#671: Planning a family and already anticipating difficulties with Grandma.

Captain and Crew,

I’ve been married to a wonderful man for almost 5 years now. He and I have worked hard to have a marriage based on openness and honesty.

We decided fairly early on we weren’t in a hurry to have kids, if ever. We wanted to have time to be just us. Then I had some medical issues which required a snip of the tubes, so it hasn’t even been an issue for many years.

The second question my MIL ever asked me was if I was going to give her grandchildren. To the point she stopped talking to us for a year after the marriage when we told her it wasn’t happening.

My husband has always, always handled her and stood up to her on our (and my) behalf. He’s never tried to make me do what she wants even superficially for “family harmony”.

Adding to the tension is the fact that for ten years her ex husband brutally abused my husband. When my husband finally talked to her about it and asked why she didn’t allow him to live elsewhere, her reply was “I didn’t want to admit I was wrong. I would rather you be abused and hurt than hear ‘I told you so’ from my mother”. She has also Whitewashed the abuse and makes it like they had a Rockwell childhood.

There has been therapy for all of this, don’t worry. And continues to be.

Husband and I are now talking about having kids in the next couple years, especially now that we have found out My body has reversed that surgery all on it’s own (super mutant Fallopian tubes for the win).

We will need to set boundaries, probably All over again. Going into it this is what We would want:

1. She would never be left alone with any of our kids. Ever. She has a history of poor decision making and drug use.

2. We would need to restrict how much time she is visiting for our own sanity, and to be honest, mainly mine.

3. That she will not argue every aspect of our parenting choices.

So when is the best time to establish these? What’s a good script that doesn’t involve my overprotective tendencies an easy out? Can I just hide being pregnant until the kid is like 13?

We are not telling anyone I am fertile again, but we are discussing all of this potential madness.

Thanks for your advice

Not yet a momma but already dreading grandmomma drama

Dear Not Yet A Momma,

All of your planned boundaries for your mother-in-law sound reasonable to me based on the history. She will fight them all, especially #3, to which the answer is a robot-like “Well, thanks for telling us but we’re going to do it our way since the baby is fine.”

The time to set boundaries like these is in the moment. She won’t understand the general principles of what you’re doing and why and she won’t understand them or agree to them ahead of time. She won’t accept the logical case for why things have to be the way they are, especially if it means acknowledging past bad behavior on her part. So you could buy yourself tons of conflict when there isn’t even an actual baby yet, or you could hang out, completely ignore her for a while, and then set boundaries on a case by case basis where you don’t have to convince her of anything, you just have to exercise your power as parents. For example:

Her: “Can I come visit you and the baby?” 

Your husband: “It’s not a good time, Ma.”

Her: “Now that I’m coming to see you all, good news, I’m going to stay for three weeks!”

Your husband: “We were thinking more like three days/three hours.”

Her: “I’m going to come anyway! You can’t keep me away from my grandchild!”

Your husband: :shrug: “That’s not our intention, but three weeks is too long for us, so why not come for a short visit and enjoy yourself?” See also: Husband takes grandchild to visit Grandmomma for a day or two, you get house to yourself.

Her: “Why don’t I watch grandchild while you take some time for yourselves?”

Your husband: “No thanks!”

Her:Jeez, it’s like you don’t want to leave me alone with grandchild or something. Don’t you trust me?

Your husband: “Well, since you bring it up, no, we’re not comfortable leaving you alone with them.”/”Thanks for the offer, but we’ll get a sitter.”

Her: Why are you doing (parenting thing) like that? You should do it like this!”

Your husband: “Huh, thanks for telling us.” :keeps doing whatever he was doing before:

She may start planning and butting into things as soon as she knows you are expecting, with tons of advice and speculation about how things will be. I suggest that for your own sanity, you let your husband be the one who communicates with her, and that he develops a lot of scripts that go “Hey thanks for telling us” or “Huh, that’s one thought” or “Let’s wait and see!” She can have all the unsolicited advice and wishful thinking she wants. Y’all “win” by being noncommittal and brief so as to not get drawn into lengthy discussions with her. If she pushes to the point where a big discussion needs to happen, he has the option to say “Since you let Ex-husband abuse me, you’ll understand if my trust in you about parenting matters is very low. I’m not the one who needs to earn your regard here.” 

It’s good for you to be vigilant about safety issues, like drug use and leaving children alone with someone who is so cavalier about abuse (I 100% understand your sense of YIKES where she is concerned). As you go forward, remember three things:

  • If your child grows up knowing Grandmomma in some fashion, there are times they will be delighted by her, and times when they realize what a fucking pain in the ass she is (and possibly love her anyway). Their relationship most likely won’t mimic your husband’s relationship with her, either because she will genuinely try to do better or because she’s mellowed with time, and because your child won’t ever be in a situation where she has power over them. It’s one of those maddening and beautiful truths that tremendously difficult parents can sometimes be okay grandparents.
  • That said, you don’t have to do anything you think is unsafe just to let her have her redemption narrative. “Nope!” is always a possible answer to anything she suggests.
  • You and your husband are the bosses of what happens to your child. You will get tons of practice in saying no between now and Actual Baby (from what I hear, life as a pregnant person really lets you practice saying “Kind Sir or Madam, Kindly Fuck Off” to people who want to shove their opinions into your life). Your husband has already survived growing up with this lady. He can handle anything she throws at him, and so can you.

As you plan your family, please don’t let the specter of this lady ruin this time for you. She has no rights or power here except what you grant her.


140 thoughts on “#671: Planning a family and already anticipating difficulties with Grandma.

  1. Congratulations on your happy turn of health events. The Captain is spot on about pregnancy bringing out all kinds of unsolicited advice. I found the response of “Hmmm (thoughtful pause)…that’s definitely something to think about” to be very helpful. And I just want to add, how awesome your husband is for having your back! Keep on being a united front.

    And I also think you’re wise not to announce your intention to start a family. Your health improvement is great, but even the healthiest of women still have troubles getting pregnant. The last thing you need is MIL…or anyone else…nagging you to death with “But I thought you said you were starting a family what’s up with that how come nothing’s happening yet are you SURE you’re health is better bla bla bal” etc. etc. Because that’ll happen, too, believe me.

    And best of luck to you both!

  2. Based on my own true story: Don’t say anything to anyone about your plans until you’re actually pregnant. Why? Because sometimes babies take a long long time to happen, no matter what you planned. And if you’re not even going to start for a few years, and since you had possibly fertility changing surgery you really don’t know what the timeline will be (I can’t think what medical issue would require fallopian tube ligation, but it sounds entirely possible you may have fertility issues and won’t just tidily fall pregnant when you want to) MIL will be on this non-stop if you open that door at this point, and bring her into the discussion of hypothetical grandchildren-to-be. And trust me, it is exhausting.

    In my own true story, it turned out that stating things boldly up front in advance was disaster because the hurt feelings and indignant complaints and manipulations only had time to ferment and grow large. The only thing that ever worked was to in the moment make a dispassionate statement about how things were, rather than any appeal to logic or attempt to get anyone on side.

    Also, you have to give her at least the impression of the benefit of the doubt. As CA said, she might just be a fabulous grandparent, even though she didn’t step in to deal with the coparent she had. She might just be a nutty old woman, but your kid will figure that out (also based on my own true story re GMIL). She might want more involvement than you are ok with, but you graciously “oh, thanks for that kind offer. Right now we have things set up in a different way but we’ll keep the offer in mind” Don’t share tons of detail. Don’t try to rationalise what you choose. But don’t start setting up a Hadrian’s Wall of Nope before you know what is likely – even with your past experience, a future baby is a) entirely hypothetical right now, and b) a new thing for all parties, unlike anyone that has been involved in the dynamic before. Be aware of the possible pitfall areas/topics, but try not to gatekeep.

    That’s my life advice based on my own true story. YMMV, but you’re years away from finding out.

    1. Oh, no, I think gatekeeping is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT FINE, here. Yes, LW and husband will be new to parenting, and grandma will be new to grandmothering, but they have lots of information about what she’s like already: she doesn’t respect boundaries, is cavalier about abuse, and makes everything about her, even when it really, really isn’t.

      Now, it’s possible, I guess, that these characteristics will somehow change when she’s a grandparent, but I think likely not. If it were me, this person would be lower on my safe-to-watch-my-kid list than a random person off the street. I would definitely want to do some serious gatekeeping – and that’s what it sounds like the LW wants to do.

      Now, grandma hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt, but I do think the IMPRESSION of the benefit of the doubt could be useful – both in facilitating dealing with her, and for social interactions where you don’t want to get into it. But that’s different from the benefit of doubt. Why would you extend trust on something big to someone who’s let you down in really major ways?

      1. Absolutely, 100% agree with you here. I have a very toxic grandmother, and my mother was never able to fully disengage with her because of financial need, but I think she and I would have both been so much better off if she could have severed those ties and done some MAJOR gatekeeping, or even severed contact completely.

        1. I also agree. After all, LW doesn’t know for sure how Grandma’s going to react to even the most reasonable of boundaries.

          My in-laws sadly passed before our kids were born (they were awesome people) and Husband’s Aunt elected herself Stand-in Grandma for my children. Things were OK for a while, but then we had to set a boundary with her about not letting her live-in, addict adult son be around the kids when he was high. Anyway, Aunt got so offended by this very reasonable boundary that she stopped speaking to our family, and has engaged in a smear campaign against us and the kids with anyone who will listen ever since.

          I’ve had some pressure from family members to reconcile with her, but 1) she’s perfectly content to hate on Husband and me for the long haul; 2) she ignores my children when she sees them, they will wave to her and she will literally scowl and look the other way. And you know what? I don’t want my kids to grow up believing that it’s OK to try to rebuild a relationship with someone who treats them that way. So we’re done with her forever, thank you very much.

          If the Grandma in LW’s scenario is willing to spend a year of non-contact sulking because LW wasn’t going to “give her grandchildren,” then I could totally see her cutting off LW and her partner for setting reasonable boundaries once a baby is born. This may be an issue that ultimately solves itself.

          1. Wow, if she’s willing to punish the kids for the totally reasonable boundaries you guys set it can’t even be that important to her to reconcile for the sake of seeing them.

          2. I know, right? My feeling is that she just tells the other family members that she wants to reconcile “for the sake of the kids” to make us look like the villains in this scenario. Considering how stressful it was when we were in contact with her, her hostile silence is a sweet, sweet gift.

      2. “Now, it’s possible, I guess, that these characteristics will somehow change when she’s a grandparent, but I think likely not.”

        I’m a parent, and at this point in my life my social circle is mostly other parents. I’ve known people who expected things would go smoothly with the grandparents and they did. I’ve known people who thought the grandparents would be trouble and they were. I’ve known people who expected things would go smoothly with the grandparents, but there was friction.

        But a sentence I have never heard someone say: “You know, I had major issues with my mother/father(-in-law) respecting boundaries, etc., before the kids came along, but afterwards everything was so much better.”

        I think you and LW are right on.

    2. Yes, because something as huge as starting a family has everything to do with the mother in law *eyeroll*. What is it about a new baby that makes some family members so self-centered and intrusive? It’s borderline creepy how some MILs are with this subject… almost like they’re salivating at a chance to project their lonliness, unfulfilled wishes, and emotional hunger on this new form of life *shudders*.

      Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. And then……. more boundaries. Shore ’em up for the long haul!

  3. Other scripts for parenting/pregnancy advice:

    “We/I really trust our doctor/pediatrician on this one.”
    “You know how things change, this is how it is done now/how we’re doing it now.”

    And, for big guns if they won’t shut it:

    “This choice isn’t up for discussion.” Followed by a change of subject to something neutral, like a movie, the weather or if the cat has been fed.

    … I’m 34 weeks pregnant, the big, enthusiastic family of inlaws has been shockingly awesome, with only a few redirects needed… but I’ve done a lot of thought and we’re all pretty obviously on our best behavior with each other.

    1. My dad: “Did I see you give a dummy to that baby?”
      Me: “Don’t worry Dad, things have changed since the eighties. Middle-class babies have dummies now.”
      My dad: *tries to pretend that’s not what he meant*

      1. I’m unfamiliar with the term “dummy” in the context of babies, but I’m so curious…what are they?

          1. You know I’ve only ever heard it called a dummy and I’ve lived in the UK all my life. It’s werid how word usage is even in a country as small as this one.

        1. Yes, pacifier/soother are the other names I know for it! (Baby language seems to be particularly susceptible to transatlantic differences: diaper/nappy, buggy/pushchair/stroller…)

    2. See also:
      “So…what names are you considering?”

      “Um…we don’t know yet.”

      “Oh, come on. Surely you have ideas! Do tell!”

      “No, really, I’m just not comfortable sharing yet.”

      “You could always name the baby after me/my mother/my father/hideous family name.”

      “Yeah, we probably aren’t going to do that. I’m really just not comfortable sharing yet.”

      “Wow. Really??? For goodness’ sake, there’s no need to be so PARANOID about it. My gosh. It’s like you don’t TRUST me.”

      “Ah…no…it’s not that…it’s just, I don’t know.”

      “Well now my feelings are hurt.”

      “OK. All right. Well, we’re thinking of XYZXZ.”

      “WHAT?!? That’s a TERRIBLE name! Your child is going to HATE you!”

      Really…for real…just tell people it’s going to be a surprise, and then don’t budge.

      1. My mom gave us so many name suggestions that I finally told her this:

        “Any name that you suggest we will not use. If you like a name, don’t suggest it. And now that you know that I’m going to assume that any name you suggest is a name that you don’t like and you’re trying to get us to blacklist names that you don’t like, and that would be manipulative and kind of awful. Don’t suggest any more names.”

        It worked with her, but probably worked in part because I’ve been working on boundaries with her and she’s realized that she gets cut off if she doesn’t respect them. If it had been earlier in the process she probably would have run right over that.

      2. My husband solved this problem by simply telling people (esp his mom) that the baby’s name would be “Lisa Suzanne LastName” (not really), wherein Lisa Suzanne is the name of her hated sister. That shut her down really quick. For his coworkers who kept asking, one of their annoying competitors became the joke name.

      3. I’ve heard some people complain about “it’s a surprise!”, so I went with a very cheerful “We’re still working on that!” at work, until right before I left for maternity leave (so 38 weeks along). Really, that’s how I handled most questions about baby stuff that I didn’t feel like answering, and nobody felt like calling me on what had to seem like false bravado (“Do you have X_item decided on/acquired?” “We’re still working on that, but we’ve got time right?” “Are you going to breastfeed?” “We’re still working on that, but we’ve got time, right?” Ad nauseum). Any ‘helpful suggestions’ for names were met with “haha thanks, I’ll keep that in mind!” in basically the exact same tone regardless of whether it was a legit suggestion or clearly a joke. (I work in customer service, so I’m really good at moderating my tone like that.)

        And when I did eventually tell my mom the name we’re going with (any day now, omg can I please stop being pregnant?), I prefaced it with a very clear “I’m going to tell you the name, and no negative feedback is allowed”. Because it really did take us forever, and I didn’t want anyone to start putting doubt in my head about it.

      4. My niece (who’s last name is McDonald), earnestly told everyone that both of her daughters (they shared that detail both times) would be named Ronald.

        1. My last name rhymes with the word “alley.” My mom told everyone I was going to be Sallie. Which is my great grandmother’s name, so no one could quite figure out if she was kidding, nor could the family give opinions because who the hell says the family matriarch’s name isn’t good enough?

      5. For all 3 of ours (currently preggers w/ #3) we tell people that we don’t share the name until after the baby is born. Sometimes you find a name you love, only to see the baby and realize it’s not the baby’s name. My MIL changed her daughter’s name (before the birth certificate was filled out) from what she and FIL had decided to something completely different.

        The only time we changed the rule was w/ #2. We were going to name child after a deceased cousin of mine and made sure we got the ok from my aunt and uncle to use the name (they were cool w/ it).

        And you know what? Sometimes it’s nice to have a shared secret w/ your partner.

        1. A hearty YES to “sometimes you… see the baby and realize it’s not the baby’s name.” I have like 15 cards in my baby box addressed to “Baby X,” X being what my mom had told everyone she was naming me if I was a girl, but when she looked at me she basically called an audible and named me something completely different. Even my dad didn’t realize I wasn’t named X until they brought him the birth certificate to sign.

      6. My favorite way to deal with that was give them a little piece of the info.

        We knew my son would have my late uncle’s name as his middle name, but we didn’t want to tell people his slightly weird first name. So people would ask and I would say “oh, gosh, we are still not sure about the first name, but his middle name will be Joseph* after my uncle who passed away just after my husband and I were married.”

        Shut them right down every single time.

      7. This is the only piece of advice that I give expecting parents: Telling people the name of the baby before it’s born can go very, very wrong. Everyone who I know whose done this has had multiple people say “Oh, I knew a Betty.* She was AWFUL.” if not something worse. But very few people will greet your little baby Betty and say “Oh, aren’t you so cute! You’re just like that awful Betty who bullied me in school!” It’s easy to criticize a hypothetical name to the face of the parent, but much harder to criticize the actual name of an actual tiny person to the face of a parent. (There is nothing you can to do prevent someone from saying these things behind your back or thinking them in your head, and I honestly don’t think you should try. One of my friends named her son the same, moderately common, name as my rapist. Awkward. For me. Not her. I shall never say a thing to her, but I did say to a few non-mutual friends that I felt awkward about it.)

        Even otherwise supportive/normal people can get weird about baby names. So I advise people to hold those cards close.

        *I have nothing against the name Betty, it’s just what came to mind!

        1. Yep, yep, yep. I cannot recommend highly enough waiting to announce until people have an actual kid to look in the face. It will stop all reasonable people from naysaying. (Sorry about your awkward situation. Ugghh.)

    3. Just as an aside “this is how we’re doing it now” can leave you open to a discussion: “‘Now’ is meaningless, because things do change and…”

      I say this after hearing quite a lot of such

  4. Huge jedi hugs to the LW. I think the Captain’s right, you can’t pre-emptively set boundaries in a meaningful way.

    Also props to the Captain for bringing up the scenario where your child loves your MIL, or at least likes her. It’s a difficult balance to strike, between honesty with your child on one hand and not overloading them with a difficult history to digest on the other. Not that you need it, but you 100% have my support on not letting your husband’s mother spend time alone with your children. I am planning to not have children, but were that to change that would be my policy with my parents. I think if you do that it massively reduces any opportunity for your MIL to try to get to you and your husband through your child. It sucks if your child wants to spend time with your MIL in that eventuality, but I guess the best option is to steer clear, and any disappointment your child feels will be magnitudes less than the turmoil that could arise from the alternative.

    1. My mom was in the same boat, if not quite as bad, LW. My Nana, her mother, is deeply, deeply narcissistic. I didn’t find out until adulthood about how neglectful my Nana was to my mom, or start realizing how much Nana groomed her. I didn’t realize the heroic sacrifices she made so that my sister and I could have a relationship with our Nana, which meant that my mom was always getting uncalled for and inappropriate advice, was constantly having her parenting skills questioned, and that my sister and I were another vector through which Nana could try to regain control of my mom. My mom always considered going no-contact, but for her, the only reason she would do that is if Nana called CPS on her (which was a possibility that I think, for awhile, Nana held over her head–obviously my mom could never REALLY understand how to parent, despite my sister and I doing just fine).

      I didn’t know any of this. My childhood memories of my Nana are her taking us to the symphony, museums, up to a cabin in the mountains, to art camp, on nature walks. She really is amazing with small children. Not so much when kids start getting minds of their own? But my mom was a shield between her and us, so I CAN have mostly good memories.

      I think my mom did the right thing. It’s possible that MIL will be a better grandmother than mother, and if so, your theoretical future children will respond well to that. But the plus side is that kids aren’t stupid. If she’s terrible, they’ll know. It’s not necessary for you to explain to them that hey, btw, MIL is the jerkiest jerk to ever jerk. At least not until adulthood, anyway. My mom didn’t start telling me certain stories until I came home from the Army.

      It’s going to be frustrating, I’ll go ahead and tell you that. Stick to the Captain’s advice and it’ll save you from a lot of the heartache my mom went through. I have faith in you!

      (Also? I actually do sympathize a bit with MIL. One of the things that prevented me from getting help when I was being abused is that I couldn’t bear everyone knowing how stupid I was. Because only stupid people get abused, amiright? And that fear got worse and worse until it felt like The Worst Thing in The World. And then when I actually did tell everyone, they were super supportive. I don’t know if that would have changed if I had had kids. I’m not saying this excuses MIL staying or obligates your husband to forgive her, but… I understand.)

      1. If she’s terrible, they’ll know. It’s not necessary for you to explain to them that hey, btw, MIL is the jerkiest jerk to ever jerk. At least not until adulthood, anyway. My mom didn’t start telling me certain stories until I came home from the Army.

        In some circumstances, though, you really want to validate what your kid might be feeling about G-ma. Kids of a certain age range are naturally solipsitic – they believe (truly!) that they are basically the center of the universe and are in control/responsible for the things that happen to them. (From what I understand this isn’t a function of how they are raised but rather of how the brain develops, so it’s not like you will avoid this phase by your awesomeness.) Kid might need some encouragement or affirmation that it’s ok to be mad at G-ma and that Kid is not responsible for her behavior.

        1. Truth! I just meant that… well, when someone has treated you horribly, you kind of want everyone to know it, right? But it’s not really appropriate to tell kids about Your Awful Bitch Of A Grandmother, because it makes the kid feel conflicted.

          Absolutely validate the kids when they have feelings and DEFINITELY make sure they know that if Grandma is being awful, it’s not their fault. I mostly meant that kids are pretty smart, and they’ll pick up on the fact that Grandma isn’t a super great person. I wanted LW to know that, while it’s definitely not going to happen in early childhood, once the kids get to adulthood they’ll probably have a talk about “Hey, I know you and dad went through a lot to let us have a good relationship with Grandma, even though it was very hard for you.” Since that was what I did with my mom.

      2. Ditto. I had a fantastic relationship with a grandmother who loved me unconditionally and took excellent care of me and who made me feel like the most adored person on the planet… who I later learned had been physically and emotionally abusive toward my mother and her siblings when they were growing up! She was long-dead by the time I really understood that, and when she was alive it had been my (adult) mother’s choice to maintain a close relationship with her, but she easily and understandably might not have made that choice. I can’t imagine wanting someone who had treated me like that around my child, and even in the best case scenario (grandparenting is in general lower-stress than parenting, which I suspect contributes to this outcome) it might be extremely hard to watch my child have an uncomplicated love-and-joy relationship with someone who treated me so poorly. I don’t know how my relationship with/perspective on my grandmother would have changed if she had lived until I was older, but I am very glad that as a child I was given the opportunity to receive that kind of love.

        1. “it might be extremely hard to watch my child have an uncomplicated love-and-joy relationship with someone who treated me so poorly”

          That relationship can be hard to watch even when the parental bond is sound. My wife’s mother is awesome and mostly we all get along really well, but even then we have our moments when kiddo is all “Granny is my favourite person ever!” and we’re thinking “well she was a COW to us last night 😡 ” It always blows over but that three-way bond is always a slightly complex one to negotiate, I think.

          1. My favourite saying:
            Q: Why do grandparents and grandchildren get on so well?
            A: Because they have a common enemy.

            Cracks me up every time

        2. My mother used to say, when my sibs or I expressed our feelings about her parents’ awesomeness, “you don’t understand. These are NOT the same people who raised me!”

          Her parents passed away when I was in my 20s, so I did end up seeing some of what she meant (my grandfather was physically abusive, my grandmother loved to write poison-pen letters to relatives and was a mean snake of a gossip). None of that changed who they were to me, as a child — the love I felt for them remained uncomplicated and pure, although my other feelings about them got more complex. It’s a bit weird, but enh, it happened.

          1. There can even be a drastic changes in parenting style within one generation of siblings, especially with one younger than all the rest. The parents have time to mellow out a bit, maybe are more financially secure and less stressed than they were during the first kids’ early years, and able to handle things with more calm. And that can also cause deep resentment between siblings.

      3. I had an experience reminiscent of this regarding my grandmother and mother. As a younger child, I had a great relationship with my grandmother – but she was always challenging and my mother was always very weird in the situation. Whether I was a particularly sensitive child or what – I’m not entirely sure – but I often felt very guilty for enjoying time spent with my grandmother in regards to my mother.

        By the time I hit the early teenage years, things went far more downhill with that relationship and I had opportunity to see my grandmother be pretty emotionally abusive to my mother which opened that whole can of worms. My mother did the best she could in regards to allowing my brother and I to develop independent relationships with her extended family – and that worked and that didn’t. At times it was tough and at times it was easier. And even into adulthood, my brother and I still have a challenging and constantly moving relationship at best with my mother’s family.

        That all being said – I’m here to say that I do know/genuinely believe that my mother tried to protect me from the ugliness that did exist from her extended family. She tried her best to both protect us while enabling us to have a relationship. While she hasn’t necessarily shielded us from all of the ugliness, my brother and I both greatly appreciate how she tried to achieve that balance. So in addition to commending the LW for all of the boundaries she’s looking to help establish for her family and her child – even if some of that ugliness gets in, I just want to cheerlead a parent who did the best she could. And even if some of the uglier bits sneak in there, I still genuinely respect the effort that my mom made to try and achieve balance.

        1. thanks for sharing this experience… I’m glad your mom was able to do that for you and your brother. It’s hard on many “sides.”

    2. I also appreciated that the Captain brought up the question of the LW’s feelings around her future kid’s feelings towards the MIL.

      LW, if it brings any reassurance: In retrospect think my own parents may have erred on the side of over-protection and over-distancing me from my grandmothers (z”l), and honestly? I’m pretty okay about it, and I understand it.

      My grandfathers (z”l) both passed away before I was born, and my grandmothers both had severe mental illness which probably contributed to their neglect and outright abuse of my parents. I’ve learned this story in bits and pieces as I’ve grown up. I remember being very confused when as a child, my mother would say things like “I know it’s pain, I know you hate it, but since we’re in [relative’s city] we need to go visit Grandma. It will just be a few hours, I promise, and then it will be over.” And I was sitting there thinking “I really don’t have any problem with visiting Grandma…” (It later become obvious to me that these were my mother’s feelings, not my own!)

      Point being, I had very limited but fairly positive interaction with my grandmothers–sweet birthday cards with $5 in them growing up, kisses on cheeks, visits maybe once every 1 to 5 years (facilitated by living across the country from both). This despite the fact that my parents clearly had HUGE (and justified!) issues with them. I never had the Grandmothers-Who-Teach-You-To-Knit-and-Bake-Cookies experience, and I’m a little sad about that, but I suspect that wasn’t going to exist no matter what my parents did. I do think they tried (with varying success) to hide their negative feelings from me about their mothers and let me form my own relationships with my grandmas, which was a good choice. I do think it would be useful to make sure your child has some regular interaction with other elderly people–it took until I was in my early 20s for me to realize that old people actually were super interesting to talk to!

      Anyway, sorry for the tome here!

    3. Yes, as another person who grew up with grandparents who were not good people… Since the letter writer doesn’t want to cut all contact, I think it’s good to let the relationship develop (supervised, of course), and not try to make your child have a negative view, but be on guard if they end up having issues with grandma. I’m the youngest in my family. My parents trusted my grandparents a bit too much, which led to my sister cutting all ties with them (quite legitimately, once I heard the story). But they were a bit more cautious by the time I came around, so I have mostly okay memories with one really negative memory of my grandfather. Nothing that traumatized me, but something that made me view him as less of a good person and not trustworthy (I was also an unusual kid, as I was far more likely to think there was something wrong with someone else who mistreated me than that I had done anything wrong, and besides, he got upset with me for saying I was cold, and he told me I wasn’t, and how on Earth am I supposed to think I did something wrong or that he isn’t in the wrong in that situation, when I knew that I was cold). My youngest cousin, on the other hand, had nothing but positive memories of his grandparents. One day when my generation were all together and telling stories, and he found out we all knew those grandparents weren’t good people and had direct stories ourselves he was really surprised. And I think it’s okay to learn as an adult, but it’s possible to just have the good memories, and if so, that’s great. And it’s possible to have bad incidents, in which case you need parental support. It would have been horrible if my sister and brother who were involved in the bad incident hadn’t had parental backup and reassurance that they were in the right. So, be alert, let it develop on its own terms, and it might actually go quite well.

      Also, decisions you make now don’t have to be final decisions. You can always reevaluate as you go, once you see how things are actually developing. Although the guidelines of short visits and no unsupervised contact sound really, really good and will hopefully prevent any big problems.

    4. I sort of want to bring up how difficult it is too when the parent doesn’t do it. My mother did a lot of “Your grandma is a horrible terrible person but she loves you and you need to be nice to her.” And it’s really unfair to put a kid in that position. It’s something that’s incredibly hard for an adult to reconcile that a person can be so nice to you and so horrible in another context. For a kid you really don’t know how to react.

  5. Not a parent, not planning on having children, but…

    1.) Get will/power of attorney set NOW. Include provisions for caretaking of children, should they arise. the LW absolutely don’t want that woman suing for custody, if she was willing to throw your husband over for the sake of keeping face.

    2.) Some people do change. Having grown up in a similar situation to the LW’s husband’s situation, it would be a cold day in hell before I’d ever trust my mom with anything I was responsible for. Is the mom in question in therapy, herself? If she hadn’t made concrete strides in owning her part of the abuse and trying to do something about it, I wouldn’t trust her in the future. Granted, I”m not the LW or the LW’s husband and I don’t have contact with my mom.

    3.) If/when kids happen, I’d be certain their schools know not to release the kids to the grandmother.

    1. Seconding the above. I can’t give you legal advice, but I would strongly recommend speaking to a family lawyer about the concept of grandparents’ rights. They are a thing in some jurisdictions, so if you live in one of those jurisdictions, you do need to be careful of how you structure your child’s relationship with your MIL so as to not inadvertently create those rights.
      Of all the legal issues I’ve assisted with, ones involving extended family asserting rights over children are the absolute worst–and they cause irreparable damage to the entire family.
      This isn’t to say this will happen here, obviously, but having a good sense of what rights and obligations are given to grandparents in your jurisdiction will only help.

      1. Thirding this advice. I also can’t give legal advice, but I know in some areas grandparents’ rights are a thing (things like “if a grandparent sees their grandchild for one evening every month, and anything changes to the status of the marriage [death/divorce/etc.], the grandparent still has a right to see their grandchild for one evening every month and now they have a lovely Judicial decree saying so.”)

    2. For point 1, absolutely agreed. We got our wills done for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I don’t want my parents coming ANYWHERE NEAR our family comma goddammit.

    3. #3 Oh my goodness, yes, this. We made it a point of habit to tell every person or institution that was every involved with our child, “Do not give out information to any people other than us. Do not let her leave with anyone other than us. Do not answer the door for anyone other than us. Do not let anyone other than us and your staff in the same room as her whenever possible, even if it’s a relative. etc.” Because there are *so many* more people involved than you’d think. Dentist, doctor, babysitter, daycare, relatives who are actually trustworthy, …

      We also rewrote our wills to ensure that they would never have any sway in anything, no matter what happened.

      And for #2, yes again. Unless the person says, “I realise I did something awful, repeatedly, for a long time. I can only hope that you’re okay, despite what I did. Is there anything I can do to help in any small way? Just say the word, at any time.” and has concrete, long-term signs of turning their life around (a few years in therapy, shown financial responsibility, has respected our wishes, even small ones, consistently for several years without fail, etc.), then they never get more trust than a sketchy looking stranger who is asking for directions on the street does–you keep your kid protectively close to you and keep the time interacting to an absolute minimum. It’s harsh that they need to meet higher standards than other people, but then, they have a lot more to make up for than other people, too. And I’d never give full trust, just in case (never left alone with my child, no matter what).

      1. What really drove #2 home was the first time I had dinner with my in-laws, my FIL apologized profusely (which he still does) about one incident that really wasn’t that horrible. (Just a normal parent makes a mistake moment, but I don’t think my SO actually remembered it.) I was absolutely stunned that a parent would be apologizing about anything until I realized “Duh. This is what normal people do when they’ve hurt someone. Or thought to have hurt someone.”

    4. It can be helpful to keep a journal of interactions. Nothing elaborate, just the date and one or two lines about what you did, and any boundary setting you had to do. It’s useful for if you have to prove what level of interaction the grands and kids have had, and it’s great if you suddenly have to face a “You NEVER told me I couldn’t xxxx! ” argument .

  6. Something to keep in mind, LW and LW’s Husband, is that you will most likely have to keep restating your boundaries over and over and over and over and over. Yes, people do sometimes change, but people as heavily invested in rewriting the past as your MIL appears to be from your letter are not likely to shed the duckfeathers of their denial. So every so often, you’ll get a plaintive, “But why can’t I have the kids over for the afternoon and be a nice grandma who does magical things with her grandkids without Mom and Dad around?” and your previous answer to this exact same question will have rolled right off those duckfeathers.

    I guess what I’m saying is, don’t try to explain your decisions. Just tell her no. Don’t allude to previous occasions on which you told her no. Just tell her no. Don’t bring up her prior bad acts and don’t fall for it if/when she does so herself in an attempt to guilt you for not letting her make up for them. Just tell her no. Be aware that she may decide to present herself to other people as the poor put-upon grandma whose ungrateful son and daughter-in-law won’t let her see her precious grandbabies. This may be extremely uncomfortable, especially if she plays divide and conquer with anybody you were hoping to have on Team You. There may be people you want to quietly alert ahead of time that Grandma is not allowed to do X, Y, or Z. Don’t tell your MIL about these precautionary measures. Just tell her no.

    1. I like the duckfeathers analogy. That works well with a different kind of tricky familial relationship in my life. Maybe I need to grow some duckfeathers of my own, and let the hints and prods to “just get along” roll off me.

      1. This is something I realized I’ve developed over the past few years, and it’s actually marvelous. I think it came from my time working in customer service, and having multiple people upset with me in a day (sometimes justifiably, on behalf of the company) who then disappear and never bother me again. Somewhere along the way I learned to just let the negative emotions roll right off and only engage with things that were actionable. So now people can come at with their attitudes or snarkiness or whatever and I just go, “OK, well what I can help you with is…”

        I don’t recommend the crucible of customer service positions to really anyone, but if you survive them you do come out with a weird ability to disengage while seeming nice at the same time.

  7. Dear LW

    The Captain is really on target here with suggesting that you (plural) deal in the moment and that your husband does most of the dealing.

    I have one addition. My mother spent years avoiding “family” events with my father’s appalling relatives. My brother and I occasionally (twice or thrice in ten years or so) found ourselves saying “no we don’t love you more than Mommy”

    It’s feasible. And yanno? We didn’t love our grandparents more than our parents. We could see early on the ways in which they were messed up and how they’d messed up our parents.

    And also you and your husband can avoid his mother forever. That’s ok.

  8. Jedi hugs, LW. As some one who will not let my Mom see Futurebaby and who will not leave Futurebaby alone with my mother in law’s partner* I feel you.

    Good news from my childhood? These sorts of boundaries can work. I had a Great Aunt who had a history of unstable behavior who absolutely adored me to the point where I was her pseudo grandchild. My grandmother, who was my primary caretaker at the time, set many boundaries with my Great Aunt; notably that visits were never more than a few days and she was never alone with me. My Great Aunt tested those boundaries, but she never stopped coming to see me. I have joyful childhood memories of not only playing with my Great Aunt, but also watching my grandmother manage a difficult relationship gracefully.

    *Storytime? I met MIL’s partner over speaker phone recently with him, MIL, my partner, and me on the phone AND HE STARTED HITTING ON ME. Luckily my partner immediately ended the call, but I was super grossed out and will never be alone with him much less let my kids be alone with him.

    1. Wow. WOW. The story about the partner hitting on you is just…what a fucking creep. (It probably doesn’t help that I can totally imagine my no-boundaries- ever FMIL dating someone like that.)

    1. My experience with the DWIL forum has been that they tolerate a lot of trolling. They’re tough on toxicity, but all the big stories are pretty obviously fake (or very enhanced) when you actually read them and look at the timelines. It could be useful, but I’d take almost all the threads with a HUGE grain of salt.

      1. I would also be very hesitant to recommend them, as ableist language considered is appropriate there and I see a lot of freelance diagnosis which is frequently taken to extremes. They want to support the poster, but it seems like there’s a lot of projection.

  9. Seconding the “in the moment” thing; these issues are BIG, and a certain sort of person is very good at lawyering up in such a conversation, forcing you to prove your case, give “enough” Really Good Reasons for things that are, in Sane World, very simple matters of preference. Don’t want to leave your kid with MIL? You don’t actually need a reason. I found that I was so fiercely protective of my son when I finally carried one to term that I couldn’t leave him alone with licensed medical professionals, much less my alcoholic father. The only people who even raised an eyebrow at this were the ones who had no reason to expect they’d EVER be left alone with a helpless child. My best advice would echo the good Captain’s: do what you think is best for your actual household family, and when/if MIL or others have things to say about that, go ahead and hit Ignore.

  10. LW, I have so many FEELS about this post that I can’t write thoughtfully right this second. I can offer hugs if you want them and say just one thing. When you’re a parent, everyone in the world feels like they have the right to you, your parenting, your child, your marriage. Society, media, strangers on the street, and, of course, the grandmas. It’s emotionally and mentally *exhausting* to be buffeted by a non-stop tide of “you’re doing it wrong!”

    The best and smartest things I ever did as a parent was find a good partner (yours sounds as awesome as mine) AND find a good parenting group that had a similar philosophy to mine. My “group” was my friend, Jen. We provide each other with sound boards, sanity checks, and cake. Nine years later, we still see each other once a week and check in. She’s a sane port in a crazy storm. I became a much better parent the day I met her and I attribute much of my success at parenting to being lucky enough to find someone like her. Someone who, when I show up at her house, trembling, weepy, and uncertain, can say, “You have always parented from this principal. You followed through on it. Everyone who is telling you you’re crazy is wrong. Your kid is fine.”

    It’s general advice rather than specific to your situation (which you sound lovely and sane about). Good luck and I wish you the best.

    1. Beautifully said, and definitely resonates with my experience as well. That tidal wave of “you’re doing it wrong…” just ugh.

  11. Oh man LW, you are tapping into some fears that I have hardcore. Like, Partner’s father has asked Partner (but never me, thankfully) repeatedly when we’re having children, and Partner’s mother has stated more than once that when we have children she will be moving herself and Partner’s father to live in the same city as us, no matter where we live (YIKES).
    There is a super high chance that I am infertile, and so far we have not dropped that bomb on Partner’s parents. Part of the reason for that is that I legitimately believe their attitudes towards me will change if they find out that I am not The Magical Grandchild Machine.

    I also second the Captain’s commentary that people can be vastly different grandparents than they were parents. Story time:
    My grandfather is hugely interested in my life, is kind and smart and funny and challenges me mentally without being a jerk. He is such a great grandparent to me. My father and my aunts do not seem to share my view of their father. In the last few years, I have finally figured out some of the weird family dynamics by learning that, in the words of my father, they were practically feral as children because grandpa and grandma were so overwhelmed by caring for their child with special needs that they didn’t care what the other kids did, so my father and his older sister were on their own.

    My cousins also do not see the same side of my grandpa that I do, which I did not figure out until this freaking year (I’m 23) and I’m still grappling with the whole “my grandpa likes me better than any of my cousins and his own children, and I do not know how this changes my relationship with him or if it should what do” thing. I guess my point is that someone can be a great grandparent AND a shitty grandparent and parent at the same time, because people are multi-faceted and weird.

  12. So, I am five months pregnant with my first kid, I have a deeply narcissistic mother (who has been telling me to give her grandchildren since I was 14), and the idea of having children that would have her in their life has been a very, very stressful part of the process. (And also, coming to terms with the fact that, for all intents and purposes, I don’t really have a functioning mother who can cheer for me/help me through the pregnancy: every conversation I’ve had with her during the pregnancy has ended up being about her, not about me, and this is how it’s going to be for the rest of our relationship.)

    So, some things that my (wonderful, amazing, great-at-boundaries) husband has been repeating to me, and that I have been internalizing:

    1) My mother does not have a say in how we raise our children.
    2) My mother does not have a say in what we name our children.
    3) My mother does not automatically get to be invited to our house or to be with our children.
    4) My mother does not get to be alone with the children without my permission.*
    5) These things may make my mother upset or angry or depressed and may cause members of my family to be quite angry with me on her behalf. That’s not my problem.

    *As someone who visited her narcissistic grandmother, sometimes with my mother and sometimes without, I got earfuls of things that I did not need to know about their relationship from a young age, and I do not trust she won’t do the same things to my kids, because she doesn’t have any model for what a healthy relationship looks like.

    I have been really proactive in assembling a Team Me (husband, friends, in-laws) that support me. I also did not tell my mother or any members of my immediate family until well after the second trimester had already started, and I told those who knew to keep it on the DL until she found out. My husband was okay with me not telling her I was pregnant until after a baby was born, or until the baby’s fifth birthday if that’s what I’d wanted to do.

    What helps a lot is that she’s not local, we have been very concrete that if she visits, she stays in a hotel, and that our communication is limited to occasional emails and phone calls. I am not looking forward to her visiting when the baby is born, but I will also have enough other people around, who all know our history, that I will have help in setting boundaries even when I am strung out and exhausted.

  13. It might make you feel more relaxed about this to remind yourself that if at any point you decide that attempting to have a relationship with your MIL that involves your kids is just too difficult/not worth it, you can cut her off and it will be completely justified. You don’t owe her a relationship with your kids. You’re being the bigger people by being open to it, given her history, but you can totally change your minds if she’s just awful and you can’t deal with it.

    1. I’d like to really underline this. She has no “right” to a relationship with your kid and if it’s too painful or difficult for you, she doesn’t get to have one.

  14. Another script for when she catches you alone to make a suggestion:
    “That’s an idea… I’ll have to talk to husband about that”

    1. IANAL, but this is where figuring out boundaries ahead of time helps. For example, it’s hard for grandma to argue in court that she deserves unsupervised visitation if she’s never been left alone with the child during the child’s lifetime.

      1. IANAL either, but it looks like in lots of jurisdictions there has to be something like the parents’ relationship ending (death, divorce, etc). I wonder if — and I hope this is the case — if a deceased parent leaves information regarding OMG WHAT NO DO NOT LET MY DAD NEAR MY KIDS EVER — would a judge take that into account in deciding grandparent visitation?

        Because I could see my father taking my spouse to court over that, if I got hit by a bus. (I have minimal contact with my father; he is not allowed contact with my kids.)

        I’m more thinking out loud than actually asking, but it is probably worth finding that out for your personal jurisdiction, LW, and having your husband write something out if it is the kind of thing that would be taken into account.

        1. J, I’m not an expert in this stuff but I’ve dealt with similar-ish issues in a legal capacity, and if you live in a grandparents’ rights jurisdiction, I would expect a judge to take into account something (say, in your will or similar) stating that your father is never ever to be permitted near your kids. It’d be something to consult with an attorney about (someone who handles family law would likely be the right person).

          As I understand it, the notion of grandparents’ rights is to preserve existing relationships when the grandparents’ biological link to the child passes away or is otherwise incapacitated or cut off from the children – if your father’s never had a relationship with the kids in the first place, it would be profoundly weird and against the spirit and intent of the law for him to seek visitation after the proverbial bus accident, you know?

  15. Captain’s advice is spot-on. Plan ahead with your partner about how to deal with these things, and then deal with them as they come.

    One thing I would add, though, is to never make it a discussion with your MIL. It’s not an argument or something up for debate, no matter how small the actual subject might be. And she will absolutely try to do this. It’s a very effective way of wearing you down. Be very clear that you are not discussing a point–if she presses it twice in a row rather than accepting your “I’ll think about it now; how about that weather we’ve been having?” redirection, be consistent with coming down much more firmly. You’ve given her a way to save face and be polite, after all, and she’s chosen to ignore that. “MIL, you need to stop talking about that right now.” Be direct.

    If she tries to open it up into a discussion, don’t. Even one more word. “But I just…” No. The scripts the Captain suggests are great: “Well, since you bring it up, no, we’re not comfortable leaving you alone with them.” it’s a statement, not a question, with no room for her input. If you want to be really kind, you can make an offer to discuss it properly on your terms when you’re ready, rather than when she decides to put you on the spot and make it an issue. “We can talk about this on the weekend when [baby] will be with a sitter, but we’re not having a conversation about this now.” She can take it or leave it.

    Plan with your husband what to do if she keeps pushing the point. Be very, very consistent, or there’s a danger she’ll ignore you if she realises that you don’t always follow through. Don’t be derailed by her trying to make it a conversation when it isn’t. For my own husband, we decided that they (both my parents) get three chances. The first suggestion of “no you should parent this way” would be met with a general, “I’ll think about it, [subject change]”/”Our doctor has informed us to do otherwise, [subject change]”/etc. The second would be a firm, “You already mentioned that, and you need to stop it.” The third would result in them leaving immediately (or us leaving, depending on where we were)–and you should make plans in case of the the awful, worst-case scenario of her not doing so.

    We have actually called the police when my parents refused to leave our home in order to shriek at us in front of our month-old infant. We did not contact them (and ignored all their increasingly-frantic phone messages) for over two months afterwards. They missed a lot of their grandchild’s growth and were very upset about it. The next time we spoke, the first thing said was a statement like, “If there is a repeat of what happened last time, you will never see your grandchild again.” My husband and I drew a big flowchart of what to do in various situations and at each stage of escalation, and it helped a lot. Being fully confident of how the other person will respond made it much less stressful, too. At one point, I asked my husband if this was too much for what might be an argument over pacifiers. He pointed out that if they blatantly ignore me and go against my wishes on a small issue, then we’re screwed for anything that actually matters, like child safety.

    Maybe it’s too strict. Given the family history, I would much rather be safe than sorry when it comes to these particular people. People who are happy for me to be assaulted are people who need to earn the ability to have my child exposed to them. And, in general, anyone who cannot abide by simple, reasonable requests like, “Don’t talk about that,” “Change the subject right now,” or, “Please leave my home immediately” is not someone you want around your child, even if you’re there with them at the time.

    1. I love that you made a flow chart. There have definitely been family moments where I would have made better decisions if I’d thought more about what I was going to do if they did x.

    2. Oh my god, my flatmate’s ex’s mother visited us once to see the baby and at one point they were driving along the highway when the baby started crying. My flatmate is very protective in some ways and quite relaxed in others, and one of those is that she doesn’t think it’s a problem if the baby just has to cry for a little while, as long as it’s not because something terrible is happening. If it’s because she’s hungry and they’re nearly home? Cry away. Apparently the paternal grandmother, however, cannot deal with a baby crying. She MUST FIX IT, right away. So when the baby started crying in the car, she started to take her out of the car seat to soothe her. My flatmate somehow managed not to completely flip out on her. Incidentally, neither the father or paternal grandmother are allowed to be left unsupervised with the baby, though I’m not sure whether they’ve noticed yet since they live in a different, nearby, city and don’t have many long visits.

  16. Having abusive grandmothers on both sides, to the point that I never met my paternal grandmother before she died because my parents were terrified of what she might do. My maternal grandmother was denied visitation after she physically abused both myself and my sister. The woman I knew as Grandma was not a blood relation; she had “adopted” my mom as a motherly figure, and loved us kids dearly.

    TW for abuse stuffs

    This is to say that abusive grandparents don’t always stop just because they now have another chance to get things “right”. If they’ve made no personal growth, and still feel like their behavior was not abusive, then you’re going to want to address the possibility that the behaviors may be repeated. My parents should NEVER have left my grandmother alone with us, not after what she did to my mom and her siblings (I can’t say because I am serious, there are not trigger warnings strong enough, and I don’t say this lightly), but they got “lucky” in that I inherited my mom’s “justice streak a mile long”. (Seriously, if something wasn’t fair? I would go to them and calmly, logically list the reasons why. Sometimes it was child logic, but sometimes my parents actually thought about it and agreed with me. I suspect this is part of why I was homeschooled; they constantly would’ve been in with the principal.) The way my grandmother treated me was not the way my mom would have, and she was wrong, so I told my mom what happened, and then when they gave her a “second chance” (and left her alone with me at 8 and my sister at 4…) I yet again got to tell my mom what had happened, because my sister’s butt was covered with welts from where grandma had beat her with a brush. (Grandma was put on the first flight out.)

    What I wish my parents had done differently: I wish that, knowing my grandmother’s abusive nature, that all contact had been monitored. She should not have been left alone with us. She should certainly not have been left alone a second time. IMO, family rift-causing or no, child’s safety should come first. The Captain has some excellent advice, but if it doesn’t work, I think that you should be mentally prepared at least for this possibility. I hope it doesn’t happen! But having seen the history of abusers (multiple; not just the grandmothers) in my own family, and their complete unwillingness to change, I admit I tend on the side of being leery about “recovered” abusers. (Point of clarification: Quotes used to depict abusers who have claimed they have recovered but have yet to prove it, not because I don’t believe any abusers can ever recover.)

    1. I agree, and would add that the pressure to make nice and give people more chances to fuck with your kids doesn’t just come from inside the family: some of the WORST pressure I’ve gotten has come from well-meaning friends and acquaintances, people who don’t have a dog in that fight at ALL, but still somehow feel that I need help deciding what’s best for my family – the one I built as an adult. Our LW, unfortunately, can look forward to feeling a stab of guilt and rage every time someone posts on facebook about how family is everything and should always be forgiven, no matter what; she will get censorious looks from strangers at the restaurant when MIL loudly declares how BIG the child has gotten and how she’s never allowed to see him/her; friends of friends will natter on and on about the IMPORTANCE of the grandparent/child relationship as soon as they get wind that LW isn’t using Grandma as a weekly free babysitter. I mention these not because they’re reasons to relent and give MIL unlimited access to the (theoretical) child – they’re not! – but because I wish someone had warned me that people would care so much. I’d have made a flow chart 😉

      1. I got lucky on that score, because my biological family is such that we were raised to believe that blood relation does not equal family, and the people who truly love you, treasure you, and treat you in all the wonderful ways you deserve… those are family. One of the most valuable lessons my parents taught me, IMO.

        But you’re 100% right. I have a friend who, when she was 17, demanded to have the custody agreement changed so she no longer had to see her dad on weekends because he was verbally abusive, and she had people in the chat we hung out with saying things like, “But he’s your family!” and worse, “But you’re only 17, his behavior will make sense when you’re older.” And everyone was well-meaning! But the message that came across was “having a relationship with your abuser is more important than not being abused”, and that’s not cool.

        It’s sad how many people will defend abusers, and make it so much more difficult for people trying to navigate an already hellish system. Sigh.

      2. WRT “forgiveness” (and the unreasoning insistence thereon), I finally happened on the right response (dredged up from existing memory, of all places): It’s from Spider Robinson; I forget which Callahan’s story, but an alien miscreant is demanding absolution, and Mike Callahan points out that the prerequisite for forgiveness is atonement.

        1. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, Unnatural Causes. Not spoiling the story, and everyone should read it, but roughly, feeling bad about past actions is one thing. Whatcha gonna do to fix it? If you can’t fix it directly, what are you going to do it make up for it? Absolution contains the word ‘solution’, and you have to try for the latter before you get the former.

        2. It’s Unnatural Causes, and it’s one of my favourites. Major respect for the Spider Robinson shout-out, the one with Mickey Finn is my favourite of all.

        3. Yep. Forgiveness without atonement is just caving, which, in my experience, is what they actually want.

  17. I don’t have anything to add to these scripts, but I thought I’d give another grandchild of an abuser perspective. My maternal grandfather was abusive to all his kids, and even before I was old enough to know that, I was terrified of him. He wasn’t being abusive or unkind to me in any way; but he was big and didn’t understand children and he would pick me up and tickle me and it was very scary. Mum didn’t pick up on this until after I was taught how to say no at school (props to the teacher who told 5 year olds about setting boundaries around touch) but credit to her she immediately backed me up and from that day I was not required to hug my grandfather or approach him in any way. My mum was motivated to keep some relationship with him; after all, he’s her father. I wasn’t, and my mother was and is willing to respect that. I haven’t spoken to him in years.

    So it’s worth being prepared for your mother-in-law and future offspring having a positive relationship… but it’s also possible that the kid will pick up on the tension or develop tension uniquely their own with their grandmother, and without the stickiness of the parent-child bond that makes it hard to just cut your losses, they may actually be completely disinterested. I guess just know there’s a whole spectrum of potential responses, and be ready to support and be a buffer if needed.

  18. I think it’s crucial if you’re gonna expose any future children to her to separate your own feelings from that of your child. Don’t say it’s good to spend time with grandma while at the same time undermining their relationship and accidentally on purpose mentioning something bad grandma did while your child can hear you. If you’re gonna let grandma have a relationship with your kid/s, don’t undermine it. I don’t think you’d set out to do that but it’s an easy trap of yuckiness to fall into. Or I’m just projecting my experience all over the place… could be both. Storytime!

    My mom was abused by her mom. She broke contact as a young adult but let grandma back in when I was a wee baby. I spent some time with grandma both on supervised visits and alone. Every time we were going to visit mom would mention in passing how horrible grandma had been to her and I couldn’t understand why she’d bring her child to the lair of this evil monster. Now when I’m older I can see it was part Hope and part Manipulation and Social pressure.

    After some time alone with grandma she started being abusive to me. Apparently I “reminded her of my mother”. I remember not wanting to tell my mom at first; it was clear she wanted grandma to be a part of my life and I felt like I’d be letting everyone down by not playing along. I didn’t say anything until it became really obvious that grandma was not a nice person to hand your child to. And of course I blamed myself, as you do. If only I hadn’t reminded her of my mom, right? (sarcasm)

    I wouldn’t say I’m that scarred by it now as an adult, but it had made things easier back then if I’d known that it was okay to say “Grandma is being mean, I don’t wanna visit her again” and not get a giant backlash of mom’s feels.

  19. Ugh. Jedi hugs definitely to LW. I would suggest though, instead of saying “thanks for telling us” or “thanks for the advice,” just saying “huh. interesting” in a neutral but *completely* un-encouraging tone of voice and then changing the subject. Also useful: “Huh. Yeah, you’ve mentioned that. Hey how’s your pet gopher farm/[other hobby she is interested in] going?” If she’s really gotten on a roll, you can absolutely interrupt her and act like you’ve just remembered something exciting you wanted to ask her: “oh! wait! i forgot! you said you were going to go to the gopher national awards show! how was it????” or just firmly: “I’m going to stop you there because a lot’s been said. We’ve got this handled. Tell me about your new gopher pups! How do you train them?”

    Thanking people for sharing input that we don’t really want encourages them to continue to do so. You don’t actually want to hear all her input on how you are parenting your children, so I’d try to be really firm when she brings it up that you’re not going to discuss it with her, or entertain the idea of listening to her expound on it.

    For example, my mother is CONSTANTLY telling me what she thinks I should do with my hair. I used to try explaining to her why it wouldn’t work/why I didn’t want to do it/etc but it made absolutely no impression. Next visit, exactly the same thing: “oh, thecommonwoman! you should really get some highlights in your hair! you’d just look so cute! *poke* *poke* [rearranging my hair for me]” Every time. Sometimes multiple times per day. Now I don’t even let her get going. “You’ve said that before. Hey, did you get to have lunch with that new friend you made? What was she like?” Pick a conversation shifting topic that you know is particularly interesting to her so that she can’t resist talking about it and ask her an open ended question about it so she can’t just answer yes/no and keep on Advising. Keep redirecting her back to your Shiny New Conversation Topic if she tries to wriggle back to Parenting Advice For U.

    1. I completely take your point about “huh, interesting” vs. “thanks” and it can be incredibly useful to be so neutral. I sometimes use The Insincere But Neutrally Stated Thanks as a deliberate disarming mechanism for people who are expecting a fight. “Thanks, I’ll think about it.” I will think about it and then reject it, but in the meantime, there is NOTHING to argue with. I can’t pull off “huh interesting” without there being an audible tone of STFU, but I can pull off “thanks.”

      1. I think this is a really important thing to know about yourself: when you need to be neutral, what words work for you and what words reveal the underlying stuff you are trying to be neutral instead of saying?

        I myself can’t say “Thank you” unless I mean it without sounding like Ms. Sarcasm. I can usually manage to say, “interesting”, “something to consider”, or “huh” in a very neutral tone and then chamge the subject. But I also have to have in my back pocket the more direct, “this topic is not up for discussion” because if it’s a hot button issue for me, my normally neutral phrases come out with a giant side of “you suck”.

        Knowing what words work for you is soooo useful, because then you can just reach for them instead of having to stop and think about it.

        1. My go-to is “I see”, delivered absolutely flatly. If I say “thanks” when I’m angry it sounds like I’m thanking them for their face, which I am currently eating, and that just doesn’t work well in many situations calling for an insincere thank you.

    2. I agree, a completely neutral response like “huh…interesting” can feel much better to say than “thanks” to unwanted advice.

      I do have a caveat for people who, like me, suffer from Nice Face ™: if you can’t pull off an affectless face and/or voice, you must *immediately* follow the word “interesting” with a completely different topic. Have one ready. Don’t pause to think about it. Let there be no space for the other person to get a word in edgewise, or else the particularly clueless and/or determined will interpret “interesting” not as “stop talking about that,” but as “Tell me more immediately!”

      Using “interesting” without a battle plan in place has gotten me trapped in some awful conversations. Learn from my suffering.

    3. And this suggests another item to add to the flowcharts mentioned above: append a list of Topics of Interest to [Mom/MIL], so you have them on tap when the moment arises.

    4. This is my first-ever comment at Captain Awkward. *waves to all the lovely people here*

      thecommonwoman’s comment about hair just hit a big target for me.

      When my sister and I were small our mother (who my sister and I strongly suspect has narcissistic personality disorder) didn’t like to wash or brush our hair. She had some training as a hairdresser, so she cut our hair herself. We both always wanted long hair: our mother would say we needed to trim it, though, and she’d promise to only take a tiny bit off: and then she’d chop into our hair like there was no tomorrow. I spent most of my childhood being mistaken for a boy, being asked if I had a nasty illness (because really, bald patches from too-close chopping), and being bullied at school partly because of my odd hairstyles.

      When I was about fourteen my mother suggested I cut my hair myself. She had done this and decided I needed to be more like her, I guess. I said I didn’t want to, but she took a mirror off the wall and balanced it on a chair for me, sat me on a footstool opposite the mirror, gave me a hairbrush and the kitchen scissors and told me what to do. She wouldn’t listen to my saying no. Of course, I ended up looking dreadful again, and she seemed strangely pleased with this. She made me cut my own hair one more time, and then I got the courage up to refuse (which elicited days of emotional bullying and misery, but I got to keep my hair).

      After that she would criticise everything I did with my hair. I grew it long, all one length, and she hated it. If I clipped it back it looked too severe; if I left it loose it was “in my eyes” and hiding my face. Every time she commented on my hair she was really criticising me, for not being pretty enough, for not being womanly enough, for not listening to her.

      Eventually I told her I wasn’t going to talk to her about my hair anymore. And the next time she said something about my hair I said, “I’m not going to talk to you about that.”

      My mother did not like this one bit. At first she laughed and carried on talking to me about my hair, but I kept on repeating my new mantra and eventually she realised I was serious. She pouted, she told me I was being unreasonable, she called me names, said I was being cruel to her, and refused to talk to me (oh joy!). She “accidentally” broke my things, gave my coat away, and wouldn’t let me do my homework.

      She still refers to it. She’ll say something about my hair and then say, “oh—but you don’t like talking about your hair, do you?” and she’ll laugh, and look at me and it’s a challenge, I can tell. She goes out of her way to do this in front of visitors, my friends; when we’re out together. She has a very loud voice which travels, which makes that particularly fun.

      Every time I see her she mentions my hair, and then reminds me that I don’t like talking about it.

      I laid down that rule when I was 15. I am now 52.

      I stopped seeing her a year and a half ago, and wish I’d done it sooner.

      1. 37 years of handing out crap. Why do people spend so much energy in their lives on that kind of thing. Good on you for cutting the cord.

  20. LW, I can only applaud your careful forethought about what to do if/when there are children in your life. I would add:

    Just because a particular Grandma has learned not to be abusive (if that has happened) — or even was never abusive to anyone — doesn’t mean you can trust her alone with your kids. Story time: My extended family includes:

    * The Grandma who gently and patiently explained to her 5-year-old grandchild why the religion her parents were teaching her was dangerous, sinful and wrong — and that the only safe thing for the child to do would be to insist on only going to church with Grandma;

    * The Grandfather who carefully taught his 12-year-old grandson that women can never be trusted, that they never actually mean ‘No’ when they say it, and that any man with any brains can always get any woman to do what he wants whenever he wants it.

    * The Aunt who took her 14-year-old niece to Saks Fifth Avenue for LOT$ of clothing because “I’m tired of your mother dressing you like a street urchin” — thus simultaneously making the kid self-conscious, doubt her mother’s taste, and get made fun of at school (because “nobody” dresses like that).

    It still amazes me how many people in the extended family take it as right and appropriate that they should teach your children things you don’t want them taught. And yet, I’ve caught myself doing the same thing now that I’m a grandparent — seems to be a hard cultural habit to interrupt.

    1. “It still amazes me how many people in the extended family take it as right and appropriate that they should teach your children things you don’t want them taught”

      Thing is, this can work two ways! When parents are passing on unhealthy messages, sometimes a relative or family friend with another perspective can be a lifeline!

      It’s a tricky one.

    2. Well, I confess to doing my best to be subversive aunt. My brother believes in authoritarian parenting, is a misogynist who undermines his wife at times, believes in very strict gender roles/presentations, and is encouraging his kids to mock people who are different/don’t conform to his acceptable gender norms. I’m not happy about kids growing up into bullies with very narrow-minded attitudes and ignorant in some potentially dangerous ways, and I recognize they’re not my kids. But I make sure to have short hair sometimes when I visit. I encourage my partner to grow out long hair. I remind them that me and my partner are not married. In other words, I try to model alternative ways of being. And if the kids should ask me questions of a sensitive nature, I will answer them rather than silencing or deflecting or otherwise not honoring their need to know/understand. Then again, we’ve never been asked back to babysit for a weekend, so there is a real potential cost. Haven’t been banned from the house yet, not even after calling my brother out on teaching his kids to be bullies.

  21. Agree with the aforementioned advice and would add that I’ve learned through therapy and gleaning different strategies from these threads that it’s completely okay to immediately extricate yourself from conversations you don’t want to have (if presumably you can, e.g. you can’t leave a moving car, etc).

    My mom oftentimes gets hung up in conversations I have with her — seemingly benign “how are things?” conversations — that one time, after answering her, redirecting her, etc, I finally had to say “Mom, I’m not willing to discuss this any further with you. It’s making me very upset and for my own well being I’m going to end the call now. I love you and will talk to you later.” Again, not a specific script that would work in your or anyone else’s case necessarily, but sometimes literally walking away, closing a door, ending a conversation is the best way to nip it in the bud, at least for your immediate mental health. I know from experience that sometimes “redirecting” only gets you so far and sometimes you have to direct it exactly where you want it to go — Nowheresville.

  22. I wanted to just reiterate the point that the Captain made: the relationship you have with her will NOT be the relationship your kids have with her. And setting boundaries and enforcing the will only protect your kids.

    Fun fact: one of my grandmothers was emotionally abusive, terrible at parenting, very bitter towards her children and so forth. My relationship with her is neither that of my mom (who is her daughter-in-law) to her, my dad to her, or my other siblings and cousins to her. The only reason she and me are on good terms (I write to her semifrequently and she writes back; she’s actually started to respect me and my sister as genuine PEOPLE and not as generic ‘granddaughters’) is because my parents established boundaries and didn’t let her do certain things (like drive us anywhere).

    For example: we don’t stay at her house anymore, we don’t ever let her drive us, we don’t tell her about the problems in our life because she will control us through her worry, we don’t run down to where she lives every time she’s vaguely upset, we don’t take her, uh, dismissal of our feelings at all, and so forth.

    The other grandmother wasn’t abusive but was very strict, very Type-A perfectionist who didn’t want messy kids (who are all kids, basically). The relationship I have to her is very, very different than that of my parents to her, partially because she calmed down a lot when she got older and her kids were out, and partially because they didn’t let her direct their parenting at all.

    Seriously, LW, I think you’re on the right track for doing right by your kids. And, if necessary, it’s better to have a distant or no relationship to grandparents than dangerous, abusive grandparents.

  23. Thank G-D you are thinking about how you will protect your child, even from “faaaaaaamily.” My mother was extremely abusive, physically and verbally, to me while I grew up. My brother, OTOH, was the “golden child,” whom she “adored,” as her dollbaby, until I went to college–and then he was the one she physically and verbally abused, because she needed a punching bag, after all, and I was out of reach. When he got married, his wife became our mother’s punching bag, and he regained a little of his “golden” statues; when they had a daughter, he was happy to let our mother abuse her. (No, I have cut off all contact with her for…18 years. He’s pretty mad about that, because I should have the old monster move in with me so I can take care of her, right?)

    Don’t let your future child become a punching bag.

      1. Yes–when I heard from my niece how badly our mother was treating her, I asked my brother, “How can you let her see (name)? Why would you let her hurt your daughter?” His reply was that I was making a big deal out of nothing.

        Well, for HIM it was nothing.

  24. So yeah. I have two little ones, and they have not ever been alone with my mother. So many feels. This is bringing up a lot of stuff for me that I’m not going to get into now, but what I will say is that there is one sentence that helped me A LOT in drawing the boundaries I needed (I’m pretty sure I learned it here, so thanks, Cap’n): “This is not a negotiation.”

    Me: [Partner] will bring the kids over every Sunday to see you, but he will stay with them–not drop them off–and you will not drive them anywhere.
    Her: But [blah blah whine]!
    Me: This is not a negotiation.
    Her: So you just get to make the rules, and what you say goes, and no one else has anything to say about it?!
    Me: Of course. I’m their mother.
    Her: But how I am supposed to have a relationship with them if I can’t be alone with them?*
    Me: [Not taking the bait.] This is not a negotiation.

    So don’t get drawn into the whys and wherefores of this. Don’t take the bait. You don’t need to explain anything. Eyes on the prize, the prize being the safety and comfort of your child.

    * Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know what you would have to say to a three-year-old that you couldn’t say in front of its (non-abusive) parents. This by itself was a red flag for me. Actually, I guess it was a green flag, because the fact that she would say it let me know I was right to do what I was doing.

    1. OMG. I have had that exact conversation with my mom. Seriously. The “So you just get to make the rules and what you say goes?” is literally verbatim.

      1. DAD: Oh, so you just get to decide everything about the boy?
        ME: Yup.
        DAD: No, that’s not how things work, little girl
        ME: Yeah it is. Pretty neat, huh?

        (oh, how quickly and conveniently they forget all that “my house, my rules” and “when you’re grown and have kids of your own” stuff)

        1. I have literally said, “My house, my rules” to my partner’s mother. More than once. I have zero fucks left to give about whether she likes or approves of me, especially when it comes to the health and safety of my child.

        2. I read this yesterday, and that “little girl” has been rattling around in my head ever since. That is just . . . dang. So much no.

        3. This is so creepily a textbook thing that my dad would say under these circumstances that it’s stuck with me ever since you wrote it. That ineffable mixture of threat, sexist condescension, and boundary-crossing…

      2. This is so horrible to experience, but so AWESOME to read you both respond to that with, basically, “Yes.”

        Because–YES. You make the rules for your family. /high five

  25. Lots of people have told their stories, but one thing I do want to add is that, if you should ever decide to cut off contact down the line, and well-intentioned-but-dangerously-projecting people give you flack about it, I have a great line from my own family: “You’re right, it is a shame that she doesn’t have a grandmother in her life. But ‘awesome grandmother in her life’ wasn’t what was on the table, and the only thing worse than keeping her grandmother out of her life would be letting this grandmother into it.”

    Did I understand why they made that decision at 7? Nope. I also…was, in spite of being highly sensitive, attentive, and change-averse, apparently pretty fine with that? Kids are WAY better at rolling with things like that than we give them credit for. As I got older my parents shared more stories, and I respect them both for the time they tried to make that relationship work even when my dad’s mom was treating them both badly and even more so for the time when they said “No more of this, we are done”.

    LW, you sound like you are thoughtful and have good judgment and a good support network, and you and your kids will be fine. Even if you need to change your approach to this situation along the way.

  26. I would like to leave a boast for having boundaries even w/ positive relationships. I have a great relationship w/ my MIL. We talk almost every day (and not just about the grandkids) and she is very sincere about wanting a good, working relationship w/ her son’s wife and their children. DH did a great job as he got older of “cutting the apron strings” (his words) and getting her to see that he is an Adult and not a child. That being said, MIL loves to buy small things that she sees that makes her think of her loved ones (a pink fluffy dress for my very very girly 5 yr old, a toy fire truck for my rough and tumble 3 yr old) and she does it while finding bargains.

    Here is the story that made DH and I sit down and decide we had to set boundaries w/ his mom. I was almost 5 months pregnant w/ my now 3 yr old and had planned a “baby-moon” (ok, it wasn’t a baby-moon, but we were going somewhere that we had wanted to visit for a very long time that was going to be too hot for our then 2 yr old. It was outside and the temps for that week were 100 degrees F on average for the whole week, so it was safer for her to not come) w/ DH for 2 days after finding out the gender. MIL had a key to check on the house and put mail inside and generally make the house look not like we were on vacation (to clarify, MIL is very respectful of our house and has never shown she couldn’t be trusted w/ a key to our house). We came back after being gone for less than a week to find MIL had bought 2 trash bags full of gender of unborn baby clothes. While we were appreciative of the clothes, we realized that she had gone overboard and DH had a talk w/ her and told her she wasn’t allowed to buy more than 1 piece of clothing per child per month. She gets over excited at times and then DH will, gently, remind her and she will pull back. It’s been great and when she found out I was going for an ultrasound for baby #3 she told me she needed to know as soon as possible so she could buy the baby his/her wardrobe, I reminded her I have a child of each gender and didn’t need any baby clothes. She was sad, but agreed (she loves buying baby clothes).

    Having a positive boundary, even for a great relationship, has made it easier to talk to my MIL. It’s even better b/c DH is willing to step up and talk to his parents about things that affect his wife and children.

  27. I think this is a good time to discuss what boundaries are and aren’t. I think there’s a common misunderstanding among normal, considerate people that a boundary is you expressing a preference for behavior from someone else, e.g. “MIL, we want to be alone after having our baby, so please don’t invite yourself over for postpartum visits.” This is not a boundary, it’s merely stating how you wish to be treated. A boundary consists of the actions you will take to enforce those wishes, e.g. not answering the door for MIL when she ignores your request and turns up with a suitcase directly after the birth. Stating your wishes is an important part of *communicating* your boundaries to other people, but it is not the boundary itself. Normal, considerate folks like the LW get confused about this point because they would never dream of violating someone else’s reasonable, politely stated wishes for their behavior – but when you’re dealing with a pushy person (especially one who feels entitled to your body and offspring) normal, considerate person logic just doesn’t apply.

    This is all to say: OP, there’s nothing to be gained by explaining to your MIL that she won’t be able to do X, Y or Z with your kid before the kid is even born. She’s a former abuse enabler and current gaslighter in major denial. If you call her up and tell her she’s not allowed to argue with your parenting decisions, I promise you, she is not going to say “Wow, I was totally planning on undermining your parental decisions before you said that, but now I understand my proper role as a grandparent and will behave myself!” or in any way accept what you have to say graciously. Instead she’ll argue, whine, cry, deny, plead, and then probably go to other family members playing the victim and trying to make you look like the bad guy. And then go ahead and (try to) do whatever she wants when the baby comes anyway because MIL’s gonna do what MIL’s gonna do. You’ll only be signing yourself up for a headache. Instead, make sure you and your husband are on the same page about her, and when she tries something that violates your boundaries, he needs to shut it down and explain why once a la the Captain’s suggested scripts, or if he’s not there, you do it, and if she keeps pestering, then you hang up/leave/end the visit and usher her out. The boundary isn’t convincing her to accept all your reasons for wanting her to behave (an impossible goal, btw) but simply not tolerating the bad behavior when it occurs.

  28. Hello awkward army and mighty captain-LW here. Thank y’all so much for your help and stories and reassurances I am not being a total bitch.

    My paternal grandmother was not the best mom, more neglectful by way of having favorites than anything else, and was terrible to my mother. So my mother never hid this from is as kids, and while I probably wouldn’t have liked gma anyway, I never had the chance to decide that for myself. I don’t want to be that parent.

    Just to answer a few random questions:

    1. My health issues were all due to conflicts in the egg factory and BC hormones and not in the oven itself. It was essentially get snipped or risk getting pregnant because any artificial hormone or iud is life threatening for me. It was a very weird circumstance, but doctor amazing says that everything looks good and clear so barring any unknowns on my husbands part, conceiving won’t be an issue, knock on wood.

    2. MIL doesn’t velieve in therapy or doctors. When she found out DH was going, she immediately made it all about her and how poorly they will think of her, and also, and I quote “all therapists and doctors are rapists, either of your body or mind. Therapist even has rape in the title”. I had to leave the room. She is anti-vax, anti public school (I was a fluke according to her and her husband), and a creationist. DH honesty believed man and dinosaurs walked to earth together because he had never been taught otherwise (we’ve had a lot of science and history since then)

    3. In anticipation of bitching from both sides, names have already been decided on, with backups in case of twins. We have told my dad only because he is the most amazing parent ever, and my heart-brother because we wanted to use his middle name. Everyone else can just wait. Especially since the boys will have my last name and the girls his for our own personal reasons.

    4. DH hasn’t cut off contact because her (current) husband has been an amazing person in his life, and adopted him when they were married. So he doesn’t want to loose contact with the only real father he’s ever had, not yet. He acknowledges it is a possibility in the future.

    Again, thank you so much for all the help and advice (and continuing help and advice) and Jedi hugs. I am so fiercely protective of my beloved, and I assume that will only be doubled for any kidlings.

  29. This is a bit touchy for me right now, as several of our deal-breakers with Partner’s mother happened in succession during and after his parents’ last visit to see our son. We already knew there would be no unsupervised visits, ever; we’re now in the midst of figuring out how to make a neuro-psych test happen. There’s a better than fair chance that we’re dealing with undiagnosed dementia, which is a hard thing to consider, face, and manage. The flipside, though, if dementia isn’t exacerbating everything, is that his mother really is this (dramatically, increasingly) terrible a person, and the hammer will fall, because I will *not* have this shit.

    Example the first: I found out after the fact that she asked Partner behind my back, in my own house, if I’m always such a bitch. It’s not something we’d ever thought to cover–it wasn’t on the deal-breaker list because it literally never occurred to us that she would say something like that. But if she’ll say it to him, imagine what she would say in front of our son while trying to curry favor (which is a thing she tries to do)? And FWIW, I was a “bitch” for reminding her, after I sprinted up the stairs in a panic, that she is not supposed to try to lift the baby out of his crib because of her health problems, and that it’s extremely upsetting to have the baby monitor indicate that my child has ceased to move.

    Example the second: He ‘fessed up about the bitch comment (he’d been too flabbergasted to respond in the very short moment) when I told him what she’d said on the phone last night. It started with a question about buying furniture for the playroom, then immediately jumped to a story about Something Awful Partner Never Actually Said To Her, then spiraled into her usual rant about his shortcomings. I cut her off, saying that I was not willing to have that conversation, that those were terrible things for a mother to say, and that she could talk to her son about any issues she had with him. She still hasn’t learned that neither of us will ever side with her against the other.

    Example the biggest: I found one of her pills on the floor in a high-traffic area of our home. Our kid is pretty good about bringing unusual finds to us, but he’s also still at the stage where everything goes in his mouth eventually. Partner’s mother’s health problems mean she has a vast array of Very Serious Drugs at hand…and her hands shake. “Pill On Floor” is at the top of the deal-breaker list. “I think that was just a vitamin,” she said, and I could not give less of a fuck if that is true. I told her plainly, in my Serious Voice, that I was very upset about this and she needed to know that (no f-bombs, though). Later, she would call my saying this to her “abuse.” (I swear, I don’t care if my kid eats dirt or worms or nontoxic paint, but I draw the line at opiates, you know?) There is also a problem with my use of the Serious Voice, because it sounds a lot like my dad; she used to work for my dad and thought he was a jerk. This last visit was also the first time I put my foot down on that conversation, too.

    Example the extra: We have asked her for two years not to do housework. She has never bothered to learn where things go, whether it’s dishes or compost/recycling, and Partner is almost completely blind. She’s his mother, and she still hasn’t learned to push chairs back under the table so he won’t trip. Her “housework” just creates more work for us…but mostly me, and I have enough to do. But she continues to do housework anyway, muttering (literally! it’s almost comical) about getting in trouble for it WHILE SHE’S DOING IT, because god forbid anyone tell her what to do or not do, ever.

    Also! I had not yet recovered from my c-section when she asked when I was going to give her a granddaughter. I’m tempted to have my tubes tied just to spite her. We are planning on having another kid, but we refuse to talk to her about it or respond to her questions.

    tl;dr, LW (and I apologize, because my issues are not your problem and I am clearly ranting), you are not alone (obviously!), your concerns are valid and heard, and the lines will need to be drawn, redrawn, and traced over again, even if things go well. One thing to bear in mind that I may have missed in reading the comments above: Your husband sounds fantastic! Do your best to remember that this will have a toll on him. It’s still his mom, and dealing with hard things about your mom is hard, even when you do the stand-up thing for the family you build. (I am not always good at remembering this. We’ve been together for so long and have talked about his mom for sooooo long, that I sometimes forget that our emotional responses are necessarily going to be different.) This is not to say you should back off, but that it will have some sort of toll. Probably.

    Listen to your gut, and put the safety of your family first–insulting her is far LESS of a concern than protecting a kid. She can complain, she can badmouth you to the rest of the family, and that would suck, but your potential kid would be safe, so…you know. You win. Additional Jedi hugs to you, LW. Hang in there, and congratulations on your apparent super power!

  30. Lawyer (and mom with problematic family history as well) here, and I agree 108932% with suggestions to have a chat with an attorney who focuses on family law so that you understand the rights of extended family in your state/locality. Lawyers cost money, but spending a little now will be like “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” in the future and help you ease your mind in the present. When you’re done with that conversation, I hope you also get wills drawn up that include provisions for guardianship if the unspeakable happens, as well as power of attorney and “letter of instruction” documents. These documents are not rocket science in the vast, vast majority of household situations, and they don’t usually cost a whole lot of money (relatively, as far as legal costs go). If you don’t have a lawyer in your personal network, try your state’s lawyer referral service; google that phrase with your state’s name to find it.

    Also, I’m a life insurance evangelist. Life insurance (term, not whole) is one of the best gifts you can provide to your survivors as they work on settling your estate. The process can churn very slowly for even an uncomplicated case, but the insurance check will come quickly after the carrier gets the paperwork they need.

    Finally, I also agree 108932% that just about all of these boundary-setting conversations with MIL can be done as occasions arise, but they really don’t need to be brought up right now. The time period for trying to conceive + 9 months of the actual pregnancy can take a year, or more. Why stir the pot before the baby is actually here? And even for the first month or two, baby care will consist of feed, diaper change, feed, diaper change, lather, rinse, repeat. That is to say, there aren’t a whole lot of childrearing or discipline issues to come up for a long while yet. Cross those bridges when you come to ’em. Take the next several months or year to prepare and have your talking points ready; but no reason to fire the first salvo today.

    1. And even for the first month or two, baby care will consist of feed, diaper change, feed, diaper change, lather, rinse, repeat. That is to say, there aren’t a whole lot of childrearing or discipline issues to come up for a long while yet.

      I know that’s meant to be reassuring, but you’d be surprised at what does come up with infants. Co-sleep? Lie on front or back? Breastfeeding, bottle, both? Baby-wearing? Infant potty training? Soothers? Let them cry themselves to sleep? Blanket-training(!!!) Oh, plenty of pitfalls.

      1. Agreed. One of my best friends had an on-going altercation with her MIL because she was breast feeding and thus the MIL couldn’t feed the baby without having to obtain breast milk (which she refers to as “gross and icky”) in advance. Note that my friend was prepared to pump and provide a bottle of breast milk for the MIL to use, but “that’s too much trouble and also what if a drop of your super gross and icky breast milk gets on my skin??????” So after a couple go-rounds, the dad told hs mom, “Well, this is what we feed the baby, so if that’s too hard for you to manage, you can sit over here and watch someone else feed her.” At which point, MIL cut off contact for six months.

        People who want to pick fights and make power moves will find a way, no matter what.

      2. Fair enough. I was thinking in terms of, for example, is MIL going to try to make the toddler become a member of the Clean Plate Club? Will MIL make a big deal about hairstyles, clothing, nap times, gendered toys, etc.? My meaning was that in the very early months, in my experience, there are fewer decisions that non-parents can actually get their hands on and interfere with, rather than just spout their opinions about. Baby’s first few months tend to focus on survival-level activities, and parents can defuse a lot of disagreements with phrases like, “This is what baby’s doctor recommended” or “We checked with baby’s doctor and they think it’s A-OK.” Non-parent doesn’t like that we’re co-sleeping with the infant? That’s too bad for the non-parent, who can give us a hard time verbally about that choice but can’t actually physically do anything about it. But: non-parent forces toddler to clean their plate or berates child for dressing in what non-parent perceives is a gender-inappropriate way? I think those are more problematic since you can’t do the appeal-to-authority trick, and since they won’t come along for a while, there’s no need to broach the topics even before pregnancy.

        1. Clean Plate Club, ugh. I had a babysitter who had that philosophy, up to and including making me take a sandwich out of the trash and eat it. I absolutely despised PB&J at that time and she made it anyway even though I’d told her multiple times I didn’t like them…and made me eat it after I threw half away.

          That’s definitely something to talk about and set boundaries around when any non-parent is going to be feeding the kids.

  31. So, I know you’ve gotten a ton of answers, but I wanted to add mine just because I managed to have 2 extremely different experiences with 2 different grandparents and how the situations were handled. I was actually cared for a lot by my paternal grandparents as a kid as it turns out that when you have a kid because you literally do not know what sex is, it takes a while to calm down and get the hang of it. This had the potential to go extremely badly because my grandpa was pretty abusive to his kids. I lucked out and he managed to more or less redeem himself for 2 reasons. At the beginning my grandma mostly took care of me and ran interference and he was *actively trying* to do better because the whole situation that had led to my existence among other things had made him realize how completely he had fucked up his kids. I adored both of my paternal grandparents and had no idea that they weren’t entirely awesome until I was in my teens and my grandfather was so clearly ashamed of his previous actions that *for me* it was easy to continue having a good relationship. Not so much with his kids though. So while grandparents can totally turn over a new leaf, in my experience they have to be working pretty damn hard at it.

    On the other side my mom’s mom had mental health issues and was a dry alcoholic and my parents started out on rules much like yours. She behaved very well for years and was slowly given more time with me. But, and this turned out to be the important thing, my mom subtly quizzed me after each visit to make sure that grandma hadn’t misbehaved. I had no idea that this was what she was doing, so it didn’t effect my relationship with my grandma at all, but mom was very informed of everything that went on and made sure that I knew that if grandma was a bit off, it was her, not me. And the first time grandma made me cry she cut off visits until *I* said that I wanted to go back. Which took a while. And she completely validated my feelings without vilifying her mom, which must have been hard, but let me deal with it without her baggage. I didn’t see my grandma again for a few years and we never got close, but I never felt like that was a lack either. So I guess what I am saying is that it is awesome to try, but if she makes problems it is also totally ok and in some cases probably necessary to cut contact. And if you do that to make it very clear that this is something that grandma did by breaking the rules and not the kids fault.

    So this is a huge wall of text, for which I apologize. I just figure, if my messed up childhood can be helpful to anyone then that’s a good thing. (Also, seriously, make sure that your kids actually know what sex entails. Otherwise there is a decent chance that as soon as the are out of your sight they’ll do something that they think is harmless and 9 months later there’s a wtf baby. Seriously, my parent’s didn’t know that they had had sex until they found out my mom was pregnant. It still happens. Although I did end up with probably the most complete sex education of any child ever. :))

  32. I have a MIL with Issues, and I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective, in terms of setting boundaries In The Moment.

    For example. We took my little boy, J, over to MIL’s house, and she was playing with him in the garden while FIL and H chatted. I was still up in the night with J and dozed off unintentionally on the sofa. FIl went into the garden with MIL and annouced that she and J had gone. She’d actually taken him to the park about a mile down the (main) road, without telling anyone, and was gone for about an hour. She’s in her 70s. He was two, and couldn’t talk properly yet.

    The reason I bring this particular incident up is because we had no way of knowing she would do something so unbelievably irresponsible, and at the time we had no opportunity to set the boundary.

    Since J has been born we have discovered that there’s a whole raft of things which you never even considered that people would do with kids, which they can and will do with kids, the second that your back is turned (for example: try to give them extra doses of Calpol because they like the taste so much!). Finding these out has been a long, heartbreaking process which has eventually resulted in her and I not speaking, and H taking J once every two months for visits lasting a couple of hours for which J is not out of his sight for a second, even when Daddy goes to the bathroom. And J is six now, and he knows and loves his grandma, and so the possible (probable?) day when he can’t see her anymore is going to suck that much worse.

    I don’t believe you can set boundaries with her ahead of time, but I do believe you can start to form a picture of what you might be in for if you start the discussion now. No, she won’t understand or agree with what you’re doing. But that process will give you a much clearer idea of what you’re dealing with.

    If we’d mentioned that we didn’t want the baby going out of then house without us knowing we would have avoided the incident above, because we would have been prewarned by the tantrum she threw to never be in a position where that happened. If I had have had some inkling then of what I know now, I would have been more on my guard, and saved myself and H so much pain, and quite possibly protected J from forming a connection to someone who will hurt him someday.

    Sorry, this got a bit rambly.

  33. Oh, LW. I have all the feels for you.

    I also have a husband who was massively abused by his parent, which they say la-la-la, never happened, and we went through a long and ultimately disastrous attempt to have some kind of grandparent relationship with our two littles, who are now almost teenagers.

    When babies are fresh, everyone loves them and is on their best behavior, even abusive asshole relatives. But then your babies grow up and develop their own personalities, minds and attitudes. And then you will see the abusive patterns your in laws know to use as their interact with other people style being used with your children.

    At this point, things will be very, very hard for you. They will be even harder for your husband.

    Seeing your child engaged with in a way that is harmful by the people who harmed you is a traumatic life event. It is important to understand that the ‘event’ that will make this happen might not look like a big deal at all to you when it happens (in our case, it centered around promising & then failing to attend a child’s basketball game) but it is because we are not seeing all the context that our spouse who has been there done that is seeing the event with.

    Everyone handles trauma differently. In our case, it was not handled particularly well; it took many years of serious therapy as well as a complete break with the abusive family (and everyone who sees them) for my husband to recover even somewhat from this. It was horrible, painful, and wretched.

    It is avoidable.

    If you know a dog bites, you’d never leave your kid with that dog. In fact, you’d never let your kid be around that dog. You’d go out of your way to avoid that dog. Abusive parents are that dog. They’re not going to change, they haven’t indicated any willingness to change, and nothing good is going to come of this for you, your husband, or your babies.

    My advice is disengage completely & let the fallout, if there is, fall on your shoulders and your husbands shoulders before your kids are old enough to know what’s going on. It sucks but it sucks less than trying it and having it go right to hell later.

    I am so sorry.

  34. I just want to say: I would be terrified going into this kind of situation. I really, really feel for you, LW – just anticipating how you’re going to have to keep your guard up ALWAYS AND FOREVER and be constantly resisting every jab and parry sounds awful.

    You sound awesome, responsible, and self-aware. Keep taking care of yourself and your family. Wishing you every strength and happiness.

  35. Agreeing with everyone that you do not bring this up until you have a fetus that definitely isn’t going anywhere. Grieving a miscarriage/ectopic with this woman in the picture sounds like as much fun as a root canal without surgery.

    I am currently navigating my way through this particular minefield. I have an incredibly narcissistic mother who is fond of both boundary violations and gaslighting. The only unsupervised time she’s had with my daughter was one afternoon and evening while we were at a wedding. And I had to thoroughly lubricate myself to settle down – everything went OK but there weren’t any guarantees. Thankfully either my sister or former boss were with her most of the time. Mostly my husband does the FaceTime communication with the two of them – it’s too hard for me to carry on civil conversations for that sustained a period. My mother enjoys sending us baby clothes and I enjoy not needing to pay for half my daughter’s wardrobe.

    Also echoing other commenters that you need to get your legal affairs in order, and include a written document that stipulates that your MIL cannot EVER have custody. We have a document like this attached to the guardianship clause in our wills. It gives me great peace of mind.

  36. Having recently gone through a horrible situation with my MIL and our new baby, while my previously-rather-controlling mother simultaneously shaped up, I want to put in a word for continuing to work on all other boundaries NOW. I don’t see any reason to let MIL into your life enough to share that you’re going to try to have a baby – I agree with the Captain that those boundaries can be set on an as-needed basis. But you can prepare by setting other boundaries like a boss.

    Generally enforcing boundaries about Stuff as much as possible will be good practice for enforcing the Stuff Specifically About Grandchildren boundaries later on. If you aren’t going to tolerate arguing your parenting decisions, I think laying a groundwork of not tolerating arguing about ANY of your adulting decisions, ever, might be something you can build on later. I have had to do a lot of work on building and maintaining boundaries with my mother in the past, and have been pleasantly surprised at how much of that work carried over. She has been nothing but respectful and supportive so far, and we have all been having a great time admiring the new baby together. I’m sure we’ll have our struggles again presently, but it’s really heartening to see how much she’s trying. I think the years I spent being on the edge of cutting her off really helped establish that a. she is not the boss of me, and b. she’s not entitled to a relationship with me (or by extension, my children), so if she wants to be in contact, she needs to meet some standards of civility.

    Boundary-setting is something we worked on much more with my mother than with my mother-in-law – in hindsight, I realize because my mother actually responded better to boundary-setting. Our attempts to set boundaries with MIL had not gone so well and she’d gaslit us about them and we’d swept them under the rug. We knew there were red flags, but had kind of been hanging out in the Land of Missing Stairs. I think we let things slide with MIL because we suspected she doesn’t, in the end, want to be in touch more than she wants to be right, and in some ways we weren’t ready to be cut off ourselves. But that’s good information, too. If she doesn’t want to be in touch enough to treat us like autonomous people and respect our boundaries, then I guess she doesn’t really want to be in touch with us. (Which is helpful to know when faced with the inevitable whyyyyyyyy.)

    As soon as MIL treated us badly over our new baby’s head and tried to use the baby as a pawn, a lot of things snapped into focus. Including that we couldn’t ever leave our infant alone with her because she was so invested in being “right” that she got angry when our daughter didn’t respond to MIL’s mad babycomforting skillz as desired. We have taken a big step back and are re-evaluating whether this is a relationship that we’ll be maintaining at all. Now that the kid is already in the mix, we don’t necessarily have the time or the energy to go through years of establishing baseline if-you-want-to-be-in-touch-then-you-need-to-act-like-you-want-to-be-in-touch.

    Good luck, LW. I wish you and your husband all the best on your family’s journey. I think it’s great that you’re talking about boundaries like “can’t ever be alone with the kid” now, so you can be on the same page and have your scripts all ready to roll out. When the time comes, you two are going to defend your kid like a couple of bosses.

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