How do I resolve this ridiculosity?
March 17, 2009 8:54 PM   Subscribe

How do I resolve a child care conflict with people who swear they have done nothing wrong?

Two weeks ago, my wife and I decided it was time for a 'date night' (our third since the child's birth), and dropped our seven-month old son off with her parents to babysit for the evening (they had been asking for this privilege for months). We run a few errands, get dinner, and then head out to the Roller Derby. Six hours after dropping him off, we call the in-laws up to find out how the little man is doing, and they inform us that they've dropped our son off with their neighbors, and they are out getting dinner with family from out of town.

I called their neighbors, and when they picked up, the kid was screaming his head off. Apparently he hadn't eaten since we dropped him off (and he normally eats every 2.5 hours). He's mainly breastfed, and just wasn't taking to the bottles they offered.

My wife and I called 'date night' off, and sped off to the neighbors house, grabbed the kid, the wife hopped in the back seat to feed him, and we went back home, trying to make sense of the events of the past few hours.

That was a Saturday, and we spent Sunday cooling off. My father-in-law called my wife and told her: "we need to talk". We arranged to visit them on the following Tuesday night.

In hoping to straighten things out, I commence asking: "So, let's talk about Saturday." And, the first thing out of my mother-in-law's mouth was: "You need to apologize to the neighbors for the way you treated them." They further suggested that we had embarrassed them and their neighbors, and were rash in our decision-making. I asked them several times if they felt it would have been appropriate to call us to notify us and their response was: "You're overreacting." Any further commentary was met with: "The neighbors are good people and I trust them with my grandson's life. It's not like they're criminals or anything."

My mood grew considerably worse, and I asked if they felt that could admit that they were wrong in dropping the kid off with the neighbors, and all I got was an "I'm sorry you feel that way", which, in my opinion, is the weaseliest non-apology anyone can half-offer. I then said something along the lines of "If you can't admit any wrongdoing here, we're leaving." No wrongdoing was admitted. I was told I was overreacting (my wife mainly remained silent...) - and so, we packed up with our child and headed off.

So, as of today, two weeks have elapsed, since the Tuesday argument/fight and the in-laws have not contacted us, (to issue an apology or otherwise) and now I believe my wife is starting to get angry with me. She asserts that I should commence 'making nice' with them, and that she feels guilty 'denying them access to their grandchild'.

The in-laws will never apologize nor admit wrongdoing. Unfortunately, I feel like to 'make nice', I've got to go to them and pretend to be the 'bad guy', which I feel like I've done nothing wrong. In such a situation, I'd have to go to them, hat in hand, and apologize to them for 'overreacting' or having a 'short fuse' or whatever.

In my 'ideal' world, the in-laws would contact us and, at the very least, offer a 'well, we didn't do right then, but we'll try to at least notify you if we change plans in the future'.

Unfortunately, the longer my in-laws take in ... well, not offering an apology, the more guilty my wife feels, and the more pressure I am under to 'make things right'.

Any ideas for any sort of resolution I could put forth in which I can satisfy my wife, straighten things out with the in-laws, and somehow not feel like I've been shat on by my in-laws and then reward bad behavior?
posted by The Giant Squid to Human Relations (89 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Disagreeing over whether what they did was acceptable has nothing to do with whether you can be nice to them in other contexts.

If you can't come to an agreement over what is appropriate when they are looking after the grandkid, then don't have them babysit. Other than that, there's no reason anything else can't carry on as before.
posted by winston at 9:07 PM on March 17, 2009

YEs. I would apologize to them for assuming they would take care of your son when they said they would, I would buy them a fruit cake and I would never leave my son alone with them again. The only solution is to make nice and never give them the kid. I have three kids now in their teens and I cannot imagine for the life of me ANYONE much less a grandparent taking responsibility for my kid and then dumping him at a neighbor you have never met without asking. Make a half assed apology like they did to you, act nice and never forget what they did.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:08 PM on March 17, 2009 [21 favorites]

You're not going to get an apology from the in-laws, so let that go.

Just never let them babysit again.
posted by orange swan at 9:08 PM on March 17, 2009 [8 favorites]

Wow, the in-laws really screwed up. Big time. Any reasonable person would be furious about what they did.

It certainly isn't incumbent upon you to apologize to them. Your wife has issues that she needs to resolve concerning her parents --- she apparently feels that regardless of what they do, they are owed considerable deference --- but you should under no circumstances feel obligated to make nice with them after this shocking violation of trust.

It really was a shocking violation of trust. I can't believe they did it. To "make nice" with them, in my opinion, would be to minimize the magnitude of what they did.

If this were me, I would make damned sure I win this fight. I would freeze them out until they came crawling back in abject shame and regret for what they did. And if they never saw fit to come crawling back, our relationship would be permanently ruined. I know that sounds harsh, but what they did strikes me as pretty close to unforgivable, and failing to acknowledge their poor judgment just compounds the error. If you give in to your wife's wishes, I think you will be making a grave mistake.
posted by jayder at 9:09 PM on March 17, 2009 [8 favorites]

They're her parents. She should be the one to smooth out the relationship, however best to do it.
posted by cerebus19 at 9:09 PM on March 17, 2009 [16 favorites]

If they're never going to do it again (it being handing off your child to someone without your knowledge), then swallow your pride and apologize. I know, I, too, would rather swallow a porcupine, but if you can reach out to them, say you're sorry for how upset you were and for failing to acknowledge their good intentions in taking care of your son, that might soothe everyone enough for them to all forget about it and move on.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:09 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I think this is an issue more between you and your wife than her parents. She thinks it was wrong to leave your child with strangers while he went hungry, correct? So why is she buckling when threaten to hold their breaths until their faces turn blue? She needs to cowgirl up and tell her parents what they did was wrong. And never leave your son with them alone again.

I'm just flabbergasted. They're more concerned with what the neighbors think than their own daughter. i thought that kind of attitude was a joke.
posted by sugarfish at 9:12 PM on March 17, 2009 [13 favorites]

The most important person in this small drama is your wife. Start by saying that you are certain she agrees that the most important thing is the child. Get her to agree with that. Next, explain very clearly how you feel about this and ask for her support. Tell her that you understand that this is very difficult for her but that you must set this one boundary for her parents. Then ask for a meeting. Do the same thing, and get them to agree that the most important thing is the grandkid. They must say yes to that. Now say that you are certain that it is reasonable that the parents know at all times where their child is. They will agree to the abstract. Now say that you are certain that in the future, they will let you know what's going on with your baby.

They will agree and that's that. Find a way to drop your anger after that. The key is future behavior, not the past. They are human and forcing them to admit prior fault goes against a whole series of defense mechanisms you don't need to fight to get what you want, which is a future promise of no more incidents of this type.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:13 PM on March 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

1. You are right
2. You and your wife need to be on the same page about this, if not about what happened, then what is going to happen in the future [i.e. they are never babysitting again without explicit guidelines and if they can't work within those, then no more babysitting, end of story]
3. You need to make nice for your wife's sake and not for theirs
4. You are right, but now what you need to do is solve the problem. This is not about your in-laws but about you and your wife and it's within your power to solve
5. Everyone is tired and cranky with the new baby
6. You can say you're sorry about being rude to the neighbors, skip the rest of it [which you are right about] and make some sort of low-grade nice

This has the power to become a big ugly sticking point in your family and I guess I'd ask "is this is the hill you want to die on?" I don't see you as being the bad guy I see you as the one who is solving the damned problem, which is something your in-laws are not doing. Be the big man, impress your wife (and maybe her folks) and move past this. You have a long life ahead of you and will have bigger battles to fight in the future.

I'm sorry, because this totally did suck, but it can end if you let it. I'd be more concerned about your wife saying nothing when you were scrapping with her parents, what was her opinion about what they did? Are the two of you in agreement about the wrongness of what her parents did?
posted by jessamyn at 9:13 PM on March 17, 2009 [11 favorites]

Your duty is to your child, and his welfare was compromised. At worst, it seems like the grandparents pawned him to kind of show that they had the power. Your wife can't stick up to them, and that is the dynamic that is being played out. She's trying to pull you into the same thing.

Don't let it happen. Keep your kids away from these people, and keep your dignity and most importantly keep your kid safe. He's not a pawn.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 9:13 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry to sound like a jerk but, no, fuck them, they are completely in the wrong. That is absolutely the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Dumping your beloved grandson with the next door neighbours because you "trust" them? To hell with that. I "trust" a lot of people but I wouldn't even ask them to look after my cat, and sure as shit not my child.

They didn't even call you to tell you they were dumping the kid with the neighbours? What the hell?

"Thank you for all your help in the past but I am no longer comfortable with giving you temporary custody of our child and we shall be making other arrangements in the future."
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:13 PM on March 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

"my wife mainly remained silent" and "she feels guilty 'denying them access to their grandchild'"

It seems like you and your wife need to get on the same page, first. Does she agree that her parents shouldn't babysit again? If she doesn't, you putting your foot down and trying to enforce that is going to cause problems.
posted by HopperFan at 9:14 PM on March 17, 2009

Your in laws are completely out of line for dumping the 7-month old off at a neighbors house without your consent, especially if you don't know them personally. I would say the middle ground here is to reconcile with the in-laws but never let them in a position of trust again. They do not seem like responsible people and good role models to me.

(holy cow, 10 replies in 7 minutes!!)
posted by crapmatic at 9:14 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

don't apologize, they had no right to ditch the baby as soon as he became inconvenient. If you must say something, give them something as mealy as they gave you "I'm sorry you feel I over reacted" but NEVER under any circumstances let them have the baby alone again until he can fend for himself.
posted by legotech at 9:14 PM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Basically, the issue here is personal ratification: You're always going to check out your child's food, toys, friends, schools, health, etc. and it makes no sense to depart from that even based on the recommendation of people you trust because as a parent of a very young child you need to maintain near-constant awareness of your child's surroundings. I think your wife already gets this and is just embarassed about things, but hopefully you can find a way to get your wife to concur in expressing this sentiment more eloquently.

I think her parents need to understand that you will delegate decision-making authority to them for your child on your terms only, and that you trust their judgment BUT in order to participate fully in your child's life during a time when he's about as far from autonomous as he'll ever be that you and your wife need to be the final decision makers, period.

I hope I'm clear enough about the point I'm trying to make and I hope it's somewhere close to the thinking you're experiencing. To put it bluntly, I wouldn't entrust people I'd never met with anything important, let alone the thing of paramount importance.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:14 PM on March 17, 2009

I would certainly not allow them the privilege of babysitting your child any more. Clearly they do not understand that there is no subcontracting allowed in that area. Even more so with a infant. (to be clear, though - how long was the child with the neighbors - I think you're implying that the neighbors tried for 6 hours to feed your son).

You can agree to disagree, I guess, and resume visits to the grandparents. I would expect that there are probably other boundaries (feeding sugary treats, etc) that you need to watch out for and not assume they're on the same page as you.

By the way, does your wife agree that this is unacceptable? According to what you wrote, she didn't express any opinions on the event, and you "believe" she is angry with you. Does she feel like this isn't a big deal to her?
posted by chookibing at 9:15 PM on March 17, 2009

Your wife needs to decide whose needs are more important, her parent's or her child's. What your in-laws did was incredibly crappy but what your wife is doing now is incredibly unfair to you and your child. I think you have more of an issue with your wife that your in-laws frankly. And, yeah, like JohnnyGunn says, they've lost baby-sitting privileges (that's why it is called a privilege, not a right).
posted by saucysault at 9:15 PM on March 17, 2009

Sorry, what Jessamyn said, I didn't hit preview. Also, it's odd that they wanted to babysit for months, then dump your son after a couple of hours.
posted by HopperFan at 9:16 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

(and to dump the 7-month old off at a neighbors house to go out to dinner? Good god... I am shaking my head.)
posted by crapmatic at 9:16 PM on March 17, 2009

The problem here is not how your in-laws feel. It's how your wife feels. Your in-laws were just wrong. Really, really, truly wrong.

Talk to your wife, tell her that, on the one hand, your in-laws were wrong and you really don't want to make nice with them. On the other hand, you want to help her feel better. She needs to feel like you are on her side, and if you show understanding for how she feels (they are her parents, she understandably wants to have a positive relationship with them), she will be more able to see your side (you are understandably pissed off).

Your wife then needs to take the initiative to either smooth things over with them herself, or find a compromise that allows you to mend things with them without having to do anything that feels like lying/letting them off the hook.

Do not apologize to them. You are not sorry. You should not be sorry. They might give weasly half-apologies, doesn't mean you should. But try to do something that will help your wife feel better - only she and you can determine what that might be.

And for heaven's sake don't let them babysit ever again.

P.S. This is not really relevant to the current issue, but my guess is that their desire to have a relationship with their grandchild will eventually lead them to try to mend things, even if you do nothing. You are in a position of relative power here, because you control access to the kiddo.
posted by mai at 9:21 PM on March 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

You have nothing to apologize for. Set the boundries now or you'll have regret over all kinds of issues in the years to come. It would certainly help if your wife was squarely on your and both your son's side here rather than on her parents' side (or somewhere between in no man's land). . . . Good Luck.
posted by inkyr2 at 9:21 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, I looked at the question again, and the question is how to resolve this.

Unfortunately, unless your wife can overcome a lot of years of family dynamic, it's most likely going to have to be you sucking it up and playing nice.

I know that doesn't make sense this is a pretty cut and dried case of they screwed up BIG but like I said, family relationships are difficult to overcome and she's in a tough spot.

I'd still stand firm on never letting them babysit again but otherwise, family stuff is hard and you are walking into a situation between wife and family that goes back long before baby and from her point of view, she's trapped between you and them. So it's up to you to be the grown up in this case.
posted by legotech at 9:25 PM on March 17, 2009

Response by poster: Okay to quickly followup:
1. From what I can tell, the kid was at the neighbors for an hour or so
2. The neighbors (well, they live a half-mile away or such), are old friends of the in-laws. My wife has a 'take-em-or-leave-em' attitude with them, and they straight up creep me out. (Don't ask why, some people, I just don't jell with).
3. My wife agrees with me that the in-laws messed up, big time, and she was as furious as I was when it happened. jayder, however, is right. There is a deference/respect issue going on with her and her folks (and there almost always is), and it always ends with us kissing their butts.
4. Preventing them from babysitting ever again seems like a royal pain in the ass, but that's because, well, there are always bound to be a few situations here and there when we're going to need somebody to watch the little man in a pinch.
posted by The Giant Squid at 9:25 PM on March 17, 2009

I think if you don't resolve this, you'll have to climb down, and you'll hate everybody for it.

One way to handle this might be to go over to their place, alone, and let them have it. Yell at them. Make clear to them that you are *furious* and you will never trust them with the child again.

Right now they are concerned with their neighbors' feelings. I want them to be concerned about your feelings.

Sometimes you need to lose your temper, in a calculated way, to get through to people.

Then, you can climb down from "they are never seeing their grandchild again" to "if they apologize, and promise not to misbehave, they can see their grandchild again."
posted by musofire at 9:26 PM on March 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Your question reminded me of this one.

Just for your interest's sake.

Previous salient question.
posted by taff at 9:28 PM on March 17, 2009

What they did was really stupid.
Your wife needs to be the one to talk to them about it. She really needs to stand up to them. I know if my parents did something like that, I'd be the one raising hell, not my partner. You have every right to be mad, but I think they're more likely to take it seriously when their own daughter is the one showing her extreme disapproval.
posted by fructose at 9:29 PM on March 17, 2009

There is a deference/respect issue going on with her and her folks (and there almost always is), and it always ends with us kissing their butts.

Frankly, now is the time for that to stop. The in-laws are behaving because they have a reasonable expectation it will work, and they will continue to behave in that way as long as it does.
posted by setanor at 9:32 PM on March 17, 2009 [8 favorites]

I agree with all of the above comments re: you being right and that the in-laws should not have left your child with people who are strangers to you.

Your wife needs to agree with you more publicly. Without getting too critical of her relationship with her parents (e.g. "you always defer to them"), you could ask her to stand up for what you both feel is right (e.g. "I feel alone on this one and though I'm willing to make peace with your parents, I ask for your support in telling them our boundaries.") She should be the one to stand up to them.

One other point that you may not have considered (and I'm not taking their side here) is that 6 hours is a long time to babysit (and you guys cut it short after 6 hours). I know you are a new parent and time away from the baby is precious and they should have cleared their schedules... but... ???
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:37 PM on March 17, 2009

Preventing them from babysitting ever again seems like a royal pain in the ass, but that's because, well, there are always bound to be a few situations here and there when we're going to need somebody to watch the little man in a pinch.

Don't sublimate your anger just because it's inconvenient.

You're angry at them and you deserve to stay angry, and on top of that, if, in this "pinch", this pair of...people...refuse to look after their "precious grandchild" because you didn't apologise to the neighbours? Whoo, boy. I don't know what to tell you. I would explode.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:38 PM on March 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Here are the specifics that I infer from your story. You parents-in-law dropped the kids off at the neighbors because they had (unexpected?) friends from out of town. They obviously trust the neighbors so I'll assume they are good people, possibly with kids/grandkids of their own. The fact that grandma and grandpa dropped the kid off with someone you don't know is wrong. They're wrong. No matter what trust they put in their neighbors, they simply shouldn't have done that. So you are justified in being angry about that. Keep that anger, but sort of compartmentalize it. Remember it, but don't dwell on it.

They seem to be angry at you because of the way you treated the neighbors. You were angry and agitated when you went to their house and snatched the kid back. Put yourself in their shoes; they were doing a favor for a neighbor and probably having a great time with the little tyke. You said the baby wouldn't eat from the bottles they had...these are the same bottles your in-laws had? That you gave them? I have to assume they tried to feed the baby. Maybe they were having a tough time of it and don't have all the quieting tricks that you know. But again, imagine you're doing this favor for a friend and the parents of said baby suddenly, angrily come take the baby with nary a thanks. Did you say thank you? I'm guessing no. Misplaced anger like that is really, really frustrating to be on the receiving end of.

You're right to be upset at the inlaws. But they're probably angry because (I'm guessing here) you were a jerk to the neighbors. In other words, I wouldn't apologize to your in laws, but you might want to think about apologizing to the neighbors. They were doing a favor.

Lastly, be very clear, precise, (and nice!) in telling your in-laws exactly why they were wrong. You're right, so if they continue to stonewall this at least you'll be on the right side of history. Oh, and never, ever let them babysit again. Unless you get an apology first.
posted by zardoz at 9:40 PM on March 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

Nip these control issues in the bud now or you will be raising Little Squid according to how Grandma and Grandpa see fit. This sounds a bit like a test-- for your wife. She needs to find a way to be respectful but also find the power that being a mother herself now confers.
posted by oflinkey at 9:42 PM on March 17, 2009

I would like to add something in tandem with the comments about talking to your wife about agreeing and standing up to her parents - make sure you talk about why, and not just why in a sense that what they did was bad, but why this is something that shouldn't need to happen ever - if she is really this deferential to her parents, but you get her to stick up for you this time, do you think it won't happen again?

These little things that expose much, much bigger things so often get shoved under the bus in the service of "making things work" which inevitably creates a sitcom-esque perpetual disconnect frothing with unresolved issues past.

Talk about this in context. It'll make everyone feel better in the end.
posted by setanor at 9:44 PM on March 17, 2009

I wouldn't apologize to your in laws, but you might want to think about apologizing to the neighbors. They were doing a favor.

posted by turgid dahlia at 9:45 PM on March 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I think a lot of the answers here are overreacting, and here's why- a 7 month old baby is an enigma; babies cry and cry and cry and refuse to eat or sleep and yet they survive and grow anyway (it's truly amazing). Like you say yourself, you will probably need the grandparents more as the kid gets older, and as he grows older, he'll be better at meeting his own needs ("Hey, I'm hungry. Perhaps I should eat. Oh, and now I'm tired. Now I'll go to sleep.") I think you have to swallow this one, be too busy for a babysitting gig for the next 6 months or so, and then give it another go. Nobody died that night, there's not even any evidence that anybody did anything wrong- handing the baby off to the neighbors without contacting you wasn't great, but there's no evidence the neighbors were crazy or negligent, right? Yell at her parents now, jump up and down, do anything dramatic that you wouldn't be able to uphold anyway, and it's possible that you'll hand-deliver a grudge that they will be able to hold on to for years, which is going to hurt your wife and your son. I urge you to separate your pride from the facts of what happened, and I only say it because it seems like nobody else is.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:45 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, zardoz has a point. The neighbors are sort of caught in the middle here, too.
posted by oflinkey at 9:45 PM on March 17, 2009

Response by poster: cranberrymonger: Sure, 6 hours is a while, but, let's be frank, lots (most?) Americans put their kids in daycare for 8+ hours a day. Moreover, this is a privilege that the in-laws repeatedly requested.

zardoz: I've given that some thought for a while, and I can honestly see apologizing to the neighbors (who, in this whole situation, are likely blameless, unless I take the tack that they were 'enablers of bad behavior'). I have given that consideration in the past. Moreover, the 'hunger strike from bottles' is new behavior with the kid, and something we had never seen. (My theory is that new place/strange people fussing over him/alternate feeding apparatus probably caused more than their share of stress for him).

It does seem like the Mrs. and I need to set some hard and fast bounds, such as:
1. The in-laws will never take care of the kid again.
2. The in-laws will never take care of the kid again until we receive an apology that acknowledges that (a. going out to dinner was more important than taking care of their grandson AND b. that we should be informed every time the plan changes)
3. Door #3?
posted by The Giant Squid at 9:48 PM on March 17, 2009

2. The in-laws will never take care of the kid again until we receive an apology that acknowledges that (a. going out to dinner was more important than taking care of their grandson AND b. that we should be informed every time the plan changes)

Good, except demanding the apology will make it the whole process longer and harder. A few people mentioned upthread that what happens in the future is more important than what happens in the past, and I think that's relevant to your point here. You also mentioned that forbidding them from babysitting is logistically difficult, so I think it might be best to toss the apology in favor of a thorough understanding, from them, that they are never to do this again, and a repetition, out loud, of your reasons for making such a rule.
posted by hifiparasol at 9:57 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, my grammar was sort of fucked up there. What I mean is:

Make sure they understand completely why the rule is "don't farm out the babysitting duties to the neighbors or anyone else." The best way to make sure they understand your reasons for having such a rule is to make them say those reasons back to you, out loud, after you've explained them.
posted by hifiparasol at 9:59 PM on March 17, 2009

4. Preventing them from babysitting ever again seems like a royal pain in the ass, but that's because, well, there are always bound to be a few situations here and there when we're going to need somebody to watch the little man in a pinch.

Well, brace yourself for a repeat, then. And remember that you're picking convenience over your principles. Sorry to be harsh, but...your outrage over whatever they pull next is going to carry the taint of "blah blah you were not too furious last time to let us babysit again when it suited you." (Pick a statute of limitations, though...when the kiddo is X age you'll reconsider requests to babysit?)

Her parents can make nice with their neighbors, I'm sure they've already cast you as the mean ogre. Eh, wevs.

You and your wife should have a discussion about agreeing how to play this. If you're okay being the heavy so that she doesn't have to be the bad daughter, well, that's a role to which you should consent. It's not a bad compromise, perhaps, though?
posted by desuetude at 10:00 PM on March 17, 2009

Response by poster: So - let's work from this point.
I come to some sort of agreement with the Mrs, either:
1. No more babysitting
2. No more babysitting without an apology
3. No more babysitting without them telling us when they're ditching him (which I feel is easily abused)
4. No more babysitting until some indeterminate point in the future (but I do not share this with the in-laws)

Then, what, do I wait for them to contact us? (Ain't gonna happen - I just found out from my father that they called him and started speaking ill of us "they don't ever thank us for anything we do for them - oh we give and give, etc".)

Do I call them and arrange a 'sit-down'?

Do I make her call them?

In the sit-down, where do I go?

Because, the 'easy' path (in which I get shat upon), is #4. If they ask to babysit, I then say: "well, that didn't work out so well last time". This is what TPS is alluding to, plus some sort of 'me apologizing for overreacting' type scenario.
posted by The Giant Squid at 10:01 PM on March 17, 2009

Yeah, that happened to me. My sister had been begging to spend the day with her niece and nephew, so instead of dropping them off at day camp I schlepped them 40 miles to her house, then went to work. When I came back, she was napping on the sofa. She said my son was at the neighbor's house, and my daughter had gone to a college 20 miles away with a friend and her daughter. What? I knew the neighbors, sort of, they lived there when I was a kid, but all I knew about the friend was that my sister had told me she was an alcoholic.

Some people Just. Don't. Get it.

My sister is one of them. She will never understand why what she did was not OK. She thinks she is a doting auntie, but in real life, she can't really be bothered. She still does not know that about herself. That doesn't make her terrible, just... limited.

Your wife's parents raised your wife. Maybe benign neglect is just how they roll. So you can and probably should apologize for losing your temper, and you can decide not to leave the kid with them, but you don't want to deny your kid the opportunity to see them. It's good for kids to be loved by as many people as possible, particularly those who aren't just like mom and dad.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:04 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. No more babysitting.

But not because they are terrible, because you are neurotic. No, of course you aren't, but present it that way so they can save face. And don't ask for an apology. Just apologize yourself for losing your temper, and never agree to let them to babysit in future.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:11 PM on March 17, 2009

As for #2, you really can't force an apology from them, but you know that.

If you can't trust them enough to go ahead with #3, then don't. Explain that you know they meant no harm, and thank the neighbors for stepping in - but reiterate that YOU are the parent, and you make the rules for your child. This is classic grandparent "Oh, you're just over-reacting young ungrateful parents, we know best." Don't fall for it. You can make other plans for someone to watch your son in a pinch.
posted by HopperFan at 10:15 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow. It seems like no matter what you do here you can't win.
What if, instead of demanding an apology from them or cutting them off, in a calm manner you just asked them to agree that in the future they do not give the kid to someone else? Would that be too much for them to agree to?
posted by amethysts at 10:20 PM on March 17, 2009

How about this: borrow their car. Lend it to some random guy down your street.

But seriously, I'd be pretty angry if someone did that to my child. For god's sake! If you're looking after a child, and you have people you want to eat a meal with, guess what you do? You order in. Problem solved.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:23 PM on March 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Why the hell do they care about the privilege of seeing their child if they're just going to drop them off at the neighbours' when you actually let them babysit? Was it really absolutely unavoidable that they go out for dinner that one specific night? Were all of the cupboards literally empty? Were they incapable of taking the child shopping for half an hour?

I feel like the in-laws behaved in an inexcusable way. I'd probably direct some form of "We're sorry we disagree" apology in kind towards them, through your wave, resume occasional contact, and never leave the child alone with them again.

It's not even that it was a stranger - but that they thought it would be okay to make decisions about without your consent that pisses me off so much. And then to be more concerned about their reputation with the neighbours than about your concern for the child? Jesus Christ.
posted by Phire at 10:25 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You shouldn't apologize unconditionally, not simply because you're right, but because they'll never acknowledge and accept what they did was wrong if you do.

Maybe you can make a deal: They admit it was irresponsible and a betrayal of your trust to farm out the care of your child, and you apologize for being harsh.

As for giving your kid to them again, I'd make that decision based on how honest their admission of that behavior being wrong is. As big a pain as it is to go out less often or find a really good sitter, I imagine it'd be worse to wonder where your kid and if he's OK is while you're out.
posted by ignignokt at 10:27 PM on March 17, 2009

And by wave I meant wife. Geez.
posted by Phire at 10:28 PM on March 17, 2009

You'll probably look like a bigger man if you offer the deal to them right away instead of waiting for some as yet undetermined time in the future, if you decide to go that route.
posted by ignignokt at 10:28 PM on March 17, 2009

Let's get this out of the way first: some grandparents just suck.

Does this apply to your in-laws? Maybe not totally, but certainly to at least some degree. The essence of your question is a very common one in that nothing dredges up old patterns of family dysfunction like the birth of a grandchild, particularly the first one.

You need to make it clear to your wife and her parents that your son's well being takes priority over everything. Way beyond whatever relationship you might have with your in-laws, or issues that your wife still has with her folks, and way way way WAY above your in-laws relationship with their neighbors.

Now here's where the rubber meets the road: prove to them that's the case. Show them that this is so. No babysitting for them, and no extended date nights for you. At least not right away. Ease your kid into that kind of situation, as the wisdom of going from 2 hour breastfeeding cycles to 6 hours away with bottle feeds from even grandparents is frankly pretty suspect.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:32 PM on March 17, 2009

There is a deference/respect issue going on with her and her folks (and there almost always is), and it always ends with us kissing their butts.

As others have said, this is going to be a continuing problem unless you put a stop to it. They're either deliberately testing your boundaries or are so arrogant that they don't realize you have any.

Furthermore, Jessamyn is right that this has the potential to be a big ugly sticking point for your relationship with your in-laws, and you have to ask yourself if this is the hill you want to die on. But (unlike Jessamyn, I think) it looks to me like this might actually indeed be the hill you should choose when considering the absurdly wrongheaded decision your in-laws made combined with the fact that there is an ongoing issue with the power dynamic in your relationship.

I don't know that this is the place you should make a stand, that's for you to decide, but I think you have to consider the option; if this is a continuing thing with your in-laws you absolutely have to put a stop to it at some point and an issue involving the welfare of your child is a pretty good place to do it.
posted by Justinian at 10:35 PM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

First son, we were incredibly sensitive about who baby-sat him, and so on. With the 2nd born you pick some guy from the bus stop. (Well, no, not really, but it is easier as you have a base of people you know are dependable).

Out-sourcing the out-sourcing in this case would not be acceptable to me. Unless agree upon in advance, or over a phone conversation.

But having a family feud forever is not going to work either. You could certainly chat to the neightbours on your own and smooth that out. Then be normal/civil/make-nice with the in-laws so you can at least function normally, and they get to spend time with the kid.

But, when it comes to baby sitting, use someone else in future. We live in Tokyo and have no family near by, so it is entirely possible to survive without convenient-baby-sitters. Sure it nearly doubles going out for dinner, or movie, but that makes them more special...right? ...right?
posted by lundman at 10:40 PM on March 17, 2009

Your wife needs to complete the transition from daughter to mother. Her reluctance to do that is the real problem here. The childcare issue seems incidental despite it being completely beyond the pale.
posted by milarepa at 10:41 PM on March 17, 2009 [18 favorites]

Six hours is a really long time with a seven-month old baby who won't take a bottle. Perhaps there should have been more calling during the six hours to see how things were going. I think you all have a bit of responsibility there.

I'm not defending the grandparents'/sitters' decision to have their friends help out while they went to get dinner, but the utter fury of everyone here is a little weird to me. Yes, they should have checked with you. So, yeah. Have them agree to check with you about stuff like that. And make them wait a while before they sit again.

Some people have taken care of lots of babies for lots of hours and days and years. I wonder if your in-laws and their neighbor friends are like that. To them it might seem totally normal to share this task (watching a baby) that people have been doing for millenia. So, you'll tell them you don't want them to do that. And then they won't.

Everyone breathe.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:30 PM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

You and your wife are the ones who determine what is right and wrong for your child and you are justified in your feelings. Your in-laws' ideas about what is proper with your child clearly differ from your own. Luckily there was no harm done to your child in this situation and you were able to painlessly learn your lesson about the in-laws.

Step #1: Apologize to the neighbors. Bring flowers or a pie. They were caught in the middle. Let the in-laws know that you regret their involvement in family matters and have made things right with them.

Step #2: Find a reliable and trusted babysitter. You have options here and you shouldn't back yourself into a corner with the in-laws as your only option.

Future babysitting by your in-laws will cause more familial strife. Avoid it for this reason, rather than out of spite and malice. Family relationships are important. In the long run your child and your wife will benefit most from a peaceful relationship with the in-laws so find your victory and your peace in knowing you are right rather than expecting others to tell you so.

I suspect things can be patched over without loss of face for either party. Once the neighbors are happy and you don't feel dependent on your in-laws as your only source of respite you should have a short discussion with the in-laws about the incident.

Invite them over for coffee. Say neutral things about how you agree to disagree and you regret things with the neighbors and you were taken by surprise and got angry. Tell them you are sorry that they didn't feel comfortable calling you up and letting you know their plans had changed and they needed to make other arrangements. Tell them that it's important to you and your wife that they are a part of your child's life. Love your in-laws for who they are, faults and all. And vent, marvel and laugh at their antics in the car with your wife on the way home after every visit.
posted by tinamonster at 11:31 PM on March 17, 2009

YEs. I would apologize to them for assuming they would take care of your son when they said they would, I would buy them a fruit cake and I would never leave my son alone with them again. The only solution is to make nice and never give them the kid.

There you go.
posted by LarryC at 11:58 PM on March 17, 2009

As frustrating as this is for you now, you need to keep in mind that your kid is entitled to a relationship with his grandparents, and for his sake you need to preserve your relationship with them enough that he gets to grow up seeing them. Now, your in-laws appear to be irresponsible, and to resort to emotional blackmail to get their way. This makes them difficult to deal with, but it doesn't make them impossible to deal with. If you want to go out for the evening, fork out money for a babysitter so this situation doesn't repeat itself. And talk to your wife about what she's feeling - it's really strange that she's being so passive about this whole thing, and you need to get to the root of that. In terms of what to say to the grandparents, could you just wait a couple more weeks and then pretend that the whole thing never happened?
posted by Dasein at 12:41 AM on March 18, 2009

Mom of 4 month old baby here.

I agree with everything said upthread - your inlaw's behavior was unacceptable. However, I have some questions for you, because I think you lost control of this situation long before the neighbor got your child. Here are some thoughts:
1. 6 hours is a really long time for a first time babysitting gig
2. Before I let anyone look after my child, I have a protocol: a. Look after the child in the house while I am here, b. look after the child for an hour, c. look after the child for two hours
3. When I am out of the house I call frequently to see how things are going
4. I leave explicit instructions about what the caretaker should do if they feel overwhelmed or if she is crying uncontrollably. These would also include: if she can't sleep, if she won't eat, etc., etc.
5. 6 hours maybe fine when you go to work and leave the child with an experienced caretaker whom the child is used to and who is used to looking after the child for such a long period, but it a long time for a breastfeeding child and for a breastfeeding mother
6. My child is cared for in HER home, not the home of the caretaker, so everything is familiar and she feels safe

In short, you need to establish a "rules of the road" for any caretaker. Then you need to call frequently to see how things are going. The caretaker needs to understand that if ANYTHING is not according to the protocol, they should call and you will come get the child immediately. And I would say it is preferable that your inlaws care for the baby in your home, not theirs.

If you use them again, can you do a "date at home" or a date nearby home? Have them look after the baby at your home, but you go out on the patio or borrow the neighbors house.
posted by zia at 12:52 AM on March 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: zia:
#1: It wasn't their first time, there have been numerous times in which he's stayed with them, at our house, or theirs, for 2.5 hour intervals. The wife typically uses this time to run errands.
#2: See #1
#3: Hadn't foreseen the necessity, as per #1
#4: Sure, written it out, done the whole thing, again, #1
#5: #1, again. The difference this go-round was that it was in the evening at their house.
#6: We normally do that, but the in-laws had been asking for months to keep him.

As for 'date at home', that isn't anywhere near happening.

Dasein: I could easily wait a few weeks and pretend nothing happened, it's my wife who's feeling guilty and stressed out and demanding that we do something now.
posted by The Giant Squid at 1:12 AM on March 18, 2009

I really think you should consider Ironmouth's suggestion. You said the in-laws will not apologize nor admit wrongdoing. You also said that it would be a pain in the ass to cut them off from babysitting altogether, because there will be times when you will need them to babysit in the future. But every proposed solution that you sound comfortable with involves either an apology or no more babysitting. I may be way off base here, but it sounds like there may be underlying issues that have been bothering you since before the babysitting incident, and you feel like this incident gives you sufficient footing to make a stand. You may well be right about that, but unless you are convinced that your wife will stand with you against her parents, that's a battle you simply cannot win, and even if you do it will be at the expense of your son's relationship with his grandparents or your wife's relationship with her parents. In-laws are in-laws. There will be differences, and there may be a time to address them directly or you may just learn to live with them. In this case, unless you truly feel that you can no longer trust them to babysit your son, I think you should try to let the past be the past and move forward with a solution to the immediate problem that works for everyone. Forget about forcing them to apologize. Suck it up on that one. You're not being shat upon if you make your concerns and expectations known clearly, and you wouldn't be rewarding bad behavior by giving them a chance to live up to those expectations in the future.

On preview: If your wife is demanding that you do something now, that sounds to me like she wants you to make peace with her parents. Seriously, take Ironmouth's advice and take control of the situation. Either that or dig in and make your stand. I don't really see any other options.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:19 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is definitely an issue between you and your wife that deserves counseling. Or a letter to Dear Abby that you can clip and send to the grandparents.
posted by mdiskin at 2:18 AM on March 18, 2009

Holy crap.

Tell your wife that she gets to be the one to explain to them that they won't be babysitting YOUR child ever again because YOU are the ones who decide who watches that child, period.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:25 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. Definitely apologise to the neighbours - thank them for babysitting, just explain that you appreciate that, you are just upset that you didn't receive any warning that the plans had changed, especially because as a breastfed 7month old, he might be more reluctant to feed around strangers (again, sympathise with them - that must have been really hard for you, thank you, etc).

2. Tell Parents - You are not upset at neighbours. You have *made nice* with neighbours. Say that you really need to be informed of a change of plans, and that given your kid is only 7months old he needs to feed, and being fed by unfamiliar people is scary. That you have cellphones. Ask that they INFORM you of a change of plans.

And then be prepared to hire a babysitter instead.

The situation is not exactly the same as you originally described - you gave the impression the kid had only been babysat 3 times since birth, and not with the grandparents. Frequent babysitting (2.5 hours etc), is a vastly different situation, and does grant a certain amount more lee-way.

Thirdly, it sounds like rather than neighbour, it's 'family friends' - which is a closer relationship than neighbours, and not as negligent, and that part of the problem, is that they creep you out, which would probably cause offence if it became known.
Just reiterate to the 'if there's a change in plans, please let us know...' etc.
posted by Elysum at 4:36 AM on March 18, 2009

Your conflict is with your wife, as this about her relationship with her parents. You decide which you want more:
To be right
To get along

From your follow-ups, I gather you want to be right more than you want to get along. With your wife. Please think hard about that. It feels like it's about her parents, but it's about her. She's your wife, and the new mother of a baby. She's under a lot of pressure here, because for you to be right, she has to alter (or screw up) her relationship with her parents.
posted by Houstonian at 5:15 AM on March 18, 2009

You have lots of good advice here. I have to admit that not much on AskMe shocks me anymore, but your question made me kind of swear under my breath.

My son is 2 1/2. I have somewhat similar issues with my mom - in that she wants to take the baby my son for weekends/overnights but I don't totally trust her not to do something just like this. (She wasn't my primary caretaker as a child - her parents were.)


1) Yes, apologize to the neighbors. They're totally caught in the middle of this. Doing so will probably go a long way toward smoothing things over with your wife's parents.

2) My mid-way solution to the "I don't trust you to watch the baby" problem is that my mother can only watch my son at our house. This still allows for extended date nights, and even (once) she stayed in our guest room while we attended a wedding out of state. You can sort out ways to have them not feel like they're being cut out of their grandchild's life while also controlling the situation.

I also agree that you need to present a united front on this. I suspect that her parents are actually pretty embarrassed and that's causing them to become more defensive than they might normally be. If you can diffuse that embarrassment, then you'll go a long way towards solving the whole situation.
posted by anastasiav at 6:59 AM on March 18, 2009

Suck it up. They are old, probably set in their ways, and aren't going to apologize. I wouldn't bother apologizing to them or anything like that, just move on and get over it.

Don't have them baby sit anymore, hire a real babysitter.

Done and done.
posted by chunking express at 7:21 AM on March 18, 2009

Also, I think you are in the right here, but you still might want to apologize to your neighbours if you were rude to them when rescuing the baby. They did you a favour taking care of your child when your in-laws flaked out.
posted by chunking express at 7:22 AM on March 18, 2009

I once had a really long, drawn out conversation with my landlady, in which she tried to convince me that if I left the dryer running when I left the house, the house would burn down, so I shouldn't do that.

I was perfectly willing to concede that it was her house and her dryer and if she didn't want me to leave it on when I left the house, I would stop doing that, but that I didn't think it was any more or less likely to burn the house down if I was or wasn't in the house at the time, since it's not like I would notice if a dryer on a different floor of the house failed to stop when it was supposed to even if I was home. "But you think it's dangerous?" she'd then ask. And I'd repeat that, no, I thought she was overly worried about a minor risk, that was in no way mitigated by me being home, but since it was her house and her dryer, I would do as she asked. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Long conversation. Like, half an hour long. Even though right from the start, I was willing to concede the behaviour she wanted, even if I didn't agree with the reasoning. And this was a relatively minor issue.

I feel like any conversation in which you try to extract an apology from the grandparents is going to go the same way -- except spread out over weeks instead of minutes. You don't really need an apology, or even an admission that what they did was very, very bad and wrong. You need them to agree not to ever do it again. Focus on that, instead of on the apology.

Oh, and apologize to the neighbours. This isn't their fault, and they were trying to help.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:29 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

You get to choose either:

1. Hold fast to your principles and not let grandparents babysit again.
2. Make up and have them as backup babysitters.

You want it both ways, and it's not going to happen. Yes, you should apologise to the neighbours, who did nothing wrong. They didn't enable bad behaviour. Your argument is with your inlaws.

Then you need to figure out what, exactly, both you and your wife can live with. They are her parents, but it's not just her child, and her wishes don't automatically trump yours. (Nor do yours trump hers.) Can you both live with your inlaws babysitting only at your house? Can you live with just not bringing it up and not letting them babysit, and dealing with the inconvenience if you suddenly need and do not have a babysitter? If you can live with this, will you ensure that this burden doesn't fall more heavily on your wife? Can you have a conversation with them, saying that whether they agree or not, your (entirely reasonable) rule is that they need to be the ones with the child the entire time, and they should let you know if they'd prefer not to spend time alone with the baby anymore?
posted by jeather at 7:45 AM on March 18, 2009

I'm amazed that some of you can say it wasn't a big deal to drop the kid off at a neighbors house. What the fuck people?

1. The grandparents assumed responsibility for the child. It is completely reasonable and expected that they would be the primary caregivers for the duration of the time the parents were away.

2. They didn't tell the parents they were ditching the child. How fucking irresponsible and self-centered is that?

3. The parents didn't know the people that were watching their newborn. DIDN'T KNOW THEM. They have a right to know who is taking care of their child.

The whole situation has "What the fuck!" written all over.

If my inlaws would have done the same thing, abandoned their child care duties to a damn neighbor so they could go have a night out on the town, I wouldn't even have to say anything. If anything I'd probably have to restrain my wife from unleashing a torrent of fury so strong it burned the eyes right out of their heads.

Why is your wife able to concede to you that she is upset that her parents did that but too weak to stand up to them? It's her child. She should be willing to murder someone to protect that baby, telling her parents off for being stupid and selfish should be a walk in the park.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 7:53 AM on March 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

I think your easiest way out of this all around is to address what happened re that one incident with the in-laws. Call them (I think the phone will be less of a confrontation and have less potential for another scene) -- either speak with the in-law in charge or get both of them on the phone at the same time.

Say that you're sorry that this became such an incident (notice the passive voice here). You're sorry that the neighbors got caught (passive voice) in the middle and you've already apologized to them (which you should do). You know that obviously the in-laws have more childcare experience than you and of course you don't question their intentions or that they had the best interests of Baby at heart. But in order for you and your wife to feel comfortable as parents, you need your rules to be Number One, no matter what. And one of your rules is that you need to know if previously-agreed-upon plans change at any time. That's just the way you are, chuckle chuckle. And you hope that this can all be behind you now.

Don't apologize for anything. Don't bring in any "reasons" that can be argued with (eg, you don't know the neighbors, the baby needs to be breastfed). There is no argument here. What you want for your baby is what goes, end of story. Do not expect or require anything from your in-laws except that they listen to what you have to say and that they agree to re-enter the social contract with you whereby everyone plays nice. If your wife "demands" more than this, then it's her job -- you are not responsible for brokering her relationship with her parents. Avoid any discussions about future babysitting privileges. From now on, just friendlily turn down any babysitting requests -- you're not going out or the baby's sick or you already have something else arranged. Pre-empt the requests by inviting the in-laws over frequently or inviting yourself over with the baby.

This is obviously about power and control. They're trying to assert the same relationship that they evidently had with your wife. Ideally they will finally realize that you aren't going to allow this. Once you can tell that they're beginning to acknowledge your authority and are deferring to you when it comes to your child, you can relax the unspoken rules.
posted by thebazilist at 8:35 AM on March 18, 2009

This is just the first salvo (of probably many) in the Grandparents vs. Parents Power Struggle Game. You can't stop them from playing, but you can refuse to participate.

First, apologize to the neighbors, whether you think you you need to or not. Do it because civilized people smooth over unpleasantness, not because Grandparents think you should.

Second, find a reliable babysitter for the times when your wife wants to run errands or needs a break. Local colleges, high schools or preschools can be a resource for finding responsible young people. I've done this and was very satisfied.

And third, you will be waiting until your baby has his own babies for an apology from Grandparents. Let it go (the apology). You will have to be vigilant from now on. Grandparents who think nothing of subcontracting babysitting will also think it's ok to take him to church (or not) or feed him solid foods when THEY think he's ready or let him watch crappy TV or buy him designer clothes, without asking you or discussing it with you first.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:37 AM on March 18, 2009

there are always bound to be a few situations here and there when we're going to need somebody to watch the little man in a pinch

FYI, inconvenient as this may sound, it is entirely possible to live, function, and thrive without babysitting from blood relatives. Neither my inlaws nor my parents are currently fully capable to taking care of our kids. My kids are too young; the parents are too old. We've managed to find a way.
posted by plinth at 8:54 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Let's not forget the fact that the in-laws have subsequently called the OP's father and spoke disparagingly to a third, un-involved party knowing that it was bound to get back to the OP. It's one thing to bitch to the neighbors. It is another thing to call the father of their son-in-law to shred his son over an incident. They clearly picked their audience on that one.

What you have here is a couple who clearly feel entitled to a) not live up to their commitments, b) not inform their daughter when her child is distressed or hungry, c) not ask permission to change the agreed upon plan and d) spew vitriol about people who disagree with them.

How would I resolve this situation?

1. I'd send a short note to the neighbor. I would not call or visit them. I would simply state that I was sorry for any discomfort or distress they experienced when you picked up your son and that you're sure they can empathize with the concern new parents have over what is happening with their beloved child. You can state in the note that you and you wife were not informed of the decision that led to your son being left with them and learning he was not where he was left caught you by surprise. Additionally, state that you felt great urgency in retrieving him due to his crying and hunger. I would not communicate with the neighbor's further or gift them with anything.

2. I'd send a letter to your in-laws in which I stated "when X happened, we felt Y" kind of statements. For example, "When we called to check upon beloved son and learned he was not with you, we felt great surprise and confusion." "When we called the neighbors and heard him screaming, we felt anxiety and urgency to get to him so he could be fed and soothed." This kind of note may be hard to write because you'll need to focus on YOUR feelings and not on stating THEIR blame. You're still outlining what happened but pulling the "you're wrong to have done X" from it. You know they're not going to listen to blaming statements so change them to factual statements.

3. I would conclude the letter with only one of two things.
A) Either a statement of "We will make sure this never happens again.": If you make this statement, then YOU have to make sure this never happens again. That is best done by never letting them watch him at their house ever again. I'm going to call bullshit on your statement about needing them in the future because they're convenient. Of course you'll need a sitter in the future. However, stop and think about how families like mine handle the need for a sitter when we live 500 miles from our closest relative. We do just fine and have people we can totally trust watch our kids.
B) a question to them like "What do you suggest be done to make sure that we are at ease with beloved son's care while he's away from us?" This should only be asked if you want to even consider letting them watch him again. This is what will open the dialogue with them again and should get them to thinking. Be advised that you may not like their answers. If you don't and you decide to reject their suggestions, go back to " makes us feel..." statements. "It makes us feel that beloved son is less important than a dinner out." "It causes us anxiety to discover he's not with you." "It causes us anxiety to learn he's with someone WE don't know. We know you trust them. But, WE don't know them and as a conscientious parent, we believe in knowing anyone before we allow him to be in their care." You will need to counter with suggestions that do make you comfortable. If you then allow them to care for him, you need to be prepared to do option A and never let them watch him again. EVER.

Personally, I'd never let them watch him again.
posted by onhazier at 9:08 AM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Sorry, at the end (step 3, option B) I meant to say that if you do allow them to care for him, you need to be prepared to do option A if they repeat this behavior.
posted by onhazier at 9:11 AM on March 18, 2009

Honestly I would be angry if I hadn't been called to say that my infant had refused liquids for 6.5 hours. Add to that the neighbor dumping and uh, yeah, no more babysitting by granny and gramps...period.

This is a conversation that your wife needs to have with them, with you two presented as a unified front.
posted by agentwills at 9:45 AM on March 18, 2009

Lucky you: your in-laws are control freaks with huge boundary issues. I mean, calling YOUR parents to complain?

Your first step is to iron this out with the missus. As someone upthread noted, she needs to be a mom first, a daughter second. Whatever you say to her, hit that angle and hit it hard. It is a shame she's agitated over this rift with her parents, but she has to decide where her primary loyalties are: with you and the family you've made, or with her parents.

The second step? Find a babysitter who is not your in-laws. Stop using them as a babysitter even for smaller errands.

The third step? Apologize to the neighbors for putting them in the middle of an awkward situation and let them know it won't happen again; reassure them your reaction had nothing to do with them and everything to do with your being caught off-guard.

Then deal with the in-laws. Don't apologize for being your kids' parents, don't demand an apology from them. Just let them know that it's too bad they feel like they give, and give, and give, your eyes have been opened to that feeling, and from now on, they won't have to worry about being asked to babysit. You look forward to them visiting you whenever you decide it's time for your son to enjoy time with his grandparents.

Bottom line: It's your marriage, your kid and your life. Your in-laws have no right to dictate the terms for dealing with any of it.
posted by sobell at 9:53 AM on March 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

What Jessamyn said, and they no longer have the same access to their grandchild. They'd rather go out, leaving a nursing 7 month old with some neighbors, than stay home with that grandchild. Not a capital offense, but also not reliable child care. Be calm, sweet and courteous, but don't leave your child with them. If you were less than charming to the neighbors, chalk it up to being concerned 1st-time parents.

Insistence on recognition of who's right, who's wrong, to what degree, and who should apologize to whom, etc., is a waste of time. Your wife's parents are important to her and to your child.
posted by theora55 at 9:59 AM on March 18, 2009

The kid is fine. By the 3rd kid you'll just be grateful you got free baby sitting.

Remember that everyone involved was doing you a favor. After an hour or two, changing your baby's diapers and listening to it scream becomes unpaid hard work not a "privilege", and the only thanks the in-laws or neighbors got was being yelled at.
posted by w0mbat at 10:31 AM on March 18, 2009

I think you need to do two things here:

1. Apologize to the neighbors, who sort of got screwed from both ends here.

2. Don't let your in-laws babysit again and don't you dare tell me it's going to be a "royal pain in the ass" to do so. You know what else is a royal pain in the ass? Detangling the car seat straps. Sitting on the bathroom floor in arms-reach as your kid takes a bath. Holding hands with a wriggly toddler when you cross the street. You're a parent. You need to make the right decision for your kid and guess what -- IT'S GOING TO BE A PAIN IN THE ASS SOMETIMES. Don't give the in-laws the silent treatment and don't bring up the incident. Visit them. Be polite to them. But don't let them sit again.
posted by kate blank at 10:38 AM on March 18, 2009

1. You handed your kid over to your in-laws.
2. Your in-laws handed the kid over to strangers*.

*They might not have been complete strangers but I'm assuming they're random acquaintances that you otherwise don't feel particularly close to.

WTF? Think of it this way: if your in-laws were a pair of 14-year-olds who decided to hang out at the mall food court and left your child with a couple friends of theirs, how would you feel then?

I cannot believe how immature your in-laws are acting. Geez, babysitting means sitting there with the baby, not bowing out because you got hungry.

Your wife should also be the one yelling at asking them for an apology, not you.

If anything, your in-laws should be the ones apologizing to your neighbors -- for dragging them into this whole mess.

It might also help to think of this in terms of degrees. You and your wife are 1 degree removed from the baby. Your in-laws are 2 degrees. Ergo, you make the rules, not them. Ever.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 11:21 AM on March 18, 2009

Ring, ring.
GPs: Hello?
Squid: Hey GP, it's me Squid. It's been too long since we've talked, I want to clear things up.
GPs: Well, you started it [or something provocative].
Squid: Look, Mrs. S. and I prefer our way and you have your ideas. What happened happened and we'd like to get past it.
GPs: You're a million percent wrong (blah blah blah)
Squid: OK, fine, I hear you but what's more important to us -- and I'm sure to you too -- is that we get back on track. Let's just put this behind us for now. By the way, I sent a note to The Neighbors with an apology.
GPs: [Silence]
Squid: OK, so here's the Mrs., talk to her -- maybe you guys are around on Saturday, we can take sonny to the park?

On your end, you and the wife have to hire a babysitter from now until such time when things cool off (couple years maybe) and your wife is able to lay down the law -- I don't care if she wants the GPs to wear hazmat suits. She should work on that with your support. By the way, I don't care how well they 'know' the neighbors -- creepy people are professional hiders of their creepiness.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just read the part where you don't even like those neighbors. I'm not sure whether you've ever shared that with your in-laws, but that doesn't hurt my point.

Also, calling your parents? There are serious boundary issues here. I hope your parents shut that shit down right quick by saying, "No, fuck YOU" and I hope all the parties involved are shutting that shit down where it violates them. Yes, this even includes your in-laws and neighbors, but more importantly you/your wife and your parents. I had something similar happen to me once. I have no idea where my SO's mother should get it into her head that calling my family to complain about us was appropriate but my mother pretty much politely told her that it was none of her (my mother's) business and to not call her on this again.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 11:33 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to chime in in agreement with everyone who said that the real issue is the future, not squeezing an apology out of the inlaws. If having them care for the child is really as inevitable as you say it is, you need to tell them (under no uncertain terms), that they absolutely cannot leave the baby with other people. Tell them that you'll work with them to find a day and time when they're really free for babysitting and that, in the future, if an emergency arises (important wording: they shouldn't be dropping him off so that they can have a date night themselves), to call you and that you'll pick up your son, no questions asked.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:13 PM on March 18, 2009

I agree with everyone that thanking the neighbors would be really nice. It's not their fault your in-laws decided to do this mind-bogglingly weird thing. And it might even have residual benefits with your relationship with the in-laws, in an action that doesn't excuse what they did at all. Win-win.

As for the rest, it doesn't really matter that much whether they can realize or admit that what they did was wrong and apologize. With family, you can usually bury the hatchet without either side really backing down, as long as what happened is in the past. You both know how the other feels--you can move on. What really matters is whether they are willing to go by your rules in future babysitting instances, regardless of whether they agree that the rules are necessary or right. I think I'd say, if you babysit again, you must be present the whole time, and if something comes up, we're your first call. No exceptions. No discussion. That's what's going to happen or they don't sit at all. And I'd only agree to let them sit if they agree to those rules without reservation or caveat.

And then I'd still probably seek out someone more reliable for the majority of the babysitting.
posted by lampoil at 12:17 PM on March 18, 2009

I really don't see any reason to thank the neighbors or apologize to them.

1. You've made it clear they skeeve you out, or at least you don't jell with them. While they may very well be wonderful people, how do you know what quality of care they maintained for your child? You don't.

2. From the, as you stated, "enabler tack," if even my best friend called me up and told me she was babysitting her granddaughter, but Aunt Sarah just showed up from out of town and oh golly gee, she'd love to go to dinner with her, could I just please watch the baby? I'd sure as heck have the responsibility to have her call the baby's parents and ask if it was okay, especially if I've only met them once or twice. I think the only way I'd take the child without the parents knowing is if it was an emergency, and even then I'd likely take the child and accompany my friend to the emergency room. That way the parents would have the comfort of knowing that the baby was always within grandma's reach/scope of care.

Reiterating what others have said, your in-laws have some issues, in begging to babysit and then farming the kid out, and furthermore calling your parents up and calling you both ungrateful.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:15 PM on March 18, 2009

Sounds like you're willing to die on this hill, but your wife isn't. So here is a logistical suggestion:

1. Wife writes a card, you buy flowers and truck them round to the neighbours and apologise profusely for being rude. Then promise that it will never happen again as you have asked in-laws to call you if there is ever a change of plans again.

2. Whilst you are making nice with the neighbours, wife calls parents and tells them what you're doing, and that she hopes that solves problems with neighbours. Then say that hubby did over-react, but he doesn't know neighbours, and poor baby was so unhappy it made him scared.

3. Next time you leave baby with parents, (and it sounds like you wife will want to, whatever you want) extract promises about not leaving him with people baby barely knows, calling you if baby is unhappy, and anything else you think is obvious but they might not. Then don't leave baby with parents for very long. No more long babysits, as baby doesn't like being bottle fed/being away from mum for very long, etc.

This way you don't have to apologise, but your wife gets to smooth over her relationship with her parents. Note that it sounds like you will have to constantly set boundaries with these people, so make sure you pre-empt potential minefields by setting and revising and reminding them about rules for babysitting.
posted by kjs4 at 6:29 PM on March 18, 2009

I agree 100% with IndigoRain in regards to the neighbors. Who the hell takes someone's kid like that? If someone asked me to take their grandson without the parents knowing, and without me knowing the parents and having explicit, person-to-person permission to take the kid, my answer is a polite, "No." No way am I going to be responsible for whatever might happen to the child!

I've been reading the thread and trying to imagine if this were my parents or my in-laws, and either way I come to the conclusion that you cannot trust them to babysit again. You might get their agreement on this issue, but what other bizarre things might they do that you can't anticipate?
posted by dellsolace at 11:07 AM on March 19, 2009

Response by poster: As a followup to everybody who's been watching this question, let me offer the following.

This morning, my wife gets a phone call from her folks, basically saying: "Okay, we need to talk, and resolve this, but no raised voices and no fist-pumping".

I take off of work, angry, expecting 'the mother of all showdowns', and my in-laws and my wife arrange for them to come by at 6:00 PM.

I'm so preoccupied and upset, I can't think straight, I go for a 3 mile run. It, apparently, wasn't enough.... for hours and hours, I'm playing the confrontation over and over in my head, imagining every single possible permutation of arguments and answers.

The in-laws arrive, about 20 minutes late. They were held up in traffic, after a modicum of small-talk, my wife says: "let's get to it"

My father-in-law stops everybody, looks at me, and says: "look, I'm sorry. I messed up, if you want to blame somebody, blame me. Your mother-in-law is blameless, I got antsy and hungry, and put that first. I see where you are coming from and you're absolutely right, we should have let you know, and by the time Tuesday came along we got defensive and upset and weren't thinking straight when we talked about it. The angrier you got, the more defensive we got. If possible, I'd like to wipe the slate clean."

Honestly, that was more than I could have ever hoped for, a fair amount of conciliatory language was traded on both sides - and ultimately, we all went out for dinner at Acme Oyster House together. We shot the breeze until late in the evening, and, they offered: "If we ever take care of the kid again, we'll only ever drop him off in the event of medical emergency - and you will absolutely be notified".

Thanks to all. Some stories do have happy (ish) endings.
posted by The Giant Squid at 8:33 PM on March 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

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