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Grandmother Drama

An In-Law Relationship Makeover

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I am having an issue with my husband’s family, particularly his mother, and would like to know what you think as an objective person.

It all started the day my son was born. My mother-in-law ended up being around for my contractions (up until my emergency c-section) as she was a L&D nurse for 17 years. As everything progressed so quickly, my husband had just enough time to text family that I was in labor and asked that only immediate family come after the baby was born. It turns out that his aunt considered herself immediate family and showed up while I was in recovery. It was unknown to me, but his whole family held my son before I got a good look at him. They took pictures and passed him around knowing that newborns have no immune systems. I had to hear for weeks that his aunt didn’t get to see him yet…that is until my sister said she saw her leaving the hospital that day. When my husband confronted his aunt, she said that she didn’t know she wasn’t invited. She denies the fact that she hid this from me for weeks, along with the rest of his family. Since then there has been great tension when we see his family members.

His mother, a photographer, took my maternity and my son’s newborn pictures. She has yet to give me any of them even though we keep asking. We made a rule that no pictures are to be posted online of our son and she continues to ask and complain when we say no. She puts comments on Facebook about me in a passive aggressive manner.

We attended his brother’s birthday party and I kept my son in a sling as he was only a few weeks old and I didn’t want all 25 people there to touch him. They ended up talking about us after we left and his mother sent him an email telling him I was mean and everyone was mad at us. I took him to the store his aunt owns to buy something one day and she started to yell in his face so he would wake up. I told her to stop and she sent my husband a text stating I was mean to her. His mother has come over while I was showering, cooking or taking a nap and has said I was rude for not saying Hi and/or talking to her. I invited her to go to the pumpkin patch with us and she complained about the sun the whole time and left. We have not seen her since.

Now she is telling people we don’t let her babysit or take him to the park. He is four months old, and she doesn’t respect our rules! So she has decided to distance herself because we give her anxiety.

I am tired of hearing about how mean we are, and I refuse to change the boundaries we have set to appease his family. My husband seems like he is getting tired of dealing with them and doesn’t know what else we can do. The holidays are around the corner and I refuse to be upset over this. Any advice besides letting her alienate herself?!

Tired of MIL and Family

Okay, like many of these touchy-icky-family situations, I think it’s time to parse out the dealbreakers from the minor annoyances, and come up with a plan for compromise. Yes, compromise. You guys can’t continue like this, obviously, and while your husband’s family does sound incredibly thin-skinned and (more than) a bit bonkers, you have to remember that you — solitary you, even if you remain the Great Gatekeeper of the Grandchild, and even if your husband does remain exhausted-yet-united — are unlikely to substantially or fundamentally change who these people are. So unless you plan to cut them from your life and never see them again, you’re gonna have to learn to work your boundaries into their family culture.

So. Let’s start with the day of your son’s birth. To me, the objective outsider, this sounds like a massive communication mess-up. Your L&D nurse should have discussed your birth plan better with you, including visitors and your post-birth bonding time. Your husband texted (already not the best way to announce a post-birth plan) and said immediate family was welcome but didn’t give a specific time frame or instructions (i.e. we will let you know our room number later, we would like visits staggered so please call before heading over, etc.). Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Instead, a big excited group descended all at once to celebrate.

I would definitely have been pissed about other people holding my baby before me — ay yi yi that SUCKS — but for your own sanity’s sake I’d suggest shifting your annoyance to the hospital and the nurse(s) who let that happen, rather than your over-excited, baby-crazy in-laws. After my emergency c-section, my baby stayed with me in recovery in my bed and arms, and no visitors were allowed other than my husband. After recovery, he went to the nursery for a bath and check-up while I went to my room — my husband was permitted to go with him and take some pictures of the first bath, and the nurse chatted with me about my visitor plan and preferences and let me know she was there to enforce the “rules” if I wanted her to. It sounds like your hospital should re-visit their procedures for post-c-section visitors, frankly. Perhaps it would help you to write a letter to the maternity ward or make a phone call to the head of L&D and express your frustration that this interruption was allowed to happen at all. It shouldn’t have. But it probably wasn’t 100% your in-laws’ fault that it did, you know?

As for your husband’s aunt coming, what’s done is done. She obviously thought she was closer to you guys than she is, and it probably stung pretty hard to be told that she wasn’t. As for the weird “I haven’t seen the baby even though I totally saw the baby” thing…yeah, I don’t even know how to process that one, other than to guess this aunt is a tad on the eccentric/crazy side to begin with? (The whole “yelling at a sleeping baby” is further evidence that she’s just kinda weird and clueless.) We’ve all got a relative like that, I think. I make it a point not to engage/challenge unless absolutely necessary, and at this point you’re not going to gain ANYTHING by harping on the fact that she came and saw your baby before you wanted her to.

Last point from this section: Your baby didn’t get sick from anyone holding him. I can tell this is a big sticking point/worry/anxiety for you, but I want you to breathe deep and remind yourself that nothing bad happened. Release that retroactive fear and anger over what MIGHT have happened. (I would at least hope there was a nurse around during the Great Pass Around to make people wash their hands or at least use some hand sanitizer. Maybe another point to bring up with whoever you contact at the hospital.) Plenty of newborns get exposed to a bajillion people and visitors and siblings in their early hours and it can actually be a good thing for their immune systems. I was always encouraged to take my newborns out places and let people hold them, provided their hands were clean and they were not actively sick. (Though I would occasionally get scolded by random grandmothers who came from the age where newborns were to be kept at home and sheltered from every possible germ for months.) It would be a different story if your baby was a preemie or had a health concern or you knew for a fact that your in-laws were sick/unvaccinated, but I think it’s time to let your anger at them possibly endangering your baby go. They didn’t act with malice. Just dopey clod-hoppy cluelessness, more likely.

Again: I completely understand WHY you’re feeling the way you’re feeling. I’m not trying to order you to Not Feel That Way. I’m just trying to reframe this whole toxic mess in terms of what’s worth holding on to and fighting for vs. what’s done and over and is just sort of needlessly festering and making things worse. Sometimes we just have to let shit go, even if we think we’re totally right and justified, for the greater good.

Next part: The photos your MIL won’t give you. This sounds like classic passive-aggressiveness because you won’t let her do what she wants with those photos. Which you are completely, 100% in your rights here to forbid your child’s photos from being posted to social media. She’s being a brat about this (and other things) and for some reason thinks holding her photos hostage is justice for you holding your baby hostage (in her view) and not giving the family unfettered access to him. Whatever. Mute her on Facebook (maybe have your husband monitor her page to make sure she’s not posting anything she shouldn’t) and don’t engage with the passive-aggressive comments. Maybe next time you’re at her house, bring a USB drive or memory card and ask her to move the photos to it right then. If she hems and haws about them needed editing or something, just smile cheerfully and tell her that you’re sure they are just wonderful the way they are, but you really need them for holiday cards/gifts/framing/whatever.

(Is it possible she’s planning to give them to you in an album or frame for Christmas? And that’s why she’s waiting? I’ve officially crossed the line into giving-people-way-too-much-credit Pollyanna territory now, haven’t I?)

So the no-photos-online thing: Dealbreaker. You hold onto that one. Along with the direct texts/emails declaring you “mean.” That’s gotta stop, and your husband’s gotta be the one to bring the pain on that one. She’s not allowed to bitch and gossip about you, particularly TO YOUR HUSBAND. Mom. Stahp. Not okay. My wife’s rules are my rules and she’s not being “mean,” this is just our current comfort level with our baby’s health and routine. Oh, so now I’M being mean too? Great. Awesome. Catch ya on the flip side when you get over your massive sense of entitlement.

Now. That said. Here’s where you’re probably going to get mad at me, because I really think you should let his family hold your baby a little more. Look, no one is entitled to access to him, I get that. But it sounds like a decent chunk of the current hostility could be diffused if you let your husband’s family be just a little more hands-on with him.

He’s four months old and (I assume) is decently vaccinated and has built up more than enough natural immunity to be able to get passed around to a few grown-ups without the sky falling. He can go to the park, or on nice long stroller rides — even with your MIL, provided the outings don’t end up on Facebook or Instagram.

I doubt his family has any real sinister, Rosemary’s Baby-type plans for your son: They just sound like they all really, REALLY love babies. Particularly your baby. Which is a GOOD THING, even if the execution is sloppy and twinged with passive-aggressive BS. Consider the opposite scenario, where his family doesn’t like babies or prefers their dog or plays favorites with other grandkids or stops inviting you to family dinners because your baby might cry and be a pain in the butt, like a recent advice-seeker described.

By giving them an olive branch in the form of “oh, could you hold him for a sec while I go to the bathroom/help in the kitchen/eat something” at the next get-together, I bet you could take a real step forward in terms of smoothing this all over. Someone wants to change a diaper or rock him or just sit on the couch and enjoy his sweet squishiness? Let them have it and see what happens. (Though I’d probably stay in the room if it’s the vaguely crazy aunt holding him, but other than that I think you’re probably safe with these people.) They might get even more demanding (I WANT TO BABYSIT AND CHOOSE HIS COLLEGE), at which point you assert your boundaries…but they might chill out. Or at least stop following up every visit with an email about you being a mean ol’ baby hog.

So let’s summarize. As the holidays approach, yes, you need to refuse to be upset about this. First examine all the reasons you are currently upset and see which of those reasons YOU can let go of. Even if you still think they’re a bunch of nutzo germ factories, they are YOUR nutzo germ factories. YOUR family, your son’s family. Shift the hospital blame to the hospital. Recognize that staying angry about what happened is keeping you rooted in the unchangeable past. Kill your MIL with kindness while demanding she respect the photo rules. If she does respect them (even if she complains/bitches about it — IGNORE), consider rewarding her with that trip to the park/short babysitting session she wants so badly. Make a point to at least say “HI” to her when she visits so she has less ammunition to hurl at you later. It’s clear that if this relationship is going to be healed, it’s going to take you being the grown-up. Even in the face of ridiculous childishness from her.  Consider it good practice for when your son is a toddler.

Amazon Mom

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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Sarah
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Sarah

I always love Amy’s Grandparent advice. So many places online seem to do the “if you aren’t nice to me, you can’t be nice to my baby” approach which is fine, but seems so selfish! I love the basis of your advice, which always seems to be: your baby is an individual and you should let others treat them as an individual, not an extension of you and your peeves. Fosters such a better sense of community, building healthy relationships – and there’s always the “so long as not toxic” addendum. High five Amy from someone who works in child… Read more »

SarahB
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SarahB

Gosh…as someone who has been hurt by her in-laws, I am not sure I could be so forgiving.  What the ILs have done is create a world of hurt…they held her baby before she did, and now they complain they don’t get to hold the baby enough? They text her DH that she is “mean”?  That the mother of a newborn, someone recovering from major surgery and a first-time mom is mean?  There just seems to be no space given to the OP to find her footing, and it’s all about them and their wants. I wonder if things couldn’t… Read more »

Christina
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Christina

My son is also 4 months old and my in laws drive me bonkers in may ways. This includes my SIL who has 2 children under 2 and refuses to get a flu shot or allow her children flu shots. They’re coming for Thanksgiving.  One thing I have done for visitors in the last 4 months is blame the pediatrician. “His doctor says we should be careful about his immunity since he hasn’t had all his vaccinations at this young age. They recommend we make sure our family has up to date shots on tDap and flu.” That way you’re… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

OP, ((hugs)). To me, it really sounds like a lot of this is because of your cesarean. Having an unexpected cesarean can cause enough grief of the loss of the birth you were expecting without adding all this other stuff. Add on not being able to see your baby right away, and then to find out that EVERYONE else got to hold him first (and that people told you they didn’t when they did). That is pretty hard to deal with. And to top it off, your mil won’t even give you the pictures she took of that day. It… Read more »

JenVegas
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JenVegas

I so so SO agree with this advice about blaming the pediatrician. Our actual pediatrician told us to blame her if we were uncomfortable or worried about germs, non-vaccinated people etc. I made my own mother get her flu shot and the tDap before she came to stay with us after our son was born.

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

Great advice, Amy. I have my fair share of horrible in-laws, but yeah, at four months, you should be able to let your mother-in-law take him to the park or care for him for a little while. Did they do the right thing when the baby was born? No, but it’s time to try and reset the dial. And I hate to say this, but they probably do think that by not letting them hold your baby, you’re being mean. Should they be snarky about it? No. But if I were that baby’s grandmother, I’d be kind of upset that… Read more »

Beth
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Beth

For what it’s worth, my sister-in-law did the same thing with some photos she took of my kids for a college project. She got all weird when I asked for copies, I got miffed and said snotty things to my husband about it and then promptly felt like a schmoo when I got her lovely final project for Christmas. Pollyanna for the win! To be honest your in laws seem super sensitive, but your husband seems to be doing his best to buffer for you. I agree that distancing yourself from all the he said/she said is a great place… Read more »

Kat
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Kat

Great advice from Amy, as always. My MIL can be a bit overbearing and passive aggressive as well. Our son is now 18 months old, and we tried some of the things that Amy suggested where we were able (we do have some deal breakers that we work around, like grandma doesn’t babysit ever), and they do work. I try to let go of the passive stuff and focus on what motivates her rather than her behavior (she is controlling because she wants to feel like she is contributing, she gives gifts I hate because she wants to see her… Read more »

Suzy Q
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Suzy Q

As an aunt to an adult nephew and niece, I absolutely consider myself to be immediate family and would go to the hospital for a birth, unless specifically directed not to (in which case I would respect their wishes). Our family is very small, however.  All that other crazy shit? No.

Diane
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Diane

I am an aunt to an adult niece and 2 nephews and i expected to be included as immediate family in the announcements of their impending births.  

When they become parents, I absolutely do NOT expect to be considered immediate family as they will have their respective parents, grandparents and siblings to think of.  I surely do not need to be included then. At that time, I become the great aunt to the new child, and that is not immediate family in my view. 

autumn
Guest
autumn

Hugs to the OP!  What a crummy labor/delivery/immediate post partum situation.  Learn from the situation and have a plan for a hypothetical future birth, but try to let it go now.  Easier said than done.   My MIL is a passive agressive piece of work who conveniently forgot all the boundaries we had worked through prior to having our daughter.  So we started from scratch.  It really is good practice for those toddler temper tantrums.  Stay calm and neutral.  This is how it is.  Take what we offer or leave it.  More scheduled grandma only visits without the whole family… Read more »

-k-
Guest
-k-

Amy’s advice is all very reasonable. Nonetheless, my reaction rema BLAAAARRRRGGGH. His family was thoughtless and selfish at the baby’s birth. That is such a violation, and they should not have needed L&D staff to tell them that. If MIL doesn’t respect your rules (wish there had been more detail in the letter on this point), no, she doesn’t get to babysit. If the rest of the family is anything like the aunt in her total disregard for your boundaries and the baby’s personal space/comfort, the baby stays in the sling.  I was in the position of visiting my husband’s… Read more »

Rachel
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Rachel

Okay, so this advice isn’t going to sound cheerful, but it comes from practical experience. I find that with questions like this, there’s usually more to the story. With such passive aggressive in-laws, there’s usually not much room for compromise and olive branches. I’ve found that with family like this, firmly standing up for yourself is the only way to deal. You don’t have to let your in-laws  babysit or hold the baby if you’re not comfortable with it. I know the baby didn’t get sick this time, but the OP is clearly uncomfortable with it, and it doesn’t matter… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

I would be really uncomfortable allowing MIL to take the baby unsupervised. If she can’t respect you and your boundaries to your face then what is she going to do when you’re not there.

I think you also need to be careful that you and your husband appear as a united front. If your husband’s family thinks they can bully him into doing what they want it’s going to keep getting harder to enforce boundaries.

z
Guest
z

Wait– if I’m reading this correctly, did they all deliberately deceive you about what happened in the first hours of your baby’s life?  Amy kind of glossed over that, but what exactly does the OP mean by “hid this from me”?  Lying to a mother about anything related to her newborn is a real problem–  even about trivial things, because the coverup is worse than the crime.  If that’s what actually happened, I would find that very hard to forgive, and I would certainly never, ever forget or fully trust them again.  Especially after a not-as-planned birth experience, I could… Read more »

Kacy
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Kacy

I think the advice to learn to compromise is true, but I strongly disagree that the family gathering that took place at the hospital was the responsibility of the hospital or its staff and that they deserve a reprimand. It’s great if you can discuss your preferences with your nurse and if they have the time to help you field visitors, but it’s not their priority or their job. If you don’t want visitors, don’t send them a message inviting them to your room! Plus, I can’t imagine a scenario where the baby is handed to family members without the… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

Here is the biggest problem with getting so upset about the in laws all holding baby before OP did – it wasn’t their fault. Either the hospital let everyone hold baby, or (more likely) OP’s husband did. People cannot just go in and hold baby’s just by saying they are relatives. So, to me, it sounds like the person OP really is upset with there is her husband, because he let everyone hold the baby first, but she is blaming his family for it. While it is easier to blame your relatives than to deal with the anger you have… Read more »

Jennier
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Jennier

I’m also wondering if the recovery room issue wasn’t a bit of a communication problem.   If everyone wasn’t invited then why text everyone? Immediate family is a subjective term, maybe the aunt didn’t know she wasn’t in that group until she was there (not sure why she would LIE about it though).  The sister said she saw her leave, but you didn’t say if she actually got to hold the baby.  Maybe she got there and someone else said why are you here? and she felt bad and left.  Did you tell anyone before you went into labor that… Read more »

Lrj
Guest
Lrj

I have CRAZY inlaws so I totally sympathize with you. I agree with PP though. You do need to create some civility in this situation because they clearly will not. I think CLEAR and ENFORCED boundaries are in order here. I had a daughter to a previous marriage thus a previous delivery and I am pregnant again with my new husband and this is his family first grandchild. His mother is her own special brand of nutcase (opiate addict who drinks in excess of two bottles of wine an evening) She took to “threatening” me early in my pregnancy. I… Read more »

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

I wanted to speak to an element that hasn’t really been brought up but could be related to the immediate post-birth experience. Has the OP considered that post-partum onset depression and anxiety is at play? I ask this because I wonder if the OP’s interpretation of the IL’s actions is being distorted by how the OP is processing things. That is NOT to say I’m dismissing the OP’s feelings or family’s behavior, not at all. Just suggesting a different angle to look at. Especially with the strong germaphobe anxieties for a baby that is now post-NB phase, just give it… Read more »

B
Guest
B

A baby isn’t a toy that has to be shared or passed around to make others feel good. If the mom wants to wear her baby and have others look in, that is her choice. She’s in charge of the well-being of her child. Grandmothers aren’t given the right for trips to the park, especially at 4 months when they don’t even know what is going on. She may be over protective, she may have fluctuating hormones due to just having a baby, or she just may not feel comfortable with others near her baby yet, but that’s not for… Read more »

Hope
Guest

My motto in situations like this “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be happy?” Happy usually wins out. 😀 Battling things out with the in-laws sounds exhausting and soul-crushing. At a time when you’re already exhausted and stressed out. Sure, you’d be in the right to lay down the law. But it will make your life so much easier if you can figure out a way to compromise. A lot of the problems sound like communication issues, to be honest. The in-laws might have no idea that it bugs you when they randomly show up.… Read more »

liz
Guest

Wait, OP said MIL is a L&D nurse. Did OP’s husband take the kid to meet the family, or did the L&D Nurse MIL do it on her own initiative? And is that why MIL is holding on to the pictures, because OP is already so upset about everyone holding the baby before she did, and the photos show that – and maybe even more people than OP knows about? I’d love for it to be because MIL is making a lovely Christmas present, but I’m getting an oogy feeling about it. That being said, I do think that letting… Read more »

betttina
Guest

I am totally with the OP. My husband graduated from college when our baby was a week old and we went out to dinner to celebrate with his parents and siblings. My MIL held the baby for the entire dinner, “so that the new mom could eat in peace.” It’s nice of her, yes, and I realize that she wanted to hold the baby, but that was three years ago and I still remember how much I missed my baby for that hour! I would be SO RESENTFUL of in-laws holding my child before me if I were still unconscious… Read more »

Sam
Guest
Sam

I completely sympathize! My in-laws barged into the hospital after the birth and brought everyone they could find. They bickered among themselves and were loud and obnoxious but barely acknowledged me! Since the birth (our baby is almost 2 months) they insist on seeing the baby in person or skyping constantly and when we tried to set boundaries by asking if we could have one weekend to ourselves, my father in law actually told my husband that we “couldn’t deny them their visitation rights.” EXACT WORDS!  So I get your frustration. Here’s my question: How does your family interact with… Read more »

Amy
Guest
Amy

My advice is to just keep offering positive alternatives, like, what you would like to have happen, and hope your MIL bites. After years of fine relationship I just went through/am still going through a big falling-out with my MIL – I was at her house and expressed a boundary about my kids and guns. She FLIPPED OUT over my having the nerve to say such a thing while a guest in her house and so I apologized (while silently thinking “guess who’s not coming back to your house”), but it wasn’t enough and she started sending nasty, angry email.… Read more »

mary
Guest
mary

I was a first time mom about a year ago. I admit, I was super protective of my daughter…I wanted to do things right and wanted her to stay healthy and bond with me and I guess I kinda wanted to prove that I could do it myself. I don’t know why I felt so defensive but – my bad. My in-laws and parents love this kid and I did kind of ice them out at the newborn stage. In the end, a little break from the constant demands of a baby – even if its just sitting across the… Read more »