How to tell retiring MIL that she will never provide daily childcare?
November 16, 2015 1:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm not asking whether I should let become our kid's caregiver. It will NEVER happen, due to what I've seen from her since having the baby. But obviously I can't let her retire on false pretenses. How in the world do I put these worms back in the can while trying to salvage what's left of our relationship?

I had always had a great relationship with my husband's mom. When my husband and I got pregnant we happily talked about how she could assume care for our offspring when she retired a few years down the road. Fast forward to today: I have a happy and thriving one year old and an almost completely deteriorated relationship with husbands mother due to her overbearing and interfering behavior. Though I am still somewhat surprised, it turns out we are MILES apart on childcare approach. If it matters, I consider my parenting approach to be more like "scaffolding" and she's so anxious she won't let babies move around without a bunch of gasping and just generally more into "smothering". It's extreme enough that it creeps me out, and probably anyone else watching it as well. All her children walked and crawled very late, probably because she undermined their confidence so badly! She is also overtly critical and disrespectful of my parenting approach and in particular my decision not to become a stay at home mom. It's been rough to say the least.

We've significantly reduced contact with them in order to preserve my sanity/our marriage. I continue to hold out hope though that when our brethren are older we can ease back into more regular contact like what we had before because I genuinely miss the warm relationship I had with them prior to having a child. If it matters, I absolutely love the daycare we found for our kiddo. It's pricey but worth it. And he's not going anywhere else.

The catalyst for this post is that my husband's grandmother is in long term care and her four children are struggling to pay for it, paycheck to paycheck. Husband's mom has been hinting that we should start helping them out, and I told her gee I wish we could do more but we are paycheck to paycheck too what with paying for high-quality childcare. She suddenly reinvigorated the conversation we had had when I was pregnant (the one where we both were excited about the thought that upon retirement she could take care of our offspring for cash under the table, it sure seemed win-win at the time) except that now she has said she's going to retire one year earlier than expected, like at the end of the year (also with the added angle I guess that we can help grandmother out using our realized savings). I had expected to have this conversation next year, so this is quite a surprise.

Even without the new angle, I am no longer into this idea.

What pleasant excuse can I use to say thanks but NO THANKS?
posted by powerbumpkin to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, so this is an insanely difficult situation, and I really don't have any advice for you, other than to say that your husband needs to step up and perform this emotional labor. He should be the one to talk to his mother about childcare and retirement and long term care. It's his family, after all.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:00 PM on November 16, 2015 [166 favorites]

"It's expensive, but we're happy with the child care arrangement we have now. I can't imagine pulling $CHILD out of what he's used to, so please don't change your retirement plans around that."

And then, in response to any attempt to negotiate:

"We're definitely keeping him in his current day care. $HUSBAND and I have talked about it and agreed it's what's best for him."

Repeat as necessary.

I've also found this line useful for shutting down this kind of stuff: "$WIFE and I are the experts on $CHILD, and this is what we've decided."

Maybe also see if you can find a way to squeeze even a small amount to help with your child's great-grandmother's care out of your current budget.
posted by 256 at 2:01 PM on November 16, 2015 [15 favorites]

"I'm sorry, that won't be possible. We are going to keep doing what we are doing with respect to childcare and our finances." Repeat ad nauseum. Or, rather, have your husband repeat ad nauseum. He should be discussing this with his mom.
posted by sockermom at 2:03 PM on November 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

Man, all the trained rats in the world can't empty this field of mines.
It touches on children, mother, parenting, family, money, budgeting, obligations, etc.

Agree that $HUSBAND should be leading here and providing good headship when it comes to a dialogue with his own mother. As long as you two are a united front, and keep your lines of communication open, and agree on what he's going to say to $MOTHER, then you are good. Come up with a mantra for her to hear, and repeat it as much as possible in as many different ways as possible. Once someone goes off script, all hell could break loose.

To balance this, please make sure that $GRANDMA gets to see $BABY a great deal and do some grandmotherly spoiling, it's good for the soul.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 2:06 PM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your husband should be doing the heavy lifting with his mother. As for the party line, I'd just say that baby is thriving in the current situation and that the socialization with other children has been fantastic in terms of helping with development and learning. Given this ideal situation and the fact that Pediatrician also thinks that this is very healthy and valuable (hard to argue against child's doctor, even if it's a white lie), you've decided to keep baby's arrangements as they are. End of story. Repeat as necessary. No debating.

The financial obligation regarding MIL's mother should be dealt with separately. Specifically, maybe the kids should see a social worker and investigate their options. It's likely that the government will assist or take-over the financial support of her long-term care once her assets are liquidated. If the 4 kids are paying out of pocket in order to shield property or other assets so that they can inherit, then that's their decision. Your first responsibility is toward the needs and financial security of your immediate family and your child.
posted by quince at 2:16 PM on November 16, 2015 [29 favorites]

It sounds like your mother-in-law kind of understands fear, so... maybe saying something like (a less-extreme sounding version of) "he's doing _so_ _well_ where he is that we are terrified to change anything! There are so many things that can go wrong, and somehow we've magically found a system that seems to make him really, really happy! We don't dare move him into any kind of new situation because he might be sad to have his bonds with his playmates broken! Also he knows where everything is, knows how to get around where he is, and we don't want to take that familiarity away."

Of course the above advice about finding a uniform message with your husband; having him talk to her; etc. is even more important. This idea is just to help if you get stuck trying to find an approach to spare her feelings.
posted by amtho at 2:19 PM on November 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

Nthing that this is 1000% your husband's responsibility. It may do him some long-term good (emotionally) to set this sort of boundary with her, if that makes you feel any better about it.
posted by SMPA at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Seconding the repeat ad nauseum advice. There may not be a polite way or white lie way to make this go away. You may need to be straightforward AND firm. I was raised by an overbearing mother and as an adult the only way to deal with her trying to control any aspect of my life is firm no's with simple explanations (like one sentence) repeated as many times as necessary because sometimes trying to reason with/explain your side is impossible. You may go in circles and never "win" in an argument (conversation) with her if she wants her way. Not saying your MIL is this way, but if she is as overbearing as you say, she might be.

"No, you are not going to be our child's caregiver. We are doing this. We are doing what is best for our child." Repeat as needed.

Your husband may have to participate too and not be led to argue with her either but stay within your solid position with you - ie, repeat the exact same thing. It might be harder for him because he may not be used to being in control with such a mother.
posted by atinna at 2:32 PM on November 16, 2015

If there is any day ensure that your husband cannot stay on script without you, be there for the first conversation with her mother-in-law but have him lead the conversation. He is going to feel torn, which is natural. So it's important for him to practice leading on this topic and helpful, perhaps, for both of you to have you there as support. it's awfully easy to tell other people what they want to hear when there's nobody else in the room. It's awfully easy to tell other people what they want to hear when there's nobody else in the room
posted by Bella Donna at 2:34 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

"It's expensive, but we're happy with the child care arrangement we have now. I can't imagine pulling $CHILD out of what he's used to, so please don't change your retirement plans around that."

I agree with this response from 256, though I'd leave off the first clause and not mention the cost whatsoever. I would not put that on the table as an item of discussion or negotiation. Your husband should definitely lead this conversation, but if you are worried he will defer it or not be as firm or clear as need be, personally I'd go ahead an initiate the conversation myself. Way better to have this small unpleasantness up front than deal with her actually retiring without being sure she knows where you all stand.
posted by JenMarie at 2:54 PM on November 16, 2015 [11 favorites]

To keep it from devolving into a perceived assault on her child-rearing skills (which kinda sound warranted), I would focus on what precisely you love about the daycare that would differ from what your mother could give him at home. Play up the importance of daily social interactions with a variety of other children and adults to help foster independence and a healthy immune system, any organized early childhood learning activities they do regularly that might be harder to do at home, innovative programs they have, the fact that you won't ever be without childcare if your MIL is needed elsewhere, etc. But nthing that this is your husband's conversation.
posted by cecic at 2:58 PM on November 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Maybe I'm paranoid but I think it might be a good idea to lay some kind of paper trail on this for your mother-in-law's siblings -- so that when she turns around in a year and tells them that she's retired now and can't pitch in for her mother's care because she believed she would be able to take care of her grandkids and her kids could pitch in on her behalf and it's all you and your husband's fault that now there's even less money around for great-grandmother... there are a bunch of people who know that it's not true.

Even something like an email from your husband to one of his cousins or aunts or uncles saying something about the difficult conversation he just had with his mother that she shouldn't retire with the expectation of looking after his kid would help. Preferably to the family member who is some combination of sympathetic to you and gossipy enough for this get around sooner rather than later.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:13 PM on November 16, 2015 [17 favorites]

Your husband needs to navigate this one. Because if he doesn't, you will be the bad guy, and, if she is anything like my ex mother in law, she will do everything she can to undermine your marriage and then she will get the kid during his court ordered visitation.

If you truly want to handle this on your own, pull her aside and let her know that you know how hard things are going to be for her with granny's care and you are not going to burden her further. Tell her that baby loves daycare and everything is fine the way it is, and no changes will be made. Tell her that you are sorry that you will not be providing money for granny's care and that the daycare expense isn't the reason why. You just, as a young family, need all your resources to yourself right now and that is just how it is. Tell her that you are willing to help her cut corners by not expecting gifts for holidays and birthdays and any meals shared will be shared monetarily as well (Dutch treat). Do not give excuses past this and refrain from answering questions or giving any more information.
posted by myselfasme at 4:13 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Confirm with your husband that he is indeed on exactly the same page as you, then ask him to manage his mother. 'He needs to manage our problem' is a much truer thing than 'he needs to manage my problem'.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:19 PM on November 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

Lots of good points in this thread on the most straightforward, painless tactics to take without opening yourself up to more drama.

But, none of us know your relationship with your husband, or his family better than you. Everyone's family is a bit different, and those family dynamics play out differently. There's no way for us to know who should be the one to draw that line in the sand. If this situation was playing out in my family, it would actually be way better for everyone if my wife was the one to do it; my folks don't like me that much, but their manners and sense of politeness would dictate that if my wife brought this up, they'd have to fall in line, whereas if I brought it up, it would be me endlessly defending that very simple boundary.

Again, the track you take is pretty similar, but don't necessarily let internet strangers dictate who does what lifting; you guys know that territory better than we do (and if you don't know better than us, you should totally do couples therapy to figure it out! Yeah! couples therapy for stuff like that is great!).
posted by furnace.heart at 4:21 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

"We're happy with our current childcare arrangement and we're going to keep young powerbumpkinling in it; we've decided that's what's best for him or her."

"But you could save $X amount of money, which you could then spend in the ways that I advise!"

"We've decided that continuing with the current arrangement is what's in the kid's best interests."

"But it would be so much healthier for your offspring to be taken care of by blood relatives instead of untrustworthy strangers!"

"We've made the choice to stay with our current daycare provider."

"But you're just being stubborn and rejecting this generous and mutually beneficial offer because of childhood resentments that you should get over, and/or scurrilous outside influences!"

"This is the decision we've made and we're going to go forward with it."

"You are bad and ungrateful children."

"We made a choice and the matter is settled."

"You are breaking my heart. Literally breaking it into a thousand pieces. You have no idea how much pain and trauma you are causing me by rejecting me in this way."

"We've decided this is the best option."

"You are unfit to be parents. I am calling social services."

"We stand by our decision."

Basically you have to make your decision clear and straightforward, stand by it, and resist any attempts to escalate. This may not be easy, but it doesn't have to be complicated.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:24 PM on November 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

I'm not sure you should even talk about the money angle. I think you can just make the line "baby is in a really good environment and we are really happy with his care. For his sense of security we are not going to change his care situation. In fact, we like it there so much that when baby#2 comes along we are going to place him there as well." There are no uncertain terms in that statement. After that you can pretty much say/repeat "we've made our position clear".

I also agree with the idea mentioned above to lay some groundwork with the family on this in passing, but I would say the same as I mentioned "we're very happy with baby's daycare! They do x, y, z with him and he's such a happy guy!" That leaves the implication that you won't be making changes, without the family drama that ensues when you say it outright to extended relatives.
posted by vignettist at 4:45 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

" husband's grandmother is in long term care and her four children are struggling to pay for it, paycheck to paycheck."

This scenario has nothing to do with you or your husband, and is not your problem.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:01 PM on November 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

How do they even know how expensive your childcare is? Most people have NO IDEA how expensive childcare really is.

"Oh my gosh, he is doing so great around all these kids his own age! He loves it, I just couldn't change it now! It really wouldn't make that big of a difference anyway, I'm so sorry."

That's it. Signed, someone who is doing a similar thing, for similar reasons. Sure he should do the emotional labor. He probably won't, but it really doesn't mean YOU have to.
posted by FuzzyVerde at 7:25 PM on November 16, 2015

There's research that indicates lots of social and developmental benefits for children in care with other kids. You could read up on some studies and then the conversation could be less about her personal deficiencies as a childcare provider and more about the benefits you are receiving.

But really all you can do is emphasize that you're doing what works best for your family.
posted by betsybetsy at 7:30 PM on November 16, 2015

You need to make 1000% sure that you don't ever say "because you suck" or anything that could be perceived as it. Stick with what is so great about the childcare that you would love it even if you had Mary Fucking Poppins at home.
posted by corb at 8:42 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

You guys gotta let her have it. It would be terrible if she were to retire, thinking that you two were going to make up for her contribution to grandma's care, and then have that not happen. So you need to let her know, quite firmly, and right away. Yes your husband *should* do it but can he be relied on to be firm and clear enough?

Someone needs to say something like this: "Look, mom, it is pretty clear that my wife and I have huge disagreements with you about how to raise a baby--but we need to do it our way. And so while we treasure opportunities for you and baby to bond, we are not going to pull our child out of daycare when you retire. So if you are thinking that you will care for the baby and we will have more money for grandma, that is not going to happen."

If he makes the call you need to be listening in to make sure he is as blunt as needed.
posted by LarryC at 8:53 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Husband: Mom, I don't want you to leave your job on our account. We're very happy with our current child care arrangements, and don't want to change. It's really generous of you, and we appreciate the offer. Because that's what's best for our family. Keep repeating, with hugs and love as needed.
posted by theora55 at 3:26 AM on November 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think that as you communicate both decisions you should not give reasons. Reasons only give people an opportunity to discuss.

Your and your husband had a communication with his mom that she might provide day care.

I think your husband should correct this relatively soon. Your husband should tell his mother now that your family has decided that child will stay in day care and that you won't be needing MIL to provide day care. He shouldn't communicate a reason for this, because a reason is only an opening for discussion.

Also, for this issue, you can easily explain to your husband that your MIL will never provide day care for your child. It is your husband's decision when and how he wants to communicate this to his mother. Obviously the sooner the communication is made, the better. However, if your husband wants to avoid this difficult communication at the risk of a much worse communication later (after she retires), then that can be his decision. Just make sure the following is clear between you and your husband: 1. MIL will never provide day care and 2. This communication is his job.

And, you can separate the last issue. If anyone asks you to pay for care for your grandmother you can simply say that it isn't possible. You don't have to link it to daycare or whatever else. This is your money and your decision. The rest of the family can be angry with you. You can't force them to understand your decision and they can't force you to pay.
posted by jazh at 3:58 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

She suddenly reinvigorated the conversation we had had when I was pregnant (the one where we both were excited about the thought that upon retirement she could take care of our offspring for cash under the table, it sure seemed win-win at the time) except that now she has said she's going to retire one year earlier than expected, like at the end of the year (also with the added angle I guess that we can help grandmother out using our realized savings).

It is really important she be told explicitly that she won't be getting an income from you after retirement! People tend to take even vague discussions about this kind of thing very seriously and I wouldn't blame her if she still considers this a reasonable expectation. You and your husband need to tell her this is no longer in the picture. And I agree with putting it in writing, but not to other family members, to her.
posted by BibiRose at 8:44 AM on November 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

"What pleasant excuse can I use to say thanks but NO THANKS?"

Ah, the ever-popular, "How do I say what needs to be said, but without suffering the consequences of saying it to the other person?"

Answer: You can't. So strengthen your boundaries and self-esteem, and just do it. (and I agree with the others who've said that your husband should be the one doing it) Best wishes with it all!
posted by dancing leaves at 7:32 PM on November 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't recommend you have your husband talk to your MIL because you'll lose control of the situation. He'll probably tell her the truth and he won't care if he makes you the bad guy. Because he won't want to be the bad guy (trust me; I live with my in-laws. Working on getting out).

I like the idea of having a pat answer, "Please, Sally, do not retire early on our account. We're very happy with our daycare and don't intend on changing. It works very well." Repeat as needed.

Your MIL is probably just miserable in her job and has short-timers syndrome. I think she wants out and might be using this as an excuse to leave early.
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 1:28 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do not sacrifice the beginning of a life to maintain the end of another.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:57 PM on November 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

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