I’ve been part of a polyamorous triad (3-person relationship were everyone is in a relationship with each other) for a little over year now. It’s a serious and committed relationship. We’re in it for the long haul. My two partners have a kid together (herein Kiddo). Kiddo will be two this weekend. I love Kiddo a lot and I’m very involved in caring for her.
Recently, my mother commented on a Facebook post I made saying something about her “grandchild,” meaning Kiddo. She also sent Kiddo a tricycle for her upcoming birthday, despite the fact that when my mother brought up the idea a few months ago I told her we didn’t have room and that my partners weren’t cool with Kiddo having a tricycle at this age.
The thing about the situation that is making my head/stomach hurt is that I have a long history of boundary issues and emotional/verbal abuse from my mom. Things are more or less in check these days (I’ve been out of the house 10 years now) but they require constant vigilance on my part to stay that way. There was a stretch of several years where I had -no- contact with my parents because they couldn’t figure out how to treat me with normal human decency and that was the only was I could teach them that now that I’m an adult I refuse to put up with that behavior any more.
So now I am concerned. This feels like red flag behavior– ignoring my/my partner’s wishes and claiming Kiddo as “hers” even though she lives 600 miles away and has only met Kiddo once. At the same time, it was a nice and generous gesture and I know part of what my mom is trying to communicate is that she is supportive of my poly family and wants me and them to know that. Lots of parents would not be that cool. Further, because of the physical distance between us and a disability my mom has, there’s a pretty finite limit to how much she can impose on our lives.
So, now I don’t know what to do. I’ve talked to my partners and they are uncomfortable with the “grandmother” designation and also not happy that their wishes were ignored regarding the tricycle, but they know my relationship with my mom is delicate and are not very confrontational people. I don’t want to be a bitch to my mom, I don’t want to be ungrateful, I don’t want to overreact but I also don’t want to underreact. Any suggestions on how to proceed?
Not to get Cary Tennis all over you, but I love the image of the tricycle as a metaphor for your 3-way relationship and also as a suggestion of the intrusive “third wheel.”
Your mom is definitely overstepping the boundaries by styling herself as Grandma and by buying a present that you’ve already said clearly that you and Kiddo aren’t ready for. She is always going to overstep boundaries, because that’s who she is.
However, as you point out, she is trying. She wants to reach out and figure out how to be a part of your life, and she is trying to affirm your choices. Since this relationship is for the long haul, there is potential for a moment of grace and forgiveness in here somewhere.
I think one thing you can do is to find an alternate designation for Kiddo to call your mom. “My partners aren’t comfortable with calling you ‘Grandma,’ but we’d love for Kiddo to call you Auntie ____.”
You could send back the trike or refuse to accept it, but I think another solution is to write a nice thank you note to Auntie ______ from Kiddo, take a picture of her with the trike, and then donate the thing to a neighbor or a charity who can use it. You can always buy her a new trike when she’s ready, and say that that one is from Auntie at the time, preserving the spirit of the gift.
Also, I want to say that you’re completely within bounds to be annoyed! Your mom is not a boundary-respecter, and your relationship with her will probably always be fraught and involve a lot of managing your own expectations and second-guessing. It sucks to always feel like you have to be the bigger person and to deal with the parent you have instead of the one you need and deserve. Keep doing what you did to survive her – keep your expectations low, interact with her in small, controlled doses and try to accept her intended kindness in the best possible light. Kiddo will not be worse off for having a random relative who sends expensive age-inappropriate presents.
I hope this helps.