#264: My in-laws bugged us forever to give them a grandchild, but now that she’s here, they’re not interested.

Lucy and Charlie Brown and the Football
Charlie Brown in serious need of resetting some expectations for how this will thing will go.

I am a newly adoptive, married parent to a baby we have fostered since she was five days old. Our adoption will be finalized tomorrow and we are over the moon happy that we get to share our lives with this adorable little human. My husband and I tried for many years to make a little human to no avail. We’ve had failed adoptions, miscarriages, foster children come and go, so this child staying with us brings us joy upon joy upon joy.

My in-laws live less than ten miles away. They are both retired. My mother in law has subtly pressured us for years about having our own biological children. It was painful for me to hear that every time we saw them because having multiple miscarriages is not a walk in the park or a picnic on a sunny day. And, frankly, our reproductive choices and how we build a family are our f’ing own. So after much arguing here about it, my husband finally asked them to back off us both – we were going to do our own thing when it came to kids.

So now that this sweet baby is here, has been here, there is almost zero interest in spending any time with her or with us. She is the only grandchild they may ever have but it seems to me that she is not accepted in the way I would have expected given how much they say they want to be grandparents. My husband is the middle child, over 40, and is likely the only sibling to have a child for a very long time.

Fast forward to Mother’s Day – I got no card, no flowers, no acknowledgement that it was even my first Mother’s Day. We did, however, make sure we got the new grandma a card and a gift and took the in-laws out to brunch. Zero is the number of times my mother in law held the baby that day. I was pretty fucking hurt, I won’t lie. My husband was hurt for me as well but he flat out told me he didn’t feel comfortable saying anything because he didn’t see how it would end well with his parents. He is having these realizations that his family just may suck. His sister is a brilliant genius doctor for the Army and his parents spent a fair amount of time talking about their visit to her. It was actually the first thing they talked about when they sat down to brunch. He learned about that visit to her on Easter Day when they called two hours before we had family dinner planned to cancel (they wanted to “catch up on paperwork”). My husband has told me that he got the least attention as a kid because he needed the least attention. It bothers him that he lives the closest to his folks but they see him and call him the least, especially now that there is a baby who grows and changes every day. His sister is clearly the favorite. I like her very much (she is pretty awesome) and I enjoy her company and she and my husband have a nice relationship. But I have reached my limit of being the one who reaches out to them for dinners, get-togethers, holidays.

We moved our daughter’s adoption up by appealing to the judge to have it this week when his sister is in town before she is deployed overseas. We cancelled our vacation that had been planned for a year to be in town when she’d be here so he could spend time with her. What happens? She arrived on Friday and on Saturday she and his parents went up to their country house and on Sunday his brother joined them there. We were never informed, never invited. I’m not even 100% sure they will be back in time to attend the adoption ceremony or the luncheon planned afterward. I am pissed but my husband is really PISSED. Yet he still doesn’t know how to say anything or if he even wants to. That makes me both sad and angry.

Is it appropriate for me to say something to them? What would I even say? My friends say no, to let my husband deal with his family the way he wants to. They point out that his whole identity and his perception of how happy his childhood was hinges on his belief that his parents are good and loving people. I think they are self centered, inconsiderate jerks. I try not to fight with him about it because clearly their actions are not his fault nor a reflection on him. It just angers me that they treat him the way they do and they treat our daughter as if she almost doesn’t exist. They are all nice and smiles when they are here and it feels so fake now that I just stay silent and smile and nod back. They will undoubtably be sweet and nice tomorrow (if they show up) but then revert right back to radio silence after tomorrow.

What’s a daughter in law to do? Keep quiet? Say something? Stop caring?

Sad New Momma

Dear Sad Momma,

First, I’m overjoyed for you and your pending adoption. Congratulations! That is a huge, huge deal and I hope the day goes exactly as you want it to.

Second, the job of saying something to the in-laws belongs to your husband. If the family does show tomorrow, the script is “I am so glad you could all make it. It’s so important to us that you are here to observe this ritual of (Baby) becoming officially part of our family.”

There is another script that goes “I really wish you’d asked us to join you up at the house when (Sister) was in town. We were looking forward to spending time with her before she is deployed, and it made me feel really hurt and left out that you went up there without asking us.” That one’s not for tomorrow. That’s for after-the-fact.

If they don’t show up tomorrow, there’s another script that goes like this: “It is really important to us that you are involved in (Baby)’s life, and we were really counting on having you present on the day that she officially became a part of our family forever. Is there a reason you stayed away? Because I’m feeling very hurt right now, and I’d love it if you could try to make me understand your decision.”

I’m hoping that you have some “chosen family” with you tomorrow. Who are the people you can count on to be there for you and back you up 100%? Have them with you if you possibly can.

The fact that you don’t know for sure that they are coming boggles my mind. I understand why you are feeling crappy and rejected, and I’m really sorry. Even if your in-laws are thinking “LW and our son will be around all the time, we can see them anytime, so this week we want to focus on our daughter who is about to be deployed for a few days,” it’s a crappy justification for leaving you hanging about whether they mean to come at all. I mean, I assume you told them about re-arranging the dates so that you could do the ceremony when she’s home and invited them well in advance?

There are a lot of issues here, and a lot of history, and it’s going to take a lot of time to heal this relationship and you and your husband can’t do that with a few scripts.

Your letter made me go and re-read this old letter. And it made me want to write about the expectations, both spoken and unspoken, that we have for our friends and family.

So many letters I get are about expectations. “But they are my friends! Shouldn’t friends do _____ thing? She’s my mom. Shouldn’t she behave like one?” We’re all trying to figure out what we can trust and count on from other people.

I know I write a lot about how you get to break up with people who don’t respect your boundaries or who treat you like you need to be treated, which always leads to the twin reactions of “It’s not that simple!” and the victim-blaming flipside: “You need to cut the person off forever or else you’re signing up for however they treat you.”

Trust me: I don’t go around ruthlessly severing my connections with imperfect people who treat me imperfectly. We’re all imperfect and we all mess up sometimes. Maintaining friendships and family relationships and romantic love require a lot of patience, forgiveness, giving the benefit of the doubt, and a healthy dose of BYGONES.

But I remind people that they can sever all ties with people if they need to because there is power in reminding yourself that to remain in a relationship with another person is a choice, and that you get to try rewrite the rules of those relationships a couple of different ways. One way is to speak up sincerely about what you want and ask people directly to give it to you. If the other person is open to it, it gives you the opportunity for both of you to articulate and re-align your expectations.

Another way is to reset your expectations for what that relationship will be like – in light of your history with the person, in light of what they may be capable of – and to try to find some kind of middle ground where you can enjoy what there is to be enjoyed without expecting too much. You may not get the other person to change how they behave, but you can break the cycle of setting yourself up to be hurt over and over again by being honest with yourself about what they can really give you and pulling back your own investment accordingly. Sometimes there is a lot of grieving involved in resetting of expectations, because you have to let go of the vision of what you hoped it would be and deal with what is.

I want you to think about the possibility that your in-laws are doing some grieving (that they themselves might not even realize that they’re doing) for the final loss of any hope of having a biological grandchild, especially on the eve of one of their children going off to war, and that it’s creating some ambivalence on their part. That’s an ugly thing to contemplate and probably a really ugly emotion to feel, and when people feel ugly, shameful stuff they sometimes avoid the source of those feelings. They won’t be the first or the last family members in the history of the world who take some time to warm up to adopted offspring who then loved the hell out of the kid later on. It takes time and trust and can’t be forced.

I also want you to think about the possibility that they just aren’t baby-people, and that combined with their ambivalence/grief plus the guilt they feel about how they *should* love her more, means that they might not fully bond with her until she’s a little older and more interactive. My best friend’s son is about the age of your little girl, and now that he’s smiling and flirting and interacting he’s a WAY better time than he was when he was more of a BabyBlob. Maybe they were afraid to bond with her before now because they were afraid that the adoption wouldn’t go through, and they’ve been holding some part of themselves back until it does.

I’m not saying that any of this excuses the way they are treating you around this, or that you shouldn’t feel the pain and anger that you’re feeling. I’m just saying that they are maybe in the process of having to reset their expectations about what becoming a grandparent would feel like just like you and your husband are in the process of resetting your expectations and dreams about how grandparents should behave. It’s messy and painful. It’s unfair for you guys to have to take on the role of “bigger person” right now, when everything is so raw. It’s really hard to look at a whole history of behavior and draw a bright shiny “BYGONES” box around it so you can move forward, while still being hip to the behavior and trying to minimize how much it affects you.

So the path I see in front of you involves some resetting of expectations and some grief. And also some speaking up and asking for what you need. One way you can do that when things are tense and strained is to ask the other person to describe their best-case scenario for how they want things to unfold. It gets their expectations and hopes out on the table. It also takes the emphasis off the past (and complaining about how things were in the past) and asks them to articulate a positive vision of the future. And it takes things from the realm of vague feelings into the realm of concrete actions.

A possible first step would be sitting down with your husband and talking about this. In a perfect world, how would his parents behave toward your child? Okay, you don’t live in that world. So what’s one thing you could ask for to try to make things better right now? Keep in mind: You can’t really make people feel stuff they don’t feel, but you can translate feelings into actions.

For example, you want them to show more enthusiasm for your daughter. Instead of asking for “more enthusiasm,” can you ask for a visit (and/or babysitting) once every two weeks? I know that your expectation is that this Grandma & Grampa would behave like “most” grandparents and be actively agitating for time with the baby, but since they’re not, it will probably help if this gets phrased as them doing you a favor. Your husband can say “With your help, LW and I would like to re-institute date night. Would you be able to take (baby) every other Friday so we can spend some quality time?

Try that at first and see what happens. After a few months, he can check in with his parents and say “We’re so grateful to you guys for taking her, it’s been really great to reconnect. How’s this schedule working for you? Would you want to or be able to take her for another day or evening during the week?”

And take the longest, most generous view possible. As your daughter gets older, she’ll form her own relationship with her grandparents, and it will probably look different from anything you imagined. It may never be all that you hoped for. As long as you guys love her, and you surround yourselves with people who love you and her, she’ll be fine.

Now, let’s talk about holidays, Easter, ADOPTION CEREMONY & LUNCH, etc.

You can’t change what happened in the past or control what will happen tomorrow, but here’s one thing you can do:

Accept that your in-laws celebrate & care about holidays differently than you do. If you continue with your current expectations (that they’ll RSVP & mean it, that they’ll show up, that they’ll give you the card & present and observe rituals with the same fanfare and consideration that that you would give them), you’re going to be disappointed forever. Whatever vision you had about how that would go is gone.

Sucky? Yes.

I have a small assignment for you. What’s the next big holiday or holidays that you would all “expect” to celebrate together? Fourth of July or Labor Day? Thanksgiving? Christmas? For the rest of this year, my assignment for you is to think about what you would “expect” to do and then make a completely different plan with no regard for your in-laws. They can’t disappoint you if you don’t expect anything. Put the baby in the car and take a road trip to see friends or your family or your husband’s brother or just go on vacation somewhere warm. Join up with a friend’s party instead of hosting something or going to their place. Whatever you do, spend it only with people who make you feel awesome, and if that ends up being a party of three, so be it. And honestly? Don’t even tell them what the plans are until or unless they ask you. “Sorry, we made other plans this year, but we’ll call you on the day!” Remove yourself entirely from the position of seeking their company or auditioning for their approval. If they want to see you they can make the effort. Because, honestly, FUCK the whole idea of cooking an expensive and time-consuming holiday meal for people who cancel at the last minute because: “paperwork.”

This will probably be awkward, painful territory at first, because it should be different. Because you and your husband wanted it to be different, and because filial piety (and guilt) is strong. But the more you can think of it as giving yourself permission to create your own holiday rituals and to free yourself of the cycle of expectation and disappointment, the happier you’ll be. Remind yourself it’s not forever. Next year you can revisit the idea of holidays with them, but it will be a matter of deliberate choice rather than expected routine. You will have set the reset button on how holidays work for your family and can renegotiate. Also, keep in mind that your in-laws are choosing the kind of relationship they want to have with you, their son, and your daughter. By remaining aloof and flaky and putting y’all last they are giving you permission to put them last. Some of the hardest but most important boundary-setting involves the fences we build for ourselves, and “I’m not going to even try to kick your stupid football anymore” is one hell of a fence.

Tomorrow is going to be amazing no matter what they do. Remember to bring extra batteries for the camera, and please accept congratulations from this adopted lady.

36 thoughts on “#264: My in-laws bugged us forever to give them a grandchild, but now that she’s here, they’re not interested.

  1. LW, I have much sympathy. In a related-but-not-exact situation, my father-in-law is not a baby person. He didn’t do much with my son when he was a baby, full of needs and expectations and only returning the occasional gurgle and coo. I didn’t get it and I was rather irked that he barely interacted with my son.

    But! Now that my son is almost eight, my father-in-law sits him on his lap and they play computer games together. For HOURS.

    I know your situation is very different than mine, and I hope that all the rest of it works out. I don’t have much time to write a long, well-reasoned response to your letter. But I hope I can give you a tiny bit of hope that things can change.

  2. First time commenting here, but I read every post.
    Adult adoptee and mom of one and child of un-parent-like parents. This one hit me where I live.
    As an adoptee, the prospect that these elders are less interested in the new baby because she’s not ‘biologically’ part of the family hurts in a way that I can’t quite describe. I have felt the same antipathy from my own grandparents. Sucks.
    What I would say is to learn from them. Learn how NOT to behave. How NOT to treat people you love. And then put them in a special box in your brain labeled ‘least effort possible.’
    Make the least effort possible with them. Your husband may want to seek some talk therapy, because having parents that don’t really care about you and your life = HARD.
    Having parents that don’t really care about your life or your new child but still want to tell you how to live = F**CKED UP.
    And then thank your lucky stars that these aren’t your parents. (Hoping that the letter writers parents are awesome parents.)

    Jedi hugs to this letter writer, when appropriate.
    Let us know what happens. I hope the Adoption Ceremony was awesome, with or without their presence.

    1. Thanks for this comment!

      I’m an adoptee who was very, very lucky in my relationships with my grandparents and was close to and felt loved by every one of them. The pictures from that time show that I was carried around and worshipped like a tiny god once I arrived. But this reminds me that I should ask my mom how it felt right before it all came together: I bet you anything it was a bit of a process.

      1. Also an adult adoptee, and I thought the same thing about asking my mother what happened with her family. She’s talked a lot about her and my father and their process through adoption, but not about the extended family. But then I think that with meeting my bio-family this year, I’ve given her enough to think about at the moment.

        LW, this sounds like an issue with you and your husband and your ILs, not your ILs and their grandchild. If you can, keep it there, keep it about your husband’s relationship with his parents, and how that translates into their relationship with your family, and not about the grandparenting specifically. Even if the non-bio nature of your family is part of their issue, it sounds like it’s deeper, and keeping your chosen family unit strong and united is more important than dancing to any tune your inconsiderate in-laws choose to play.

        Also? Blood ties, whatevs. You chose your husband. He chose you. You’re choosing to adopt a child. I’m 100% pro-chosen Family. Gather Team You.

        Congrats to all three of you.

  3. Boundary setting is so, so hard. In my own boundary-setting situations with my mother, it came down to this: when she was behaving well, I spent time with her. When she wasn’t, I utterly ignored her. It sounds like your situation hasn’t reached open hostility, and I’m hoping it resolves without that stage occurring. The Captain’s advice is sound; make your own traditions. If something can be worked out, awesome. If not, you won’t be left in the lurch because of their selfish and narrowsighted choices.

    Good luck, LW, and congratulations to you and your husband for your new little daughter, and to your new little daughter for her parents.

    1. Yes, very smart: Reward good behavior, totally ignore/shut down bad behavior. Realize that you’re going to have to press the reset button a lot and try to stay as much as possible in the present moment.

      Part of the threat of/possibility of cutting off relationships entirely is to back up the “behave or else I won’t talk to you” part of boundary setting. “It doesn’t have to be like this. If you continue doing that, it REALLY doesn’t have to be like this.”

      1. For my siblings and I, we gauge whether or not to resume interacting with based on how she’s treating all three of us.

        (And now suddenly I’m wondering if I should not have posted about that, because she has a habit of going looking for things I write on the Internet, and has chosen to take offense at them before…)

        It’s a complicated thing, dealing with parents and boundaries. I imagine, LW, that it is hard for your husband in the sense that he has buttons that they can press easily because they are the ones who installed them in the first place.

  4. LW, I am so sorry that you’re in this craptastic situation. Congratulations on your little sweetpea. I’m grateful you found each other.

    I’m chiming in to say that I love the homework idea! My therapist suggested I do this once, because some of my family members were having a terrible time with boundaries and expectations. It was probably one of the best things I’ve done in terms of family dynamics.

    We chose to spend a major holiday out of town with close friends instead of our family. Once we’d made the decision, I had to continually remind myself that 1) I could not back down and 2) I was not responsible for how my relatives chose to react to us having other plans. At first they were surprised that we weren’t giving in, and hurt, too. Eventually, though, they grew to see it was no big deal. That was truly a blessing for us, because it laid a foundation for us not to be available for every major event, and for them to realize they could have a fine time without us. We all enjoy our time together more now that it isn’t considered mandatory. I know this is almost the opposite of what you’re hoping for, but it was a good reset for my expectations as well as theirs.

    If your in-laws end up reacting negatively regarding your decision to celebrate without them, a good response might be, “I’m sorry you’re disappointed. How about we spend X holiday together?” If they’re indifferent or happy to see you go? Well, then you have new plans every holiday! Best of luck!

  5. I’m the older sister of two adopted siblings – I’m 37, and my mom remarried and they decided to have kids although she’s too physically old to do so, so my adopted sibs are 7 years old. They were a surprise. I certainly wasn’t consulted first. And, I found it very hard to bond with them when they were infants because I have no kids of my own and don’t much care for the infant stage. However, once they were old enough to talk (and by that I mean 1.5-2 years old) we bonded like hell. I love them both, even though I feel more like an aunt than a big sister. So it could be that.

    I did go through a brief period of “this is all a surprise!” because, in part, when a woman gets pregnant most people have 7-8 months of getting used to the idea of a little one around, but with adoptions, especially the kind where you find out after the fact, there’s a surprise new member of the family around. I wonder if the LW’s parents aren’t going through a bit of that, and what their grieving/coping process was each time the LW got pregnant and miscarried, or had an adoption fall through, or fostered a child that then left. Maybe they’d just gotten so used to grandkids just not working out that they’ve gone defensive, and are going through an adjustment period where they’re going to have to realize that this kid is going to stick around. I think once they get it, the love will come. It’s not like I loved my new siblings when my mom called me up to tell me about them, but once I really had a chance to interact with them and accept this new family in my life, the love came pretty quickly.

    LW, I’m sorry you and your husband are hurt and I’m not taking the other side. I hope things turn out well for you and your kid. And, congratulations on your adoption. I hope things work out the very best for you all.

    1. LOL — I had the same issue with my little brother. No adjustment period! Granted, I wasn’t yet 2, but… it took my parents a LONG time to explain to me where babies came from. I was so sure that you could pick them up at a store — and therefore sure that little brothers could be returned…

      1. Ha, me too! I was 5 when my parents adopted NEMESIS 1 (age 7) and NEMESIS 2 (age 4), and I was NOT PLEASED to the point of at least once praying in church that we could take them back to the store.

  6. I’ve never commented here before even though I’m an avid reader. I just had to say that this advice was so beautifully written and sage and sensitive and healthy that I almost lifted off my chair. I don’t have a ton of experience in this area, but I am sending all of my love to you, LW, your husband and your new baby girl. Families are such strange oddities and the best thing that can be said is that you, by nature of your connection to eachother, will have plenty of time to build your own gorgeous little threesome successfully, with or without grandparental support. I wish I could remove all the painful parts for you. But, the advice above seems near-perfect(perfection is not desired, imho, in human affairs)in design to bring about some real progress. Maybe even some knowing. Go with it; it’s insanely good.

    1. Agreed!

      LW, this letter made me feel sad for you and your husband, because it is awful to feel that others, especially family, don’t love your child. For me these situations bring up worries about my child sensing rejection and feeling unlovable. But, in truth, if your husband’s family don’t come through, you and your husband and your other family will have more than enough love and adoration for your baby. And if you’ve tackled this situation head-on and done what you could, I think you’ll be able to gently communicate any reduced expectations to your child–that however grandma and grandpa act, it’s about them and not about the child. Your child will feel beloved by you regardless.

      (A neither-here-nor-there aside–from the way the letter was written, I wondered if your husband’s parents understood that you suffered miscarriages and were unable to easily conceive on your own. I’m divided, because it’s none of their goddamn business and it’s an incredibly private topic, on the one hand; on the other, if they didn’t know it might be more difficult for them to understand your choices.)

      That said, and knowing that it’s much easier said than done: do your best, emotionally speaking, to ensure that these people don’t have the power to contaminate your special day, or another Mother’s Day, or anything else. Don’t give them ownership and control of the joy that should be yours as new parents after so much trying and waiting. This is an amazing and wonderful time, so try to seize all the happiness it brings regardless of their (shameful, I think) behavior.

      i also want to give you a big giant CONGRATULATIONS on your baby. I read a few blogs about infertility, recurrent miscarriages, searching for solutions, etc., and it seems like a process fraught with enormous suffering and pain, not to mention the physical repercussions. I am so glad you have a child and I hope that your ceremony is wonderful.

  7. Excellent advice all around. When I read the letter, I really got the sense by the end that everyone involved is just suffocating in expectations, both spoken and unspoken.

  8. Congratulations on your new family!

    I wanted to respond to one point in the letter: “They point out that his whole identity and his perception of how happy his childhood was hinges on his belief that his parents are good and loving people.”

    A childhood can’t retroactively become sucky if we realize that our parents are capable of doing bad things as adults. Part of growing up is realizing that our parents are just human beings, and just as capable of mistakes and poor behavior as that random person over there. Part of being an adult is also realizing that people aren’t classified as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. It’s not like your husband realizing that his parents have behaved poorly will forever and after bump them from the ‘good’ column to the ‘bad’ column. You can love someone, and treasure them, and still realize that they’ve done things you disagree with, or things which have hurt you.

    Your husband *can* have it both ways – he can realize that his parents are good and loving people who happen to have a blind spot about adoption that’s causing the both of you pain. And I think once he gets to that point, where he can hold that thought in his head and believe it, he’ll be able to have a productive conversation with his parents about how they’re treating his family.

    1. Uhm, yes, in theory. The thing is, from the point where you think that maybeee your parents aren’t that interested in you to the point where you accept that fact AND to the point where you adjust your expectations – that’s a process of years. If he’s at the starting point of the process, this can be very hard.

      Also: I think it’s not really about them being “good” or “bad” people in a hero/villain way. It’s about finding out that your parents may not be capable of the love you always expected to get and that hurts. A lot. The childhood can’t retroactively become sucky, but you can start to accept that deep inside of you, you felt like it was sucky all along. Hard thing.

      (Can’t tell if it’s that bad in case of the husband. Just my perspective.)

      1. I have a stupidly long comment in moderation and I now feel silly, because you explained it fine without writing a novel.

        “The childhood can’t retroactively become sucky, but you can start to accept that deep inside of you, you felt like it was sucky all along. Hard thing.”

        THIS, times a million. My childhood was not 100% sucky, by any stretch of the imagination, but there were some distinctly sucky things about it that I did not want to admit were sucky. I minimized my memories of pain and justified the sucky actions of my family in somewhat absurd ways. And all that suckiness warped my view on life and relationships in distinct ways that I couldn’t begin to undo until I admitted to myself that some very Not Okay shit went down. All that accepting was super hard to do, but necessary for me to move forward.

      2. Excellent comment here. I just want to expand on this: “It’s about finding out that your parents may not be capable of the love you always expected to get and that hurts. A lot.” It sounds like, in this situation, the husband’s parents are giving the “love [he] always expected” to the siblings, but not to him. And that? Makes it even harder to recognize the source of the problem, as well as even harder to accept and move on. Because often the ignored child thinks “it’s all my fault and only if I try harder and do X, Y, and Z perfectly then she’ll love me just like she does [sibling]!!”. Coming to the realization that, no, it’s not your fault, and nothing you can or could ever do would ever get you the love freely given to your siblings is HARD. Because obviously your mother IS capable of giving that kind of love, just not to you, because {reasons?}. It’s a complete paradigm shift, and it CAN change your perspective of your childhood overnight. Then lead to months or years of processing before you can fully accept it and move on.

    2. I think saying that ‘a childhood can’t retroactively become sucky’ oversimplifies things a bit. Yes, the past can’t actually change, but your happy memories can be tainted by knowledge/understanding gained later. And that sucks, and it can shake a person, and require some grieving. It’s HARD to realize that people who are dominant figures in your life/history don’t live up to your idea of them. It’s HARD to accept that you have to significantly lower your expectations for your interactions with those people.

      Sometimes in abusive/shitty relationships, everyone around you can see it, but you can’t. You justify the shitty behaviors, or in the case of family sometimes you’ve lived with it so long that that is ‘normal’ to you. Any issues you have related to said behaviors, that’s your fault somehow.

      Having someone point the abuse out to you can be devastating. It shatters ideas you had about yourself/your relationship/the abusive person. And when it is pointed out that these fucked up patterns/behaviors run all the way back into what you thought of as a happy/normal childhood, your whole narrative of your life can be shaken, and you can need to reevaluate beliefs that you picked up from those experiences. Oh, and if you admit that the shitty people are shitty, you might have to change things, or end the relationship entirely. Just thinking of that can be terrifying, especially when it is family.

      It sounds to me like the letter writer’s in laws have a long pattern of treating her husband as a lower priority than his siblings and doing other things that otherwise make him feel like shit. He has justified these behaviors for a long time and that has allowed him to keep the peace and have the shiny happy normal family life that he’s ‘supposed’ to have. And now this situation is forcing him into the realization that these behaviors really aren’t okay, and he really has to say something, and break the facade of the perfect happy family. While I think that you are right in saying that the husband can both recognize this about his parents and still love them for their good qualities, he has to stop thinking of them as “people who can absolutely be trusted to love me and to try their best to treat me well” and start thinking of them as “superficially nice people that generally put their needs before my own and whom I should therefore expect to disappoint me”… and that can be a hard adjustment. I don’t think this is a situation where his parents have a blind spot about one issue–this is a pattern of bad behavior that he doesn’t want to see.

      Now, to LW,

      I hope you’ll forgive me for telling you a longish-story.

      I grew up thinking my parents really loved me/my siblings, and really cared about our happiness/general well being. I believed I had a happy, normal childhood. And all of those things are true, mostly. But when my parents are angry or scared or fighting their own demons, they have at times thrown their kids’ well-being under the bus in very clearly shitty ways.

      For instance, my mother has had a habit of stealing money from her children first and asking to borrow it later when she is up against the wall about paying a bill. And while she used to do it with my babysitting money as a kid, at it’s worst we were talking thousands of dollars going missing from checking accounts of adult children. Forged checks. But she always apologized and swore it was a one-time, emergency situation and it would never happen again, and that she would repay us. I know this sounds insane, but for YEARS while this slowly escalated, my siblings and I allowed ourselves to give her another chance, and then another, because, hey, how can you not trust your own mother? This always, always went poorly. Every time she let us down again, we would feel betrayed and miserable all over again.

      The only way this could stop was for me and my siblings to admit to ourselves, “When it comes to money, we can’t trust mom. At all. Ever.” And then we were able to take appropriate action to protect ourselves. Making sure I never, ever leave a checkbook accessible to my mother when I’m home visiting is terrible to have to do, but I no longer wake up to an overdrawn bank account and spend the day having fights over the phone and spend the day or the week seething with hurt and anger.

      My parents both have a few other shitty behaviors that were even harder for me to recognize and deal with. Recognizing these shitty behaviors for what they were forced me to reevaluate my “happy, normal childhood,” and that hurt, but it led to me changing my expectations for my interactions with my family ultimately improved my life NOW. I am able to have relationships with my parents because they are limited ones. It is not what I’d prefer, but it’s what I have, and I’ve generally come to terms with that.

      It was HARD to get there though. I got burned many times before I learned to stop touching the stove, and I felt stupid and frustrated and awful every time. And meanwhile, I had friends practically screaming at me to stop trusting my mother. And that sucked, because I did feel stupid and frustrated, but I also felt like I was being asked to give up my family, and I couldn’t even bring myself to think about that, so I kept shutting down and running from the problem.

      While you have every right and I think need in this case to be persistent and firm and expressing your feelings about the very-not-cool-ness of his parents’ behavior to your husband, you have to let him take the lead on actual interactions with the parents, and you should try to be patient with him. It’s hard to suddenly see a large chunk of your life from a different angle and really, really not like what you see.

      Best of luck, and congrats on the baby!


  9. Congratulations and sympathies, respectively. I have nothing to add to the great reply/comments … just wanted to say I love this:

    By remaining aloof and flaky and putting y’all last they are giving you permission to put them last.

    That should be in an instruction manual somewhere.

  10. I have no particular insight into your situation, but wanted to say congrats on adopting. I have friends who are in a similar situation (she has medical issues that make pregnancy a no-go) who are trying to adopt and are fostering babies until they can. I know how delighted they’ll be to get to keep one, so I have half an idea of how happy you must be with your little one. Many congrats! And thanks for taking in a kid who needed it.

  11. Please allow me to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations. I hope you and your husband and new daughter can all create a terrifyingly amazing life together.

  12. LW, congratulations on adopting your kid! Whatever happens with her paternal grandparents, it sounds like she’ll have parents who love her a whole lot and really wanted her in their lives.


    Instead, congratulations, LW! Being a parent is great for people who really, really want it, and it sounds like you’re in the club! Enjoy it and good luck!

  14. Oh, LW, congratulations, congratulations, a thousand congratulations! I yearn for pictures and I want to nibble on your daughter’s toes and snuggle her and sing her a lullaby. I’m so happy for you! Congratulations! I won’t say “treasure this time” because, duh, you clearly already are, and the fact that you managed to be clear-headed enough to put together this letter means, to me, that you clearly have a lot of the transitional stuff under control, and I just want to shake your hand on that. Well done!

    Regarding the actual topic of the letter: oh, God, in-laws. Wow. I sympathize. Nobody warned me about how in-laws actually work; my dad was pretty much adopted into my mom’s family, and, although I’ve heard rumors of my mom having a rougher time with my dad’s family, nobody ever explained to me that there’s a very strong possibility that the most wonderful person in the world, the best person for you, who is a marvelous partner and best friend and lover, can have somehow come from a family that rubs you the wrong way ALL THE TIME. I still don’t understand how it’s possible, but there you go. Sometimes the best people come from families who are complete dicks, and so you have to create some kind of relationship with a bunch of complete dicks, because your spouse knows they have problems but still loves them, and you love your spouse.

    Your in-laws are being complete dicks. I’m sure they have reasons; I honestly don’t care at the moment because even though I understand that some people don’t like babies until they get to the interactive stage, your in-laws are still supposed to be supporting you and (especially!) your husband, and clearly they’re not interested in meeting the minimum requirements for parenting, let alone grand-parenting. Possibly they can be lovely people otherwise; that doesn’t interest me, either, because people who are lovely, but are dicks to their child, daughter-in-law, and new grandchild, don’t get cookies from me.

    So… everything the Captain said, is right, and my heart aches for you. These are good things, necessary things, but oh, God, you shouldn’t have to do any of this. Your in-laws should be good parents to your husband, and they should be excited for your daughter’s adoption. You are right about all of this: you should not have to lead anyone through a step-by-step process of How To Love Your Grandchild, Avoid Being a Dick to Your Daughter-In-Law, and Support Your Son. And yet. Ugh.

    Having kids is a crazy time of transition, and one of the things that changes is a new parent’s relationship to his/her parents. It’s possible that your husband expected– not without reason, given the huge amount of (really, really inappropriate) pressure they were putting on you guys to procreate– that once you two had provided them a grandchild, his parents might finally be satisfied and he could have the relationship with them that his siblings do. And now that isn’t happening, and if I were him, I’d be beside myself with frustration and weird incoherent guilt (when parents treat a child poorly, it always, always makes the child feel like they’ve done something to deserve it, no matter how untrue that is) and anger. I mean, WHAT ELSE DO THEY WANT?

    But here’s the thing: he’s a father now, and if his parents treat his little girl poorly, that’s something he can’t excuse in his head the way he can write off how they treat him, or even you. This time of transition has the potential to completely re-write how he deals with his parents, so following the Captain’s advice is key here. Children give us a reason to grow up in all the ways that were too uncomfortable to deal with before, so now your husband has a reason to change things with his parents. I think you guys can do it, and I’m rooting for you!

    Side note: 10 miles away sounds way too close to live to family that treats you like crap. If at some point the possibility of moving comes up, I’d take a good look at it and consider “close to family” as a negative point of your current situation, not a positive.

  15. Congratulations, LW! Sorry your in-laws are currently being dickbags, and I hope that clears up soon. In the meantime, I hope you and your husband have a simply marvelous time with your daughter. Best wishes and Jedi hugs all around.

  16. Congratulations for your tiny human! I think adoption is one of the niftiest things about humanity; hope to do it myself one day. Best of luck in making a terrifyingly awesome family with your little one.

  17. there is power in reminding yourself that to remain in a relationship with another person is a choice

    This is the major reason I keep reading CA, so thanks. Congrats LW on your new family member!

  18. I am the letter writer and I want to thank each and every one of you for your kind words and thoughtful responses. I had not considered many things that you all have brought up and it makes me feel the need to re-examine some of my expectations, viewpoints, and reactions. Self examination is often uncomfortable and hard but so necessary!

    We had a lovely adoption day and a lovely luncheon as well as a super lovely champagne and cake celebration last night at our home. My in laws attended everything. They even brought cards and gifts. I was happy that they celebrated this day with us and I am keeping an open heart and open mind for interactions with them in the future. I will also reset my own expectations about how I think parents and grandparents should act towards their children. May it be my lifelong lesson to treat others in a considerate and compassionate way.

    My spouse did say something to his sister about being excluded from the family get away. It was funny, she responded to him the way he has responded to me for years and it was like a light bulb went on for him and he had an OH! moment. One of our ongoing marital issues is I feel he is inconsiderate towards me and he suddenly felt he could relate to my feelings about his own behavior. He also realized how shitty it feels to be the recipient of said behavior. So net win/ win for both of us on that front.

    I am thrilled we have this child to raise and love and cherish. It was unexpected and it’s scary and fun and thrilling and filled with more love than I could have ever imagined or thought my heart was capable of holding. Thank you, again, for such generous responses; strangers on the internet WIN today.

  19. Someone else touched on this but I want to emphasize it because of what you said about your husband: Part of becoming a parent, for me, involved some intense reflection on the way I was raised, the way my parents behaved or didn’t behave, and whether they were “good parents” in all the ways I wanted them to be (or wanted to be myself).

    In some ways I became a shitload more forgiving of my parents and the challenges they faced in parenting. At the same time, however, I felt angrier about certain things, even things that hadn’t bothered me much before.

    I wonder if your husband may be going through this. I found this a painful process, myself, a not-always-comfortable by-product of becoming a parent.

    1. There are a lot of things that when I was little, I vowed to do differently with my own children. And a lot of those things are either silly ideas of a child (I’ll let them have dessert EVERY DAY), or minor issues that were upsetting at the moment but that I can easily understand and forgive.

      Other things I’ve just gotten angrier about as I got older. Processing my family bullshit has led me to the belief that my parents love me and my siblings very much and really wanted to be and tried to be good parents. And in lots of ways, they were. But I think the ways that they failed were mostly related to some harmful beliefs about what a ‘good parent’ is.

      In my ridiculously long comment above, I mentioned that my mother had some terrible money-management habits. Part of the reason she developed those is because she has a deep desire to give her family all the trappings of a middle-to-upper-middle-class life. A big house (for 5 kids!) in a great school district, nice toys, fully paid for college educations… and that just wasn’t possible. Don’t get me wrong, my family has never been poor. But we have had rough times where we needed to cut back, and the cuts wouldn’t have hurt any of us that much. I could have survived without a second gen iPod (about twice as thick and heavy as today’s and super expensive, remember?) for my 16th birthday, as well as without the 15 other gifts. Our Christmases got bigger every year, even when we asked her to buy us less because we were old enough to understand the financial stress the family was under. But she drove herself crazy fussing over money and doing ever more stupid, desperate things to get us all the STUFF she thought we needed.

      My parents are also so concerned about being “good parents” who raised “good kids” that when they do make serious mistakes they can’t apologize and when there are serious problems they frequently deny them. My parents have repeatedly told me that names they called us/threats they made/etc were things that we either a) remembered wrong or b) deliberately made up to hurt them. Any minor mistake, pointed out, was us accusing them of being Bad Parents. They’ve also screamed at each others for HOURS behind closed doors and then come out and insisted that NOTHING was wrong, and hey, let’s go to the park as a family! And when I got older and started trying to call them on these things, they insisted that our family was fantastic and that I must be the problem, or maybe I was interpreting wrong because [mental health issues that I should have never told them about because they were frequently flung back in my face like this].

      I don’t know if I’ll ever be a parent, but if I do become one, I hope that I can remember that, beyond basic biological needs, the most important things you can give a child are healthy, happy, engaged parents and the feelings of stability and safety that come with that. And I know that regardless of whether I become a parent, being able to own my shit and apologize sincerely when appropriate is far, far more important than LOOKING like I have my shit together.

  20. This is such good advice. Dealing with people who hurt you over and over is really hard. Your letter reminds me of what I’m going through with my brother and sister in law. Time and time again I would be so hurt that they did (or most commonly) didn’t do something. I would get so worked up, and upset. My therapist finally brought it to me like this- 1) I can keep doing the same thing, expecting, and getting hurt, and then being upset or 2) I can speak up for my needs, or 3) I can change my expectations in light of their previous behavior. I chose the last option. It has saved me a lot of grief and trouble. It hasn’t been easy, though, and I still regress sometimes. For instance: Today is my birthday. My brother hasn’t called/emailed/texted/facebooked me. As a pattern of behavior, I shouldn’t expect anything special. As a human being, I do.

    It can be hard, is what I’m saying. But we have options in how we deal with them. Congrats on the baby, I’m sorry your family is being so sucky, and I hope they come to their senses!

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