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Grandparents, Don't Move So Close

Don’t Move So Close To Me

By Amalah

Hi Amy-

I’ve almost written this email so many times and I think I know what I’m supposed to do. Maybe I just need reassurance?

My son is 4 months old. My parents currently live 3 hours away and want to move to my town, but haven’t told me yet. My husband and I Sherlock-ed this out since the baby’s birth. When they were visiting us, they left out real estate listings for our area. My dad let it slip once that they went to an open house in an adjacent neighborhood. I overheard my Uncle asking my dad when they planned on moving to. I know I can’t control where my parents live, as much as I would like to keep them at their current distance.

The real problem is that they drink. Adding to it, my mom is a terrible driver when sober. Accidents, speeding tickets, super-aggressive maneuvers on busy streets. I do not ride in a vehicle she’s driving.

My parents have had multiple drinks and then driven. I’ve been a passenger in the car when this has happened. There have been times when I thought their driving was impaired, but I never wanted to have the argument (I am clutching my pearls in retrospect). There were a couple of times that I knew they had too much to drink and were puking, but they didn’t drive then. They’ve never gotten a DUI or had problems at their job due to alcohol. They’re not fall down drunks. I keep thinking this isn’t so bad because they don’t drink every day. Isn’t it ok to have a couple of drinks? Part of it, I think, is their generation and maybe I don’t even know what normal parents are like. This actually looks really bad written down.

So yeah, these people are moving here and I wouldn’t be surprised if they waited until they closed on a house to tell me. They’re going to want to babysit and take the baby places. My mom really wants people to perceive her as a self-sacrificing grandmother, which means spending lots of time with my son. She’s kind of a strong personality, too, and will deny any past bad behavior as me exaggerating and being sensitive.

My husband stays at home with the baby and will continue to do so for the indefinite future. Regardless, we don’t need the type of babysitter my parents would be. I can’t leave a helpless baby in their questionable care. What do I do when politely declining their offers stops working? Do I just keep firmly saying no? Do I really have to have this conversation about their drinking? Can’t I just never leave my son alone with them? I’m willing to move to a different state to avoid having this confrontation, if anyone thinks that’s a good option. My job is very portable.

-I hear Texas is nice this time of year

So here we have a companion piece to the family that was ready to move in order to avoid telling a bratty neighbor kid to STOP THAT, NO — a family willing to move in order to avoid a confrontation with some overstepping grandparents.

Though for the record, I soooo completely understand. Confrontations are not my jam. I do not like them. I get antsy watching fictional TV characters have them, and those reality show reunions/political talking head shows where everybody is arguing with each other give me actual hives. It’s why I refuse to pick up the stupid telephone unless I absolutely cannot avoid it, because I always have this low-level anxiety that the person on the other end might decide to yell at me for some reason.

But you really need to talk to your parents. You need to manage some damn expectations, because otherwise they will continue to soar to new “we’ve bought the house next door and hired a contractor to build an underground tunnel between them!” heights.

You can table the whole “I think you’re both functional alcoholics” topic at first, but you’ve GOT to talk about this whole surprise-party-style moving thing. Because 1) that’s not cool, and 2) since it’s clearly become a bit of an “open” secret with multiple slip-ups, I’m guessing they assume you know and are taking your silence as approval. GAH. MAYDAY.

Ask them point-blank about their moving plans, and tell them that you’re worried some assumptions are being made that you need to clear up before things are set in stone.

THING #1: You are concerned about them making this move because your job is portable and there’s a high likelihood that you will be transferred to a different area at some point. Your boss has been discussing different opportunities elsewhere with you, blah blah blah.

Yes, this is leading off with a white lie but I think it might be an effective one, particularly if they’re still in the pre-planning stages and haven’t gotten super-serious about it yet. I admit my husband and I do this ALL THE TIME — we get it into our heads that X would be a cool place to move to, let’s look at some real estate listings, check out an open house, wheeee. Eventually we get hit with some reality — crazy high taxes! deceptive neighborhood data! all the beautiful houses online are actually built on a notorious haunted sinkhole! — and finally see all the flaws of that plan. If they think you guys aren’t actually permanently settled, they might be convinced to stay put. (For now, anyway.)

THING #2: You will not be giving them a key to your house and you will not be okay with unannounced visits and pop-ins. I know you didn’t bring this particular worry up, but I think it’s an essential boundary to have, especially when dealing with strong/pushy personality types.

THING #3: And this is the biggie. You will not be making any changes to your son’s childcare arrangements.

I’ve read your letter a couple times and I THINK they are mostly assuming they’ll get nights/weekends with him? Not asking to take over as nannies or something? Either way, I think a blanket statement about “childcare” in general is the way to go. You have a wonderful sitter you already use (IS THAT ANOTHER WHITE LIE? WHO CARES. PUT “FIND A WONDERFUL SITTER AT SOME POINT” ON YOUR TO-DO LIST.) and prefer keeping your arrangements professional.

This is probably the one that will get the most pushback, yes. They will ask why, or they will assume you will change your mind once they are there and offering. So I want you to practice this one. Firm and definitive.

If they push for a reason, I think you will need to finally be honest — there’s no other little white lie to cover it. Read up on the functional alcoholism (I’m guessing you’ll see a zillion familiar warning signs) so you can’t be made to feel like you’re overreacting or making stuff up. They’re the ones with blinders on, the unreliable narrators with a justification problem, not you.

Tell them their drinking concerns you, particularly their tendency to get behind the wheel while impaired, and their inability to admit that they even do this or that it’s a problem means you simply can’t have them babysit or drive your son places. They are functional but not sober, but that’s just not good enough for your peace of mind to use them as babysitters. If they want to spend time with him or go places, you or your husband will be there, and will be the ones driving. Their luck is not going to run out and rock bottom is not going to hit with your son in the car. If they swear that they’d never drink while caring for him, shrug and say that’s a great promise, but it’ll take some time before you’ll believe it. (See: staying sober while he’s awake, but thinking it’s okay to start downing drinks once he’s in bed asleep, etc.)

I know. I KNOW. You don’t want to have this conversation. But the longer you stay silent the more of a certainty it becomes that they will move closer with high hopes and dreamy dreams of zoo outings and weekend sleepovers that you will have to dash anyway. Talking to them NOW might at least possibly dissuade them from moving if they understand that things probably aren’t going to be as extended-family-sitcom-like as they’re imagining. And if they insist on moving, they can’t claim they weren’t warned that you wouldn’t let them babysit, and shouldn’t be surprised that you stick to your justified guns on that point.

And hey — long shot, but possible — maybe FINALLY hearing that their drinking is FINALLY having a negative effect on their relationships with you and their grandson will prompt them to re-evaluate and make some changes.

Published April 30, 2014. Last updated March 12, 2018.
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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  • Sarah

    April 30, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    I would definitely mention ASAP that y’all are thinking about moving (it’s not even a white lie, since you said you’ve thought about moving away from them). As for the confrontation bit, I loathe confrontation too, especially when the other party is passive aggressive. My husband read a book about how to deal with passive aggressive parents and the number one script to use in any argument? “I don’t believe you”. Works like a charm. “I don’t drink and drive” “I don’t believe you.” “I swear I don’t” “I don’t believe you” – very simple and effective!

  • Rachel

    April 30, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Don’t move to Texas, it is hot here.

  • Jeannie

    April 30, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    For what it’s worth, we didn’t leave my husbands parents with our kids for YEARS — until my oldest was old enough to have some good judgement about various situations. This is not due to alcohol, just to my MIL wanting to be the “fun!” grandparent, and that sometimes removing all judgement about appropriate behaviour / safe situations (“Yes! Sure! Let’s make a pond in the backyard where the toddlers can play with minimal supervision since it’s out of sight of the house! And let’s eat cookies ALL DAY!”)

    I know. It’s not even the same thing.

    But we did this by simply avoiding the situation. Do you need a night out? No, thanks, we’re covered. We have a great babysitter, and when you’re here, we’d like to spend time with you! They even knew my mother (the sensible grandparent … ) would babysit the kids. We just cheerfully declined.

    And we also did, on occasion, call them on their behaviour, like their tendency to take off out of our backyard and take our kid to the park without telling us, when we were home. Yes it happened. And my husband did tell them in no uncertain terms that it should not happen again.

    I agree with Amy — a few little white lies aren’t a bad thing. And neither is confrontation. I also get hives from it, but your kid is worth the itching.

  • Rachel

    April 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I think this advice is spot-on. Just tell them that you’ve heard they’re thinking of moving here, but you want them to know that you might be moving in the future, and even if you aren’t, them moving closer will have zero impact on how often they see you and your son. You don’t ever have to explain why you don’t want to see someone or don’t want someone to watch your child; it’s up to you if you want to explain the reasons why.

  • Kat

    April 30, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    I’d also like to throw in there – you might get better about politely declining things for your children as you go. When we first had our son I was REALLY concerned about my MIL wanting to babysit and constantly asking to hold him and watch him for us. And I was really concerned about how our saying “no thanks” all the time would impact our relationship with her (and the confrontation I was sure would happen). I was certain she would eventually ask why (her house isn’t safe, she makes poor decisions, she doesn’t respect our deal breakers as far as acceptable activities and foods for a toddler) but…she never has. He is two now, and she has never once been alone with him. She knows that she is welcome to visit anytime, and I don’t stand in the way of our son having a positive relationship with her, but I think deep down she doesn’t want to hear the reasons why so she doesn’t ask. And as time has gone on, I am more and more comfortable setting boundaries for our son, even if it means a nasty confrontation. His safety and well being comes before anyone’s feelings (including my own adverse reaction to confrontation). You may be surprised at how easy it is to get all momma bear about your baby 🙂

  • Anne

    May 1, 2014 at 3:59 am

    My son is due in June and my husband and I have already decided that we don’t feel comfortable leaving him with my MIL. She is a “recovering” alcoholic and although right now she says she’s sober (she recently got out of rehab), my husband grew up with her and doesn’t believe she can stay sober. The problem is that she’s nannied other children, and thinks herself completely competent. On Easter she even mentioned something about how fun it will be when my son comes to visit. We doubt that she would drink while watching him, but is it worth the risk? She drank excessively when my husband and his siblings were children and even drove with them in the car while drunk. I am seriously NOT looking forward to having this conversation with her someday…

    • Lindsey

      May 2, 2014 at 11:56 am

      I totally get this issue! My mil is an alcoholic and will go on spurts like 2 weeks if bit drinking and expect me to just let her watch the kids. I have started saying we have to see continuous sobriety period and how long it will take for me and my husband to be comfortable that she’s done drinking and can be trusted is up to us not up to her. She always ends up drinking the longest period was about two weeks so needless to say I have made my point

  • IrishCream

    May 1, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    If you do get to a point of confrontation, you can minimize the scope of it by staying focused on the point you’re trying to make. Repetition is key. 

    Them: But we’d never drive drunk with Baby in the car!
    You: Regardless, I’d be more comfortable if Baby only rode with us.
    Them: We drove after a few drinks with you when you were little, and you turned out fine!
    You: Regardless, I’d be more comfortable if Baby only rode with us.
    Them: You’re making a big deal out of nothing! You’re overreacting!
    You: Regardless, I’d be more comfortable if Baby only rode with us.

    If you don’t want a confrontation about the larger issues, don’t get sucked into responding to everything they throw at you. Your child’s safety and your parenting dealbreakers aren’t issues that can be litigated. Good luck!

  • liz

    May 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    We had to confront my MIL and her husband about not letting them drive with our son in the car ever, because they were insisting on my MIL’s husband driving despite the fact that he is profoundly deaf and blind in one eye.

    It wasn’t until he got lost on the way to the golf course he went to every day that they finally admitted he couldn’t drive anymore.

  • Tasterspoon

    May 2, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    I haven’t dealt with this situation specifically but there are things my parents do with my kids I don’t like and, rather than make it personal (I.e. “I think YOU are flawed”) I just make blanket rules regarding my kids.  For example my folks will take my kids (1 and 3) for ice cream and make them promise not to tell mom. They think it’s funny and harmless but I told them that teaching them to keep secrets from me (esp at the behest of an adult, oy) was not okay and if i’d found out a babysitter had done it s/he’d have been fired yesterday.  My dad also makes what he thinks are funny comments about my son’s predilection for accessorizing and I nipped that one the same way; i.e. nobody makes homophobic comments to my kids.  Ditto drinking and driving or texting with kids in the car. My husband struggled with the texting one (I make no exception for googling addresses) early on, but it applies to me, too, so it’s not like I’m picking on anyone in particular.  If you really don’t want to address the larger issue you can still say you don’t want to set a bad example – for your kids to think that drinking and driving is okay.  That seems pretty unobjectionable.

  • Grammy

    May 3, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Excellent advice already rendered. Confrontation is awful, parents who can’t be trusted with their grandchildren cannot be allowed to be around the kids alone, and white lies are fine if they help you protect your child while avoiding a negotiation based on bigger lies (we are not alcoholics so we can handle the baby…)

    One white lie that might be comfortable for you, if you can pull it off without them finding out whether it’s true or not: “It’s our decision to not let our son be taken care of by anyone other than the two of us until he’s much, much older. That includes going places in the car. It might seem overprotective to you, but we’ve given it a lot of thought and it’s really the only thing we’re comfortable with. Thanks for understanding.” They won’t understand, they’ll tell people you are one of those young mothers who doesn’t “get it” and, so what? If in the future they find out you’ve got a babysitter, have another white lie prepared to explain why that’s the exception, but they’ll probably not ask.

  • Emily Huston

    May 7, 2014 at 6:19 am

    I have never bee in the situation ever. My LO is just 7 monnth old and my worried about him is that my MIL is not much dedicated towards my son. I just can’t trust her as she leaves my LO alone on the chair or anything without thinking that he is not old enough to take care of him. So, I decided I will not be with her and taken decision to live alone with my husband and made a move. I think confrontation might be awful but child safety comes first. So don’t worry and move ahead.