#773: Grandparents, visits, and boundaries

Dear Captain Awkward,

A couple of weeks ago, I tried one of your scripts on my parents to ask them to stay in a hotel when they visit.

My wife and I have a two-month old baby. Any house guests are disruptive, especially with a newborn in the house. But my parents are the most disruptive. They don’t visit so much as descend. They arrive when they want, regardless of what I’ve asked – usually obscenely early in the morning. They bring all their own food and cook every meal, which always includes things my wife and I don’t eat and often includes things my wife is allergic to. My mother insists on sleeping on the couch instead of in the guest bedroom, even though the couch is in the main living area and she goes to sleep hours before anyone else. They wake up before dawn and proceed to bang around the house until we get up. They find “projects” to do when they come, like cleaning out the gutters or washing the siding and expect us to be available to help, regardless of whether or not we even want or need these things done. Basically, they don’t listen because they think they are always right. “Please put the baby down so she can sleep.” “She can sleep on me!” (She couldn’t.) “Please don’t give her a pacifier – fussing like that means she’s hungry.” “Maybe she just needs to cry to exercise her lungs.” (…..No.) It’s big things and small things. “Please don’t give the dog toast.” “We’ll just wait until you’re not looking.”

Learning to parent my daughter has finally allowed me to overcome my fear of setting boundaries with my narcissistic mother, who strongly resembles Alice. I want to put my daughter’s needs first in a way that I have struggled to do for myself before now. When my parents announced their plans to visit again – they never ask – I jumped in. Armed with my script, I announced my boundary. I let them know they could come down to visit just for the day, or they could stay at a hotel if they wanted to visit for the weekend.

It didn’t go well. I expected there to be push-back, but I thought their desire to visit their granddaughter would overwhelm their objections. What actually happened is confusing: they seem to be acting as though the boundary is completely unacceptable.

First, they agreed to come just for the day. Then they canceled at the last minute. Then my mother started the silent treatment. My father was the one to deliver the news that they were “uncomfortable” with staying at a hotel and felt it was a rejection of them. They couldn’t understand how they could be so disruptive, and that’s kind of the issue.

I had more phone calls from my father where he reminded me my mother just has so many emotions. My mother sent a package of clothes (all seasonally inappropriate and/or too large for my daughter to wear) with an emotionally manipulative note addressed to the baby about how much she loved spending time with her. Finally, my father told me my mother was heartbroken, and that it was time I fixed things, or it was implied that things would continue on this way indefinitely, with my mother never finding it in herself to speak to me again.

My mother tells herself stories about how she is wronged and how people are against her, and I know all of them well because it was my job as a kid to support her, agree with her, and above all, make sure she was never upset. I watched my mother alienate person after person, family member after family member for slights against her. And now it’s my turn, because I’ve done the one thing you’re never supposed to do: I upset Mom. My father is buying into her narrative. He says he can see both sides of the story, but he’s willing to “overlook” the hurt I’ve caused and temporarily honor my request until I decide to change my mind down the road. He claims to be the peacemaker, but his solution is what it has always been: for me not to express my needs in the first place.

Are boundaries really this dangerous and scary? Do parents really stop talking to their daughters over seemingly reasonable requests? Do I continue to stand firm even though I will be cast as the worst daughter in history ever? Can I maintain a sane relationship with my father while he continues to believe my mother is acting reasonably? Is he actually just as unreasonable as my mother?

I’m writing because I want to know what to do now. I would like for my daughter to have a relationship with her grandparents, but I need to protect her from the emotional manipulation I’ve experienced, and right now those two things seem mutually exclusive. My parents are so far off script, I don’t even know how to talk to them. And I want to know how to tell when it’s time to stop talking to them at all.
-New Mother, Worst Daughter

Dear New Mother, Worst Totally Reasonable Daughter,

I have some good news for you for the short-term:

Your baby gives zero fucks right now. 

At two months, Grandma & Grandpa are NOT MOM or WARM BLOBS or WEIRD SMELLS or however babies process the presence of people who are not you and your wife. Your daughter can’t even sustain eye contact with other people and she will definitely not notice if your parents need to have a good long pout about boundaries. There is plenty of time for you and your wife to work out the appropriate protocol and conditions for visit with your folks. There is time for your daughter to form her own relationship with and opinion of her grandparents, and for her to someday (maybe!) thank you for the work you did to make a relationship possible. As a new parent, as a new parental boundary-setter, as a person learning to survive without sleep and deal with being constantly punched in the face by waves of impossible, ridiculous waves of love and worry for a tiny creature who is dependent on you for survival, the best way you can take care of your daughter right now is to take excellent care of yourself.

If you need to shove the inappropriate baby clothes in a drawer or drop them off at a donation center and throw the accompanying note in the trash, then do it.

If you need to say, “We’d love to have you visit us and the baby. For this to work for us, we need lots of advance notice and for you to either plan a day trip or stay in a hotel, and also for you to respect our house rules and parenting decisions,” then that’s what you need to say. If your parents don’t want to come under reasonable conditions like “don’t feed the dog people food” and “don’t rearrange our stuff or ‘fix’ our house” and “the final word on what the baby eats and how she sleeps is ours, not yours,” then that is a choice they are making and your script is: “Well, we’ll miss seeing you but it’s your choice! Let’s talk again in a few months.”

And then, with the help of your wife and (maybe) a supportive counselor and a (maybe) book like Will I Ever Be Good Enough? you work out the kind of adult relationship with your parents that you can handle, and you take all the time you need to do it. It might mean that the grandparents miss out on some milestones, and it might mean that sometimes you grieve for the way you sense that the picture of a happy family “should” look. Your mom might throw tantrums and say terrible things (the way she has always done) and your dad might enable her and pressure you in her name (the way he has always done) and both of them might repeatedly invite you into their terrible game where they are always right and you are always punished (the way they have always done). Once upon a time you were dependent on them and you had to play their game, more or less, but you do not have to play this time. You are not the child in their lives anymore, you are the adult in your own life. You are allowed to risk upsetting your parents and make choices they don’t agree with. You are allowed to say “If you want to come and visit, plan a day trip or plan to stay in a hotel” and let them decide what it’s worth to them to be a part of your life. If they cancel a visit at the last minute in order to punish you, try to see it as a gift in the form of a respite from their presence, and give yourself a good break so before you even attempt to agree to reschedule. It’s time to show your parents that you can live with their upset feelings and disapproval, but you refuse to live with the disruptions their visits cause and their disregard for you as a host and as a parent.You are allowed to protect yourself and your family from entirely human-made stress and bullshit.

Your daughter is going to be just fine and so are you. Your parents are going to act like jerks until they figure out that you are serious. Then they will pretend to comply in order to get back into your house and your attention, when, BOOM, they will spring a bunch of jerkiness on you. You will say, “Huh, that’s unfortunate, but it’s time to cut the visit short. Let’s try again in a few months” and then you’ll cut the visit short. This cycle will repeat itself until the trade-off of “Behave yourself, get time with cute grandchild” vs. “Don’t behave yourself, be ignored/excluded” sinks in. Your daughter is probably going to eventually (maddeningly) love them despite their difficult qualities and you are going to bite your tongue a lot. You have plenty of time and many, many tries to get it all right, so if you do nothing else, relieve yourself of the strain of feeling that you have to work it all out right now. Enjoy your wee baby, and remember that she has zero fucks to give about your annoying parents right now and for a long time coming.

140 comments
  1. If there is ever a better time for the grandparents to be absent from the child’s life than when the child is only 2 months old, I can’t think of it! You’re the one feeling stress here, not the baby. I had a mom who wasn’t quite that bad, TG, and when I finally stood up to her and told her something wasn’t going to happen the way she was demanding it, she went radio silence for 6 months. Veeery peaceful 6 months that was! Words from another forum – “There are no magic words” that will make them take in what you say, accept them, and move on without insult or drama. Your parents have made scenes all your life for the simple purpose of getting what they want, and who cares what you want or need. And now there’s a new human who needs to NOT be subjected to all that fuckery….. It won’t be easy or pleasant, but the family members who are already alienated by your parents will congratulate you on your new spine, and the ones who still buy into the drama aren’t on your side anyway, nor the baby’s side. Own the boundaries and rules, and don’t be afraid to spell them out chapter and verse, nor to remind the parents of the new rules the next time you are all together. Your new nuclear family will be far happier and healthier if you can do this. And your parents will get over it or die angry. Which won’t be YOUR fault.

    • J R said:

      When these absurd parents tell you they aren’t coming, say “Oh, Thank you so much! We really need the time alone!!” Be grateful for the vacation from their strange and malicious habits, and make it plain to them that you really are glad that they won’t be coming. This will amaze them, frustrate them, and (maybe, hopefully) teach them a little bit about being real parents, finally.

      Whatever you do, don’t allow them to continue the old habits of riding roughshod over your requirements. If they visit and become untolerable, you have to make them either behave, or leave. And not leave for a few hours only to return the next day, but leave for a good spell, long enough for the lessons to sink in. Mess up, and go home! My MIL was really hard to get along with for years, but eventually she began to be a normal person with me.

      Best of luck!

  2. shehasathree said:

    Welcome to the Worst Daughters Club. *clinks glass* I think you’ll find you’re in excellent company here. (But seriously WELL DONE to you and your wife. You set some really important and completely reasonable boundaries. And yeah, to some people boundaries really *are* that dangerous and scary…which makes it all the more important to hold firm and know that you’re doing the right thing for yourself and your family (and, indeed, any chance at a future relationship with said people) by asserting them.

    <333

    • Elf Krystal said:

      True Shehasathree, and help for children/co-dependants includes:

      “The stages of recovery for Co-dependents are:

      1. Setting healthy boundaries – 0-3 months most difficult stage (this causes narcissists/emotional manipulators to lose their minds, become angry, stop talking to you, cut you off, shame you) Pressure for you to cave, stop therapy. don’t second guess yourself. your withdrawal can surface in physical disorders, headaches, backaches.

      2. Maintaining boundaries 3-6 months -co dependent acclimates to the emotional manipulation. getting used to the narcissistic threats. The people who genuinely love co-dependent will stay, those who don’t will cut ties. Because they can not reinstate the dynamics. May lose friends, family, partners. co dependent may struggle with feelings of abandonment, grief and shame.

      3. Building new relationships 6 mo-year – Begin to realize the relationships with narcissists were not equitable, they were based on selfishness. They begin to form healthy equitable relationships. There may be relapses.

      4. Reinforcing healthy relationships year + – Recovery will be stable, come to enjoy healthy relationship, equal distribution of love, interdependence in a relationship. The former critics will forget their complaints but instead will be admirable of these changes. cravings for narcissistic relationships will be gone. ”

      Good Luck LetterWriter. Over here we say, “Kia Kaha”, which means Stay Strong.

      • Jarred H said:

        I love this. What’s the source for these stages?

        • Elf Krystal said:

          Codependency Recovery Stages. Full Psych Central Webinar. Relationship Advice.Narcissism Expert

          • Jarred H said:

            Thanks!

      • LdyEkt said:

        0-3 months to set healthy boundaries? I… that was not my experience.
        I now have a decent relationship with my difficult and narcissistic mom, but that took YEARS to arrange including a period of more than a year with no contact until she would behave well enough to be able to be in my life.

    • Can I join the club? I am apparently a Worst Daughter for very different reasons (daring to leave a violently abusive relationship because I didn’t want to get killed, despite the fact that I didn’t have a job yet and Darth was paying half the bills) but it has been made very clear that I am one.

      To LW: you’re doing JUST FINE with the script! I know it doesn’t feel like it because your parents have chosen to respond tantrumilly, but you played it exactly right, and got one of your acceptable outcomes from it (them not visiting at all). Any FEELINGS your mother has about this terrible, unreasonable condition you’ve set are her problem… and your dad’s if he feels like going along with them. Your job is to ignore their tantrum.

      If you want to do that by ignoring them altogether — “Sorry she isn’t feeling well, Dad; I guess I’ll give you a call in a few months and see if things are better then,” — you’re totally within reason to do so. If you want to do it by ignoring the behavior but talking to them about other things — “Sorry she isn’t feeling well, Dad. How’s youur golf game going?” — you’re within reason to do that, too. I am guessing they won’t accept the gambit and will insist on talking about Mom’s Hurt Feelings as the sole acceptable topic of conversation; but it will still put it on *them* to initiate radio silence if they insist on having it.

      Which angle you choose to play next is up to you. There will definitely, given how they’ve behaved so far, be a messy period. Maybe a long messy period. *Maybe* a permanent messy period, though I’m betting against it… they make the silence permanent and they lose access to their grandchild. But whichever way they react, 1) it is their problem, not yours; and 2) it is in no way a reflection on how you’re handling this, which is beautifully.

  3. B said:

    I read Sontag’s autobiographical “House Rules” recently; the situation is a little different but I think, relates to the question I perceive LW asking “can I ever have a decent relationship with dad/mom”? In that book, unfortunately, the emotionally abusive/controlling father does cut out his daughter for years, likely indefinitely, and enabling mom* follows suit.
    I think there are no guarantees as to what LW’s future relationship with parents will look like. I think it is worth accepting that /possibly/ there will be no relationship; but that is better than a bad relationship!!! Accepting this “worst case scenario” will have the added advantage of their threats to not engage with LW may be less scary.
    But indeed the most likely scenario is that they want to be involved with LW more than they want to keep getting their way all the time, and will gradually learn to deal with the new boundaries. Certainly, the /only/ chance at a reasonable relationship is setting those boundaries! So LW, I really hope you realize you are doing the right thing and that preserving the relationship is on them to also do the right thing!

    *may be harsh, Sontag’s mom is in some ways a victim too but after reading from the daughter’s POV, mom seems equally bad, just in a more insidious way

    • Charlene said:

      It can be a huge eye-opener when the narcissist leaves and the enabler is left behind – and they are just as toxic as the narcissist.

      • serrana said:

        This is so true! Thank you for articulating this.

  4. Frost said:

    A new baby’s health and care are a lot more important than the grandparent’s hurt feelings – and I would get super mad at anyone who came into my home and started flagrantly breaking my rules, that’s for sure! They’re being inconsiderate and if you can’t trust them to follow the rules of your home, then they don’t need to be there at all. That is YOUR space, not theirs, YOUR daughter, not theirs. You decide how things work there, and how your daughter will be raised and when she gets a nap and all that good stuff. They need to back off.

    One thing I’ve seen a lot of grandparents do for some reason is that they tend to try and raise their grandchildren as if the baby is their child, not their grandchild, and don’t make room for the parents. When that happens it’s up to the parents to step in and lay the boundaries.

    That is YOUR space and YOUR child, not theirs. They need to either learn to respect your rules, or not show up at all.

    • Palliser said:

      Frost–seconding your point here. My grandmother caused a relationship-shifting row in our household by giving me my first haircut (without permission!) when I was a child. My mother told her if she couldn’t respect her authority, she wasn’t welcome in our house. Apparently my grandmother didn’t speak to her for some time but eventually she came around on my mother’s terms. There’s no guarantee that your parents will do the same but at least you’ll be carving out the life you want for your own family.

      I’ll add further that my parents had an interracial marriage and my mom credits familial disapproval as something that ultimately worked in her favor. Her normally overbearing mother was absent because my mom had gone against her wishes and this gave her time to figure out the kind of life she wanted for herself. By the time my grandmother re-engaged, her boundaries were much stronger. Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother was a pain in the tuckas until the day she died, but they did come to a kind of equilibrium. I hope you find the same.

    • Guava said:

      Yes, this is so true. I think a lot of overbearing, controlling parents really struggle with becoming grandparents because they cannot wrap their heads around the idea that THEY ARE NO LONGER IN CHARGE. It seems to trigger an extinction burst of controlling behavior whenever a new baby is born.

      My parents love the hell out of the phrase, “My house, my rules!” when we go visit. I’ve had to lay down the law more than once with them, i.e. “if you ever do X again, we will never be visiting you again, so it’s your choice.”

      The other thing is that when grandparents persist in trying to overrule the parents – and they do it with their usual controlling tactics – well, as my kids have gotten older, they’ve realized that at home, mom and dad don’t talk to them that way. They don’t have to tiptoe around someone’s moods. At home, they don’t get yelled at 24/7 for little stupid things like not putting the soap back in the soap dish perfectly. My mom especially has had a hard time with backing off, and she now blames me for “turning your kids against me” because my kids have told her that they hate it when she yells. At the end of the day, it’s her choice to continue to yell.

      • rhythla said:

        My parents love that phrase too. They pulled that on me when I was 22, visiting home on vacation. I had standing plans to visit friends and when they found out I was meeting them for dinner at 8pm in a city 45 mins away, they said my curfew was 10pm because they “can’t sleep when they don’t know where I am.” I reminded them that I was a fully grown, responsible woman and that I was not going to cancel my plans over an arbitrary curfew. They responded, “our house, our rules!” so I told them, “fine, Then I will no longer be visiting on my vacations and I’ll stay over my friend’s house tonight and the rest of this break.” They “let” me go and never tried to control me via “curfew” again.

        They have since tested my boundaries over and over. They know they are not allowed to discuss politics, religion, healthcare, social activism, racism, big pharma, etc. around me because all they do is start a fight and I just don’t care to hear their horrible, unscientific, fact-devoid opinions on anything anymore. Last time they tried to start a fight over politics, I said, “stop. We are not talking about this,” and they whined, “it’s our house and we can’t talk about whatever we want whenever we want!” to which I replied, “that is true – but if you want me here, you cannot talk about this stuff. It’s your choice.” Again, they pouted, but they generally do not bring up forbidden topics anymore.

        Guava hit it on the head that the root is that they are no longer in charge; the problem is that controlling parents who have not changed their ways just become controlling grandparents. The plus side is that you are now an adult who is not dependent on them, so you can follow the Captain’s advice to resetting boundaries. Yes, they will pout and push, but I think most of them learn. But if they don’t, as one of the other comments said, “better no relationship than a bad one.” I don’t want to cut my parents out of my life, but I will if they choose to behave in ways that are unacceptable to me.

        I am a fully grown, responsible woman – one who has not done anything worth being treated the way they used to treat me. I will not accept nor tolerate that behavior any longer. I will not be yelled at or belittled or argued with until I cry – no one has the right to treat me that way, not even if they are faaaamily. I find repeating that to myself helps a lot when I get sad over it all.

      • LdyEkt said:

        “My parents love the hell out of the phrase, ‘My house, my rules!’ when we go visit. I’ve had to lay down the law more than once with them, i.e. ‘if you ever do X again, we will never be visiting you again, so it’s your choice.'”

        I’d just like to point out that that goes both ways. In the LW’s house, it is very reasonable to expect that her rules be followed.

    • Lynn said:

      I think a complicating factor even in normal, healthy grandparents, is the hard-to-shake idea that if you do whatever differently, then it implies that however they did whatever was WRONG. Mix that with a narcissist who can never be wrong, and it gets ugly. We kept visits to once or twice a year, and still do. My kids started to understand when they were quite small, so we’re all in it together. It’s usually pretty pleasant if we keep it under 48 hours.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        “I think a complicating factor even in normal, healthy grandparents, is the hard-to-shake idea that if you do whatever differently, then it implies that however they did whatever was WRONG.”

        Especially for things like parenting which are so fraught because of all the judgement heaped down particularly on mothers. When you get used to people insisting that “different = WRONG”, it can be easy to get defensive as soon as you hear “different”.

  5. azurelunatic said:

    As long as your father’s solution is for you to give in to your mother’s demands, he’s not actually a neutral party. His continuing to put up with her and enable her bad behavior is a choice, and he’s choosing her side right now.

    Holding your entirely reasonable boundaries firm against your out-of-line mother may well make her ramp up the bad behavior, just to see if she can make you crack. Hold strong if you can. In passing, you mentioned some other family members who your mother had alienated. If you still have viable contact information for them, now might be a great time to think about expressing a friendly greeting. They may be substantially familiar with what your mother’s “extinction burst” bad behavior is like from the receiving end. They might be able to let you know what was too much and when they stopped talking to your parents at all.

    One bright red flag that I would keep an eye out for is anything resembling the concept of “grandparents’ rights”.

    • That’s a good point about the father’s behaviour. Mine is exactly the same: if I’m talking to him via email he agrees and says stuff like “you know her, you can’t tell her anything” but in front of her he denies saying these things and just sticks up for her and enables her. This has unfortunately put some strain on what’s otherwise a lovely relationship between me and my dad. So yeah, he is making a choice.

      Also agree about the red flag. People who try to enforce their “grandparents’ rights” are really saying “I believe that ‘my rights’ means ‘what I want to do or have’ and I am exercising my right to have everything my way ever.” If they were thinking about anyone other than themselves, they’d be more concerned about the child’s “right” to have a relationship with or at least an opportunity to get to know their grandparents, but no it’s always about the grandparents’ “right” to see their grandchild.

    • slfisher said:

      The other thing about “grandparents’ rights” in this context is that it sounds like LW and her wife are an FF couple, and depending on the state and how the child is conceived “grandparents’ rights” can have some scary implications.

    • Light37 said:

      “As long as your father’s solution is for you to give in to your mother’s demands, he’s not actually a neutral party. His continuing to put up with her and enable her bad behavior is a choice, and he’s choosing her side right now.”

      Agreed. He may be a “Peace at any price” kind of person, but in this case peace would mean surrendering your boundaries and your right to be treated with respect.

  6. High five for good boundary setting. Often when we first start setting boundaries people around us are upset and confused because they don’t recognize that the problem existed before that precise moment and was caused by their actions. Even for the best people who didn’t realize that they were doing something that made you uncomfortable and are willing to change there can be awkward periods. I hope that things do work out for you but this is a pretty normal experience when you start setting boundaries (+ or – passive aggressive second-hand whining) and is part of their adjustment to the new relationship you have dictated must now exist between you. Ultimately their response is entirely about their own feelings, beliefs, and personal narrative and is not your responsibility – you are responsible for maintaining your own mental and physical wellbeing along with those you’ve chosen to make yourself responsible to.

    • Big Pink Box said:

      This kind of parent also seems to react so badly to boundaries being set because they realise they’ve lost control of you That shock of “Shit, my puppet has become a person, and I can’t pull the strings anymore”

      LW congrats to you both on your new baby! Do not give in, do not capitulate, reiterate “My house, my rules” and stay strong. My mother is a narcissist too, a control freak who manipulated me for my whole life, and still tries now. It’s hard sticking up for my rights, and my wife usually has to spend a while calming me down afterward, but it’s getting easier with time. Your mother is so much like mine we could be sisters, and I too fear being signed up for the ‘Bad Daughters’ Club’, but that’s because they’ve instilled that fear in us.

      They’ll try every trick in the book, but you can do this. You’re saving your daughter from their manipulation, the daughter that your mother has already tried to use as a pawn. She’s pressing every button that she installed in you, so restate the boundaries, recognise and reassure yourself that it’s pure narcissist theatrics, and let her get on with it. Want to really get it through to her? State (to her or your dad) ” Remember, I said [subject] will not be discussed, sorry We could talk about something else if you’d like, that’s up to you”. Hopefully they’ll get it eventually.

      Best of luck.

  7. Myrin said:

    I really, really love the “That’s too bad but it’s your choice!” wording. It puts the responsibility for all the weirdness and boundary-pushing-behaviour right back where it belongs!

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      Yeeep. “What you want isn’t possible. You can choose between [X alternative] or not coming.” It doesn’t matter why it’s not possible, it’s just not, and it’s up to them what they do about it.

  8. Rose Fox said:

    Dear LW, you are doing the best, best possible thing for yourself, your wife, and your baby. Hang in there and stay strong. Right now you need to be surrounded by peace and quiet and exactly the right amount of time with loving, kind, thoughtful people. If having your parents around doesn’t contribute to that, then they shouldn’t be around.

    The Captain is really right to emphasize that your parents are actively making choices. They’re choosing not to respect your boundaries; they’re choosing to indulge your mother’s tantrum; they’re choosing to give you, their daughter, the silent treatment, and to distance themselves from their grandchild. Those are shitty choices, but you can’t force them to make better ones. You can only let them know clearly what their options are, and then nod sadly when they continue making shitty choices and cheer them on if they ever start to make better ones.

    It may take years for the new status quo to shake out. In the meantime, you and your parents can get used to boundary-setting. Fortunately, you have some time before it’s even possible for your child to form a relationship with your parents, and that process can start at any age, especially if your boundary-setting means your child thinks “huh, my grandparents aren’t around much” rather than “UGH, I can’t stand how awful my grandparents are to my moms”–starting from zero is much easier than starting from negative fifty. And it may do everyone a lot of good if you model excellent boundary-setting for your child for several years before that relationship really develops; a young kid can’t be responsible for keeping abusive adults in check, of course, but a strong foundation of “when Grandma gets emotionally manipulative, that is not your fault, and not okay, and you should come and get me so that I can tell her to back off” is very handy.

    If you decide at some point that you want to cut off contact, you’ll know. That’s not really a decision anyone else can make for you. It’s certainly a reasonable option to keep on the table, but wait and see how you and your parents get past the current impasse–and wait until you’re past the incredible emotional rollercoaster of the first several months of parenthood–before you start to seriously consider it. Of course, if your mom never stops giving you the silent treatment, then that settles that question, but I hope she adjusts her priorities rather than going down that path.

    I hope you and your wife have an absolutely lovely Team Alla Youse to lean on while you go through this. Queer couples and families often have rocky times interacting with parents and other relatives, and we get less support culturally, at work, etc., so it’s extra important that you gather support from your friends and chosen family to make up for it. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends for help and support, whether that means venting about your parent troubles or just regular new-parent stuff like watching the baby so you can get a moment to yourself. They know you’re in a vulnerable spot right now and hopefully they’ll pitch in.

  9. Rose Fox said:

    (Shouldn’t this be #773?)

    • JenniferP said:

      Indeed it should.

  10. Solomama said:

    I have lost my relationship with my father and now have a distant relationship with my mother for boundary setting around my son. It hurts. With my Dad the last thing I said to him was “I love you, but I need you to take your bipolar meds if you want to live with us” and with my mum it was “I need you to stop staying negative things about men and fathers around my son as he will grow to be a man one day!” Dad disappeared that night – left our lives and moved out of the room I was supporting him in. Mum and I are polite but she had a panic attack, and started crying and acting way out of control after I calmly asked her to turn down the male bashing. Parenting is hard. I’ve never set boundaries with my parents and ended up in therapy over it all with the fallout.

  11. Dynamitochondria said:

    Maybe I had an advantage because I didn’t get along with my mother and stepfather for years before, but when they expressed displeasure with my lifestyle and choice of partner, I had no problem shutting them out of my life for months at a time. Each time I let them back into my life, they would try to take over, and I’d cut them off again. And in the meantime, they did their best to sabotage my brother’s marriage, ultimately succeeding.

    Yes, your parents are there for you while you’re growing up, but if they can’t let go of that role of authority over your life, then you have to make them let go. My brother never learned that lesson, and he’s lived his life in their back pocket, beholden to their approval, the love of his life lost to him.

    It is the natural order in life for the child to rebel against the authority of the parent, to ultimately make their own way, and for the parent to surrender their role of authority. The progression along this natural order is not always peaceful, but the journey must be made.

    • heahterelliott said:

      I actually don’t see that but then again I have parental units who are loving, caring, and, most importantly, who know that they are meant to be guides NOT controllers.

      My grandfather on the other hand was a narcissistic asshole who I had a pretty okay relationship with simply because my parent made sure his crazy didn’t impact me. I didn’t know the level of his crazy until after he died.

      And I didn’t get that info from my dad. I got it from people talking about him, what they thought were good stories but had me going: “That’s not quite right”.

      So I think it depends upon the parental units.

      • Esselyn said:

        I think we had some similar experiences. I had relationships with only three grandparents – my father’s father never met or spoke with me. From what Dad has told me, his father was, at best, a deeply dysfunctional alcoholic who married and then abandoned my co-dependent grandmother. But when I was a kid, I just had three grandparents, and gramma was the kind of gramma that only got visited on very specific terms.

        It only dawned on me later just how much boundary work my parents must have been doing, but the end result was that I was able to love gramma, who was by all accounts, pretty hard to love, and never had to deal with the dysfunctional, abusive alcoholic at all.

        So, LW, if it helps alleviate any guilt: relationships with grandparents are not magical and if your kiddo doesn’t have them, it isn’t going to ruin her. I was better off with fewer grandparents than with the full Hallmark set, since the full set came with a bonus gift of dysfunction.

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          I grew up with one grandmother (who was not an easy person to get along with); I met my paternal grandparents only when I was eighteen. But I also had an elderly ‘aunt’ who filled much of the grandmotherly role – we got on great, I visited her regularly to help her with shopping, and we had long talks. It’s good for a child to have a good person filling that role, but this doesn’t need to be an actual grandparent.

          My grandmother, on the other hand, caused me a lot of misery by disrespecting boundaries and pushing her will; this was an issue when I was four, and it was an issue until I was about fourteen and started to disengage.

          • jeanne said:

            Wow, did we have the same grandmother? My mom’s mother was infamous in my family for being “difficult” – I wouldn’t put the pieces together for years, but she was a Class A-1 narcissist. When I was little, I only saw her rarely, so these were special occasions and she held herself together. I was always happy to see her, so maybe it was easier for her to behave in the face of someone’s genuine regard.

            This changed when I was twelve and she spent one night at our house. She slept in the spare bed in my room, and snored like a buzz saw. I couldn’t sleep through that, so I spent the rest of the night in the living room on the couch (which was no hardship; it was very comfortable). The next morning, she asked me why I’d left my bed. I told her that she was snoring. Her face morphed into an expression of rage like I’d never seen before, then she spat out, “Maybe I just shouldn’t come her anymore.” I couldn’t believe how things went south so quickly, but thought to myself, Ah, this must be what everybody meant by “difficult”. She went yelling to my mother about what a “rude little witch” I was, and that someone should call her a cab because she was leaving. My mom immediately went into PLACATE mode and tried to talk her mother out of leaving (which was just what Grandma wanted). She left, slamming the front door behind her. She lived another twelve years; I never saw her again.

            Her two sisters, my great-aunts, treated me like gold. They never forgot to send cards for my birthday or Christmas, and they were always interested in whatever I was doing. I don’t know if they were trying to be antidotes to their sister’s nonsense, or they were just inherently very good people. So Grandma was a wash-out, but her sisters more than made up for her.

      • SarahTheEntwife said:

        Agree! I definitely had some fraught moments with my parents in college and my 20s, but it was more a matter of renegotiating what our relationship was as “adults who happen to be related” rather than “parents and dependent child” rather than rebelling per se. My mother actually once commented that it was a relief in a way when I grew up and moved away because while obviously she still cares about me and worries if things aren’t going well, it’s no longer actually her responsibility to take care of me. She can just enjoy our relationship and occasionally give advice if I actually need/ask for it. I’ve always thought that that was a remarkably sensible parenting attitude.

    • oregonbird said:

      Luckily, this combative method is not the preferred culture in most of the world. There are cultures in which children are assumed to have rights from birth. The journey needn’t be made. There are far better journeys on which to spend time and attention. My choice was to step away without the battle.

  12. mamacitaconpistoles said:

    It’s also altogether possible your kiddo will see right through grandparental shenanigans at an early age. She might not take that nonsense personally, and she might spend time with those grandparents because she lives them, but mostly she loves you. Furthermore, she might thank you regularly for protecting her and any other future kids from all that silliness, and just enjoy what they are capable of giving in terms of love and support with a good attitude.

    I mean, I know that’s not ideal if what you want is close knit intergenerational relationships in your family. But if that doesn’t happen, being awesome parents will go a long way towards minimizing the power of that distance. And, since that might be how it’s always been, your kid/s won’t miss it all that much.

    Ask me how I know. No, no, go on, ask me!

    Oh, I’ll jump the gun. I know because it’s what happened with me and it was and is just fine..I love my mom, who.apparently has your mom.as a mom. That means so much compared to the relatively superficial relationship I had with her self absorbed mom.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      I mean, this is the grandma who told my mom that my brother and I didn’t love each other, and that we’d grow up to be drug dealers.

      Flash forward to us loving each other and not dealing or indeed even using drugs.

      We were 4 and 1 at the time, so how she knew this stuff well.enough to predict, however wrongly, remains a mystery.

    • Yeah, my grandparents are not nearly this bad, but my parents didn’t get around to enforcing those boundaries until I was in high school and I SO wish they had done it earlier. It only took until I was 10 or so for me to realize that one grandma was sweet and nice and the other grandma called me fat regularly; one grandma gave me treats and the other policed my eating; one grandmother was always happy to hear from me and the other one greeted every phone call with “you should call more often.” (Gee, can’t figure out why I don’t…) I spent the next many years hating them and now have barely a relationship because the boundaries came too little, too late.

      So yeah LW, I would say that your daughter will thank you one day for setting these boundaries. Either because she’ll see that grandma is awful and never learned to respect boundaries and be glad she doesn’t have to deal with that crap, or because your mother will come around and actually be a much better grandmother for having learned to respect boundaries and your daughter will never have to hate her.

    • I didn’t notice how poisonous my grandmother was until I hit teens/adulthood. These days my mom says things like, “Should I invite Mom to [holiday]?” and my response is, ‘No! She’s rude and she makes you crazy and miserable. Let her stay with someone else.’

  13. okidoll said:

    “My mother tells herself stories about how she is wronged and how people are against her, and I know all of them well because it was my job as a kid to support her, agree with her, and above all, make sure she was never upset. I watched my mother alienate person after person, family member after family member for slights against her. And now it’s my turn, because I’ve done the one thing you’re never supposed to do: I upset Mom. ”

    This paragraph right here. Wow. That slapped me in the face. That describes my mother’s entire family and my childhood. I too was the “whipping post” that got to hear how horrible the world is and how everyone is an asshole and out to get you.

    You are not your mother, and it is your home. There is nothing wrong with boundaries. Your mother has crossed boundaries for far too long. It’s been the “Mom Show”. I bet she gets really upset if people intrude on her life and home? I bet she also acts completely weird when she’s faced with situations she can’t control or where she’s not the center or attention?

    Don’t back down on this.

    • cruelmistress said:

      Yet it does not matter *at all* who Mom upsets, even to the degree of preparing foods to which they are allergic in their home (like, whoa, that’s dangerous??? I would be very threatened if my spouse’s parents did things like this, and I’m glad LW and Wife are a team on this issue). I think LW is doing a good job getting started on learning boundaries for her daughter in a way her parents never taught her.

  14. AR said:

    Also, to add to what the Captain said – if you do start visits again, perhaps have them not start in your home. That way it’s a lot easier to cut the visit short (at least at the start) if you don’t have to get them out of the house.

    Also, if they ask why? Then repeat what you’ve said here about them choosing to not respecting house rules, or your parenting decision.

    • Jen said:

      This was going to be my suggestion, as well. Would it be possible for the LW and her family to visit the parents in their home, or meet up at a restaurant/coffee shop? That way everyone can have their visit, and the LW’s house is left untouched.

    • Cecily said:

      Yeah, definitely worried about the parents actually being willing to leave. That’s definitely a nightmare of mine – having guests and They Won’t Go and HOW THE HELL DO I GET THEM TO LEAVE DO I HAVE TO PHYSICALLY SHOVE THEM OUT??

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        This is literally my major recurring nightmare, actually.

      • Brisvegan said:

        I once had to throw my MIL out of my home. I had refused to let my 7 and 3 yo boys stay with her when I went to hospital for a caesarian section birth of my youngest child. Why? Because a multiply convicted paedophile who liked young boys was semi-living in her home (related to the family and long story, but we NEVER have anything to do with that person).

        She came to my place very soon after I was out of hospital and was ranting and raving. She claimed she was going to tell the world that my mostly tea-totalling family were crack dealers, because I had dared to say something mean about the creep who had obviously (in her eyes) been wrongly convicted based on (what she claimed were) lies from his numerous victims (who she also claimed were the instigators of the misconduct, which he admitted happened) and because I did not let my kids stay with her instead of my sister.

        I told her that if she wanted to be a bitch, she should just get out, then threatened to call the cops. (Only time I have actually ever sworn at her). I wouldn’t have been able to physically move her, since I had a still healing caesar incision.

        She left, mostly because my FIL bundled her out, though he had been basically enabling up to that point.

        I imagine that for those concerned, dumping all the visitors stuff outside and locking them out/pushing them out/getting a burly friend to come and push them out, would be a nuclear option, but might work, similar to me throwing MIL out.

        By the way, my MIL also did a bunch of weird stuff after. She didn’t talk to me for over 18 months (bonus!), but would ring my husband to remind us that she wasn’t talking to us. She told nasty stories about us around the family. She and my father in law would also drive to our house, where he would come in for a visit and she would sit outside and ask him to make sure that we knew she was suffering in the car. My husband (her son) would pop out to the car, invite her in and then say “OK, your choice” and act completely unconcerned. It was a glorious thing and probably drove her up the wall.

        However, she mostly stopped trying to play her stupid games with us after that time. It is a relief to get through the extinction burst to the other side, where the narcissist (mostly) stops trying to push your buttons.

        • bad at screen names said:

          “She didn’t talk to me for over 18 months (bonus!), but would ring my husband to remind us that she wasn’t talking to us.”

          The irony made me laugh. It’s like a 4-yr-old who threatens to run away and keeps doubling back to tell you that you’ll never see her again.

  15. Oh wow. LW, I thought for a moment that this was the letter I wrote in a few months ago somehow resurfacing and being posted. The difference for me was that my parents DID stay in a hotel, after a lot of negotiation and me pointing out that there was no longer physical space in my house for an additional three adults to sleep (my parents and my brother do everything together) and that my mother never, ever goes silent. She prefers to badger and bully until you give in to her demands just to get her off your back.

    Anyway, very many congratulations on the birth of your daughter. Mine is now almost five months old and has only met her grandparents twice. As the Captain points out, she doesn’t care. I have always maintained that just because I don’t want a relationship with my mother does not mean I shouldn’t enable my daughter to have a relationship with her grandmother BUT that can wait until she’s old enough to appreciate the time they spend together.

    When I read your letter, before I got to the Captain’s response, I found myself thinking that you’re trying too hard to do too much and that maybe now is not the time to work on your relationship with your parents. Fortunately, the Captain agrees. You’re going through a wonderful but incredibly difficult time right now; you are finding your feet as a mother and as part of a new family. This is YOUR time, yours and your wife’s and your daughter’s. Remember if you don’t care for yourself, you can’t do an optimum job of caring for a baby. She’ll know if you’re stressed, believe me, and it will stress her too. Ultimately, the best thing for all of you right now is to remove the main stressor, i.e. your parents, from the situation. I would suggest asking your wife to open anything else they send you and maybe if she’s up to it even answering any phone calls from them, saying quite truthfully that you’re busy (you always are, even if you’re busy catching up on sleep) and can’t talk right now. If your parents are anything like mine, they’ll be far more civil to your wife, but you know them better than I do.

    I really really hope your situation improves soon and you can have a decent break from dealing with the Family Clusterfuck. Jedi hugs if you want them!

  16. neverjaunty said:

    I would like for my daughter to have a relationship with her grandparents

    Why? I don’t mean that in a smart-aleck way, I mean, genuinely, why do you want this? I get the sense, LW, that maybe you really don’t want this, but feel it is something you should want, because there is this cultural thing where children “should” know their grandparents, or grandparents suddenly become kind and jolly and move past all the mistakes they made with their own kids, or because you fear that you are being unfair to your daughter if you make the decision for her. Or maybe you do want this relationship, but only because if your daughter could be close to your parents, it would of necessity mean a reality in which they weren’t such evil, manipulative narcissists (and yes, your dad is just as bad as your mom here).

    I never had a relationship with my paternal grandmother. I am reliably assured by people with wildly different personalities that she was a negative, toxic, unpleasant person her entire life and that I missed absolutely nothing through her absence from my life. I assure you that I have not spent time wishing I knew her better or feeling that I was cheated out of a Perfect Fantasy Grandma.

    You KNOW that you need to protect your daughter from these people, LW, and it sounds like you are doing a masterful job, honestly. Your daughter will benefit from that (and so will you) far, far more than if you guiltily let them into your life just because They Are Grandparents.

    • That sentence kind of jarred on me, too, and I also thought “why?” I have absolutely no desire for my daughter to have a relationship with my parents and I wouldn’t if they were LW’s parents either. But then, I’m not LW and she may feel very differently and have her own perfectly valid reasons.

      • neverjaunty said:

        Yes. The LW doesn’t owe any of us an explanation; I’m just suggesting that she consider for herself why she wants her daughter to have that relationship.

    • Maybe it’s just me but I think it’s pretty obvious why someone would want their parents to have a relationship with them and their child. Nobody is perfect, and LW’s mom in particular is certainly handling this the wrong way and being incredibly awful to her daughter, but people are complex. I am sure that there is a lot of love between them, and for me this wouldn’t be cause to cut them completely out of my life (at least not yet). I definitely, definitely, don’t want to defend the LW’s parents but I think calling them “evil” is too much here.

      I hope everything gets better with your parents LW, much luck to you.

      • HenryPQ said:

        I might be overthinking this – I might be guilty of assuming the LW is Just Like Me. But I think there is an aspect here that no one else has talked about which resonates with my own experience, so I’m sharing just in case it’s helpful for anyone.

        Sometimes when queer people become parents, there’s a huge amount of pressure (a lot of it subconsciously) to perform Normal Familyness. Sometimes when queer offspring try to navigate relationships with their parents, there is pressure to accept *any sort of kindness* from those parents, as proof that “they do love me, they do accept my marriage/relationship/partner/decision to have kids.”

        My own relationship with my parents is not nearly as complicated as yours, LW, but I find myself often struggling to navigate this “what should I EXPECT as a parent” vs “what should I ACCEPT as a daughter” …. It took years and years for my parents to accept my sexuality, my relationship, even the person I chose as my partner. By the time I got married and we had a kid, my parents thought they were saying kind and supportive things, but their words were actually painful to me – but I accepted them gladly because I thought I should sort of automatically Be Grateful for anything that was surface-level supportive.

        LW, if you do seek therapy/counseling, it might be worth it to find a therapist who has some experience working with queer-person family issues like this. They might have extra insight into your particular parent-who-is-also-an-adult-child-of-parents situation.

        Sorry if I overthought this or read too much. YMMV. Everyone’s MMV!

        • kukkaseksi said:

          This was really well put and actually switched a lightbulb on for me, at least. Thank you!

      • Lurksalot said:

        In the case of abuse as a result of manipulative narcissism, it seems like her not having a relationship with those grandparents is much safer for the child.

        LW, is some reason why your wife’s parents aren’t enough grandparent for your child? What about godparents or your dear friends and your aunts, uncles, or older cousins as elder familial figures? The great thing about your daughter’s concept of family is that it will be shaped freshly not by the experiences you had with the family you were born into, but by the family you have selected. Your family of choice will be her family of origin. Your parents are not entitled to any part of your child’s life.

        And definitely, DEFINITELY don’t do future trial visits in your home! Abusers will do whatever they can to get in the door, and whatever they can not to be pushed out of it

        • Ros said:

          I will second this, from the perspective of someone whose granparents WERE actually cut out of my life as a child.

          Look: sometimes grandparents behave in unhealthy ways. My dad’s parents were emotionally abusive boundary-less alcoholics who treated my mother like crap. When my grandma started behaving in emotionally abusive ways towards me (I was 4), she basically mama-bear-ed it right up, and I’ve seen that side of the family 3 times since I was 4 (and two of those times were at funerals). My maternal grandparents were GREAT, and totally provided the love/affection/support/etc that we all hope to get from family.

          As an adult, though, I’ve found that the direct effect of witnessing that is that I’m fully aware that I don’t have to take sh*t, and that I am perfectly willing to remove anyone from my life should they behave in ways that I find absolutely boundary-crossing and unreasonable. (Real-life examples: if your reaction to me announcing pregnancy is ‘ugh, why would you DO that’. If your reaction to me sleeping with a dude you dislike is ‘ugh, if you’re going to be doing that you should be charging for it’. If you come into my house and criticize my life/husband/daughter/job/accomplishments in a snarky and meant-to-hurt way. In all cases, the answer was, and I quote, “you are not required to like me, but you ARE required to treat me with respect while in my house. If that’s something you can’t manage right now, the door is behind you.”)

          Seriously: it seems like so few women are actually trained (and shown!) from childhood that setting and holding firm boundaries about how you want to be treated is an option. It was super valuable to me.

      • Mary said:

        Yes, and I think there is also the basic fact that parenting is hard work, and it would be really good to have your own parents there as support and back-up. My daughter’s one (today, in fact!) My mum died five years ago, and my dad is great but two hours away and nowhere near as interested in being involved and taking care of the baby as my mum would have been. (He hasn’t offered to babysit, or changed a nappy, or even held her for more than a couple of minutes at a time.) My parents-in-law are in another country, and, like my dad, are also interested and happy to hear from us about our daughter, but they don’t want to actively take a part in caring for her. If my mum was here, we would certainly have gone out for a few days or evenings by now with my mum caring for the baby. She’d probably have come to stay for a week when my partner first went back to work. We’d call her (and she’d drive two hours to be here) when the baby is too sick to go to nursery and we couldn’t take time off work. She’d be *there*, and it would be amazing.

        I never knew my paternal grandad, and I never missed knowing him. I know my daughter will never miss her grandma, and I doubt she’ll wish she was closer to the three grandparents she does have. She won’t miss what she never had. But ohgodohgodohgod do I miss it.

        I think LW is probably going to have to make slow accommodation with the fact that her parents are never going to be the parents or grandparents that she would like them to be, and that is a very sad and hard thing to realise. It isn’t wrong or immature or simply trying to fit in with cultural norms around parenting to *want* it, though. Cultural norms can make it harder when you realise that life isn’t going to work like that, but it is an utterly and completely understandable thing to *want*.

      • neverjaunty said:

        No, I don’t think calling them evil is too much here. They are way beyond self-absorbed or clueless or “well nobody’s perfect”. And while cutting people like that out of your life may be a bridge too far for you, it isn’t for everyone, but that’s not really what I was asking LW.

        Of course it’s normal for people to want their grandparents involved with their children, but that’s beside the point; the issue here is why *LW* wants her daughter to have this relationship. It may very well be that the answer is “because I love them and want them to be part of our family”. But I think it would be very helpful for LW to figure out for herself why she wants this, because that will help guide her choices. I mean, there’s not much point if the answer is “because somebody told me my daughter will be miserable for life if I don’t”.

    • mehting said:

      I think you (neverjaunty) make a really good point about protecting kids. IF it is possible for the parents to establish boundaries that will protect their children from less than ideal grandparents, they can create a space where the kids can have that good relationship with the grandparents, protected from the less-good aspects of grandparents by their parents, even though occasionally those boundaries may be violated. But it doesn’t always work, because parents can’t always get grandparents to accept the necessary boundaries-and when it can’t work, it is not terrible for kids to not have those grandparents. It’s a negotiated process that isn’t about grandparent guilt, it’s about what is best for your daughter.

    • My mother’s family are a hive of evil bees in which my grandmother is the queen. While I was able to have a mostly-positive relationship with her when I was little, their bullshit started up again when I was in my teens. There were no boundaries from my enabling mom (who actually still maintains they are in the right, similar to the “I can overlook” statements your dad is giving you) and after some intense years of stress and tears and anxiety, I have cut off contact with them. (or rather, grandma found my boundaries and general autonomy as an adult a “slight” and has since been radio-silent)

      And you know what? I’m actually very happy with this. I’ve realized my grandparents aren’t actually nice people, and I’m ok not having that relationship. Had they cut ties far earlier in my life, I would have missed some vacations and ice cream outings, sure, but I’d also be without the hurt of their rejection, the bittersweet memories, and the grief for the relationship I wish I had with them. No amount of ice cream and superficial visits are worth that.

    • andie said:

      yeah my sister and I sometimes get a little sad when we hear about relationships with grandmothers where they’re nice and not passive-aggressive or horrible to the children’s mother and give them actual edible food that isn’t a few years old. I’m fairly sure both of us would’ve preferred having no grandmothers and just fantasies or wondering, rather than the constant disappointment around christmas time, as we watch both of our parents get badly emotionally hurt but don’t know what to do to help other than hug them as soon as we get back to our hotel room.

    • Andraste said:

      Yeah, I really like this comment. I am not close to my grandparents on either side, for various reasons. My mom’s dad is the worst of them–he was emotionally abusive and distant to her in a way that me, as someone who loves my mother, can never forgive him for, even though she tries her hardest to maintain a positive relationship with him on her own terms. Any time I see my grandparents now, I do it for my parents. I visit my grandfather only to emotionally support my mom, because I know it’s difficult for her. I’ve got a lot of love, respect, and empathy for how she handles that relationship–it’s awe-inspiringly compassionate. But look OP, your daughter is going to grow up to be smart, and she’s going to grow up to love you. If she sees that you have to set boundaries around your relationships with your parents to protect yourself, that’s ok! A kid can understand that and respect it. I love my mom so much and I support the choices she made around how much we saw them and what visits were like. She’s done so well.

      There have been times in my life where I’ve felt that twinge of “wouldn’t it be nice to have normal, loving grandparents?” But that was never a possibility with the grandparents I got. That just wasn’t the way those relationships were going to go. It’s ok. I’ve made peace with it. Your daughter will, too. And when I look at my family? I’m not lacking anything! I have compassionate, smart, progressive parents who love me very much, an incredible sister, a better partner than I ever could have imagined for myself. My family life is rich. Your daughter can have that same rich family life without a close connection to her grandparents, if that is how things work out. I know you are concerned with making things right for her, but I think the best thing you could do is make sure you’re taking care of yourself in this situation. The rest will shake out as it will. It will be ok.

  17. Mary said:

    Oh LW, so many jedi hugs for you and your wife (and – may i? hug the baby?) Two months old! So exciting and terrifying! We’re also a same-sex couple with a one-year-old, so much new-queer-parenting solidarity to you!

    Focus on your daughter and your wife, and bed in for the long haul with your parents. It takes an extraordinarily long time to accept that it won’t be easy, and that your parents will not suddenly “click” and get it. They will spend a long time playing the card, “I can’t believe you don’t want a relationship with us enough to accept our [entirely unreasonably, boundary-violating, constantly-changing] terms”, and ignore you every time you counter with, “I can’t believe you don’t want a relationship with *us* enough to accept out [straight-forward, reasonable] terms.” You will ask yourself over and over again whether you’re being ridiculous and unfair. You will give up and accept your parents’ way of doing things, and they will immediately pull something so awful that you think that no relationship would be the better option after all. Then you’ll miss them. You’ll keep fantasising that they are going to suddenly get it, and you’ll be able to have a safe, sane and consensual relationship with them, where they come to see you, bring cheerful, fun presents for the baby, stay in a hotel, eat your food and you are all genuinely pleased to see each other. It will take a long, long time for *you* to accept that that isn’t going to happen, and to decide that sticking to your boundaries really is the best option for everyone in your family, and you will have a lot to grieve, and you will have to learn not to care when they huff and puff and you are the bad guy.

    But in the mean time, you will be teaching your daughter that she is entitled to the same respect that you are asking for yourself, that home is a safe place, and that consent and consideration matter.

    Masses of luck, be gentle with yourself, and I hope everything works out for you all. xxx

  18. Add me in as another one who could have written this letter! I bent over backwards for eight years to try and be the good daughter and do the right thing and include my mother in my children’s lives…and it never worked. It wasn’t even that she wasn’t willing to meet me halfway; she wasn’t willing to budge at all. My boundaries were ignored or openly scoffed at. She was vindictive and mean towards my wife. She manipulated the children. “Go and tell your mother that she spends too much time working and it makes you sad,” she told my eight year old to tell me.

    I really wanted to do the right thing. I had grown a spine and had, like you said, LW, upset Mom on my own before the kids were born. I had laid down my iron-clad boundaries and boy howdy did I get the silent treatment for it, too. I had hardly spoken to her the two years before they were born; she had said lots of horrible things about me to the rest of my relatives about it, too. But after the kids were born I thought, let’s do this, let’s try, let’s make sure the kids have a grandmother in their life. (My father passed twenty years ago.) I really really wanted to make it work.

    Well, like the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. If the other person refuses to dance, there’s just nothing you can do. Telling my mother that we were not going to leave Skype connected 24×7 just so she could call whenever she wanted (we live in different time zones; she didn’t care and would call whenever, and if for some reason I didn’t answer right away she would call over and over and over and over again and send a barrage of furious emails to boot) but instead asking her to send an email so we could agree on a time for her to call caused her to throw such a fit that she called the local police and told them that my wife was abusing me and the children and refused to let us have outside contact with the world. This is not something that reasonable people who want to cultivate a relationship with their grandchildren do, you feel me? That was just the tip of the iceberg, too. She engaged in a great deal of terrible and frankly unforgivable behavior before I ended it. We’ve not had any contact with her at all for five years now. It is absolutely for the best.

    I am sad and regretful that my children could not have a relationship with their grandmother. However, I am neither sad nor regretful that my mother herself is no longer in our lives. I mourn the relationship that I – and my children – never had, not finally putting the terrible relationship we did have to rest. There’s a big difference there.

    Sometimes, I know, narcissistic parents can turn out to be fairly decent grandparents. However, in the case of my mother, that just was not the case. I completely agree with the Captain that right now is not an issue; the baby is far too young to worry about it. But I urge you, LW, to decide what your boundaries are. If you put them forth and your parents refuse point blank to meet them and/or respect them, then please do not feel obligated to let them continue to abuse you for the sake of keeping Hallmark in business, you know? Plenty of kids don’t have grandparents in their lives for many reasons and they manage just fine. (In our particular case, we got involved with a local program that matches up kids to people in convalescent homes for a surrogate grandparent/grandchild program. We go once a week and visit all the grandmas and grandpas there who are genuinely thrilled to see the kids and whose company we all enjoy. Total win-win situation, that. Much better than having my mother around!)

    Meanwhile, enjoy that beautiful baby with your wife. 🙂 Congratulations!

    • She…called the…police… and said WHAT?!

      Holy freakin’ smoke. Good on you for having the courage to pull the plug on that one. Jedi hugs to you and yours!

    • misspiggy said:

      I just want to say that you are awesome. Not only for dealing with your situation so well and articulating it so clearly, but for taking part in the surrogate grandparents programme. What a brilliant way to make lemonade out of lemons, and increase other people’s happiness.

      • It’s the best program ever. We’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of it on both sides.

    • Rose Fox said:

      That surrogate grandparent program sounds amazing. I should look into doing something like that with FutureKid–you’d think three parents would mean six grandparents, but one of the six is dead, two are Sir Not Appearing in Our Lives for reasons of abuse/enabling, and two live far away, so extra grandparental presence in our kid’s life would be a pretty wonderful thing.

    • Brisvegan said:

      Wow, your mother was a piece of work. My MIL threatened things like that and tried to start rumours of various types like that (we all got lies made up about us, see the drugs I mentioned one above), but never carried through on calling the police (would have looked bad and socially climber middle class reputation is important, donchano).

      Sending jedi hugs. You sound awesome.

  19. gryphon said:

    My grandparents were nowhere near as bad as your parents, but they undermined my mum’s parenting in front of me and my siblings and always pushed for more visits and more contact so she felt perpetually guilty about not doing enough. I had an OK relationship with them but I really wish she had set better boundaries. I would have enjoyed time with them so much more without having to hear the (explicit and implicit) criticism of my mum, which made me really uncomfortable as soon as I was old enough to get it. And we wasted half of every visit being made to feel guilty for not visiting enough. I think my mum was trying to strike a balance between being a good mother and a good daughter, but it’s only possible to be both if your own parents respect you and support you as the parent of your own kids. If they don’t, you have a choice between setting boundaries with your parents and being the “bad” daughter or putting your own children into situations where they watch you being undermined and upset, which is stressful and confusing for them.

  20. Anisoptera said:

    LW stick to your guns. Stick to the boundary you’ve set.

    I say that as someone who empathises so much with your letter because your parents sound so much like mine. I have a visceral stress reaction to the thought of having my parents visit if I had a young baby. And I don’t even have a baby or any true understanding of just how intense a challenge it is. 🙂

    Here are some things to think about. Your mother is threatening to cut you out of her life over her staying in a hotel. Seriously. She’s either bluffing, or not, but that’s totally over the top and unreasonable of her. Which you know, intellectually, but perhaps haven’t really internalised?

    Also if you are like me there’s some part of you that wants more than anything to fix things and have a good relationship with your parents. In my case it’s a dwindling part but it still exists. When I was about 20 I decided that all my troubles with my mum were due to my being a difficult child (hah!) and that as an adult it would all be perfect because I’d grown out of my teenage anger! ROFLMAO. Then when I was about 30 I *finally* realised that the problem had been her all along, and that I was never an especially difficult child, just one who kept fighting back against her terribleness. I finally understood how not normal and not OK her behaviour was (and is). But that impulse when I was 20 still lurks in my subconscious. If I don’t really think and watch myself, my default goal is to have a good relationship with my mother somehow.

    LW, we cannot ever have good relationships with our mothers. It feels like she’s threatening that lovely Good Relationship TM future by threatening to disown you over the hotel thing. But she’s not. She’s actually threatening the future of you constantly wrestling with her weirdness and awfulness. Best case scenario she’s threatening the semi tolerable future where you keep her sufficiently at arms length to be able to deal with her in a fairly painless way.

    And that best case scenario future? You get to that by setting these boundaries. And sticking to them. Until she gets it. Where “it” is which lines she needs to toe to be a part of your life.

    And your dad? Ugh. Our dads and the part where they’ve chosen pleasing their awful wife over the mental health of their own children? T_T Hugs to you. He seems reasonable, but he’s acting as her winged flying monkey right now.

    Emotionally abusive parents create this weird shadowy fear of upsetting them and causing “the worst thing in the world”. Because once upon a time they had total power over our world. That’s the fear you’re feeling right now. It’s an illusion. The worst thing that could happen right now is that this emotionally abusive lady cuts you out of her life forever. She probably won’t. But if she did? You would survive, you and your lovely wife and beautiful baby would be fine.

    Stick to your guns.

    • Anisoptera said:

      Oh and also – at some point during all the drama of sticking to your guns you’ll suddenly think (if you haven’t already) that you’re risking your relationship with your mother over a couple days of inconvenience and how bad could it really be to just let them stay? Please keep in mind that this is a fight over your right to set boundaries in your own home and expect them to be respected. It’s not just a fight over staying at a hotel or not. It’s a fight to actually be heard and get your needs met while in the presence of someone who’ll do or say *anything* to keep her power over you and get her way.

      You’re not doing anything wrong. She has brought the wrongness and you’re just trying to protect yourself from it.

      • Guava said:

        This is such a great point. Because this is exactly the type of thing that my guilt brain weasels tell me whenever I take a stand against my parents. You wouldn’t have to resort to such desperate measures over a reasonable request if the other party behaved reasonably when you made it.

      • azurelunatic said:

        She’ll interpret any backing down not as “Wow, I really made Daughter angry, maybe I should chill out” but as “Okay, so the next time Daughter tries to keep me from doing what I want, this is how much I need to punish her because anything less won’t get through.”

        • SekhmetAten said:

          YES! Backing down after boundary setting is just a signpost of ‘this is where the ew boundary really is’

          • Mary said:

            …but at the same time, when you’re learning how to do boundary-setting and doing it with an expert and experienced boundary-violator, it’s very likely that at some point you’re going to give in. That happens. Don’t beat yourself up or castigate yourself for failure, just get back on the horse, a little wiser, and keep slogging away at it.

          • Anisoptera said:

            Mary speaks the truth – it’s hard to learn how to defend boundaries against people like this. Be kind to yourself and try again if you don’t quite make it happen this time. :-/

    • I’m also a member of the Bad Daughters Club. I’m finding LW’s letter very resonant, as well as Anisoptera’s comments above, notably:

      “Also if you are like me there’s some part of you that wants more than anything to fix things and have a good relationship with your parents. In my case it’s a dwindling part but it still exists. When I was about 20 I decided that all my troubles with my mum were due to my being a difficult child (hah!) and that as an adult it would all be perfect because I’d grown out of my teenage anger! ROFLMAO. Then when I was about 30 I *finally* realised that the problem had been her all along, and that I was never an especially difficult child, just one who kept fighting back against her terribleness. I finally understood how not normal and not OK her behaviour was (and is). But that impulse when I was 20 still lurks in my subconscious. If I don’t really think and watch myself, my default goal is to have a good relationship with my mother somehow.

      LW, we cannot ever have good relationships with our mothers. It feels like she’s threatening that lovely Good Relationship TM future by threatening to disown you over the hotel thing. But she’s not. She’s actually threatening the future of you constantly wrestling with her weirdness and awfulness. Best case scenario she’s threatening the semi tolerable future where you keep her sufficiently at arms length to be able to deal with her in a fairly painless way.”

      I’m going to need to sit and ruminate on that for a while, because you’re right–I’m still hoping I can painlessly disengage from a narcissist. I have enough sense to realize I can’t do it without resources/finances I do not currently have, but I was still clinging to the idea that I could, in fact, as you say, keep her at a far enough remove that interactions with her don’t cause pain or aggravate my depression or make me physically ill from stress.

      LW, start as you mean to go on. You and your wife know what you want your house rules to be. You are in the right to insist they be followed.

  21. MadGastronomer said:

    As a woman whose parents failed to protect her from her own narcissistic grandmother thank you so much for setting boundaries. For your own sake and for your daughter’s, please don’t give up. I’m nearly in tears just reading this and remembering what it was like growing up. I have a massive stack of issues leftover from the way I was always forced to cater to my grandmother, and have been in a number of very bad friendships and relationships with narcissists because of the nasty behavior patterns left behind.

    My parents left the state they’d grown up in for grad school and work and things, had my brother and I, and when I was five and her was two, we moved back, to a town about an hour and a half from my grandparents. My narcissistic grandmother and otherwise awful grandfather (my father’s parents) made an unannounced visit exactly once. Turned up to find the house not yet unpacked, very little food in the kitchen, and mom packing us up to take us to swim lessons. They expected mom to drop everything to feed them and pay attention to them, and she did, but all she had was hot dogs. They decided to get pissed at her for not being a better hostess, and never made an unannounced visit again. Thank gods. But they sure pulled quite enough awfulness.

  22. Anne said:

    LW, maybe look at this situation as you and your wife providing your child with healthy boundaries in her own life. She might not understand it now, or even years from now, but by setting and enforcing healthy boundaries you are setting the pattern for her future life. What sort of family dynamics do you want your daughter to think are normal?

    (Also, CONGRATS on the new baby!)

  23. Anonymous said:

    Your mother will probably not stop talking to you forever. What she is doing right now is throwing a tantrum. You say you often went along with her narratives when you were younger, so you probably haven’t seen this behavior before? She is just putting pressure on you to try to get your pesky boundaries out of her way. As long as you remain firm, she will adjust. These are standard growing pains that narcissistic parents have when faced with the fact that their child is now an adult and doesn’t actually have to put up with their crap.

  24. Sazza said:

    I just had to comment here because this post and the answer are balm to my soul – not because I enjoy other’s suffering, but because it means I am not alone. When my son was about 6ish we had a massive fallout with my parents about the way they were interacting with him, and the way they were interfering with the way we were choosing to parent. My relationship with them had always been strained but I was not prepared to let my father behave towards my children the way he had to me. We tried everything we knew to bring about reconciliation, including listening to my father making veiled threats to call the police about abuse. Finally in a phone call with my mother things were getting very heated and I suggested that it might be better if we stopped talking and tried again the next day. She said “If you put this phone down on me I will never speak to you again” and then in a moment of searing clarity in which time slowed almost to a standstill, I looked at the phone in my hand and I PUT IT DOWN! And she was true to her word…my son is now 22 and apart from when my siblings are watching they don’t speak to us.

    But I have to tell you…the glorious freedom from the christmas anxiety about who is having Mum and Dad this year, the endless phone calls about who said what and why they are all against them, the awful TMI conversations about how much she hates my father and how bad in bed he is, the feeling of obligation to tolerate visits of weirdness and misery.

    And what have we gained – peace, freedom from my constant anxiety about being their daughter, a sense of empowerment that I don’t have to put up with bad behaviour. My children do feel sad that they haven’t had that relationship, but it’s not the worst thing in their lives…it’s just how their lives are – if my parents had died the outcome would be the same.

    And the biggest losers – my parents, whose pride and need to be right was more important to them than knowing their amazing grandson and granddaughter. But that’s their choice, and I’m not responsible for their choices.

    So to LW I would say well done for taking a stand, it is sad but you can stop other people from making bad choices, especially when it’s around a challenge to their bad behaviour. Your daughter will have relationships with other people in her life that fill the gaps your parents leave and they will be rich and full, and respectful of her and her family.

  25. bean said:

    THANK YOU, LW for this: “My mother tells herself stories about how she is wronged and how people are against her, and I know all of them well because it was my job as a kid to support her, agree with her, and above all, make sure she was never upset. I watched my mother alienate person after person, family member after family member for slights against her. And now it’s my turn, because I’ve done the one thing you’re never supposed to do: I upset Mom.”

    Thank you because I recognized in that description a friendship I once had. The friend was just like your mom. My job was just like yours. And if it helps, as soon as I made a small and reasonable boundary request, they freaked, tried to defy it, concluded I hated them, wrote me off, then acted as if nothing had happened when they wanted something. So I think you’ve highlighted a connection between people like your mom/my friend and how they handle boundaries: badly! Sadly, that’s par for the course even if you are reasonable and loving, but you’re doing great.

    All the best!

    • Guava said:

      Yep. Same with me and the woman who was performing the role of MIL (in actuality my husband’s aunt.) One simple comment to her adult alcoholic son along the lines of: “I do not want you wrestling with my toddler when you are falling down drunk,” and bam! I was the evil witch from hell in her eyes. She thinks she’s punishing me with her silence, but I am so, so relieved.

      • Brisvegan said:

        The various times when I was NOT SPOKEN TO (complete with regular postal and telephone reminders to my husband :D) by my MIL were great, too. I think I was supposed to be sad or cowed or … something? It was just a relief from the game playing.

        Of course, I had learnt much younger from interactions with my abusive father to not play narcissistic games, so I wasn’t behaving like she wanted when she “punished” me. She hated that I flipped the script.

  26. CommanderBanana said:

    I’m the daughter of a mother who had a very strained relationship and ultimately became estranged from her mom, and a lot of it was over issues that Grandma caused when she visited. Her visits were awful because of the amount of stress and anger they generated, and unfortunately my mom (who does not really have good emotional and/or coping tools) would take it out, sometimes savagely, on my brother and I. The holidays got much calmer once she decided that Grandma was no longer welcome in her house.

    As an adult I’ve gotten to know my grandmother a bit better and I visit her on my own, which is nice, but I can only handle about three days of her company before my shoulders are permanently up around my ears. I’m glad my mom took steps to protect herself; whatever slight residual sadness I might have about not having a good relationship with our extended family is definitely not as important as my mom being able to get that toxic presence out of her life. If we had had to visit Grandma every holiday or summer as a kid life would have been a lot more unpleasant.

    While there are workarounds for difficult family members, it really sounds like the LW’s mom is maybe best as a very, very small (if any) presence in their lives right now. Her behavior sounds pretty damn egregious.

    And LW, congratulations on your new baby! What a wonderful thing.

  27. roramich said:

    Dear LW: thank you for awesome boundaries! It’s one of the most important things you can do for your daughter that will serve her SO well all her life. Whatever your personal feelings about wishing your parents would choose to be appropriately involved in her life, I just want to give you some development science (ooh!! Science!) about it, in case, like me, that appeals to you (if not, totally skip to the end). I am a developmental psychologist, which means that I study what best environments look like for people at all stages of life. I can tell you that all her life, but especially at two months, your daughter doesn’t NEED grandparents. She will never need them, it will never be a biological or developmental necessity. Rather, good and supportive grandparents can be a nice bonus, more along the lines of a nice surprise if it works out, but never a deficit if it doesn’t work out. Not having your parents involved in her life may feel a bit strange to her (if it comes to that) many more years down the road, but even that will not rise to the level of any kind of damage to her at all. Adults probably rarely lived long enough to see many grandchildren through most of human evolution anyway; so, again, bonus, but not deficit.
    Also, there are at least 4 styles of grandparenting identified in the developmental studies, and only one of them looks like the Hallmark commercials! With the aging baby boomers, many grandparents are still highly involved in careers or leisure pursuits and don’t choose to make grandchildren a high priority, or are not set for retirement so still feel they have to work, or a wide variety of other reasons.
    I know that from your letter it sounds like your parents have a vision of being involved on their terms, but it might help with remembering that they are making choices regarding their own behavior to remember that millions of kids around the world grow up fine with no grandparents at all.
    For many years now after my father did something similar, my mantra has been: grandparents bonus if it work but not a deficit if it doesn’t. Kinda clunky as a mantra I guess, but I hope you get my meaning. You’re FINE. Better than fine. Boundaries are awesome. Get some sleep. Jedi hugs to you.

  28. CenabisBene said:

    Hi LW! I’m Alice’s son, and what you wrote here pretty much describes her to a T. But it’s the prelude to the best decision I ever made with her: “My mother tells herself stories about how she is wronged and how people are against her, and I know all of them well because it was my job as a kid to support her, agree with her, and above all, make sure she was never upset. I watched my mother alienate person after person, family member after family member for slights against her. And now it’s my turn, because I’ve done the one thing you’re never supposed to do: I upset Mom.”

    Yes I did. I had a knock-down, drag-out fight with her that lasted pretty much the entire nine months between my engagement and my wedding (including the night of the rehearsal dinner itself!) in which I just said all my feelings, and when she called me the worst son ever and threatened to disinherit me(!) I didn’t back down or apologize. And I think she finally realized that she could either be in my life on my terms or not. And we had a peaceful two-plus years until my wife and I had a baby.

    And then she came to visit our newborn (congratulations to you, ours is two months old too!) and started up with her crap again. The difference was that *the worst thing* had already happened, so I told her she was full of crap, and we “only” spent a week fighting before she backed down. Yeah, it felt horrible, and it was a shitty week during a stressful time with a four-week-old baby, but she stopped (for now).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that now that you’ve upset Mom, you’ve already done the unthinkable. Don’t back down or apologize. Stick up for yourself, your wife, and your daughter, and hopefully when your parents realize that you can’t just be bullied into not having boundaries, they’ll reluctantly start behaving like the boundaries are real.

    One last thing: you don’t actually need them to agree that your boundaries are reasonable, you just need them to respect them. It doesn’t matter if they go home and sigh about what an unreasonable person you are. You’re already doing that about them and here you are, still their daughter who lets them visit. They’ll live.

    Good luck and Jedi hugs to all three of you!

    • JenniferP said:

      Great comment or GREATEST COMMENT? You and “Alice” have given so many people on this site a recognizable framework for defeating fuckery in their own lives. Congrats on the marriage and the new baby, and all love to you and to the LW.

    • onamission5 said:

      You can’t see me, but I am jumping up and down pointing at this comment yelling this this THIS.

    • Thank you for modeling what success with setting boundaries looks like! This is a great postscript/follow-up to your letter. I’m so glad for you (and your wife and newborn)!

    • Jenny Islander said:

      +1 zillion on not needing their agreement, just their compliance. To borrow some jargon from a popular book of my chldhood: You already know that the only way to get warm fuzzies from them is to take a bath in cold pricklies at the same time. So why get stung trying to get more warm fuzzies?

    • Brisvegan said:

      Congratulations!

      Glad things are working out for you.

      And yes, every set and defended boundary makes the next one easier to defend. They know you mean it!

  29. E_helbling said:

    Lw, a lot of people here have said about cutting out problematic parents and how much happier they are for it, and you might be looking at this and feeling a little overwhelmed, because all you wanted was some space, just your own needs to be heard and respected, jeez, you didn’t want this level of reaction and then to find yourself staring down the barrel of cutting people out of your life-!!

    It can feel very sudden, that you asked for such a little thing and ended up in the wastelands of a nuclear fallout instead.

    I also have a story with over bearing parents, but my happy ending involves them still in our lives; my husband’s parents behaved in a very similar way to yours over our wedding, right down to his dad calling to berate him for not apologising to his mother…when it was his mother who had called and drunkenly shrieked at him down the phone. It made what was turning out to be a stressful time even worse, because we had to handle them on top of it. We went through the full rigmarole of silent treatment, crying, shouting, drunken voice messages, threats and insulting harranging all over such minor things a hotel room locations. And the fact my husband and I went double barrelled with both our names (apparently this was the height of disrespect).

    What happened in the end? We stuck to our guns, and they came around. Little by little. It’s amazing what the sudden shock of ‘no, really, we aren’t moving on this but if you’d like to miss your only child’s wedding over things that are this petty, that’s your choice’. So eventually they’d stop with the silent treatment, and respond to queries. And when they learned snarky, negative comments resulted in us disconnecting from the conversation and walking away, they stopped making them. And when they realised that we didn’t respond to overbearing interrogatory emails, but would answer polite ones that respected our boundaries, they stopped bothering. It took about 8 months in all.

    Occasionally they backslide, and get a little growly, maybe a couple of times a year, but stop pretty much instantly when they realise nothing has changed and we aren’t moving on whatever issue they’ve picked to work themselves up over. We’re anticipating there might be a more serious flare up when the next emotionally charged event happens (which is likely when little helblings turn up) but hopefully we’ve gotten them used enough to the process it won’t be all that long lived and we’re braced enough for it that it won’t catch us off guard, which was half the problem the first time.

    It can be done. If they really love you and want to be a part of your lives, they will adjust to this new relationship where you are both adults and have a relationship because you want to, rather than you must have a relationship because one of you is dependent on the other and they have veto power over your life. But it takes some work and some bruises and some hard lines before they accept this and come around to what that relationship will look like and that this change isn’t the end of the world.

    All the Jedi hugs and all the sympathy you’re having to put up with this….along with all the congratulations on your baby. I wish you happy child times!

  30. Linden said:

    Oh LW, I feel for you. When you go against the scripts that were installed in you as a child, it can make you shudder all down your spine. Children just know instinctively that their survival depends on pleasing their parents, and I know from experience that going against the script can make some primal part of your brain convinced that you’re about to be left out on the savannah for the lions while the tribe recedes in the distance. But you’re an adult now, and it’s just not so! You have a proven ability to take care of yourself now. You have allies, and you have a young one of your own to protect. It’s going to be fine.

  31. Anonymous said:

    Also, LW, here are some of the strategies I use when setting boundaries with my own mother – her behaviors are similar to how you describe your own, but only you will know if these are really helpful for you or not.

    1. During the rocky period where I first started setting boundaries and she was throwing epic fits over it (not speaking to me, refusing to eat, stomping around, getting enabled dad involved) it helped me to re-frame it not as her being angry at me, but as her being angry in general. The truth is that while my mom is perfectly aware in a cognitive sense that I am a human being, she doesn’t have the emotional ability to process that. So, like a toddler, she lashes out not with the intention of hurting someone, but with the intention of communicating that she is upset and trying to get the situation to change to what she wants. Unlike a toddler, she has already done all her emotional growing and is never going to learn better. I had to accept that my fantasies of her realizing how awful she’s been and apologizing to myself and my siblings was never going to happen, which was rough.

    2. When she gets into berating me for setting a reasonable boundary, my usual script is to look her in the eye while she rants and wait for her to finish, then say ‘I understand you’re unhappy, but this is how it’s going to be with me.’

    3. I put a stop right away to her bringing in enabler dad as a third party. I would not talk to him about her disagreement with me. ‘If mom is upset, she can speak with me herself’ and ‘I know mom is unhappy with my decision, but she knows it is my final decision’ were lines I used a lot as appropriate. After the first time, she learned that sending dad after me didn’t get her anywhere and she didn’t try it again.

    4. I encouraged her to take up some hobbies that I enjoyed doing with her and could participate in on my own terms. Part of the pain my mother went through is the same that all parents feel when their children grow into independent adults, and I found that once she could rely on there being something we could do together amicably, she stopped trying to control the rest of my life so aggressively.

    Of course, our mothers are different people no matter how similar they may be, so I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same successes I have had. It will be difficult either way, and it will feel very unnatural after having taken the road of least resistance for so long. But like you said, the most important thing now is your daughter (for me, the catalyst was my younger sister). The sooner you start adjusting your mother to her new role in your life, the more likely she will have a positive relationship with your daughter rather than terrorizing her.

    I would like to agree and reinforce what some commenters above me have said, though. You do not need to let her have much or any contact with your daughter if you do not want to. Even with my relationship with my mother as stable as it is now, if I were to have children, I would probably keep her away from them. But it is ultimately your choice.

    • bad at screen names said:

      Omg, are you my sister?? My mom is #1 to a T.

  32. Jake said:

    LW, I just want to validate something you said. Yes, it really is this hard. Boundaries really are this scary, especially with parents. It’s embedded deep in our subconsciouses that losing parental approval or interest is dangerous, because when we’re infants parental approval and interest can _literally_ be a matter of life and death for us.

    So yes, that fear is super real and super fair and there is _nothing_ wrong with you for feeling it. But it’s not functional anymore. It’s a response that has outlived its usefulness. Boundaries really are this scary, but they are no longer really this dangerous. You can do this. You can make your boundaries clear, put their choice back in their lap, and refuse to engage with their irrational responses. You are allowed, you are able, and you will survive it.

    But yes, it is hard. Very hard. It’s okay to find it hard. Forgive yourself for that. Allow yourself to grieve and feel.

  33. First? Gold star to you, LW, for putting your foot down and enforcing your boundaries. Your child is going to thank you later.

    Second? Ask me. Ask me how I know.

    My paternal grandparents were/are AWFUL people. Grandma was a drug addict who abandoned her young children for days at a time to go party. Grandpa was a drinker who ditched his first family in abject poverty for a second one.

    My dad’s way of dealing with his nightmarish childhood was to pretend it never happened and to try to pressure the rest of us to pretend too. My brother and I were forced to spend time with our grandparents (overnights alone with one or the other were the WORST) and our parents had to drag us kicking and screaming every time because even as kids we knew that they were dangerous and toxic people.

    As adults, both my brother and I have chosen to have zero contact with our Dad’s family. He continues to beg, plead, and threaten and the two of us stand firm. My mom, on the other hand, has followed our example and once cried over the phone to me from relief that she’d never have to spend another moment being bullied and abused by my dad’s parents and siblings.

    I wish my parents had drawn strong boundaries between us and our grandparents when we were kids. And I absolutely applaud you for doing so. You’re dealing with a difficult situation now, but once your daughter is old enough to understand she will thank you for it.

  34. TurquoiseDra9on said:

    Dear LW. My grandparents were kind of awful parents. Like neglectful and unloving and didn’t-notice-abuse-going-on-under-their-noses parents. My father was fifteen before he felt like being loved was a thing and real and could be true for him, and it wasn’t his parents he was getting the love from. My father was the sweetest, most loving, listening-carefully-to-small-children parent someone could ever have. I don’t know how he and my mom did it, because my mother’s parents were also not great as parents. I remember the half hour when I was 13 that I thought no one loved me, because it was only a half hour in my entire childhood, and then my dad found me and hugged me and asked what was wrong. My parents, with the worst examples, were excellent parents. You and your wife will be awesome.
    All that said, I loved my grandparents dearly. I knew they and my parents had some issues, but it never impacted me. My mother told me years later than she had refused to visit my father’s parents for almost ten years, because that was the best thing for her. I don’t remember any of it. As a child, my grandparents were wonderful people who loved me and played with me. Sometimes we didn’t see them so often, but it was always good when we did. As an adult, I can see the way my grandmother can be problematic, but it never occurred to me as a child. Your daughter will remember the good pieces of the relationship. If you can, try not to argue with your parents in front of her, but don’t worry too much. She’ll remember the good parts, and hopefully your parents will learn to be amazing grandparents.

    • TurquoiseDra9on said:

      Sorry, and really the point I meant to make is that I remember my grandparents as wonderful *because my parents set good boundaries*. My grandparents had access to us if they behaved. All the shit they pulled on my parents was no allowed around us, and so we only remembered they being wonderful. Keep your boundaries. You daughter will be so much happier.

    • I want to throw my hat in for another case of “you are not TERRORIZING your child if she interacts with your parents.” Both my parents had sub-optimal childhoods, and as adults found dealing with their parents incredibly difficult. My living grandparents were extremely critical, controlling people, and my parents’ approach to childrearing was quite often “Do the opposite of what Mom and Dad did.”

      When I was a child, all I knew was that I had grandparents who loved me and wanted me to be happy. I figured everything out later. My parents did their best to make sure my brothers and I were happy when we saw our grandparents, and thankfully they mostly let us have our own reactions to them, like being upset if we felt they’d been mean. Yes, in retrospect, I wish that my parents had stood up to their parents more, risked their displeasure, and not pressured me to show affection or compliance to grandparents who “meant well”, but nobody’s perfect, y’know? And I hate the thought of LW carrying around a ton of guilt for letting her parents and her kid share icecream sometimes.

  35. kitharding said:

    I know of a forum community that specializes in dealing with parents who can’t respect boundaries, so I’m going to suggest you go visit the good people of DWIL Nation: http://community.babycenter.com/groups/a4725/dwil_nation

    The official mission of the forum is for dealing with toxic in-laws, but they get a fair amount of people dealing with toxic parents too, and they do a lot of spotting patterns. You can see stories of how other people have handled similar things, talk to other people who are handling similar things, and get a very strong “no, really, you are not alone in dealing with parents like this and you are not a bad daughter.”

    • I would personally be somewhat cautious in recommending DWIL. There is a lot of ableism, and Babycenter forum rules are such that a lot of trolling is allowed. The advice they give can be good, and reading with the above caveats in mind can help.

      • I clicked the link out of curiosity, read the forum rules, looked at a few threads and noped the hell out. There may be good advice given there, but it’s not for everyone. They can be kind of ruthless out there.

  36. LA said:

    Yes to all of the above. You’re doing the right thing, LW.

    Though one thing I feel like I should point out–those clothes that are too big right now? Hang onto them if you want, because at some point your child will grow into them. All my friends with babies have requested that if we get them clothes, to get them for a size or two larger than they are right now b/c they never know what day the clothes they currently have are going to stop fitting.

    (Of course, if seeing those clothes gives you bad feels because of where they came from, I’d toss them in the donate pile and get rid of them, too.)

    • slfisher said:

      I was thinking the same thing about the baby growing into the clothes. They grow awful fast.

  37. Clarry said:

    Congratulations and high five! As I was reading your letter and about your mother’s reactions to your simple reasonable boundary, I wasn’t thinking that this was a terrible thing. I was getting more excited that something wonderful had happened. Don’t take that wrong or think that I’m unsympathetic. It’s just that your mother reacted in an exactly predictable way, a sort of stage 1 on the way to stage 2. Nothing could be better. Your parents aren’t “off script”. They’re completely on it. They were never going to say “oh, alright.”

    “I thought their desire to visit their granddaughter would overwhelm their objections.” Their desire will– or it probably will– overwhelm their objections. Just wait.

    “What actually happened is confusing: they seem to be acting as though the boundary is completely unacceptable.” No, not confusing. They’re acting as though the boundary is completely unacceptable because it is– to them. They don’t like it. They’re used to getting their way so they’re expressing their displeasure in the only way they know. And here’s the terrific part: Their expressions of displeasure are pretty piss poor. They’re powerless, and deep down they know it. So all they can do is stomp their feet and exaggerate: “You said we have to stay in a hotel?! Well, then we won’t come at all. That’ll show you. Boo hoo. I’m waiting for you to feel sorry for me.” It’s like (some) babies when they get to the toddler stage. All they can do is cry, and you know that’s not so very terrible.

    So you raise an eyebrow and say “I’m sorry you feel that way” and leave it at that.

    You may even in time come to be seen as the hero. I know of one case where this has happened– mine. I was the first in my family to lay down some boundaries. I got disinherited for my trouble. My parents went into therapy to figure out what was wrong with me. Then more years went by, and more family members wished they’d laid down some boundaries. Somewhere along the way I was put back into the will. My mother still has her personality disorder. She still plays the victim and doesn’t know why everyone is against her. She continues to rule over my saintly father (not!). And family members come to me for help in understanding and dealing with her. Turns out I’m considered the sane one, even the happy one. Give yourself some pats on the back for doing this while you’re young. I’m glad to see my family members in their 60s and 70s working out these issues now and smile to myself at how I managed to do it when I was 30.

  38. JIll said:

    The question here isn’t whether your child gets to have a relationship with her grandparents. The question is whether Gramma and Grampa get to have a relationship with your children. If they really and truly do, they must be made to understand that, when it comes to you children, i really is your way or the highway. Please don’t give up on establishing boundaries. Trust me, you will need to do it a zillion times in the course of rearing this child.

    My best script is a very cheerful, “Well, Ma, you had your turn to be a Mom. It’s *my* turn now.” It’s a cheerful reminder that a) this is MY child, not yours and b) maybe I am doing things differently than she would, but the choice to do so is MINE.

    It’s a balancing act of knowing when to bite your tongue & let it go and when to stand firm. Decide where you draw that line. For me, it’s anything that I feel (to repeat: THAT *i* FEEL) will jeopardize their health and safety and, because mine are toddlers yet, anything that will upset their daily routine.

    That toy gun I hate can be cheerfully accepted then donated to charity later. The ugly clothes? Same thing. The junk food I never serve? One unhealthy serving won’t kill them. But smoking in my house? Keeping them up past their bedtime? Loosening up their “too tight” carseat buckle? Absolutely not.

    • neverjaunty said:

      Although, with parents that toxic, any acceptance of toys or clothing can be very fraught. Toxic parents loanshark; they use their giving of unasked-for (and even useless) items to try and generate emotional debt, and to insinuate themselves into the family. (Grandma can’t be here, but there’s a little reminder every time you put a onesie on Baby, and if Baby isn’t wearing the clothes Grandma and Grandpa gave you when they come to visit they’ll launch an inquisition into why not.) And god forbid you give the toy away or exchange it, because then you’re ungrateful and judgy and wasteful.

      Which is not to say I disagree with your advice per se, but establishing boundaries with merely annoying and know-it-all parents who haven’t quite grokked that you’re no longer five years old is very different than establishing boundaries with emotional abusers.

  39. SekhmetAten said:

    As someone with both nasty parents and nasty grandparents–
    In the long run, your child will not miss having a relationship with people who are manipulative and abusive. Imagine freeing your child from all the experiences you had of coddling and babying your mom to keep her happy. How much better is that?
    In the short term, CA is right. Your baby doesn’t know and doesn’t care. If they shape up, there is so much opportunity for grandparents to have a fun relationship– when the kid can walk, talk, and remember it.

  40. Polychrome said:

    Something that worried me in your letter was the manipulative note addressed directly to your baby — I can’t put my finger on exactly why it worried me so much, but it worried me. In a happier situation, it could be really cute, but in this situation, it seems almost threatening. It treats you and your wife as being sort of “in the way”. It makes it clear that your mom’s goal is possibly not… everyone getting along enjoying one another’s company big happy family style? Which I take it is what you would like, and what you would assume most grandparents would like. I’m really really hyper-sensitive to ventriloquizing in family relationships — I think it never comes from or goes to a good place. I guess by addressing your baby directly what scares me is she is *already positioning* the baby as able to be on her side versus on your side, and sort of hypothetically treating the baby as presumptively on her side in a showdown — “I love spending time with you sweetie [TOO BAD YOUR MOMS ARE NOT COOL]” almost as if to say for the baby “yes grandma I too wish we could be together more [TOO BAD MY MOMS ARE NOT COOL]”.

    Grownups do have to make a lot of decisions for babies, of course, but anticipating for the baby what her family alliances are going to be — and especially setting up a scenario where her parents are not on her side — is very yikes-making.

    • roramich said:

      I think this is a very insightful comment. thanks!

    • I agree – that part of the letter stuck out to me as well and creeped me out for the following reasons: Grandma is 1) going around the parents and treating them like they don’t exist but also 2) using the baby as a means to wound the parents and make not-so-veiled complaints and 3) writing a letter to an INFANT, essentially placing her granddaughter in the same role of “caretaker” at the ripe old age of 2 months, so who knows what she’ll try once the child can actually interact?

      Nope nope nooooope to all of that. It’s weird. And it’s one gigantic red flag that says “grandma will try this dysfunctional communication through the child and TO the child.” Not ok!

    • Guava said:

      Yeah, that jumped out at me too. It sets a bad precedent for how Grandma is intending to deal with LW’s boundaries as the baby gets older.

      I learned this lesson the hard way a couple years ago, after I told the boundary-stomping mother of one of my child’s friends that my youngest wasn’t ready to have sleepovers at other people’s houses yet. She went straight to my kids and told them about all the fun they were going to have IF ONLY mommy would let him sleep over at their house! So of course both kids wanted to go and I was painted as the No Fun Zone. And my spouse didn’t back me up. And the next thing I knew, she was using that one invitation to guilt trip us into hosting both of her kids for sleepovers at my house nearly every other weekend. And her youngest was a nightmare. He wouldn’t sleep, he demanded different meals than what we were eating at every sitting, he destroyed our stuff, he whined constantly, and his mom would show up at 7am on Saturday mornings to drop them off and pick them up at 6pm on Sunday night.

      Just shut the door now. Shut it hard.

      • Ugh, that sounds horrendous. I’m sorry you had to go through that crap. Poor you.

        • Guava said:

          Thanks. It was a good life lesson to trust my gut instincts to say ‘no’ to boundary pushers the first time. It’s tough, when you are raised by steamrolling parents who train you by throwing tantrums to let them have their way in every encounter. Even if you get to a point where you can kind of manage your parents, you meet other manipulators who know how to push those buttons too. It has taken me years to get to a point where I have learned to live with other people’s disapproval. The sad fact is, they’re going to disapprove no matter what I do, so I might as well please myself.

          • Jackalope said:

            “It was a good life lesson to trust my gut instincts to say ‘no’ to boundary pushers the first time.” Yes, this! My experience is that setting boundaries right away accomplishes two things: for those who will respect boundaries, it starts you off right, for those who are boundary pushers you can maybe still get things to work but on a healthier plane than usual, and for boundary steamrollers, well, they probably won’t be interested, and how much better off are you then!

            (As a side note, I’m so thankful for all of the comments here. I grew up in a family that was wonderful and loving but had poor boundaries. This was one of the trickier lessons for me to learn [am still working on it], but am SO much happier. So encouragement to LW — it’s awful and hard at first, but does get better.)

    • Brisvegan said:

      Both my dad and my MIL tried that sort of thing at different stages. It’s creepy stupid lashing out and meant to hurt everyone who doesn’t bend, especially the adult child who gets the added threat of “I’ll go around you to recruit/hurt your kids if you don’t do what I want.”

      Dad once returned birthday presents that we had given him as Xmas presents for the kids (new wrapping paper) and guilt letters inside to try to force them to give up my mother’s address after she left him and had reasonable fears about him being violent. Fortunately, I could tell what was probably going on and checked the “presents” before the kids ever saw them.

      Nastiness and petulance can be the stock in trade of these people. Honesty with the kids can help. They know that both my dad and my MIL are people who do not have proper relationship behaviours and that they can be mean to try and get their own way. They know about boundaries and kindness. The kids are teens and adults now and have most of the full story, but we were age appropriate in explaining bad behaviour at different stages.

      Funnily, perhaps because I ran interference during tantrum periods, my kids were able to have decent relationships with my dad before his death and still with my MIL (who was often quite a fun grandparent if we keep strict boundaries in place). They both loved their grandkids, but are/were supremely screwed up narcissists with their kids.

    • K. said:

      That really jumped out at me too, but I couldn’t put a finger on why.

      It’s like she’s thinking of pitting a daughter against a mother before the daughter can even speak for herself. Literally. Because it’s a baby. WTF.

      • Lynn said:

        The sequel to this will be when they start sending private messages to her on social media to make an end run around you. I had to quietly block some family members from my kids’ accounts. They know why, now that they are a bit older.

        • manybellsdown said:

          Oh yeah, my daughter learned to curate her own social media pretty early. She knows exactly which posts are going to get reactions from which relatives, and how to block them from seeing it.

          The weirdest thing now is that her biological father does the opposite of trying to talk to me through her: he refuses to contact her and contacts me instead. Our daughter is 18 with her own phone, Facebook, and email and he will only call me and then complain that he can’t reach her. But I don’t take his calls either, so I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work for him.

    • cruelmistress said:

      Yes. LW, for as long as your daughter is a child, it is your responsibility (and one I think you are off to an admirable start with!) to curate her relationships with non-parent adults. Now that she is a baby, the letter served only to hurt you and then be thrown away. But what about when your daughter is in school and Grandma shows up to take her on a surprise outing and your daughter doesn’t understand why Grandma isn’t on the allowed pickup list? (This happens ALL THE TIME in childcare and education, and it is heartbreaking.) Grandma is no better than any other person who wants to get close to your child without having a relationship with you (her parent) based on mutual trust and respect. There is no non-creepy and OK way that can turn out! Shield, shield, shield.

      (Something my relatively Evil Bees free mother taught me as a child was that if someone wanted me to keep something a secret from her, I extra especially should tell her about it; I can see how this rule would not work if your parental unit has a hive of Evil Bees inside, but in healthy situations a six-year-old should not be having relationships or encounters they cannot tell their parents about.)

      Now, obviously Grandma is not really trying to manipulate your daughter (yet). Your daughter is pre-verbal. Grandma is trying to manipulate you, and she is willing to use your daughter as a tool to get what she wants. That does not bespeak a future full of unconditional grandparental love and respect!

  41. Stephanie said:

    This post is really timely, as just last night my mom and I had an emotional discussion about my parents’ first visit with my first daughter. I am pregnant and due with baby #2 in January, and my mom is having all the feels about the mess that was them staying with us for the first two weeks of my daughter’s life again.

    I think what it comes down to is that this generation of grandmas is trying to do exactly what their moms did for them, but parenting roles have changed — and a lot of those ‘new grandma’ responsibilities are being done by new dads (who may have taken a day or two off when they gave birth, but now may have weeks / months of paternity leave). At least, that is how I see it.

    • gmg said:

      If Grandma has narcissistic tendencies, it won’t matter what Dad is or isn’t around to do. My aunt (who I do love dearly, but darn it, she sure can be selfish) came in from out of state after my cousin and his wife had a baby for a weeklong visit so she could “help out.” My cousin went back to work relatively early on so they could use some of his leave time later, so he wasn’t around to do the daytime stuff. And yet somehow STILL Grandma’s idea of helping out was not laundry or cooking lunch while Mom fed the baby or took a nap — it was rearranging all Mom’s knickknacks.

  42. Pajpaj said:

    Something that might also help relations with LWs father is deny his attempt of being the mother’s voice. He is, after all, an autonomus entity and can have a relationship with his daughter separate from being his wife’s herald.

    “You’re mom says she feels -”
    “Mom can tell me how she feels without you when she feels comfortable. I’m speaking to Dad and want to know how *you* feel about x?”

    “Dad, my issues with Mom are separate from you. These are the things I need from *you specifically* and Mom doesn’t even come into it. Can *you* agree to these things?”

    Indicating that a) LW is not afraid of the silent treatment and is perfectly willing to talk about mom *to mom and no one else* and b) keeps reinforcing dads relationship as distinct and important could help ease the burden of his self appointment as a two-bladed battle-axe between LW and Mom, and force him to recognize his own responsibility in negotiating boundaries.

    • neverjaunty said:

      This is a wise observation, though I don’t think Dad here is really so much an enabler as a co-abuser. He’s just letting Mom be the face of the operation, so to speak, but by hitting LW with guilt trips when she won’t listen to Mom, he is part and parcel of this abuse.

  43. mcbeagles said:

    LW your letter was so so familiar from my own life. The way you describe your parents? Ugh. So much like the dynamic with/between mine.
    I was in a situation very similar to yours when my first child was born. I set boundaries much like the Captain describes (tho not quite as nicely/clearly as her awesome scripts do). At one point I kicked my parents out of my house. Things were…tense for a while. Three years (and a second baby) later here’s where we’re at:
    My parents come to my house for an hour or two about once a year (they live local). When I want to see them, it is at a restaurant that I choose at a time I choose. I also see them at larger family events every few months.
    When I do see them, conversation is civil and superficial. My kids haven’t really taken to them. I’ve never said anything bad about Grandparents to them, it’s just their personality that seems to keep my young kids at a distance; I don’t push it one way or the other.
    Sometimes my folks say something shitty. Again. At that point I disengage and wait a while before contacting them/ responding to their communications like the Captain advises.
    Overall, it’s…OK. If things never get any better, the status quo is something I can live with indefinitely.

  44. LW, I am so very impressed with your strength. It can be so hard to set boundaries but you have done a great job. There is nothing unreasonable in what you are asking and you determination to protect your baby from manipulation is the right thing to do. I am afraid I can do nothing but offer you emotional support and admiration. You are doing the right thing!

  45. Anon Daughter of Bad Parents said:

    Please be very clear about one thing. Your child does not need a relationship with emotionally abusive grandparents who do not understand boundaries, and have no concept of the negative effect their behavior is having . I have 2, nearly adult, kids and both my parents and husbands parents fall into the emotionally, psychologically and physically abusive category.

    I made the mistake of thinking “kids need grandparents” when I should have been thinking “kids need emotionally stable, supportive, loving adults in their lives”. I wasted 10 years trying to teach all four grandparents how to be the latter, failed, and watched in horror as the abusive patterns of behavior from our childhoods reset between our parents and our children. We emigrated across a major ocean, using my husband’s career as the excuse, when the eldest was 10. Best thing we ever did for our kids.

    The tragedy of the situation is: if any one of our parents were hooked up to a lie detector and asked if they were good parents and good grandparents they would say “yes” and pass the test. They are utterly, and totally, incapable of understanding the pain: physical, mental and emotional: that they have inflicted on their children and grandchildren. And more importantly – they never will.

    Remember – “kids need emotionally stable, supportive, loving adults in their lives” – these do not need to be blood relatives.

    • Anon Daughter of Bad Parents said:

      Also to clarify on my post above – it does not need to be a stable group of 2 or 4 people. It can be a tribe of people: work colleagues, neighbors, teachers, coaches and parents of their friends. The group can also shift and change as life progresses. This will teach your kid so much about how life changes, how friendships develop, mature, change and sometimes fade. It will also help them not to fear change, the fading of relationships and know that there is a world full of good people out there, with so many warm, kind, people to meet and get to know. The art in this life is to identify the Darth’s and the Yoda’s. Then avoid the Darth and embrace the Yoda. Sadly your parents, like mine, seem to be the former.

  46. Geranium said:

    Hi, LW. Congrats on your baby!! 🙂 and on setting such good strong self care boundaries.

    Setting boundaries with pushy, demanding, controlling people who you’ve never set boundaries with before is not merely “setting boundaries”: it is “completely redefining how our relationship is going to work from now on.” It is “Hey, you no longer have all the power in this relationship anymore. I am taking some.” That’s why they’re reacting as if this is so dangerous and scary.

    Even non-pushy, non-demanding, non-controlling people can freak out and overreact when boundaries are first set in a relationship. I recommend “The Dance of Anger” by Harriet Lerner for some reading on how this goes. Unfortunately your parents’ normal level of behavior is so out of line that when they do it harder, to try to get you to change back, it’s really ghastly.

    Your dad is not being a neutral party. He is being the good cop to your mom’s bad cop.

    I am sorry for your disappointment that your parents don’t seem to care enough about having a relationship with your daughter to abide by your perfectly reasonable boundaries.

    This may sound weird or uncaring, but honestly, as I was reading your letter? I was thinking this could be the best thing that has ever happened to you. Because you are going to stick to your boundary, and your asshole parents are going to flounce off in an asshole huff, and then? The absence of assholery in your life will give you space to breathe, and space to blossom with your wife and kid, and you may very well come to realize that you are happier and healthier with the marked absence of assholes, and that while it is sad in principle that your daughter doesn’t know those grandparents, and while it is sad in principle that you don’t have a relationship with your parents anymore, in actuality it is the best thing since disposable diapers.

  47. Magnolia said:

    This letter, the Captain’s respone and the comments have been so helpful. I’ve had similar issues with my child’s grandparents and I’ve have been cobbling advice from this site together for the past year to try and make a workable framework for our family to navigate our situation. To see your question and these thoughtful responses has been really affirming (and also mildly horrifying because as nice as it is to know I’m not the only one going through something like this, I don’t think anyone should have to go through this!) Setting and living into those boundaries is hard but important work. A piece I haven’t mastered yet is how to not let it eat at me after setting those boundaries. Any advice?

  48. accessdenied said:

    “My mother tells herself stories about how she is wronged and how people are against her, and I know all of them well because it was my job as a kid to support her, agree with her, and above all, make sure she was never upset.”

    Hey, I had this job too! The pay’s awful, your boss is an asshole, and the severance package is FOR SHIT.

    In all seriousness, though, I’m really sorry your mom was/is like this but at the same time I’m also really glad that MY mom’s not the only one who put her young kids in the role of ’emotional caretaker.’ It’s like… I know that the situation was fucked up, but ever so often (like today, for example) a voice in my head starts to whisper ‘oh no you’re just being melodramatic she was TRYING HER BEST and it wasn’t THAT BAD at least she never BEAT YOU you ungrateful little bitch’ and it’s good to have the… validation, I guess, of other people talking about similar situations and how horrible they are/were. Thank you for writing this letter.

    From over here, it looks like you’re going about things just right, even though it’s scary and difficult. Congratulations on your new baby, and best of luck dealing with your parents. You can get through this! 🙂

  49. Im not a parent myself, but can relate to the narcissistic mother (Im using the n-word because you did). Argh! The Captain has it exactly right when she says that eventually your mother will “give in” but then still try to control it.

    Here’s an example: While staying near my mother, I offered to meet her for a meal. I figured I could manage that: knowing she wouldnt make a scene or bitch at me in public, and that there would be a natural end when the bill would come and it would be possible to leave. Well, right up until the minute we arrived my mother was trying to find reasons to manipulate things so we’d go to hers and so be there for longer / put on the spot.Text messages growing in urgency. “Im nearly there, see you in 1 min” “NO CALL ME NOW URGENT URGENT” etc. She was trying to claim that I wouldnt be able to access the restaurant toilet, so we should go to hers. It is worth noting that I cant even get my wheelchair in her front door, let alone use her toilet, so…?

    Anyway you get the idea. Like your mother thinking she could ignore your boundaries re dog and toast, mine ignored my wish not to be touched because it causes me pain. And so on.

    Im trying to say – your instincts are good. Put your young family first. If your mother (and father) cant respect your requests and boundaries completely, then as Captain says, that is their CHOICE and if you need to say “oh dear. This isnt working after all, you must leave now” then do it and follow through.

    Sometimes narcissistic mothers can be trained. Sometimes you need to reduce contact. None of this is your fault, and it is being forced on you. Please, do what you need.

  50. Can you visit your parents? Drive or hire a car and stay at a hotel nearby, just like you have suggested for their visit to you. It might not be possible but if things go wrong it will probably be easier to leave their house than to get them to leave yours. It might be something like a military campaign, where you keep your baby bag packed at all times ready to go immediately and keep hold of a phone, but this would give you a chance to evaluate your parents’ behaviour and see if there are ways of making a visit at least superficially pleasant.

    Maybe not right now but I think I’d rather do this than have them visit you, even if they stay at a hotel, and then have a screaming match to get them out of your house.

    • I did that, because my parents don’t like where I live (funny, they lived here for nearly 40 years!) and essentially bullied me into crossing the country with baby and tons of luggage by public transport. Ugh.

      It is kind of easier to escape when you’re not the host, actually. I did lots of “baby is getting unsettled because unfamiliar environment, I’ll just take her into the guest room for some quiet time.” I would still rather have stayed at home though, because you can’t overestimate the power of a comfort zone and of the My House My Rules thing when parents are doing it. Of course YMMV depending on exactly how strongly your parents refuse to respect your boundaries.

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