She's the 2nd parent, not me?
April 30, 2011 12:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with my MIL who has inappropriate boundary issues with her grandchilden (my stepchildren) and is treating me poorly as a result?

[apologies for the lengthy explanation]

My s-kids are moving away with their mom soon. We're about to have some extended time with them before they leave. But it will only be a couple months before they're back for a much longer extended period of time.

My husband and I invited his parents (the kids' grandparents) to spend a day or two with us (and thus giving up some of our hard earned time) and they accepted for one day. Somewhere along the way my MIL changed her mind and wanted to extend their stay, but used the ruse of wanting to throw my husband a surprise birthday party (for his birthday that's not for another month) on the second day. For various reasons, I politely told her that while it was a good idea, no thank you, but they could still stay on Monday.

She chose this issue to make a stand. Going on about how they're going to miss the kids just as much as we are and how we should be including them in family celebrations and so forth. How they want to do all the parenting things, like taking the kids shopping for presents and decorate the house with them. How we've been purposefully excluding them from important events with the kids. We live 4.5 hours away from them. It's not an easy trip to make with 2 young kids, especially when we only get to see them for 2 days at a time ourselves.

Over the course of 2 phone calls, she made the following statements:

-She is entitled to more time with the kids than I am because she has known them longer. (I have been with her son for 4 years)
-She and her husband are like 2nd parents to the kids because my husband lived with them for a short span of time 5 years ago. (During that time, my husband's visitation rights were actually suspended for a short time due to their negligence.)
-She doesn't believe that I should be putting the children first in our relationship. She thinks I should be putting my marriage first, and that I should have "never married [her son] for his children."
-She hasn't had a good relationship with her son or her grandchildren for the last 3 years (or more). So, exactly all the time that I've been in his life.

After calling her to apologize and speaking with her at length, I feel like she harbors a lot of hostility towards me and is still not over me telling her no. Though I pressed her to end the call with resolution, she was incredibly passive aggressive and short with me. It's clear from the statements she's made above that it's not really about how much time she gets to spend with the kids; she's got some residual issues from losing control over the situation and not being the one calling the shots any more. It is very frustrating that I told her no, and she acted like she was going to do it anyways. I had to tell her no a second time before she really got it. I don't feel like she respects my role in our family at all and maybe even believe that she should have that role.

Of course, from my vantage point, we work very hard to make sure the kids get lots of time with their grandparents. I was instrumental in helping my husband undo the damage that was done to his parenting situation when he lived with his parents and if it wasn't for me, he wouldn't be seeing his kids at all right now. During that time, his parents outright ignored him while my parents and I were putting thousands of dollars forward in legal fees and while my husband was jumping through lots of difficult hoops. It wasn't easy for anyone, but his parents made it worse by not supporting him through it. She's made a lot of mistakes and failed to be a mother, let alone a grandmother, but I've let that go (except for now, to explain the history), because I feel like it's more important that she wants to be here now. But I do struggle with the fact that she wants to claim credit and reap the benefits of something that she had no part of, and somehow use her absence against us and throw it in our faces.

It seems like, in all of this, the common threads are that a) she isn't getting enough time with the kids (and by extension, attention for it) and b) I have ruined things for her.

So, how do I salvage this situation, or at least make it out alive? What can I even do? I have to spend two whole days with this passive aggressive woman very shortly. I don't want to stoop to her level and give her the cold shoulder, but I'm also not sure how to react when someone tells me that I shouldn't have married her son. That's something you can't take back.
posted by moojoose to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You husband needs to step up and handle this. Back away and have as little to do with her as possible. Your husband needs to let her know what the boundries are (that the two of you have mutally agreed on), let her know what the consequences are of over-stepping the boundries and enforce the consequences.

If he can't do that he needs to talk to a therapist about developing the maturity to put his wife and children above the needs of his mother.
posted by saucysault at 12:47 PM on April 30, 2011 [35 favorites]

Can you tell us how your husband is supporting you in the situation? It's really important that he's not only got your back these next few days, but is also dealing with problems/disagreements with his parents in general.
posted by vespertine at 12:50 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: And you are completely valid in feeling the way you do, but you have been put in a no-win situation with someone that has no interest in maintiaing a healthy relationship with you. Trying to fix your relationship by yourself without her acknowledging what she is bringing to the situation is a surefire way to drive yourself crazy.
posted by saucysault at 12:50 PM on April 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

Why are you working so hard to let the kids see the grandparents? Stop.
posted by k8t at 12:52 PM on April 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

You should not feel guilty about this. This is not your doing, it's the fault of an emotionally-abusive matriarch who sees you as a threat. Your husband needs to step up and defend your position in his family. I agree with k8t, these sound like poisonous people, I wouldn't let my kids near them.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 12:56 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, saying you never should have married her son is incredibly cruel, don't work so hard for someone with such a low opinion of you.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 12:57 PM on April 30, 2011 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: @vespertine We've discussed this at length, actually. My husband is very supportive and thinks that his mom is also way out of line. He was incredulous at some of the things that she said. But like me, he dislikes conflict and would like to find the path of least resistance. I did ask him point blank yesterday if things were not better after the 2 day visit if he would make a stand and he said that of course he would (and I do not doubt him one bit), but he very much hoped it would not come to that. I do not doubt one bit his commitment to me. He very much resents his relationship with his parents and how they treat him and wishes it were different, but also recognizes that they very well may never change.

@k8t I do feel like the kids should be allowed to have a relationship with the grandparents, esp. after having so much familial turmoil in their early lives. What exactly a relationship should constitute though...I don't know at this point.
posted by moojoose at 1:01 PM on April 30, 2011

I have a MIL who sounds very similar. Creating constant problems, not ever seeing the big picture, a sense of entitlement, inflated feelings of importance, no one else's needs matter as much as hers do, never any accountability for problems caused, hateful comments which are never apologized for or even ever acknowledged, etc etc etc. I say enjoy the precious time with your stepchildren and stop trying to make someone happy who has no interest in reciprocating.
posted by iconomy at 1:01 PM on April 30, 2011

But like me, he dislikes conflict

Yeah, but you both have it. From her. Your MIL is a manipulator and has no respect for you. If I were you I wouldn't be so quick to have someone poisonous spend so much time with your kids.
posted by iconomy at 1:05 PM on April 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

Your relationship with your mother-in-law and her relationship with her grandchildren need to be mutually exclusive from each other.

I can't tell from your words what the kids' relationship with your husband's parents is actually like, or what exactly went down back when they were all living together. But I will say that yes, your in-laws have a right to see their grandkids - even if your husband only has partial custody himself. And, yes, it is important that they be included in important life events if at all possible. Even if that means you have to "share" your time with the kids with them.

It means a lot to me that, even after my parents divorced and we were splitting time between different houses, both of them still made sure to find time for us to spend with our grandparents. I can't imagine growing up in a world where divorced and remarried parents means less people to love and take care of you.

That said, I don't see why you're the one managing all this. Your husband should be arranging how often his parents visit, how long they stay, and what kind of access they have to his kids. Especially if you and your MIL don't get along. If you don't like her, stay out of it. Chances are your husband's children have enough forces playing tug of war over them - they don't need it coming from you, too.
posted by Sara C. at 1:09 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Surely you've realized by now that the path of least resistance is no longer an option?

Your husband needs to man up and tell his parents point-blank that their negligence is what has ruined their place in your lives and that their misbehavior will no longer be tolerated. Then cut them off, for your sake and the sake of your children.
posted by patronuscharms at 1:12 PM on April 30, 2011

Best answer: I do feel like the kids should be allowed to have a relationship with the grandparents

Do they want one? Do they miss their grandparents and ask to spend more time with them? Do visits with their grandparents make them feel happy and comforted and loved? If so, then I absolutely respect your belief that they should be allowed to have a relationship.

However, if these grandparents have been neglectful of the children when they were caring for them, if these grandparents have had a poor relationship with the kids over the past few years, and if these grandparents are disrespectful and unkind toward you and your husband, I have to wonder how enthusiastic your kids actually are about spending time with them. If the kids don't enjoy the time they spend together, then I'd suggest you reconsider the value of having these grandparents in your kids' lives.

Grandparents can be great and loving and wonderful even if there's tension between them and the parents. This has certainly been true in my family at times. Kids can benefit from the adults sucking it up and making an effort to get along in those cases. But grandparents (like people in general) can also be selfish, immature, manipulative, and toxic. In those cases, kids benefit from having parents who keep them away from those grandparents, or at least set and enforce very firm boundaries with them (which in your case would mean not choosing "the path of least resistence").
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:13 PM on April 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: @Sara C. I am the details person, not my husband, and in a time where he is struggling emotionally because the kids are moving, I'm supporting him by taking care of the details of this visit. In fact, he did call to invite them. When I purchased tickets for an event, I emailed to let her know the time, and that's when it all started.

I had no idea my MIL felt this way about me. She's always held me at arm's length, but I figured that was just her personality. I mean, she doesn't even call her own son more than once or twice a year. I didn't realize that she was harboring so much resentment. I am usually kind to her, send her pictures, etc. I thought we DID get along.
posted by moojoose at 1:14 PM on April 30, 2011

Response by poster: @Sara C and @meg_murry I also question how the kids feel about them. They seem indifferent when they're not here, and when they do spend time with them, it seems like it's not so much that it's Grandma and Grandpa, but more that it's just two more people who love them and pay attention to them. I mostly chalk this up to being separated over distance and time though.

But to hear my ILs tell it, the kids miss them immensely and ask for them all the time. They live in a fantasy world where they believe the kids are desperate to see them (this goes for their other grandchildren, my nieces as well) and everyone has been keeping them from them. As much as I would like to set them straight on that fact, it just seems cruel to tell someone "your grandkids don't care either way if they see you or not."

But, noted, if the kids are indifferent, then we need to not feel guilty about limiting time with grandparents.
posted by moojoose at 1:20 PM on April 30, 2011

All plans for her visit and for the time with the children should be communicated to her by your husband--to avoid just this sort of unpleasantness. Not because you're not a parent here (I am also a stepmom) but to protect you and your parenting role from her issues.

Practice this phrase "if you have questions about your trip, you'll have to talk to Husband about it." And, "Oh, hello MIL, let me go get Husband."

Be sure he's on the same page with you. And he should consider talking to her about how inappropriate she's been with you. "Mom, I'm willing to believe that emotions are running high, and my wife may have been a bit sensitive--but did you really tell her that I should never have married her? I'm embarrassed that mynown mother would say something like that. From now on, I want you to treat my wife with respect, if not welcoming love. Now, about the kids and your visit. I'M calling the shots. Any complaints you have---you come to ME, directly."

For yourself, practice the following phrases to use with your MIL.

"I can't help you with that."

"I don't know how to respond to that"

And, when you need it:

"What do you hope to gain by saying that to me?" Or "Do you think this conversation is going to make it easier or more difficult for you to spend time with your grandchildren?". But see--this is why your husband should do all of the communicating. It's too easy to get snarky and I really want you to ALWAYS have the moral high ground. Yea--leave that phrase for your husband, if he needs it.

DO NOT follow up with anything when she retorts. Just repeat one of the 3 more neutral phrases.

Finally, don't hold a grudge or demand an apology. Make it easy for her to treat you the way you want. Your husband should say something like "Now that it's clear, please come visit and let's all have a good time." after he talks to her, you should assume that things will go well and that she is just a sad old lady with few people skills...if things start to go badly, your husband should lovingly intervene again.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:21 PM on April 30, 2011 [15 favorites]

Best answer: It doesn't really matter exactly how psyched the kids are to see their grandparents, or whether they're excited because yay, grandparents or just because their grandparents are kind to them, spoil them, whatever.

My father's mother is an emotionally distant person who comes off very aloof. She's not very maternal. Most of my early childhood memories of her are of her being pissed at me for making a mess or not being ladylike or whatever. She never got along with my mother, and from what I understand she really doesn't jibe with my stepmother. She's passive aggressive and can be kind of manipulative when she wants things a certain way.

And yet. She's my grandmother. Just imagining my mom or stepmother trying to deny me a relationship with her because of her personality flaws makes me shudder a little. It's not really OP's place to judge whether someone she clearly dislikes "deserves" a place in someone else's kids' lives. Unless there's a restraining order, OP, you really ought to butt out and let your husband deal with the situation.
posted by Sara C. at 1:30 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let me go back in time with you.

I had two sets of grandparents growing up. One set (grandmother, mostly) was manipulative and controlling and said inappropriate things like you detail. That grandmother in particular said some of these (usually subtle/mean) things in front of her young grandchildren (including me) and she was like this across the board with her other sets of grandchildren. My dad's parents were 100% the opposite.

Guess which set of grandparents I pretty much disowned by the age of 12, and totally stopped socializing with by the age of 14?

You don't say how old your kids are.

#1 - your husband goes down a dangerous road exposing his kids to this without standing up for himself or you. He's setting a bad example.

#2 - I also wouldn't be jumping through hoops to make sure my kids saw these people and had a relationship with them. Trust me, as young or old as your kids might be, they do know that there is trouble and tension.

I have no advice. Just letting you know the kids probably already know. Your husband, especially, should be taking this into account.

Does your husband want his children to understand that bullying works? Because that's most likely what he's teaching them through this situation.
posted by jbenben at 1:32 PM on April 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The path of least resistance is absolutely the wrong way to handle a bully like your MIL. Don't reward her bad behavior and rudeness. If it were me, I would have said, "it sounds like you're really stressed out right now, so maybe it would be better to postpone this visit until X time." Do not have long conversations in which you allow her to insult you. Begin your conversation; when she starts with the crap, tell her that she seems upset and she can call you to discuss X when she's feeling calmer. Goodbye.

Don't give her any attention or drama, definitely don't listen to any more rants like that, and certainly don't give in to demands. That would just encourage even more asinine behavior. As long as she is demanding and insulting, she should be ignored. If she wants to discuss things like a reasonable adult, politely, only then does she get to have a conversation.
posted by taz at 1:38 PM on April 30, 2011 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Let me just make it clear: The issue here is not my husband's involvement. He very much backs me up on this and normally he is the one to be calling the shots. Please focus on how I can work with my relationship with my MIL. Not on some perceived deficit of my husband's. That is not the case here. I am fine with him being the main point of contact, but sometimes her and I are actually going to have to talk. And she still said the things that she said. You can't unring a bell.

(Oh, and @jbenben She really doesn't make the comments in front of the kids.)
posted by moojoose at 1:38 PM on April 30, 2011

Best answer: To counter Sara C's thoughts on her grandmother--I have a relative (not a grandparent, but someone I might have had a close relationship with)--whom my parents kept me away from. He was manipulative and mean, but I never saw that side of him. I never saw it because my parents decided, after trying to set boundaries with him and having him stomp all over them, that they didn't want that kind of person in my life. I not only respect their choice, I really appreciate it. Obviously I can't say whether your kids would have Sara's reaction or my reaction to your limiting their contact with their grandparents, but I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experience.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:47 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

She and her husband are like 2nd parents to the kids because my husband lived with them for a short span of time 5 years ago. (During that time, my husband's visitation rights were actually suspended for a short time due to their negligence.)

This is -- you must realise? -- a bizarre and worrying situation (what was Dad doing while the grandparents were dropping the ball? Also dropping the ball?) and it makes me think there is a lot of backstory missing here, like, too much backstory to make it possible for you to get good advice here.

If it wasn't for me, he wouldn't be seeing his kids at all right now is disturbing; the only thing that seems clear is that these children have been dealt a bad hand. Did Dad and the grandparents screw up together in the same ways somehow? I suppose I could sort of understand the bitter if you are giving this dude who dropped the fathering ball a pass despite the mistakes but are still making Grandma pay for the same screw-ups?

Just throwing out guesses here, but, this is a weird situation, not nearly as straightforward as some 'Tsk! BAD in-laws! Bad!' are making it out to be, I don't think.
posted by kmennie at 1:56 PM on April 30, 2011 [10 favorites]

kmennie is spot on.

There is no way to counsel you to deal with this person because she's willing to say and do things that break the social contract - AND - the only person who should be laying down boundaries and "dealing" with her since she is like this is her son, your husband.

If you want to take the path of least resistance - say nothing, act like it never happened, and make your husband deal with this 100% from now on.

That's the answer.
posted by jbenben at 2:05 PM on April 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

You said you emailed your MIL. That means she is on the internet at least in a limited way. If so, does she know your handle and has she read this thread or your blog? While I think you are 100% right to be frustrated and angry with these folks, the best way to try to patch up a relationship is not to post publicly about her on the internet. Or tweet about her. Unless you are 100% confident she is not reading it or hearing about it from someone who can and does read it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:10 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You deal with someone with boundary issues by establishing boundaries and sticking to them, no matter what.

You're the parent. What you say and want goes, period. That's your boundary.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:14 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Absolutely no worries about her finding this. She doesn't even know how to use her facebook account and no one IRL has access to this handle. She has access to email through work, that's it. Sometimes she can't even figure out how to open picture attachments.

@kmennie Husband was depressed for a bit after he found out his (ex)wife was cheating on him. ILs were supposed to be supervising his time with the kids and didn't. They also didn't make sure he was going to the mandated counseling and basically stood by and said "he's an adult" when he desperately needed help and guidance. They were all too happy to step in and be "2nd parents" to their grandkids despite what that meant for the kids and their son long-term. I met him shortly after his depressive episode ended and pushed him to jump through the hoops of counseling, etc., even if he felt he didn't need it, because it's what he needed to do to see his kids. His parents were more or less ignoring his existence at this point, so I'm not sure where their resentment comes from. I helped him put his life back together when they just stood idly by.
posted by moojoose at 2:19 PM on April 30, 2011

Best answer: When I was growing up, my grandmother was a bitter alcoholic who said terrible things about my *other* grandparents in front of me and my brothers. My mom worked hard to shield us from the things she would say. When I was old enough (12 or 13), my mom explained that Gram was ill and depressed, and that this made her unpleasant sometimes. Thing is, I don't remember any of it. I remember what my mom told me, but I don't remember what Gram used to say. My mom set really strong boundaries. If Gram said something horrible, we would leave. Sometimes it was as simple as leaving the room, so she knew to change her behavior, but if she continued to be unpleasant, we would leave her house. Every time.

Similarly, I have a friend whose parents (who live far away) are occasionally verbally abusive. When they do, she tells them, "You cannot talk to me like that. If you do it again, I am hanging up." And then she follows through. The result? They mostly don't talk to her like that.

It's perfectly reasonable to set those kinds of boundaries with your MIL. If she us unpleasant around the kids, she's not allowed to see them -- even if that involves cutting a visit short. You say, pleasantly and calmly, "Please stop harassing me. If you continue, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." And then do. Be kind to her and about her, and be firm about what behavior is and is not acceptable.
posted by linettasky at 3:19 PM on April 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

So, here's another point of view that I can imagine after reading what you wrote here.

Hubby didn't do a great job of parenting his kids after his split with their mom. He was not interested in doing the necessary counselling to retain his custody, even after he was no longer depressed.

Luckily for the kiddos, the grandparents were there and able to help. During this time they became attached to the kids, enjoyed spending time with them and being able to parent them.

Then you come along and suddenly the previous uninterested husband is attending his counselling and jumping through his hoops and mysteriously suddenly wanting custody of his kids again.

Surely one obvious conclusion that an observer could draw from this is that you, as a newcomer to the family, upset the oxcart of these kid's growing relationship with Gran and Granddad out of some desire to be a parent to the kids yourself. You pushed your uninterested husband into regaining his custody and then promptly moved as far away from Gran and Granddad as possible.

Can you at least see why they might be a little upset? Have you ever had an explicit discussion with them about what happened and how you have all ended up where you are now?
posted by emilyw at 3:34 PM on April 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: You, as a newcomer to the family, upset the oxcart of these kid's growing relationship with Gran and Granddad out of some desire to be a parent to the kids yourself.

This part is valid. The part about him being uninterested is not. They were all in denial about the reality of the situation and no one was taking accountability for anything. But never was there the idea that he didn't want custody or that he was turning his back on his kids. It was just all very misguided because they were so busy focusing on how awful the ex-wife was (is) instead of realizing that two wrongs don't make a right.

But, this does help me realize where they're coming from a bit. Maybe from their standpoint, they don't realize all the work we had to put into it and just figure he moved but all the behavior and actions stayed the same, and magically things got better. But no one ever bothered to appreciate what they did and reward it with time with the kids. That makes a lot of sense to me. She thinks we should be thanking them and rushing to bring the kids to her because she doesn't realize she ever did anything wrong.
posted by moojoose at 3:55 PM on April 30, 2011

Response by poster: Err.. valid that they might believe that. Not that I got involved out of some desire to be a parent.
posted by moojoose at 3:57 PM on April 30, 2011

"he's an adult"

Yeah. This is not really a good thing to waste anger on, that your adult husband's parents tried to treat him like an adult. He was bummed over an affair, so he...stopped parenting his kids? That's terrible behaviour and says nothing good about your husband, and simply: nothing, about your in-laws. I wonder if on some level you don't realise that, that that marks him as a bit of a bum, and are frightened by it, and are trying to displace the shame by being mad at the in-laws for not magically having prevented that.

Quite reasonable that grandparents would step into the breach a bit when a parent flakes out like that, and how heartbreaking for them to end up in that position -- I know my parents would take me and my kid in before we ended up on the streets if things ever went to shit here, but I also expect they would be quite saddened by having to do so. And I expect I would spend years dealing with the falling-out of sheltering my child in a home where more than parents were playing a parenting role. Which is not necessarily negative; I just mean: Grandma and Grandpa would be a lot more in the loop if we had to stay with them, and it wouldn't be reasonable to turn them from people who packed lunches for the kid into onlookers, y'know? Those kids are permanently closer to your in-laws thanks to the time with a shared roof. You really seem to be quick to dismiss that, scoffing at the 'second parents' idea and trying to minimise it with "short span of time" but I guarantee that that upheaval was non-trivial for the kids and that the grandparents being there made a significant and positive impact on the course of their lives.

I am amazed at how much anger there is here for how Grandma has behaved when there is so much forgiveness for your husband.

At any rate, ALL these family dramaz are easily sorted out with "What is in the child[ren]'s best interests?" as the objective answer to that is invariably what is also in the adults' best interests. In this case it is: stop the squabbling. You are Twittering about how you just yelled at your MIL -- don't do that. Don't yell, don't make the fights public (no matter how computer illiterate you think your in-laws are; they are not the only people involved, and how many times do you need to leave a window open by accident for the kids to figure out the handle?). It takes more than one person to have a fight, so, take the high road, quit arguing with this woman.

She clearly doesn't like you, and who's to say if she has her reasons; there's not enough information here -- and you clearly dislike her, and how sad for the kids here that Grandma and stepmom are fighting. Try to focus on the good things about her, and when you see a spat brewing, just stop. Make it your priority to be civil. Forgive her her screw-ups just as you have forgiven your husband's; steer the whole family towards a fresh start. God knows the kids probably need it.

There really isn't anything to be gained by continuing to fight this or to prove yourself to be "right" to her or anything like that. Move cheerfully forward with your family, and be a gracious hostess to family members of significance to the children.
posted by kmennie at 4:29 PM on April 30, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: moojoose, you husband sounds very lucky to have found you. You really are just the person he needs to help him through this crisis and into a new life.

The thing is, his parents sound like they really screwed up, but I don't think there was anything malicious in it. They just didn't handle his depression and (I'm sure your husband would agree) let him get away with things he shouldn't have.

You are the strong, healthy, mature one here. Your husband and stepchildren have been through a lot. And I think the in-laws have been, too, and there is obviously some resentment there. Which to me all comes back to the fact that you did the right thing and they screwed up, and now his Mom feels that she has been displaced by you.

Somewhere along the way my MIL changed her mind and wanted to extend their stay, but used the ruse of wanting to throw my husband a surprise birthday party (for his birthday that's not for another month) on the second day. For various reasons, I politely told her that while it was a good idea, no thank you, but they could still stay on Monday.

She could want to do both, you know. It doesn't necessarily have to be a ruse.
posted by misha at 6:11 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There really isn't anything to be gained by continuing to fight this or to prove yourself to be "right" to her or anything like that. Move cheerfully forward with your family, and be a gracious hostess to family members of significance to the children.
This, I can do.

There's really too much back story to appropriately explain all of it, how my husband came to live with them, why he was so depressed (but I assure you, it is not because he's a bum, and his parents will be the first to back that up), and why my MIL probably feels the way she does.

The thing is, his parents sound like they really screwed up, but I don't think there was anything malicious in it.
You're right. They weren't not helping him because they didn't want to, but because they didn't know how. It's hard to remember this sometimes.

and now his Mom feels that she has been displaced by you.
This is the thing that bothers me the most. I don't want her to feel this way. My husband's second chance can be hers, too. I want her to know this, but I don't know if it's possible. I don't want to have a life where I've cut off my in-laws or where I have to vilify my MIL. Maybe that's not possible, but I am committed to the best for my husband, for my s-kids, and for me, and I think that coming to an understanding with my MIL is worth the grief. Most of the hive seems to think not, though. It is ultimately up to my husband and me to decide what's best, and it does help to know that we don't have to put up with her if we don't want to. We just have to decide if we want to.
posted by moojoose at 6:18 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sure that no one here is equating "depression" with "being a bum". But he wasn't caring for his kids, so, however understandable that may be given his circumstances, it's not good either. I don't think anyone is trying to paint your husband as a villain - the point is that, for whatever situational/chemical reasons, he wasn't able to parent for awhile and his parents stepped in. Thank God, right? You say They were all too happy to step in and be "2nd parents" to their grandkids like that's a bad thing. Honestly, your initial question described them as having "boundary issues" with the grandchildren, and then the actual situation described seems to be that they wanted two days with the kids instead of one. Families are so complicated, and I'm not trying to assume any kind of knowledge about your MIL - but it seems like you're projecting all of your worry and disapproval about that earlier custody issue onto his parents, when, it seems to me, you're blaming the cure for the disease. And even if none of that had ever happened, it's not unreasonable for grandparents to want to see their grandchildren. Remember that you and your husband hold ALL of the power here - your in-laws are at your mercy, so maybe don't punish them for panicking and saying the wrong thing.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:29 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @moxiedoll Yeah, I guess. It's was just really surprising after all this time to be confronted with issues from 5 years ago. We didn't have any idea that they were still dealing with all of that. We had put it behind us long ago and moved forward...there has been so much GOOD in between now and then. But now it appears that they are still hanging onto that time from so long ago? I'm stumped. We've established so many boundaries as a family. We have them up for holidays and special occasions all the time. And the one time we say no, you can't do this one thing, but sure, you can come up, all of these issues she had with me came flooding out. It was shocking and it made me feel like she's been keeping it in all along (she even implied as much).

I realize now that maybe my question should have been, "how do I help my MIL cope with change?"

You say They were all too happy to step in and be "2nd parents" to their grandkids like that's a bad thing

I say it like it's a bad thing because my MIL pushed my husband out of the picture and because while, yes, thank God they were there, they were not good parents the first time around, nevermind this second time.

I don't have any problems with them wanting to see the kids. But I do have problems with my MIL telling me that I shouldn't have married her son and that she is entitled to more time than me and for not respecting my wishes as a parent. It's not a competition and we should be on the same side.
posted by moojoose at 10:01 PM on April 30, 2011

Response by poster: After taking in all of the input, here is what my husband and I have determined:

1. We didn't fully take into account that his parents may not realize just how much work we put into reversing his situation and that they might not realize what role I played in that.

2. From MIL's vantage point, the status quo she was looking to revert to is not the one we were looking to revert to (e.g., she figured a "normal" situation would mean that she'd be seeing the kids every time we did, just like before).

3. We haven't been good about setting clear boundaries and explaining our reasoning behind our parenting decisions. We don't necessarily have to do this, but it would help MIL understand where we're coming from.

4. Despite the things above, the resentment she expressed is inexcusable. Due to her particular personality, however, it would be foolish to expect an apology.

So, our plan of action is to let it go for the time being, until this particular visit with the kids is behind us. What is more important is that they feel like they get to say goodbye to their grandkids, and on their terms.

Once that's over with, however, my husband plans to sit down with them later this month and get everything out in the open. That means a) getting them to acknowledge that my husband made mistakes when he lived with them and that he had to fix them. Things were not good when he was living there, but that's not anyone's fault and there is a certain level of accountability that everyone needs to acknowledge to move forward (this will not include blaming the ILs for anything, however); b) Explain just what had to happen in the interim to right the custody situation, and the role I played in that and the role I play in the s-kids lives now; c) Explain the new custody plan, and set clear expectations for them going forward (how many holidays to expect, sharing time with all extended family, including mine, etc). This will also include a certain level of mutual respect between both families without which, time with the grandkids will be very limited; and d) spelling out for my MIL that those kinds of words and thoughts are not okay and that if she is harboring feelings like that, she needs to speak up before they get that far or she needs to come to terms with having a limited relationship with her grandchildren.

So...for better or for worse, this is what we're doing. Thanks everyone for your input. I'll report back when the big conversation happens.
posted by moojoose at 10:27 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The only thing I'd add is that the thing that seems to have hurt you the most is "MIL telling me that I shouldn't have married her son" and that she seems to have thought that for a while, but that it's not on the list of things to discuss. I'd add it. The fact that you found it really upsetting and hurtful is important to acknowledge. Sounds like you're unlikely to get an apology, but I think you should at least raise it.

Her son chose to marry you. You have welcomed his kids into your life and are doing what you can to ensure that they spend as much time as possible with you and your husband, and also that the kids continue to have a relationship with their grandparents. You're not the ex, and are not going to turn into the ex. They should recognise that you make their son happy, and that far from threatening their relationship with their son / grandchildren, you're going out of your way to support those relationships. What is her problem? (I'd ask that too, more diplomatically though...)
posted by finding.perdita at 3:42 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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