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Dealing With Grandparent Guilt Trips

Grandparent Guilt Trips

By Amalah

Hi Amalah!

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.

Help!

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.

 

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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Vickie
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Vickie

If you have a lot of free time during the week, was not sure if you were stay at home mom, consider setting up routine visits during the week. Like Wednesday’s. Your family one Wednesday, his the next, if they are available during the day. Then it is regular. And totally invisible to your husband’s limited time. I used to travel by train to stay with my mom some weeks, while my husband was very busy with a deadline. So I was gone 3-4 days with the baby. He caught up on work and sleep. And consider making very good… Read more »

Karen
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Karen

I felt the same way about boundaries and family and such when my first was born, but with a few more kids and years under my belt I’ve made a complete 360. I treasure the time my kids get to spend around grandparents. My parents and in-laws are getting older and not much else is more important than us being able to share time together. I’m not sure that anytime a grandparent wants to see their grandkids it needs to be called a passive aggressive guilt trip. Hopefully it will get better soon, and a compromise can be reached. Whenever… Read more »

CKD1
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CKD1

I 100% agree that loving grandparents are a net good. My mom and I lived with my grandparents after my parents divorced and I treasure how close we were and miss them every day. But I wonder – and I could totally be projecting here because this has happened with my parents and in-laws (we both have divorced parents which means 4 set of parents!) – if the guilt and pressure comes from “But you saw HIS parents last weekend! It’s our turn!” and balancing those feelings and dynamics. When it comes from a place of competition and trying to… Read more »

Ros
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Ros

I’m assuming that you’re at home now, since you mentioned weekday visits, but from the perspective of someone with 2 kids under 4 and a full-time job: managing those expectations sounds EXHAUSTING. On one hand, we feel that close family relationships are invaluable (disclaimer: both extended families rock, no abusive b.s. to be had). So we generally see my parents/siblings once every week or two, usually for a dinner or brunch, alternating between our house and theirs. When the baby was under 6 months old or so, my mother would bring fixings for dinner and make dinner at our house,… Read more »

Cassie
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Cassie

We skipped over the argument between the husband and the FIL. Why did they send the video? Did they need help? Did they think it was funny? What was your husband upset over? Is your dad still upset? If fences need to be mended there, it might be a good opening. Like, we love when you baby sit, but that makes it hard for us to be away and makes us feel like we’re burdening you by asking you to sit for us.

Jodie Yorg
Guest
Jodie Yorg

I’m also blessed with close family all of which are wonderful humans and great grandparents. When our first was born we were on the every visit junket. One day at my parents, one day at his. And it got really exhausting. We finally started hosting at our place just to bring everyone together vs. having solo visits. Sounds like there is some divorce in the mix which might make that challenging, but where you *can* do it I suggest it. I’ll admit it took some time to work out the blending. We had difference communication styles and traditions around holidays.… Read more »

IrishCream
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IrishCream

My childrearing philosophy boils down to ignoring the behavior I don’t like and giving lots of positive reinforcement for good behavior. (Not ignoring while my kids have loud tantrums in a restaurant or beat each other up or anything like that, lest you think I’m a monster…just reacting as little as possible while removing guilty parties from the scene.) This has turned out to be very helpful with adults in my life, too. Passive-aggressive comments about how long it’s been since they’ve seen your daughter, or how much they’d love unexpected visits from their own parents? Ignore them! Not in… Read more »

JenVegas
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JenVegas

Dear OP, I too am of both Greek & Italian heritage. I feel all of your guilt trip pain. Understand right now that your family is probably NEVER going to not try to find something to make you feel guilty about. It’s just genetic. Don’t take it too personally, over time you will learn to let it roll off of your back some. But it will probably never go away. It is entirely impossible to make EVERYONE happy, stop aiming for this. Make yourself and your new, little family happy and everything else will fall into place. My son is… Read more »