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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 amyadvice@gmail.com.

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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