Years of your granddaughter's life are being ignored.
January 4, 2017 1:23 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with my MIL choosing to ignore her only grandchild over her already-gone mother with dementia?

I don't know the most PC word, but my mother-in-law's mother is a vegetable. She was diagnosed with dementia over ten years ago. Five years ago she had a major stroke that rendered her bed-bound, blind, and brain-damaged. Since then she hasn't spoken, nor given any sign of cognizance.

Three years after this happened, my husband and I had our daughter. This is his mother's first and only grandchild. Despite this, she still spends all of her time living in her mother's tiny apartment to care for her, although nurses come throughout the day. She has a husband and home in a nearby neighborhood, but chooses to live in her mother's tiny apartment taking care of her.

Two years ago, my MIL's aunt (in her 90's) reached a point that she was unable to live by herself anymore. She was still very mentally there and physically capable. She had a great sense of humor and her wits about her. Despite this, my MIL put her in a nursing home nearby, meanwhile she kept her vegetable mother in a hospital bed in her tiny apartment the entire time. After two years of living in the nursing home, the aunt eventually just let go and passed. My MIL told me that her mother's state is actually better because she doesn't know what's happening anymore, in comparison to her aunt who knew how terrible it was going. I thought this made no sense, because then why wouldn't she move her aunt into her home and care for her instead of caring for someone whom she knows isn't aware of anything either way?

With all that given, the reason for my post is that I am very hurt that my MIL chooses, time over time, to stay home caring for her mother over seeing her granddaughter. We only go to her city once or twice a year. Every time we go, we stay at a different house and she is very rarely able to spend time with us. The first two years, my daughter was very young so I didn't really mind. But now my daughter is at an age where she has asked "where is grandma" all the time while we're *visiting grandma*. I don't know how to truly feel about this. Sometimes I think I'm being very selfish and terrible by wanting my MIL to spend more time with her here-and-now granddaughter over her basically-gone mother. But I can't stop feeling hurt and insulted.

Another factor that is disturbing to me, is that my MIL talks about and treats her disabled mother like a baby. She constantly makes comparisons to my daughter as a baby and toddler to her mother, which I find strange. I will be changing my daughter's diaper and she'll laugh and say, "Oh you use the same wipes I use for great grandma! Oh you use the same changing pad! They are so similar!" Or if I'm feeding my baby and she spits up, my MIL will say, "Oh that's just like great grandma! She's always spitting up when I'm feeding her!" These comments make me terribly uncomfortable.

And another problem is that MIL insists on us visiting great grandmother in person every time we visit. This is a problem, because great grandmother is extremely underweight, gaunt, and is lying in a hospital bed at all times with her mouth agape, blind eyes staring into space. I personally find this image frightening when facing it in person, although I pretend everything is fine when I am there out of respect. As our daughter has gotten older, though, she has shown that she's afraid of seeing this person and I want to respect that. My MIL on the other hand wants to encourage my daughter to give near-death great grandma a kiss, etc. I am just extremely uncomfortable in this situation and confused whether this is a normal response or not.

How am I supposed to feel? I want to cry, I want to be upset and angry. I feel terrible that my MIL would prefer to miss irrevocable moments of my daughter growing up over taking care of her dying mother who is completely unaware of anything she is doing. Do I stop visiting until great grandma has passed? What do I do?
posted by side effect to Human Relations (63 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How would you like your daughter to treat you when you're a bedridden, demented old lady one day? I feel like this might not completely answer your questions but should inform how you judge your MIL's actions.
posted by The Toad at 1:37 PM on January 4, 2017 [75 favorites]

Dude that's her mom. Not an object or a thing (at least not to her). Why do you want her mom left alone with strangers so badly? Your daughter is healthy happy and fine, as are you. Grandma time is a bonus, not an entitlement. If caring for her mother makes MIL happy, good for her.

I get the frustration that you're not getting time with MIL but you need to get some perspective about your needs vs your wants. Grandma time is not a need and your anger and jealousy are unwarranted.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:39 PM on January 4, 2017 [87 favorites]

What does your spouse say? Does your spouse know it was uncomfortable for you in so many ways?

- BTW, this is the last time your child meets great grandmother. See to it. It's monstrous to force unwanted physical contact on any child, it teaches them they can't say "no" and leaves them vulnerable to being victimized later.
posted by jbenben at 1:40 PM on January 4, 2017 [21 favorites]

There are a few things to unpack here.
1) Where is your partner in this? What do they feel about it? It is their family and they should be central in navigating.
2) Are you only taking the trips to see grandma or are you visiting grandpa too? If you are visiting other family, be sure that is the focus of the visit. Those are important relationship too.
3) You cannot make choices for your MIL. She has made a clear choice that her care for her mother take precedence over all other relationships. This includes her marriage and her relationship with her aunt. It also includes relationships with friends, opportunities to volunteer or work, eat out take an afternoon off. While it may be frustrating for you to feel that her actions are harmful for your daughter, she is not being singled out, and since this is all she's ever known, she probably doesn't have the negative judgment attached to it you do. It's ok to be truthful with your daughter, but do so without judgment because that is what will be truly harmful to her. Grandma cannot see us because she's caring for great grandma. That is enough for a little person. (I struggle with this with my own MIL for a host of reasons. I know it's really, really hard. I have to keep reminding myself that my kids are surrounded by great stuff the vast majority of their lives and their default is to believe things are pretty great. If they're not actively in danger of harm, I try to let it go. Try being the operative word.)
4) You are allowed to make choices for your child and her well being. That should always include being the gatekeeper for letting your little one make decisions about what does and does not happen with their body. If she doesn't want to hug or kiss great grandma (or anyone, really), she does not have to. If there are other things present that pose an active danger to her psychologically or physically, you get to say no.
5) There is no right way to feel. Your feelings are your feelings and listening to them is important. Just be sure that you are not confusing your feelings for your daughter's feelings.

This sounds so incredibly frustrating and just very sad for all involved. I'm really sorry for that.
posted by goggie at 1:40 PM on January 4, 2017 [19 favorites]

You might think of great grandmother as "near death," "a vegetable," and "basically gone," and "frightening," but to your MIL thinks of her as her mother.

I completely understand where you are coming from, and I don't judge or blame you a bit for feeling as you do, but I want to suggest a little more compassion.

These are your MIL's priorities; you certainly don't have to agree with them but you would be happier if you worked on accepting them. They aren't a judgement of you or your child.

Totally dial back the visits and no way does your kid have to kiss-- much less visit-- someone she has no relationship with.

Where's your spouse on this?
posted by kapers at 1:42 PM on January 4, 2017 [41 favorites]

Ideally, you would respect your MIL's need to care for her own mother, and it would stop there, regardless of your personal opinion of her mother's mental state. Ideally, you would also keep your opinions of whether her mother is benefiting from your MIL's care away from your daugther and your MIL.

It's clear that it's incredibly important to your MIL and to your MIL's own mental health that she spend what few years she has left with her mother. Yes, she's missing some moments now, but she's got the rest of her own life to spend time with your daughter after her mother passes.

The alternative you seem to be seeking, where MIL chooses instead to spend time with your daughter at the expense of her own personal mental health and possibly a lifetime of regret of "not having done enough" will likely also be harmful to her relationship with your daughter, and likely yours.

I don't think you should be forced, if in your opinion as a parent, that bringing your daughter to see her great grandmother would be harmful to her. There's no need to do that. But respect your MIL's need to care for her own mother.
posted by Karaage at 1:43 PM on January 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry this is a hard situation to deal with. I think there are a couple of different things bound up here that need to be dealt with differently.

- There's no way for you to know the workings of your Mother in Law's heart. Her love for her mother, her motivations, etc. It's completely irrational to be hurt or insulted by her devotion to her mother. That has nothing to do with her love for your daughter or her family.

- You also need to let go of your judgment about her treatment of her aunt, not your business.

- She spends all her time caring for her mother, so it's natural that some parallels will appear to her in the care of the elderly and the young. (there are similarities)

- requests to do grandma/grandchild activities that fit in around her caring for her mother

- limits on the time your child spends with great grandma and/or your child kissing great grandma if she seems scared

- being sad that the whole thing wasn't different, and being sad that the people you love getting old and dying is so damn hard.
posted by mercredi at 1:46 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also your daughter is 2yo or so and doesn't "miss" grandma in any meaningful way. And it sounds like you're blaming your MIL for the death of a 90 something woman! Who, if she had her wits about her, could advocate for herself with care personnel, something someone with dementia can't do.

You need to get ahold of your blame and get some perspective about the reality here. Your MIL is not your property or your daughter's property.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:48 PM on January 4, 2017 [32 favorites]

There *might* be one way to get your MIL to spend time with your daughter, and even this might not work; offer to spend with your MIL's mother watching her (or whatever it is your MIL does when she is there with her) for an afternoon when you visit, meaning your MIL has some time off. Ask your MIL to then spend that time with your daughter. If you do this, stress how you want to spend quality time with your MIL's mother.

Understand that your MIL might not want to do this, though; she is deciding which relationships are most important to her, and everyone has that right.

I hope that everyone finds what they are looking for
posted by Wolfster at 1:49 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

No one should be required to kiss/touch anyone else. However I remember being taught as a small child that, even if someone looked scary, I was still supposed to treat them with the same respect as anyone else. I think this is actually a great opportunity for both lessons.
posted by samthemander at 1:53 PM on January 4, 2017 [34 favorites]

When my mother's father was near the end of his life, he was at home, in a hospital bed, in a coma. I can understand your being frightened by how she looks. It's how my granddaddy looked. My mother couldn't deal with it. She didn't visit during the last few weeks of his life. She preferred to remember him the way he looked before he got sick.

It's your responsibility to take care of both yourself and your daughter. If seeing great-grandma is frightening, dont' go see great-grandma. If grandma isn't available to see you and daughter, then it's "Grandma is taking care of great-grandma. That's a hard job. But she loves her Mama very, very much."

As far as the comparisons between your daughter's wipes or changing pad, I'd take that as her trying to find common ground between you and her. It could be she's just bad at it. Look at it this way: somewhere, some time ago, there was an Almighty Mommy Goddess who tried to strike up a conversation with a guy by saying "Um, hi, um, do you, um, like, um... um... do you like lunch?"

It's absolutely ok to feel hurt and insulted. Just take a little time to stand in MIL's shoes before you act on that hurt and insult.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 1:57 PM on January 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

MIL on the other hand wants to encourage my daughter to give near-death great grandma a kiss, etc.

What is "wants to encourage"? Are you saying she has broached the subject with you, or has she actually forced the child to kiss the old lady? Likewise, what is "etc"? Holding hands? Has she forced the child already, or just said she "wants to encourage" such contact.

Regardless of what you meant by "wants to encourage," this scenario creeps me out. I've been permanently creeped out by a lot less. It's child abuse, unless your child's own curiosity leads her to positively want to do these things. So follow your child's lead on this.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:00 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Unresponsive people can still be very aware of their surroundings; as nurses we are taught to always, always presume a person can hear and understand what's going on around them and to speak to them and provide care for them with the respect that entails.

Absent a diagnostic radiographic image of the brain showing the destruction of the anatomical structures we currently understand to function as the centers of consciousness, don't assume your mother-in-law's mother can't recognize and appreciate her daughter's presence, love, and care.

If you believe your daughter is being harmed by time spent in great-grandmother's presence, you of course should protect her and say no to visits. I agree that it's never too soon to prioritize a child's bodily autonomy--no child should ever be forced to touch or be touched.

But explaining to your daughter in age-appropriate terms that grandma can't spend lots of time with her during visits because she's helping great-grandma could actually be an excellent lesson in loyalty and devotion to a loved one. May your daughter take it to heart and attend as generously to your well-being when you are ailing as your mother-in-law attends to her mother.
posted by jesourie at 2:18 PM on January 4, 2017 [44 favorites]

I mean, excuse me for the blunt wording, but this quite honestly seems like a problem that will resolve itself before too long.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:38 PM on January 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry, but somehow you seem to be blaming MIL for putting her aunt in a nursing home and for not putting her mother in a nursing home.... was MIL supposed to warehouse her mother? Or perhaps MIL was supposed to personally care for both her aunt and her mother? You also keep harping on great-grandma's 'tiny apartment' as if that is also somehow an insult --- more than likely, MIL simply wants to keep caring for her beloved mother in her mother's own familiar surroundings, rather than move her to someplace (a nursing home, or even MIL's own home) strange to great-grandma.

This is, as everyone else says, her mother, and she is doing the best she can to take care of the lady with love and affection. Your daughter is only two years old, she doesn't 'miss' her grandmother --- I'll bet that she doesn't yet even remember her grandmother from one visit to the next.

Your MIL is, in fact, modeling levels of compassion, caring and consideration that should be honored, not complained about. The only problems I see here are requiring your daughter to kiss great-grandma (easily solved by simply not taking your daughter to great-grandma's apartment), and your own lack of empathy for both MIL and her (elderly, ill, and all-too-probably soon enough to die) mother.
posted by easily confused at 2:43 PM on January 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

"How would you like your daughter to treat you when you're a bedridden, demented old lady one day? I feel like this might not completely answer your questions but should inform how you judge your MIL's actions."

Honestly, and this is my stance before I ever even encountered this particular situation, I would not want my daughter to put her own life on hold for me in this way. If I am long gone in mind, then just put me in a nursing home and spend time with your family. Particularly, I would want some form of dignity intact, and having my daughter change my diaper, and later compare her changing my soiled diaper to her infant granddaughter, would be horribly embarrassing to me. I would rather a nurse change my diaper in a home than force my child to do that.

My own father even told me he hopes euthanasia is legal by the time he comes near that point. I don't want to be a burden on my children. I don't think I gave birth to my child for the purpose that she should take care of me someday. I had a child because I want her to have an amazing and fulfilling life.

I should also add that I grew up in my adolescence with *both* my aging grandmothers coming to live with us because, although their minds were ok, their bodies were leaving them incapable of living alone anymore. It was hard for me at the time because my parents basically neglected me for their parents while I was growing up, but this still doesn't change the fact that I believe if one is elderly and still has their mind working, that they should live with family. My problem is that my MIL is putting so much time over my daughter for her mother that is already gone. She is gone. She is not aware anymore. If she were in a nursing home, she would not notice any difference. I don't see how this is inhumane, to question whether one should give up their own life for an already-gone parent, or just live their very short life? I'm seriously hurt and confused how I should really feel here.
posted by side effect at 2:47 PM on January 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm of the opinion that families and children benefit the most from going through life together as a team, and not hiding times of decline, sadness, illness and even death (within reason). So from that perspective --

For the interacting with great-grandma: If your child is scared, of course that should take priority. But it's not unlikely that a little bit of that is learned from you. Also, my oldest went through a stage of being scared of people with bushy beards, which also was fine but it didn't mean there's anything wrong with people with big beards! Kids have fears sometimes. I believe in respecting them but also giving kids opportunities to conquer them, just by being calm and encouraging a bit of exploration (where okay.) So no, it's not okay to make your child kiss great-grandma or force her to stay in the room with her. But asking her if she'd like to say hello or holding her warmly in your arms while you do seems fine.

It's hard to tell which you're talking about here. Either way I back your maternal decisions, but I encourage you not to assume that this is some horrific sight that no one should have to see. It's a part of the human condition.

For the rest of it: I echo jesourie that what your daughter and in fact, you, can learn from this is a very large lesson in the values of compassion, kindness, and service. I'm sorry you don't feel like your MIL has fussed over your daughter enough and I'm sure that hurts. And I know when your child's a toddler you feel like she's missing all these moments but honestly...there's so much time for that.

I also hope you can see that your MIL is doing a job that is really valid and worthy, even if she's not doing it to your specifications. I was reminded of people who thought I should get a babysitter all the time when I wasn't ready yet. I hope you can find some common ground to support her -- if so, I can imagine that when the elder care phase is over she may well become one of your fiercest parenting allies, as she is demonstrating a very deep capacity to be there for those she loves.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:47 PM on January 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

Your MIL is spending irrevocable moments with her own mother. She's investing her time and resources with her parent who is completely defenseless at this time. She is caring for someone the best way she knows how within the resources and finances she has available. Home care for someone incapaciated is difficult and heartbreaking. She talks about diapers and spit-up because that's what fills her days.

Your MIL doesn't need to put her mom in cold storage when you visit. It's not your role to judge how someone else copes with death and dying.

Also, you've had 5 years to learn appropriate terms.
posted by 26.2 at 2:49 PM on January 4, 2017 [70 favorites]

Honestly, and this is my stance before I ever even encountered this particular situation, I would not want my daughter to put her own life on hold for me in this way. If I am long gone in mind, then just put me in a nursing home and spend time with your family. Particularly, I would want some form of dignity intact, and having my daughter change my diaper, and later compare her changing my soiled diaper to her infant granddaughter, would be horribly embarrassing to me. I would rather a nurse change my diaper in a home than force my child to do that.

That's not a universal feeling though.

. She is gone. She is not aware anymore. If she were in a nursing home, she would not notice any difference.

That's conjecture. You don't know. Neither does anyone else. It might be best to leave your MIL room for her choices and beliefs.

I strongly recommend reading Jean Vanier's Becoming Human; it's quite a marvellous book on the value of caring and being cared for. It's from a Catholic perspective but I am not Catholic and still found it really excellent.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:51 PM on January 4, 2017 [24 favorites]

> My problem is that my MIL is putting so much time over my daughter for her mother that is already gone. She is gone.

She is not gone to your mother-in-law. This is the piece you are missing. You think of her as "gone" - your MIL thinks of her as her mom. Whether it's through counseling or journaling, or contemplating the ways in which your relationship with your own mother has set up certain kinds of "should" expectations that you are placing on your MIL and creating resentment in you, you do need to find a way to let this go.
posted by rtha at 2:52 PM on January 4, 2017 [22 favorites]

But now my daughter is at an age where she has asked "where is grandma" all the time while we're *visiting grandma*

Stop telling her you're "visiting grandma." Tell her you're "visiting [city]" or "visiting grandpa" or "visiting daddy's hometown" or whatever it is that you actually do there.
posted by headnsouth at 2:52 PM on January 4, 2017 [10 favorites]

I'm sorry, I just can't get past your concept of interchangeable older women needing care.

I faced my mother being in a vegetative state after a heart attack left her brain irreparably damaged, though thankfully I was in the position to refuse aggressive treatment for a kidney infection and she passed ten days after she became comatose. The idea that I should have put my own mother in a hospice to take care of an aunt, even a beloved aunt, shows a basic misunderstanding of the reasons why I was ready to take care of her indefinitely. She was my mom, not a patient.

Practice some compassion and teach your daughter to value both her grandma and her grandma's relationship with her own mom.
posted by lydhre at 2:53 PM on January 4, 2017 [33 favorites]

It was hard for me at the time because my parents basically neglected me for their parents while I was growing up

With respect, is it possible you're bringing some of this kid-feeling into your current situation?

This is, quite simply, a topic on which reasonable people disagree and it's causing you stress that other people aren't acting the way you feel that they should, based on your own determinations of what is true about the world. Determinations that take place, in part, in the world of emotions in which there is simply not an objective truth about the right way to behave. It sounds like you're feeling squeezed based on your projected expectations of your child and some ideas you have about how these familial relationships should work. And I'm concerned that your partner's feelings on this haven't come up at all, is it possible this is a thing which the two of you are disagreeing on?

So look, your feelings are your feelings and you're welcome to have them. I have a partner (who I do not live with) with an adult kid with mental health issues and I sometimes think that he spends too much effort in situations with his kid where his efforts are not appreciated, remembered, or even understood. However, that is my deal. His relationship to his kid is his business. My relationship with him is our business. Sometimes there's overlap and we talk it out and determine where the boundaries are and we don't always agree. I have a baseline level of frustration that I sit with because my partner, who I love, is not me and is not making decisions the way I would like him to make them. Other people are complicated.

I'm seriously hurt and confused how I should really feel here.

Unless you're leaving things out it seems like your feelings are pretty clear. But determining how to manage them and how to make them work within your existing life are what is frustrating you. Your MiL seems to have made a choice and you can make choices about how you want to deal with those choices. You don't like your options and that's hard.
posted by jessamyn at 3:03 PM on January 4, 2017 [40 favorites]

But now my daughter is at an age where she has asked "where is grandma" all the time while we're *visiting grandma*.

This is something that you can manage. When you visit, emphasize the other people you're visiting. If you get a chance to see grandma, it's a wonderful surprise, but don't set her up for disappointment by saying you're visiting grandma.

It was hard for me at the time because my parents basically neglected me for their parents while I was growing up, but this still doesn't change the fact that I believe if one is elderly and still has their mind working, that they should live with family.

Your MIL is not your daughter's mom. You had a sucky experience, but this is not the same. Your daughter will be fine. She has you as her mom.

Also, you feel what you feel, but remind yourself that what you mil is doing is not about you. It may hurt and you may disagree with her choices, but the woman is watching her mother die what is to many people a horrifying death. Possibly also worried that she'll face the same fate, unsure how that will play out with her own kids.

How the aunt's care was managed is not relevant (different timing, familial relationships, and diseases make it an apples and oranges situation) except perhaps as an illustration that you two have different values (regarding something that reasonable people can disagree on).
posted by ghost phoneme at 3:06 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

It was hard for me at the time because my parents basically neglected me for their parents while I was growing up.

This from your update leapt out at me. If this is still a painful subject for you, is that what's making you feel so strongly about this, rather than accepting your MIL's choices and spending the time with your FIL?

I might be way wide of the mark, sorry if so - this isn't a judgement (I have no idea what I would do in this terribly difficult situation) but like I say, it leapt out at me.

(On preview: What the previous two posters said...)
posted by penguin pie at 3:10 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone for the responses. A few up top helped me realize that it is actually ok for someone to put their mother, despite her vegetative condition, over their granddaughter who is growing everyday. From where I grew up, I thought it was very important for grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren as they grow, but apparently it's ok if they don't. I have felt that MIL is missing irreplaceable moments with her quickly growing only grandchild over her mother. Apparently, it is ok to not spend such time with a grandchild.

For more information that relates to things others have said: I have involved my daughter with MIL's bedridden mother since she was born. She is only two, though. Before I would have her happily playing on the floor with toys while she was oblivious to everything around her. But now she is of an age where she pays attention, and this was the first time she showed fear when I brought her to see great grandma in bed. I'm not going to force her to interact with an image she is obviously uncomfortable with and doesn't understand. So I will just let MIL do what she does and we will visit once she has time for us. I understand now that it's OK for grandmas to not be super gaga over their grandchild, whereas that was the image I grew up with, so that puts these feelings in context.
posted by side effect at 3:11 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

My problem is that my MIL is putting so much time over my daughter for her mother that is already gone.... I don't see how this is inhumane, to question whether one should give up their own life for an already-gone parent, or just live their very short life? I'm seriously hurt and confused how I should really feel here.

Questioning whether one should give up their life for another isn't inhumane. However, it's also not particularly useful. It is your MIL's choice how to spend her time and emotional labor. Your judging her for it isn't helpful for anybody involved. And the thing is, you're focusing on something that's 100% out of your control. You can't make MIL spend time with your daughter. You can't make MIL put her mother in a nursing home. You'd be just as successful as if you tried to make the earth stand still.

You've got extra baggage here from feeling neglected by your parents caring for your grandmothers when you were younger. Not everybody makes the same choices about caring for their elderly relatives. Not everybody should make the same choices about caring for their elderly relatives. My dad's parents moved in with my aunt and uncle once they decided it wasn't good for them to live alone any more. That lasted for a few months before everybody involved decided the nursing home would be better. They both had their minds working until the day they died. My mother's dad, as I mentioned above, died at home with his wife and hospice nurses caring for him. Mom's mother still lives at home, at 91. Everyone's trying to convince her to move in with my parents, but she's stubborn and has a right to choose where to live. When you reach old age, you can decide where to live. This is the choice your MIL has made for her mother. You have to respect that choice.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 3:19 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not trying to threadsit, but just realized a lot of people have asked what my partner thinks and I hadn't answered. My husband has asperger's and isn't really *there* emotionally for these types of moments. That's why I think I am overwhelmed with how to feel and came here to ask others for their thoughts. I can't bounce these feelings off my husband, because he genuinely has no idea how to engage in these types of conversations with me. I realize I should be talking to a therapist in this case, but that just isn't an option right now. I'm overwhelmed with emotional baggage here and am trying as hard as I possibly can to not project any of this on my daughter so she can grow up without these issues. Thanks to those for letting me know it's ok to just not worry that grandma isn't going to be so involved like I had stereotypically thought.
posted by side effect at 3:21 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's definitely entirely reasonable for you to prioritize your child's comfort and happiness, and if that means she doesn't go into her great-grandmother's room, that seems like a fine line to draw. (At least, it is if your partner agrees. If not, that's something for you two to work out, separate from your MIL's actions.)

But as it sounds like you're seeing here, you don't get to decide your MIL's priorities for her. If she's choosing (because of her own beliefs, or her own ongoing grief, or whatever her reason is) to prioritize caring for her mother over time spent with her grandchild, or other things she could be doing with her life, that's her choice. and reflects her values. That those are not the same as yours may be difficult to parse, and it's okay for you to feel hurt about that, but your best course of action is to work through those feelings on your own.

Grandparent-grandchild relationships work a whole bunch of different ways, and can evolve over time, and nothing that is happening while your child is two is going to set the course for the rest of their relationship. This is one period in your daughter's life; there will be others where your MIL has the mental and emotional space to be more present, and at that point your daughter will be old enough to remember and appreciate it more, so that's something you can look forward to.
posted by Stacey at 3:21 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing that it's unreasonable to expect grandma to share your perspective on her mother, but on the flip side I think you're also being unreasonable to expect that grandma should find hanging out with an infant to be rewarding. Imagine a version of this question from grandma's perspective: "My daughter-in-law insists that I need to spend more time with my granddaughter instead of taking care of my ailing mother. But I have a whole lot of life ahead of me to spend time with my granddaughter. My granddaughter is only two years old, so she's barely a person yet. What does it matter whether I spend time with her or not at this point in her life? I feel terrible that my daughter-in-law would prefer that I miss irrevocable moments of making sure my mom lives out her last days with as much dignity as possible over hanging out with my granddaughter who's too young to have meaningful interactions yet anyway."

On preview, it sounds like you're still not listening to one of the most important bits here: the fact that she's caring for her mother isn't her way of communicating that she cares less about her granddaughter. Your jealousy over the fact that she's her mother's caregiver is making you read too much into her actions. Maybe it'll turn out that she's not a very caring grandmother, but right now I don't think it's fair to her to assume that.
posted by vathek at 3:27 PM on January 4, 2017 [43 favorites]

It's totally fine for grandma to have priorities other than her grandchild. I know it can feel weird, like a rejection of your fantastic kid, but in this case we're talking about MIL's prioritizing her own disabled mother whom she loves and has lost and will soon lose even more completely. It's not like your MIL is blowing off your kid in order to play more bingo (which would also be entirely within her rights, and frankly not outside the norm from what I've seen; but would be more in the zone of things you could be reasonably offended by.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:28 PM on January 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

I took a look at your post history and I see you also have a mom who is MPD/BPD maybe. So do I. I suspect some of your upset about your daughter not getting fussed over enough may also be coming from that place.

It also put your question and comments into perspective for me. I was mulling over what reads like a real lack of compassion for your MIL; it's very familiar to me and is similar in attitude to my bio-family. They really believe the intellect is everything and once your mind is gone you should be in a home. I have come to a different understanding about loving a person...hard-won in that I lost my daughter to a brain injury, although through some other life experience I had (fortunately for me as it happened) come up against those choices.

I think what I'm saying here is that you sound very hurt and also judgmental in a particular black and white way that is a hallmark of children raised by narcissists. Because our mother's affection depended on supplying her with "value" (making her feel like a great mom or whatever) and when we didn't we would experience coldness and neglect or worse, we often are prone to measuring relationships by "value."

You perceive a higher value to a relationship to a young growing child than to someone at the end of her capacities and life. You've flat-out stated physical disability leaves a more valuable person than mental disability.

But your MIL is probably not running that calculation at all. She is caring for her mom based, or maybe ethics, or culture.

Just something to think about.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:31 PM on January 4, 2017 [33 favorites]

warriorqueen has it. I think that is why it took people in this thread literally telling me that it's ok for a grandmother to not be super into their grandkid for me to feel ok now. I really do feel much better having people explicitly telling me that. Before I felt it was just a given that grandparents were insane over their grandchildren (my NPD mother is crazy over my daughter, for example). I felt this meant something was definitely wrong with MIL and ended up misplacing my misplaced hurt. I definitely have been looking at this as black/white and I know that's a hallmark of children of NPD parents. Just because MIL is looking after her mother (regardless of condition) more than spending time with my daughter, it doesn't mean that she is a hurtful person who doesn't care about us. This is exactly why I was so desperate to post this question. I do NOT want to raise my daughter with skewed views of people's intentions and needed to sort this out. Thank you, metafilter!
posted by side effect at 3:46 PM on January 4, 2017 [30 favorites]

I fail to understand why you consider the relationship between your daughter and her grandmother is anything to do with you. Of course it would be unpleasant to block it (unless you're doing that for the safety of your daughter), but otherwise it's entirely up to them what relationship they have with each other.
posted by tillsbury at 3:46 PM on January 4, 2017

You are calculating the benefit of this through a fairly utilitarian lens: "If she were in a nursing home, she would not notice any difference." Maybe it would help you to think of things that you do not because of the external impact but because they feel like "the right thing to do," or because doing that is who you want to be. Were you kind to your daughter even before she was old enough to form lasting memories? Do you change your underwear even on days when nobody else will know you did? To your MIL, being kind to her mom might be something like that -- something to which she'd say "of COURSE I do that; that's just what good people do." To her, it may simply not feel like she has a choice.

I'm sorry that it is interfering with her opportunity to bond with her granddaughter, and I can see why that would be upsetting to you. I wonder what she would think if she knew it made you feel sad. Your SO could potentially ask, or say "it's a bit sad to me that you and [granddaughter] don't get to see each other more" to see what she says. But I don't think this necessarily means that she doesn't want to have a good relationship with your daughter. She may think that your daughter is safe and well-loved, with you there to love her, and think "if I don't lovingly look after my mom, who will?" She may think "I have so many more years to get to know Granddaughter, but only a little more time to be with my mother." What she's going through is hard, so you might try to have a little patience for her, and just do whatever else you can do to foster a good relationship between them.
posted by salvia at 3:47 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your MIL had her own relationships with her mother and her aunt that predated not just her relationship with you, but your arrival on the planet. These relationships are/were very real to her and you are not privy to all the history, information, or emotions that are affecting your MIL's decision-making. There's no way you could be.

It's understandable that you are sad about your daughter missing a chance to bond more with her grandma while she's very young, but your MIL is in a tough position, and is having to make what could be some very difficult decisions. When the situation with her mom ends, she might well look back and realize what she missed with her grandchild. It would be great for all of you if you could deal with your sadness and frustration in a constructive, compassionate way so that you can help her bond with your daughter when they are both ready.
posted by rpfields at 3:49 PM on January 4, 2017

She has months or a handful of years left to spend with her mom, and the entire rest of her life to spend with your kid.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:52 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

This jumped out at me:

Another factor that is disturbing to me, is that my MIL talks about and treats her disabled mother like a baby. She constantly makes comparisons to my daughter as a baby and toddler to her mother, which I find strange. I will be changing my daughter's diaper and she'll laugh and say, "Oh you use the same wipes I use for great grandma! Oh you use the same changing pad! They are so similar!" Or if I'm feeding my baby and she spits up, my MIL will say, "Oh that's just like great grandma! She's always spitting up when I'm feeding her!" These comments make me terribly uncomfortable.

I can totally see why this would be disturbing and uncomfortable for you. But looking at it from a different perspective, this is your MIL reaching out and finding common ground between you to have a conversation, and to me, that means she's actively doing her best to connect with you (and your daughter). If she's spending all her time in her mother's apartment and focusing all her attention on caring for her, that's all she has to make small talk about, really. She's probably grateful for the opportunity to bond with you over whatever brand of changing pad, or the trials and tribulations of having to deal with spit-up. You're both caretakers for someone you love who is at a dependent point in their lives.

She's not thinking of her mother as an infant or toddler, but the care her mother needs is similar in many ways, and that's an okay thing for her to talk about. And it's probably a huge relief for her to have someone who's on the same page as her right now in terms of spit-up solutions or diaper wipes.

(Where I'm coming from: I helped care for a terminally ill family member who stayed pretty sharp till the end, but by the last few weeks I was talking to other family members about wipes and chux pads and diaper rash cream to help with chafing, because that's just what was going on. We didn't think she was a baby; we wanted to do our best to keep her comfortable because she couldn't do it herself anymore.)

Anyway. It may be worth trying to take an opening like that from your MIL and expand on it like you would with any other caretaker you have a relationship with, even if it's just swapping stories of how the big sale at X turned into a nightmare because Y, can you believe that? Or whatever makes sense.
posted by current resident at 4:07 PM on January 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

I definitely have been looking at this as black/white and I know that's a hallmark of children of NPD parents. Just because MIL is looking after her mother (regardless of condition) more than spending time with my daughter, it doesn't mean that she is a hurtful person who doesn't care about us.

You got it. Even when a person is end-stage, mouth agape and eyes looking nowhere, we just don't know what is going on in their heads. I just want to add that for what it's worth, your mother-in-law's presence may be a tremendous comfort to your grandmother-in-law and that is something that some people revere. I am a long term care nurse and I see so, so many people with Alzheimer's who have no contact from their family. It is truly heartbreaking. Good on your mother-in-law.

I'm also wondering if your grandmother-in-law took care of her own aged parents? I think this value set varies so much from family to family in our culture. I've talked about this here before, but my mother and I moved into my grandma's house when my grandpa was dying, and my mother, sister, grandmother and I moved in with my great-grandma when she was dying. Later on in life an old neighbor moved in with my family for probably 3 years until her death. This is something that some people just do. It's both important and not a huge deal to them. I'm wondering if in your MIL's family that is just what is expected.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:07 PM on January 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Before I felt it was just a given that grandparents were insane over their grandchildren (my NPD mother is crazy over my daughter, for example).

Just want to reiterate that it's OK to be bummed that this isn't happening (you've obviously received the message that there's a range of normal). Bummed for your daughter, for your MIL (missing out on grandkid and dealing with her mother), and for yourself (not having a lot of emotional support, the memories this situation brings up). Being sad about this doesn't make you selfish. Just be as supportive as you can while also maintaining your own mental/emotional health and keeping your daughter safe.

If you can, try to rearrange things to make therapy an option ASAP. It sounds like you're in charge of a lot of emotional labor, and you deserve to have someone looking out for you too.
posted by ghost phoneme at 4:24 PM on January 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've spent some time with people who I think had brain damage similar to your great grandmother's-- brain dead except for the most basic of brain functioning, have eyes open and move around as if awake, etc. There's a kind of visceral horror to it and I understand how you feel. It would be one thing if great grandmother was in a coma and basically asleep. It's another to look at a waking, moving body and know that the person as you knew them is gone. You should set whatever you think are healthy boundaries for your daughter around visits.

I'm pretty surprised by the responses you're getting in this thread. I find it hard to look at the situation as you've presented it here and not see that there seems to be something odd there. It's perfectly natural to want to care for your ailing mother, but it sounds like your MIL has been neglecting at least some of her other important relationships to care for her mother. If nurses are coming throughout the day, why is MIL caring for her 24/7? MIL presumably has skilled professionals who can care for great grandmother during special occasions or visits from guests. I don't feel comfortable writing it off by saying that she's just caring for her mother and has the right to spend as much time with her as she likes.

Now, is there anything you can do about this? No. She's not your mother so unless your husband feels the same there's no way you can successfully agitate for change. It's a shame that she isn't more interested in spending time with your daughter, but hopefully things will improve with time and great grandmother's eventual passing. In some ways she's like great grandmother-- there, but not there. It's natural to feel hurt but it's not really about you or your daughter. The best answer is probably to just limit your visits with MIL.
posted by fox problems at 4:54 PM on January 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I strongly disagree with people in this thread. The way you describe the situation, your MIL’s mother has been more or less in a coma for five years, after sliding into dementia during the prior five years. During this time her daughter/ your MIL has completely sacrificed her life to caring for her while taking minimal advantage of existing facilities, such as a possible place in an adequate care home and home caregivers. At the same time, she has utterly neglected her relationships with people who are actually conscious, such as her son and his family as well as her husband. To me, this is a sign of a severe personal imbalance.

And I say this coming from a country in which most people incapacitated by age, illness, etc. are taken care of within the family (we have relatively few care homes and most people can’t afford them anyway), so the sheer fact of the matter (family care in either the caregiver’s or the caretaker’s home) is pretty much the norm where I come from, and people frequently die in their homes/ in the presence of their loved ones. But the degree of ‘self-sacrifice’ you describe would be regarded as pretty pathological even where I come from, and most people in your MIL’s situation would jump at the opportunity to have a break every now and again (though many just don’t have the means). To be honest, what is going on with your MIL seems like some sort of pure form of eagerly assumed co-dependence. If I saw anyone pressuring someone into this kind of self-sacrifice, I’d think it monstrous.

I also really, really disagree with how this a great lesson in love for your daughter. I think it has the great potential of completely screwing up a child’s notions of kindness and love and self-value if they hear that love is basically an egregious case of voluntary self-abandon coupled with a special form of self-absorption, the difference from the usual kind being that the ‘beneficiary’ is someone else. Sometimes this kind of absorption on someone else’s behalf is a normal part of life, such as when you live through major life changes, such as a birth, or an illness, or a death. But ten years is far from the normal period of being consumed by life event. Please don’t tell her daughter that the loving thing for an adult to do is to lay down her life on the altar of another person’s coma. As a girl, she will get this and similar messages hammered into her anyway, there’s no need to present a distinctly weird situation as some sort of ideal of pure love or something.

Also, I grew up in the kind of really enmeshed culture that seems to be weirdly idealized in this thread. I remember as a child having to kiss dozens of strangers, some of whom I found utterly repugnant to the point where I had to run to the bathroom to retch afterwards. I don’t have the slightest doubt (in fact, I know for sure, since I was there in my mind when it happened) that these unwanted (by me) physical contacts under duress (and when you are a child, just being asked to do something by an authority figure can be ‘under duress’) contributed to me acquiescing when I woke up the first time to find myself being raped. I remember very clearly how I mentally guided myself through the strategies of kissing Tanti Mica (she was a recurrent recipient of my rather disgusted kisses when I was a slightly older child): breath in a particular way, count slowly to three, breath in through the mouth, if possible away from the person, breath out through the nose, imagine myself being tortured and my honour depending on me not shouting out, etc. You can talk to children about bodily autonomy until you are blue in the face, if the situations they are thrust into make it clear that there is no such thing for them, the consequences come later.

You asked how to feel; I can tell you how I would feel: absolutely furious. And then I’d make every effort I can to detach from this situation, which, to me, is so very wrong on so many levels, and to have compassion for your MIL, who is obviously not all right. I’d also make every effort to close that grandma-sized gap that might exist in your child’s life, because it is absolutely untrue that having any grandma is better than having no grandma at all – relationships with grandmothers can be as abusive or dysfunctional as any other intimate relationship in a child’s life. Where I come from many people have emigrated, so you have a lot of families that would traditionally have lived together as one big family, or at least very close to each other, and who now are separated by several borders and expensive airplane tickets that they can rarely afford. A lot of elderly people buy their first computers and download Skype to have daily contact with the grandchildren, and parents make every effort to keep the grandparents’ image alive in their children, a bit like you’d do if one of the parents was deployed for several months and you didn’t want the child to forget mum or dad. If I were you, I’d make sure I don’t do that, like, painstakingly. I think a child can grow up very happy in all sorts of family permutations if everybody around them treats them as normal, and while having a good grandmother is undoubtedly a boon, having a neglectful, cold, unloving grandmother is damaging (ask me how I know). She could be greatly screwed over if the expectation is raised that grandma will be really loving and instead she finds her rather indifferent towards her. And make no mistake, MIL has made her choice, for whatever reason, and your daughter will, in time, become aware of that choice. (I have really traumatic memories of my nasty grandmother/ grandfather beginning with around 5 years of age). The way this will affect her will depend on a lot of factors, but forgive me for saying that it doesn’t sound like your husband is able to provide the most enriching emotional environment, so it sounds like the burden to manage your daughter’s emotional growing and stability is entirely on you.

So I’d largely take grandma off the table for now. Is it fun for your family to go to grandma’s town? If not, don’t go. Do you want to see MIL’s mother? If not, don’t go see her. Does daughter want to go see MIL’s mother? No? Don’t go. I’d actually plead for you to not go if your daughter gives any sign of being scared or uncomfortable there.

It also sounds like you have zero support from your husband on this and possibly other emotional issues (obviously, through no fault of his own, but the fact that he is blameless doesn’t help you be supported). I feel it’s perfectly OK to say ‘I’ve a lot to deal with and a young child I want to enjoy and guide in life; this takes up my entire energy and I have none left to deal with someone else’s choices. I’ll be happy to welcome MIL whenever she feels like visiting, but I will have to use whatever time off I get and money I can spare on recharging my batteries and building memories with my daughter.’ You have gone through this situation, which for you is not a choice, for ten years now. How long are you to be expected to continue with this?

How would you like your daughter to treat you when you're a bedridden, demented old lady one day?

Just in case you wanted someone else’s take on this question: if I knew that someone literally will give up years of their own life for my sake, I’d make sure I’d kill myself while I still have the ability.

PS I know a few people (all women, what a surprise!) who have done what your MIL is doing, or something close (and yes, even in my culture they were considered unhinged, not that they actually had as much of a choice as it sounds MIL has), and they too did it for decades, not for a few months or a couple of years. With no exception, when the person died, it turned out that they held seething resentment towards the person they had cared for and that they absolutely hated them. One was transformed on the day after the burial: she shed her mourning black (which is a big no-no where I come from), set up a dating profile (ridiculously no-no at age 55) and just dove in head-first into the more hedonistic side of life. A few years on she seems to be entirely happy with her life (unless someone mentions her … mother), living through a second adolescence that she doesn’t seem keen to leave behind this time round. The other ones are doing really really badly, and one of them died within weeks of the caretaker’s death (who had been her mother-in-law) from a cancer that should have been diagnosed much earlier, but then she had been too busy sacrificing at that time.
posted by miorita at 5:17 PM on January 4, 2017 [22 favorites]

I totally get how you're feeling and I get where your MIL is coming from. I wonder if you and your husband could offer to go stay with the great-grandma some times, while one of you takes her out with the baby. I wonder if maybe giving her a break from things, with the assurance that you will also dote on her mom, might help her feel okay enough to re-engage with other activities and people. I think it's wise to protect your daughter from being scared, but maybe you could ask her grandma top tell her a story about gg or show her pictures. Or perhaps you could all go together (while your husband is with gg) and you pick up some flowers or something with a strong sensory effect, like lavender oil, so that you are supporting great-grandma and engaging Grandma in doing so. This woman may be so used to having to be the only support for her mother and may not feel like she can go. Maybe your husband isn't very good at emotional labour as an Aspie and so it might have to be very short times at first or perhaps you would have to stay. Or maybe you could gradually build her up to having some other sort of respite. Maybe she needs to feel safe just going downstairs to make tea.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:31 PM on January 4, 2017

O.P., I'm glad you now realize that a doting grandparent/grandchild relationship is by no means the norm. It's just not a thing in many families.

I'm sad that you care so much about what your mother-in-law does with her time.
Not because "that's her mother!" but because an in-law relationship is removed, as it were. If my mother-in-law fell out of a tree, I wouldn't have cared as much as if my own mom had done so (just an example there, folks, sheesh) Was your relationship with your m-i-l all that cozy before her mother went through her struggles?
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:36 PM on January 4, 2017

America deals with aging and dying terribly. So I understand the impulse to remind you that your G-MIL deserves all the care she is receiving.

And she does. So it's great for her that her daughter is there.

But there is an enmeshment that feels overboard. Your MIL is not the parent, but has taken on a parental role. And I can understand that is triggering for you, since the child of mentally ill parents are usually forced into a parental role way before they're emotionally ready. And I think it's good that you're recognizing a pattern in your childhood that you don't want to emulate for your child.

That's not to say that she needs to change. Part of unraveling the stigma of mental illness is that the same symptoms for one person are acceptable for another person, because they aren't causing Person B difficulties in their life. Your MIL has decided this is how she wants to spend her mother's last years, and that's her decision.

But your job as a parent is to make sure that your child knows that she doesn't have to take on that burden. And that you don't want to model parenting and caring for your ailing parent as comparable, even if there are similarities. It's sad that she is effectively growing up without a grandparent. But you can show her that she is loved unconditionally, and that you won't expect her to take on the emotional labor of building a relationship with a grandmother who abdicated her duties as a grandparent to be a daughter. Your MIL is making that decision, she gets to own that emotional work, and your daughter doesn't have to step up and say that neglect was a-ok.
posted by politikitty at 5:36 PM on January 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

I know this is my fourth answer but just to have a whole lot of emotional load here with your past history of caretaking, mom with NPD, toddler, and a husband who doesn't maybe carry as much of the emotional weight. I think you are pretty neat to stick with this question.

I also wanted to say that as a daughter of a narcissist, the idea of people not measuring their willingness to care for others by their perceived value was absolutely terrifying on a lot of levels. First, I hadn't experienced that love. Second, of someone can love you (me) unconditionally as a vegetable....well how do I know I'm okay??? My whole youth was spent measuring my days that way, good girl = good mom = good day. And third, the scary realization that my kids love me because....I'm their mom, even if I screw up, and so it makes it worse to think I could be a disaster mom and they might pour their love into me anyway. There should be better checks and balances!!!

If any of that resonates I still recommend Becoming Human..

Just in case you wanted someone else’s take on this question: if I knew that someone literally will give up years of their own life for my sake, I’d make sure I’d kill myself while I still have the ability.

Just wanted to address this. I'm sure there are bitter messed up women who caretake for the wrong reasons and this is a defensible my personal case when I believed this it came from a place of really thinking that my job, as it was when I was a child, was never to be a burden. Then I had my daughter. We actually did remove her life support, because her own quality of life was not going to be good (no swallow or other reflexes.) But had she been able to breathe on her own I very well might have cared for her this way for years and years...easily said and less easily done but...I felt it deep down inside me, this was my daughter.

For me that was a watershed...I love my kids smart, dumb, all their ways. It was a relief to me to find that -- whatever it is, that place that connects to people simply where they are. My mother doesn't have it. I do. There's all kinds.

I kind of hope that in a few months maybe you can talk to your MIL about it not to create an outcome but see where her head is at...if you want, you don't have to. It might give you both some new ground.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:37 PM on January 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

People with Asperger's syndrome, at least some of them, can understand how you're feeling about a situation. What they have trouble with is figuring out what that is from things like tone of voice, body language, et cetera. Have you told your husband, in words, how you feel about this situation?

You don't get to decide how your MIL spends her time, or what she prioritizes or doesn't. You wouldn't like it at all if you were expected to make those decisions for everybody.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:08 PM on January 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I just want to chime in and say that it's okay to grieve the current lack of relationship between your MIL and granddaughter and say that it's not insensitive to wish for that. In fact, I find the idea that your under two year old child is "barely a person" to be slightly offensive? My kid's around the same age and absolutely recognizes and loves her relatives. Not only that, but by opting out of these baby years, your mother-in-law is missing a time when she could really bond with you and offer wisdom and guidance. Her comparisons between elder care and baby care might be attempts at that, but it really depends how that's offered. As you've described it, it sounds like it could feel derailing, as if she's trying to center great grandma at a time when, in a normal family, the new parents would be offered love and support.

Which isn't to say that you can change your MIL. You can't. I also don't think she's a terrible person or anything. But I think people are coming down pretty hard on you, and the situation itself sounds difficult and weird. It's okay to feel upset by it and to process those emotions honestly.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:27 PM on January 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

She is gone. She is not aware anymore.

Again, with all kindness, you simply don't know this is true. Refusing to acknowledge that something else might be occurring (and how that might understandably change your mother-in-law's priorities and choices) is another example of the black and white thinking others have mentioned.
posted by jesourie at 7:01 PM on January 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

Finally, it's very possible that your mother-in-law wishes deeply that she had the time and energy to spare to develop a closer relationship with your daughter. Just because she has chosen to prioritize her mother doesn't at all mean she's disinterested in your daughter. Nor does it mean that she wouldn't be totally gaga over her if circumstances were different. She's one person with limited hours in the day and finite emotional resources, and the choices she's made don't necessarily mean what you're assuming they mean.
posted by jesourie at 7:27 PM on January 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Leaving your attitude towards your MIL's mother and her state to one side (because I agree with what others have said about that), if you're saying that your MIL can't part with her mother twice a year, for just a few days, to see her first grandkid (when she potentially has cover for that time), I'm going to agree with you that that's a bit odd and unlike what most grandmothers I know would do. And I think your sense of hurt is understandable.

But, there's nothing to be done about it. (Even if your husband speaks to her, he can't compel her to do other than she does.)

(I do agree that her life is what it is now, though, so that's what she'll talk about - she is probably caught up in the stuff of her day to day, adult diapers and all. I wonder, too, about other motivations she may have - is life with her husband in that big, nice home really all that comfortable for her? Maybe she's wanting to leave something there, as well... Anyway. Her way of life is what it is, she has her reasons, and again, I don't think there's much you can do about it.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:25 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

While helping care for my dad several weeks before he passed from dementia, I asked him, "Dad, are your thoughts confused in your mind, or only when you speak?" He immediately answered with some emphasis, "Only when I speak!" Mind you, this was when he hadn't been able to put two words together in a cohesive statement for months. I was stunned, and it has changed the way I view dementia. It made me realize there is a whole lot we don't understand yet about this disease, including what the demented person experiences. Having normal family experiences take place in the immediate vicinity of the person may, in fact, provide them some comfort. I know it did for my dad.

Also, the time I spent flying out of state every other month for 10 days over more than 2 years to help with my dad's care definitely disrupted my life and that of my family. And difficult as it was, I am so glad I did it. It was so little compared to his lifetime of love and care in raising me.
posted by summerstorm at 8:28 PM on January 4, 2017 [19 favorites]

Your MILs choices are ok and your feelings are ok.
posted by bq at 10:19 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Two healthy adults had a child by choice that they can take care of. An old woman needs help through no fault of her own. Can you see your MIL's point of view?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:38 PM on January 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

From where I grew up, I thought it was very important for grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren as they grow, but apparently it's ok if they don't. I have felt that MIL is missing irreplaceable moments with her quickly growing only grandchild over her mother. Apparently, it is ok to not spend such time with a grandchild.

It's not just ok, it happens a lot. My mother's father was abusive and belittling, and my mother's mother was an alcoholic. They were divorced, and Mutti was remarried to another emotionally abusive man who didn't care for children, and Grandpa was remarried as well. Grandparent time was strictly controlled by my parents, who doled out visits carefully and set boundaries so that my sister and I would spend time with Mutti and Grandpa, not the deeply flawed and troubled people they actually were. This was more than some of my grandparents' children chose to do; I have cousins who have never met Grandpa, for example.

My father's parents were both dead by the time he was 19 - I never met either of them. My dad's birth mother wants nothing to do with him or us, and we only had a brief relationship with his birth father before he died due to complications of alcoholism. Time with Grandpa Shane was also strictly regulated.

The vast majority of intergenerational family relationships are not Hallmark-ready, is my guess. We all turn out mostly fine. I can honestly say that the interest or lack thereof of my grandparents in me has no psychological bearing on me at all. My parents had much more of a hand in shaping me emotionally.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:53 AM on January 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm gonna break from the norm and disagree with most of y'all. I see a woman who prioritizes her mother over everything else, which is to be commended. But I also see a grandmother who won't leave her mother's side, even though there are professional nurses there all day long, to spend time with her only granddaughter. That's the crux of the matter to me. OP is not expecting her MIL to abandon her mother for days to frolic by the seaside, just to let the nurses that are already there handle things for a little bit so there can be some grandma/granddaughter time. I don't think that's unreasonable. If they only visit that city once or twice a year, why can't she take a break and spend an afternoon getting to know her granddaughter? Like the OP said, it might not have mattered much before since the granddaughter was just an infant, but she's old enough to notice the absence now. I'm on your side, OP. This is a bit hurtful.
posted by jhope71 at 7:22 AM on January 5, 2017 [9 favorites]

My mother died last year. If she was still around and in the same situation as your MIL's mother I would cling on to what was left of her too. Everyone's relationships with their relatives are different.
My maternal grandmother is an evil abusive person. She abused my mother when she was alive and she doesn't give a shit that she's dead now. I wish my grandmother acted with half the compassion and love your MIL gives her mother.
It really bothers me that you're demonizing someone for taking care of their mother because of your own personal opinions. Your MIL has taken care of her and put her life on hold for years. That's how much she loves her. Everyone has the right to live their life the way they want to, and this is what she has chosen. Try and have compassion for her and try not to teach your daughter to be bitter towards her grandmother. She can learn from that compassion and love your MIL shows her mother.
posted by shesbenevolent at 8:15 AM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

While this situation does seem a little extreme, you should also keep in mind the extreme vulnerability to abuse by hired caregivers or institutions of people in the grandmother's situation. I dread the idea of my own mother ever having to live in an institution, simply because I read the numbers, I know how untrustworthy and cruel even the nicest-appearing place can turn out to be.
posted by praemunire at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's possible that your MIL would not be gaga over your daughter even if she weren't with her mom. All grandparents are different. Some are thrilled with it, some are "meh."
My daughter is nine and I know a lot of kids with grandparents and very few of them meet the standard of being ga ga over their grandkids. My mom was (she died in September) and it was a great gift, but I think it's less common than we believe.

One way to handle this would be to consider asking her directly - that you'd really like to have her spend time with your daughter when you visit and is there anything you can do to make that work for her (like someone coming to sit with her mom while she goes out?). You could also tell her that your daughter is worried and anxious when she sees her great grandmother but maybe you could make arrangements for you and your husband to go see her? Or one of you at a time? This might be a way to get everyone's needs met.

And the baby talk I think you just have to accept. Maybe it's how she is able to cope with taking care of her mom. And I know that when my mom was in hospice I wanted to take care of her - including changing her - not the nurse's aides. Who knows what's going on with her that she needs to be there so much, but there's a 99% change you're not going to be able to change it, so finding a way to work around it might help everyone.
posted by orsonet at 1:30 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

While this situation does seem a little extreme, you should also keep in mind the extreme vulnerability to abuse by hired caregivers or institutions of people in the grandmother's situation. I dread the idea of my own mother ever having to live in an institution, simply because I read the numbers, I know how untrustworthy and cruel even the nicest-appearing place can turn out to be.

Exactly. You don't really know what she's experienced with hired caregivers.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2017

Your MIL knows your daughter is loved and cared for (by you and your husband). However, she is the only person able and willing to give love and care to her mother in this state (paid caregivers not being seen as equally loving as family members in most people's view). Of course, then, she would prioritize giving love and care to her mother -- who isn't going to receive it elsewhere -- over giving love and care to your already loved and cared-for child.

Above and beyond that, I'd like to add that grandparents are under no obligation to dote on or care for their grandchildren, since presumably the decision to conceive and give birth to those children did not involve them at all. In an ideal world, all grandparents would dote on and be gratified by time with their grandkids, but in an ideal world, dementia would not exist, and nursing homes would be popularly associated with sterling medical and emotional care rather than regularly featuring in scare-headlines about elder abuse.

In short, I think your MIL is a pretty amazing woman for caring so assiduously for a woman who may not even be aware of the care she's receiving. I can't imagine that changing her mother's diapers is more rewarding than playing with your child (and then being able to hand that child back to you when little one has a bowel movement or a tantrum), but she's doing it anyway, and I consider that a tremendous and deeply admirable act of love. Maybe you could try to see it that way too? At the least, it might lessen some of the bitterness you seem to feel, which is a burden in itself and no doubt an unpleasant one for you.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 3:54 PM on January 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

But I also see a grandmother who won't leave her mother's side, even though there are professional nurses there all day long, to spend time with her only granddaughter.

This is true, objectively. At the same time, none of us can pretend to know what feelings and ideas drive the OP's MIL. Some of the infinite possibilities:

- MIL is doing exhausting and isolating (and potentially extremely depressing) work 24/7. She knows she could take breaks, but sometimes when you're tired you can sit down for a bit and find yourself just too exhausted to get back up, whereas if you just keep going without resting you can do it. Maybe something similar is going on with her. Carrying on in a difficult situation is hard enough; choosing consciously to return to it after reminders of everything you're missing can be harder.

- MIL might have her own not-quite-standard cognitive setup with respect to understanding others' emotions or being able to switch between drastically different emotional contexts at once

- MIL might not be a children person

- MIL might herself be hurt or offended in whatever possible ways: that her son isn't helping her more with his own grandmother; that these visits are so short and that there's this pressure on her to leave her responsibility behind; that in her mind there's a lack of respect and support for and understanding of what she's doing, whether from her son's family, or her own husband (and other children and siblings?) and friends; that no one even lets her unload with them on the phone about how it feels to be a full-time caretaker, because people tend to respond to the effect that it's a depressing subject to talk about, that she shouldn't be caring for her mother in the first place, that her mother is a vegetable, that she chose her situation and so has no right to complain; etc.

- she hears complaints, as well as requests and demands, about her going out more often/not enough all the time from all directions and she thinks if she did even half of what everyone wanted she would be relegating her mother's care to the sidelines - so to heck with them all, let them at least come meet her where she is

- her identity at this point is so tightly bound up in being a capital-C Caretaker that she just doesn't have the space any more to be anything else

- her relationship with her mother was the closest and most loving relationship in her life

- her relationship with her mother was not good and she has huge unresolved issues about it

- she's bonded very closely with the nurses she spends so much time with, to the point where the rest of the world (which is less than interested in her daily life and what it involves) feels pretty distant

- caretaking has taken over her life the way parenting can take over some parents' lives, and you're in the position of the abandoned friends who don't understand why said parents can't just get a babysitter and come hang out

- she feels that all her life she's been taking care of people, and now that she's chosen to do something that's important to her everyone else is issuing a chorus of "but me, me, me," and this is her taking a stand

- she has a martyr complex

- when her kid(s) grew up she felt lost, and being the caretaker for her mother has given her a sense of purpose and meaning

- this is her way of grieving

- she just doesn't have it in her to begin a new relationship right now, especially one as intense as deep love for a young child

- she's an introvert and spending a lot of time with young children is difficult for her

- she has completely different expectations regarding ideal grandparental involvement

- her relationship with her son or DIL isn't that close

- she deeply believes, correctly or incorrectly, that her mother recognizes her and is distressed when she (MIL) is not around

- she does not feel confident in the nurses' care of her mother, or feels that they treat her as a vegetative case rather than as a person

- she has a self-absorbed personality

I mean, who knows? Even she might not be completely aware of all her feelings about this. You could try to talk with her, although that might not get you the whole truth either. You could choose to give her the benefit of the doubt more than focusing on her choices being hurtful. In the latter vein, you can work on presenting the situation in ways that won't trouble your daughter - which, if this continues to be am issue as your daughter gets much older, can absolutely come down to "that's just how she is, what can you do, let's go phone/visit her because it's the nice thing to do and then let's do something fun for ourselves." Because in the end nobody's necessarily doing anything bad here, and everyone might have their own blind spots and best intentions, and at some level it's important to learn to be at peace with people being as they are.

In short I think it's fine to feel somewhat hurt about this, but I wouldn't try to nurse that feeling, because who knows what's actually going on and it makes a lot of sense to give the benefit of the doubt. In addition to which hurt isn't a particularly pleasant thing to feel, so you might as well feed the side of you that says "eh, don't worry about it."
posted by trig at 6:47 AM on January 6, 2017 [11 favorites]

even though there are professional nurses there all day long

It is extremely unlikely that a professional registered nurse of any kind is there at all, ever.

The kind of care being described by the OP is almost certainly being performed by unlicensed home health aides[1], who (like any woman who wears scrubs to work) are frequently called nurses but are not. They have no formal medical training, are compensated very poorly for their difficult work, are probably employed by a for-profit agency whose regulatory requirements vary wildly from state to state and whose standards of care sometimes leave much to be desired, and are overwhelmed with a caseload that requires they do the the bare minimum for each client in order to manage their overbooked schedule. They're very unlikely to be there all day long--the cost for that level of continuous bedside care is prohibitive for most families. Home health services as they exist in this country are intended to supplement the care provided by loved ones, not replace it.

As an example, my father, a paraplegic for the last 54 years and now in his 70s, requires some assistance with activities of daily living--transferring from bed to his wheelchair via a Hoyer lift, help with continence (emptying catheter bags, changing colostomy bags, etc.), help with transferring to a shower chair and bathing the parts of himself he can't reach, etc.. My parents pay out of pocket for aides to come to their home once in the morning and once in at bedtime to assist with these tasks.

Home health aides are people, and, being people, they are a mixed bag; some are good-hearted, kind, and eager to do the best they can. Some are more interested in doing the least amount of work necessary for the paycheck. The agency sends who they send, and my parents deal with what they get.

If my father needs help with anything during the 22 hours of the day that the aides aren't there, the responsibility falls to my mother. She's able and willing to do many of those tasks for my dad, but she isn't strong enough to move him with the lift; the night that their bedtime aide didn't show up and the agency couldn't find a replacement, he slept in his wheelchair.

It is entirely reasonable that the OP's mother-in-law believes that her mother needs more care more often than hired aides can provide. We can speculate about why she declines to reach out for help with that care so she can have some respite for herself, but that doesn't change the fact that someone needs to be there around the clock to provide that care, and it isn't going to be home health aides. There is no idyllic scenario here in which people come and take care of great-grandmother and everyone else's lives are free to continue unaffected.

[1] From the Bureau of Labor Statistics: "There are no formal education requirements for home health aides, but most aides have at least a high school diploma."
posted by jesourie at 11:32 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

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