mother-in-law won't stop getting baby drunk
December 24, 2011 11:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I (or anyone) stop my friend's mother-in-law from sneaking alcohol to my friend's infant daughter? Alice and Bill have a baby, Clarice. Alice and Bill used to drink heavily, until they had Clarice, who is now about a year and a half old. Bill's parents, Dave and Edna, guzzle wine all day long. When Dave and Edna come to visit Alice, Bill and Clarice at the holidays, Edna's favorite game is to stick her finger in her wine glass and get Clarice to lick the wine off her finger. Alice hates this, and prevents it when she's around, but she can't be in the room with them every single second. Just this evening, I was holding Clarice when Alice stepped out of the room, and had an awkward stand-off with Edna because I wouldn't let Clarice do it. Thank you in advance for any practical tips you might have.
posted by plague to Human Relations (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"Edna, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU that you want to give alcohol to an infant? Or to any child? If I ever see you do that again I am calling the police."
posted by LarryC at 12:02 AM on December 25, 2011 [87 favorites]

Any reason you can't ask her to leave? I am no medical expert, but you just don't add wine to infants.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:13 AM on December 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

If I were this child's parents, I'd declare that no alcohol was allowed in the house. Either that, or bar my mother-in-law from being around the child without my supervision. If alcohol impairs MIL's judgment this much, I wouldn't trust her to be around the baby and alcohol together. I would wonder what else she's doing when I'm not around.
posted by decathecting at 12:15 AM on December 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

"Edna, I know that you think it's funny to give Clarice wine, but it isn't. I will not allow you to do it anymore. Your son and your daughter in law have already asked you to stop. It is selfish of you to assume that alcohol is okay to give to a child, and no, I don't care if your parents did it to you. As far as I'm concerned, you didn't come out fine. Please step away from Clarice or I will document your behavior and report you to CPS and the police. I am doing this because I care for this child and I will not stand by as you selfishly endanger her health."

But I am a crabby bitch and the fact that this woman even thinks it's remotely okay to do this makes me want to break things, so this may not be the tack you wish to take. Ask permission from Alice and Bill before you do anything drastic. I would encourage your friends to ban his parents from their house until Edna agrees to shape up.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:27 AM on December 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

In the end, it's up to your friend, not you.

A friend recently summarized their policy with their parents with a drinking problem: "We'd love to have you as long as you don't bring alcohol and don't have it on your breath. Otherwise, just stay away."
posted by sarah_pdx at 12:27 AM on December 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

Oh God, I'm going to get shot by MeFi on Christmas Day.

How frequent is this? Because the idea that babies and booze don't mix is fairly recent; a gum coating of brandy has been a long-standing teething tonic for a very long time. So my approach would be that baby + wine is something best avoided, with you, Bill and Alice all agreeing to firmly say "That is not OK, do not do it" at every opportunity, and minimising Edna's opportunities to be unsupervised with the baby. If a finger of red slips through the supervision cracks, that is apparently the price this family is willing to pay for holiday peace.

So basically, if Bill isn't willing to take a hardline by making the house dry or telling his parents to knock it off or get out, I'm not sure what else you can do. From what you've said, I see this as being totally inappropriate but not mortal peril.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:31 AM on December 25, 2011 [45 favorites]

This isn't your problem to solve.

If I were Alice, though, I would let my mother know that she is out of second chances, and the next time she disrespects my and Bill's parenting decisions will be the last time she is permitted to be alone with Clarice for a long time. This isn't about the specific issue. It's about Edna undermining her daughter and son-in-law's decisions about how to raise their child, and that will never stop until they lay down the law. It may just be that Clarice can't have much of a relationship with that set of grandparents.
posted by craichead at 1:14 AM on December 25, 2011 [20 favorites]

Yeah, this one is going to be all over the place. The people down here of French and Italian descent certainly don't see anything wrong with a little whiskey and sugar moistening a twist of cloth for a colicky or teething infant and I was and remain fairly scandalized by this. On the other hand, nowadays, the police damn well will charge child abuse and call CPS in any number of situations that would surprise previous generations.

It's not the crime of the century and basically Bill has to do the heavy lifting if Alice and he don't want Edna feeding the kid drops of wine. If he is pretty definite and public about his mother not doing this and then you're in the room when she breaks his trust and giggles about it, I wouldn't be above telling her that the police would not excuse her if a complaint were made about the baby being given alcohol and that the system is very different these days and, anyway, she ought to be ashamed of herself and try harder to support her son and his wife about this. She wouldn't want to be cut off from seeing her grandchild, would she?

If her in-laws pretty much stay sloshed but she and her husband are trying to lighten up the drinking because they want to be the best parents they can be, I think they need their friends to rally around and give them credit and support for that.
posted by Anitanola at 1:26 AM on December 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

One finger coating of alcohol is about 0.1 ml of wine, at most 0.015 ml of alcohol. A 15 month old will be about 10 kg and contain approximately 800 ml of blood. It will take quite a few finger coatings to "get baby drunk", so this is all about psychology here.
posted by themel at 2:25 AM on December 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Agreed that this isn't your problem to solve, although good on you for supporting your friends. It sounds like they need the support, and with families, especially parents and adult children, sometimes it's good for someone to hear the message from an outside party. So to simply say "I'm sorry, I can't let you do that, the parents have decided that the baby is not to have any alcohol under any circumstances and I must respect their wishes when the baby is in my care" (since you were holding the baby at the time) is good enough.

Since the parents have made their boundaries clear, if grandma and grandpa choose to overstep or completely ignore those boundaries, limiting their time and interactions with the baby is not only appropriate, but in my opinion is the grandparents choice. As in, if you choose to ignore my boundaries you are also choosing to accept the consequences of your actions. I say that because in these cases guilt very often comes in to play, and your friends should be reminded that the guilt is not theirs to bear, it is the grandparents who should feel guilty.
posted by vignettist at 2:30 AM on December 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Back in the day, parents routinely fed sips of beer to their kids--not in besotted regions like Europe, but in the USA. Beer was considered healthful and nutritious; mothers were urged to drink beer by their doctors for healthy lactation. The fact that beer appealed to kids was a meme considered humorous by many.

The fact that this issue involves a third party negates your involvement from the get-go, but I'd seriously think about cultural and age factors here. Also, as themel noted, the quantity of alcohol is minimal. A greater residue is left in the mouth by gargling with Listerine. True, an infant is involved, but unless serious consumption takes place I'd let this slide.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:50 AM on December 25, 2011

What seems to be going on here is deliberate button-pushing on Edna's part - she knows that feeding the baby alcohol, however small the amount, is going to get a response from parents who stopped drinking (or at least stopped drinking heavily) for the kid's sake. As for an appropriate response, I'd like to repeat what vignettist said earlier: saying "I'm sorry, I can't let you do that, the parents have decided that the baby is not to have any alcohol under any circumstances and I must respect their wishes when the baby is in my care" is good enough.
posted by rjs at 3:12 AM on December 25, 2011 [14 favorites]

Yeah, it doesn't really matter whether this is right or wrong or normal. If he parents do not like this behavior, they win. Always. However, it's on them to make this behavior stop. I mean, you can try to stop it if you are physically holding the child and they aren't around, but I wouldn't get invested in this issue. They'll make the best decision for them and you, as well as the MIL will have to respect it. I wouldn't be surprised of you are the most against this, since if someone were doing this to my hypothetical babe, they would never see my child again. Clearly people have differing opinions here.
posted by two lights above the sea at 4:04 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The bigger issue is that the grandparents don't respect the parents' decisions about how they raise their child. Until the parents take a hard line - whether it's wine now, or candy later, or some other behavior they don't like around their child - it will continue. The mom and dad need to take a stand. It will be hard, but seeing as the child is an infant, the sooner they do it, the less likely this will become a life-long issue with the grandparents.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:48 AM on December 25, 2011 [16 favorites]

While it might be culturally acceptable in some settings (maybe - alcoholism is acceptable in some cultures too), it's exactly right for Alice to think that by doing as Edna does she will become as Edna is.

Honestly, it seems very provocative for Edna to do this. You can guarantee she'll be pouring the kid wine at mealtimes in the future on the basis that the French (allegedly) do it (and France also has one of the highest rates of alcoholism in the world). I think Edna is starting the triangulation early, and saying "I can't make you drink, but I can make your kid drink all right, just watch me."

I really don't see anything the least bit benign about this behaviour in this setting even if it's theoretically excusable if done by other people in another setting. I think it's the kind of menacing toxicity that merits getting out the banhammer.

I have a feeling that "Edna, do this again and you're banned," will be a challenge to Edna to find something else to do. But it's worth a try.
posted by tel3path at 6:03 AM on December 25, 2011 [17 favorites]

Your friend and her husband would need to announce and enforce either of these, but I see two options: 1) the grandparents are not permitted to spend time with the baby, period, or, 2) the grandparents are not permitted to hold the baby.

It's not cruel. They don't deserve a "final warning." They've been warned not to do this. They know your friend objects to it--they do this specifically to needle her and undermine her authority as the baby's mom. This is the way to assert, "You DO NOT cross me on parenting issues."
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:36 AM on December 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

This person has a fixation and nobody's going to be able to make them stop in any kind of civil fashion. Bill needs to tell his mother to stop or there will be no more visits. He needs to do this where nobody else can hear (because the drama and outrage may be what she craves), and he needs to stick by what he says.
posted by brownrd at 6:44 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The bigger issue is that the grandparents don't respect the parents' decisions about how they raise their child.

Seconding this.

The parents don't want anyone to give their infant alcohol. When Edna does this anyway she is overstepping boundaries that have been clearly defined for her on more than one occasion. When she does this semi-covertly it no longer has anything to do with the pretense of 'what the baby needs' (not that it ever did). If Edna is doing this for her own purposes and is essentially using a baby to make whatever point she needs to make--or express--with herself. There is nothing benign or healthy or remotely cultural about that.

Personally? I would inform Dave and Edna that I have no choice but to ask them to stay away from my daughter (at least until she's old enough to express whether or not she wants someone to put their fingers in her mouth, drink alcohol, etc).
posted by marimeko at 6:55 AM on December 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

The bigger issue is that the grandparents don't respect the parents' decisions about how they raise their child.

This, but with an extra kick. If the parents wanted their kid raised away from refined sugar, and the grandparents were giving sweets to the kid anyway, that would be disrespect for the parents' decisions, and it would be Bad.

If the parents wanted their kid raised away from refined sugar[1] because the whole family has diabetes and the grandparents have had limbs amputated because of it, and the grandparents were giving sweets to the kid anyway - that kinda goes beyond disrespect. It's toxic, and not just in the emotional sense, though of course that, too.

[1] Just an example - I don't actually know how diabetes is managed
posted by tel3path at 7:38 AM on December 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

Nthing that this is Bill's job - he is the one who he is the one who has the strongest connection to the grandparents and has to prioritize his new family. So, if this happens again in your presence just ask to hold the baby, excuse the two of you, find Bill and let him know what is happening.

My in-laws did the exact same thing with champagne and a strong clear message with a strong clear consequence worked. ("Do not feeding the baby alcohol or we will take the baby away for the day.") Then we moved on, ignoring mutterings, waiting for the next of many stressful moments over the holidays. If they had not been able to stop, we would have followed up by doing exactly what we had said, leaving (even our own home) for the rest of the day.

There are larger questions of alcoholics and family gatherings and alcohol. But again, these are Bill and Alice's job to work out.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 7:44 AM on December 25, 2011

The alcohol element is a red herring. Unimportant whether in a larger context it is OK.

It's not OK to do what parents say not to concerning their kids.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:19 AM on December 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow! Thank you, everyone. Each of you has something truly helpful to say. I'll pass the advice on to Alice.
posted by plague at 8:33 AM on December 25, 2011

Also, good on you for having that awkward moment with Edna. Many people would be so uncomfortable having that confrontation, they might just not have the courage to stick up for Alice and Clarice. While I think the main solution has to come from the parents, you did well to back them up.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:47 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Alice and Bill need to be clear with Edna, and they need to present a united front. Edna, do not give the baby wine or any other alcohol. We feel strongly about this. Edna, we know you love Clarice, but we are genuinely upset by this. Please stop. If it continues, bar alcohol from the house during any visit with Edna. If it keeps being an issue, Edna, Stop that. If it happens at Edna's home, a restaurant, etc., leave.

In my experience, many alcoholics do this. They like to believe that Alcohol is Good For You. They want their drinking to be okay, they want to deny the problems their alcoholism creates. If you allow it, they'll offer Clarice beer, wine at holidays dinners, etc., at early ages. It's appropriate to give Clarice the understanding that we love Grandma but that her addiction to alcohol is a disease, and we don't like the disease.

We don't think other diseases are cute or okay. Racism is traditional, but we don't accept it. I have a lot of respect for these parents, for changing their own drinking, and standing up for their beliefs.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on December 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

" just don't add wine to infants."
"...the idea that babies and booze don't mix is fairly recent; a gum coating of brandy has been a long-standing teething tonic for a very long time."

And it is also, to the present day, the practice of observant Jews to give a twisted hanky soaked in wine to an 8-day-old boy to suck on before the circumcision. There is no evidence that this does any harm.

I do agree, however, that grandparents (as well as babysitters etc.) have an ethical obligation to follow the parents' fundamental wishes. And that is reason enough for these particular grandparents to stop doing this.
posted by RRgal at 9:15 AM on December 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Certainly if you are holding the baby and the parents aren't in the room, you refuse to let her do it and you explain that it is because the parents don't want it done, full stop, and if she persists you will consider it an assault and take appropriate measures. That ought to at least spoil her fun for a minute.

Your friend is going to have to make her own decisions about what's to be done. I hate obnoxious shitheads who delight in doing what they've specifically been told not to do (and even if it was water, people's fingers are fucking dirty and you don't stick them in babies' mouths without washing your hands) and would pitch a fit that would still be a topic of conversation for years to come, but your friend will have to decide whether she's going to keep letting it happen under protest in order to keep some kind of peace, or nuke it from orbit, or something in between.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:40 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pretty much nthing what theora said, although i would also suggest everyone mentioned apart from the kid access outside help for the wider issues - because there seems to be quite a lot going on here.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:57 AM on December 25, 2011

Alice shouldn't have to be in charge of this. Where's Bill? It sounds like a large part of the attraction for Edna at this point might be that Alice Says No.

This couple might want to be looking into Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics resources one of these days.
posted by Adventurer at 11:17 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

First time I had wine, I was 8 days old at my bris. Maybe that is why I never much liked red wine. I am with darlingbri. As long as this is not a regular occurrence, I don't think the wine alone is the issue. These people have other issues, but those are relationship issues whereby they don't respect their children.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:16 PM on December 25, 2011

Woah, this is not cool. Children's taste preferences are shaped in early childhood and can influence their consumption patterns later in life. (Can't find a reference for alcohol right now - here's one about salt). The risk here isn't that the baby might get drunk. It's that Edna is teaching Clarice to enjoy the taste of alcohol and to associate it with affection and love. That is a monumentally Not Cool thing to do, especially to a child who may already be genetically predisposed to alcoholism.
posted by embrangled at 1:25 PM on December 25, 2011 [9 favorites]

Whether or not giving alcohol to an infant is actually harmful or not is beside the point. I could imagine myself realizing that it's not a huge deal but her refusal to stop makes it a big deal. In my view this is pretty much a battery; parents get to decide how other people touch their children and it's a huge affront, slap in the face, and major display of disrespect for the crazy woman to disregard it. So even if you're inclined to be all European loosey-goosey laissez-faire about the alcohol issue, it's more about you setting boundaries on how people touch your child.

And frankly I would see why it would rub someone the wrong way to have their infant animal taste for alcohol used as some crazy lady's tipsy cocktail hour amusement.
posted by jayder at 4:11 PM on December 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

"infant's animal taste" I meant ...
posted by jayder at 4:13 PM on December 25, 2011

If this happened to me while I was holding a baby I would shout "NO!" at the person and slap their hand like I was dealing with a dog. This behavior is unacceptable in the context described and deserves public shaming.
posted by bq at 4:25 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's not about the alcohol per se; it's specifically that you don't stick anything in a baby's mouth that her mother has told you not to. Especially if it's your disgusting dirty finger that you recently scratched yourself with. Gag.

Agree with everyone who's said that it's Bill's job to enforce the rule; the way to enforce it is to remove the baby immediately (by leaving) when it's not followed; and that being absolutely loud, unsubtle, direct and specific is in order. The hand-slapping idea is right in the zone.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:38 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's about the wine per se, it's about being a shithead. Of course being drunk 24/7 makes being a shithead easier than not. And there's a reason people in treatment for alcoholism or addiction are advised not to hang out with old friends who are still using--the user friends will either be hostile or dismissive, and often seek to undermine, their success. I don't see why family is any different in this respect.

The hard part is that it's not your baby and you don't really have control here. All you can do is be supportive.

Can you maybe talk to the sponsors or counselors or whoever helped your friends get sober, and ask them to back you up on this? It will give your friends more steady ground if they have a group of supporters behind them.
posted by emjaybee at 11:16 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

(rather it's NOT about the wine per se).
posted by emjaybee at 11:16 PM on December 25, 2011

Given that there are studies that alcoholism may have a genetic component, there's good reason not to give the baby an early taste for the stuff. It sounds like the parents have made a strong decision for themselves based on all their available evidence. They felt the need to "swear off" which says to me that they were having trouble managing it themselves. The fact that they took this step is really important and points to them being good, thoughtful parents.

Edna's behavior is a power play, pure and simple. It is up to Bill, her child, to make these rules clear. As long as he is backing her up, though, I don't see anything wrong with Alice asserting her rules in her own way to the MIL. Everyone has to be responsible for their own relationships. If MIL wants an antagonistic relationship with her grandchild's mother then that's her own doing. I recently had to have a bit of a showdown with my own MIL, pointing out to her that her behavior was not only unacceptable to me but was causing problems between my husband and I (Because, guess what? It's not that much fun to have endless discussions about "What are we going to do about your mother's behavior?!") seemed to give her pause.

However, this was already after husband had attempted clearly to lay down the law. And knowing that I had his full support.

Anyway, Edna is acting like an entitled brat. She should be treated as such.
posted by amanda at 10:28 AM on December 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

In the end, it's up to your friend, not you.

Bullshit, sarah_pdx. Bullshit. The OP's friend (assuming by that you mean the child's parent, and not the completely out-of-line alcoholic nutbags who are feeding a baby alcohol) is unaware this is happening. Pulling on the emergency brakes and shouting "Hey, everyone, Edna is feeding a baby alcohol!!!" is what Alice deserves to hear, and the shaming that Edna deserves to have.

And, if Alice wouldn't react, and this continues, I'd consider letting child services know. That's not normal gum-pain treatment; that's all-out demented behavior.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Referencing Dave and Edna's (or Alice and Bill's) drinking habits, past or present, comes off as judgmental and is a red herring anyway -- all of those people are old enough to make whatever decisions they wish about their own alcohol consumption; any consequences are on them.

But the infant cannot make such a decision about alcohol, and the parents are the ones responsible for the well-being of their baby, and their decisions trump the preferences of the grandparents. I mean, personally, I believe it is totally okay for a pregnant woman to have a glass of wine occasionally if she likes, but good grief, I'm not going to spike my friend's drink if she would prefer to abstain.
posted by desuetude at 12:32 AM on December 27, 2011

Okay, so a friend of mine's mother would drink wine before breastfeeding, on purpose, so that her little one would sleep through the night.

That friend became an alcoholic. She's sober now, which is great in the sense "Yay! Sober!" but sucks because I can never take one of my closest friends in Philly out for drinks.

As a young child I rode in the back seat of a car with no car seat. I was always perfectly "safe", except for the time I decided it might be fun to open the car door while the vehicle was making a left turn to see what happens. Turns out what happens is you go flying out the vehicle and tumble out onto the road, where your screaming mother runs to pick you up while you are laughing hysterically. Nowadays, though, we use car seats.

My point is that yeah, one could use the brandy-on-the-gums thing for dealing with teething, and it's probably usually harmless, but so are many things which are no longer done because we've moved on to better and safer things.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:49 AM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

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