannounced visits, overstayed welcomes, and general full-life invasions by your extended families are reasonable, healthy and important. The fact that you and your husband are 100% on the same page about this and supportive of each other’s need for downtime and privacy is FABULOUS, healthy and important.
Understanding Guilt Trips
The best way to combat guilt trips is to recognize what a guilt trip is (a form of emotional manipulation and passive aggression) and recognize when someone’s sending you on one.
“I miss her soooo much/I haven’t seen her in almost two weeks!” = a passive aggressive attempt to make you feel guilty and withholding, with the goal of manipulating you into giving them what they want, i.e. more time/access to your baby at the expense of your own life/downtime/convenience.
“I don’t understand how you could be this way/I would never treat my parents like this!” = just straight-up emotional/psychological manipulation to make you feel like a bad daughter and like your reasonable boundaries and requests are, in fact, unreasonable and cruel.
Families — even the best and closest and most loving families — can be REALLY REALLY GOOD AT THIS. If you called them on it they’d either be horrified, or double-down on their belief that you SHOULD feel guilty. It’s because they love you! And your daughter! Shouldn’t you be HAPPY they want to spend so much time with you???
And I’m sure you ARE happy that you have a big loving extended family who dote on their grandchild and are willing to babysit (bizarre video choices aside) and aren’t like, abusive drunken assholes. You can be entirely grateful for them while also recognizing your need for some boundaries and the fact that these people you love and otherwise cherish are driving you up the freaking wall.
Dealing with Guilt Trips
“I’m sorry we can get together this weekend. Saturday is our little family day and Sunday we have other plans. I’ll send you some of the latest photos I’ve taken, though!”
“A visit sounds wonderful! We’re really booked up and it’s tough to get out with the baby these days, but maybe we can get something on the calendar in a couple weeks.”
Rinse and repeat. Hold firm and let the responses/protests/guilt trips fly far over your head. They aren’t used to you setting boundaries, but they’re just going to have to! If they cast any shade or blame on your husband, by all means defend him and assure them that this IS your decision and you are sticking with it — “I love you and of course am thrilled that my daughter has such loving grandparents, but please understand that we really need and value our time as a new family unit right now.”
Hopefully Time will Help
Hopefully as your daughter gets older they might chill out a little about the need to constantly see her. (Though I understand this might just be ingrained in your families’ cultures so maybe not.) Babies are changing so much in these early months that it’s easy for them to feel like they’ll “miss” something if they aren’t seeing her multiple times a week. As she gets older there will be more…consistency? I guess? Between their visits and the novelty of BABY BABY I NEED TO SEE THE BABY will wear off. Or maybe not. So again, BOUNDARIES.
You’re doing nothing wrong here. Refuse to let them guilt you into thinking otherwise.