How to handle MIL who has invited herself on a trip
August 22, 2017 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Bear with me: I know there are lots of riffs on "MIL inviting themselves on vacation" type posts. This is my situation, which is a little different than any I've seen so far. I am separated from my husband (her son, obviously), have been for two years. Long story, but it was a sad ending, and MIL only knows a partial, simplified reason for why it ended because she and FIL are very judgmental and I was worried about them treating my husband badly. (My reason: he's still a nice guy, good dad. Our marital issues are not their concern.)

My husband and I get along well, are friendly with each other, co-parent great, etc. I am still on friendly terms with my husband's family, and I've always been very close to my SIL. They live a state away, as does MIL and her family, and SIL and I have always wished we could spend more time together. Finally, we decided earlier this summer that she, her husband (MIL's other son), their kids, along with me, my kids, and my husband if he wants (he hasn't decided yet) would all meet halfway in between our towns--3 1/2 hours for each of us-- for a weekend in September.

I will pause and say that though my MIL is nice and fine, she can be overbearing, is very passive-aggressive, and I can't figure out what else, except that I have felt a huge relief at seeing her much less since my husband and I separated. I just found out, from my sister-in-law, that MIL has invited herself along on this vacation and asked to drive with them. SIL didn't know what to say. I know she feels the same as me, and would prefer it was just a trip for us. (Yes, there are family vacations, but these are the sorts that are planned, invitations extended to everyone, itineraries and dates bounced around, etc). I'm not sure what to do.

I would love to see SIL. At the same time, it is very stressful to see MIL, for a variety of reasons. She's also one of those people who thinks they are so helpful and how can anyone survive without them. Did I mention passive-aggressive? Since I'm separated, I budget very strictly now (there's much less money), so this was a treat to spend the money on this weekend, and two nights at a nice hotel. I also feel that I can't say anything. It would be rude, and if I was the one to bring it up, it would be the death knell of my relationship with her. Which... honestly isn't the biggest deal to me, but I'd much prefer that we are getting along. I am thinking about not going at all, though it would be a big disappointment to all the kids... so I probably wouldn't do that. Thoughts and help much appreciated.
posted by ladybugmom to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is the BEST mil question, ever! CONGRATULATIONS!

You and sil just acquired a built-in babysitter while you guys have massages, go sightseeing, and otherwise enjoy your vacation. She will be furious by the end of the trip. This is FINE.

She's not there to see you, she wants to her grandchildren. Oblige her in spades.
posted by jbenben at 10:38 PM on August 22, 2017 [73 favorites]

Yep jbenben nailed it. Voluntell your MIL she's got the kids that morning, that evening, all day tomorrow, most of Sunday and while you pack the car on Monday. They have been so excited to see her. SO EXCITED. Bonus points for buying them hard to manage shoes and clothes and loud toys for the trip.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 12:44 AM on August 23, 2017 [13 favorites]

I also feel that I can't say anything. It would be rude, and if I was the one to bring it up, it would be the death knell of my relationship with her. Which... honestly isn't the biggest deal to me, but I'd much prefer that we are getting along.

She is the one being rude here. You need to be assertive and simply tell her that you don't wish her to be there - be polite but don't get drawn into "why". Best case is that she backs off, understands and the two of you remain on cordial but more distant terms. Slightly less best case is that this ends your relationship with her.

I think the tendency for in-laws to have only a sugar coated understanding of why a break up occurred is pretty common - and hence a pretty common cause of stress like this. If you can't tell her the truth about that and expect her to accept this truth - then you will always have the large piece of baggage in the relationship between you. You say that ending the relationship would be "no bad thing" - for this reason and others. I find it hard to disagree.
posted by rongorongo at 12:46 AM on August 23, 2017

You say your SIL didn't know what to say - but what exactly did she say to her mom? She must have said something on the phone. Was it, "Yes, of course you can come!", a meek, "Hmm, yeah I don't see why that would be a problem ...", or "I need to check that out with ladybugmom?"?. Can your SIL or ex-husband (if he ends up coming) run interference and gently say that they counted on just having a weekend between your age group and kids. I think it will definitely come off better if it is one of her own children telling her they'd rather her not come for reasons.

I disagree that your MIL is necessarily being rude, it depends on how it came up in conversation. I can see it naturally occurring of "Hey, you're going to see ladybugmom and grandkids. You know, I'm free that weekend too and would love so much to see Billy and Sally, it's been so long!" If you have a cordial enough relationship, she may not realize she is imposing.

I was wondering as well, how often she gets to see your kids? She may have latched onto this as a rare occassion to see them if you live far away. If that is the case, it may be hard to put down your foot on this and not come of as the bad guy.

Basically, my advice is: Get your SIL or ex-husband to gently make her understnad that she's not really welcome that weekend (it may help soften the message if you set up another future time where she will get to see your kids, either with or without you). If that isn't feasible, I don't see how you can get the message across without damaging the relationship, which hey, if you are fine with that, go for it.
posted by Blissful at 2:31 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do not put this passive aggressive "helper" who you are afraid to say no to in charge of your children. They're not going to be any better equipped to handle her than you are, you will never ever hear the end of it, and you will be rewarding her boundary stomping. Ideally, you'd call her up and say "I was really hoping this would be just SIL and I; how about we get together at x time," but since she can't handle that as an adult, I'd just cancel. Every other option is going to cause you just more stress.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:21 AM on August 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

This is for your BIL to handle. It's his mom.
posted by cooker girl at 4:24 AM on August 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'd say cancel as well. Talk to your SIL and be apologetic about it -- you'd planned this as a fun get-together, and with your MIL there you'll be tense and defensive. Possibly she'll shoo MIL off and save the trip, but maybe not.

MIL didn't talk to you about it, so you don't need to (and IMO shouldn't) talk to her directly.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:50 AM on August 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'd say first put up BIL and your ex to address this with your MIL. If they won't and / or fail to get her to cancel out of the trip, then cancel expressing your regrests to SIL, and encourage SIL to do so as well.

If you don't even feel comfortable saying you'd rather not take this trip with your MIL to her, then realistically how will you handle it if you try to voluntell your MIL for baby sitting and she says, "No, I'm on vacation!" Or "The kids and I are coming with you." regardless of how crazy it would be to bring the kids (kids love spa days, right?)? If you don't realistically think that you can handle this, then don't waste your limited money on something that won't be fun.
posted by nobeagle at 7:21 AM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, unfortunately I don't think it's realistic to think that someone who makes you crazy is going to magically become an obedient and invisible nanny during this trip.

I'd tell your SIL the truth. "Matilda, I've been looking forward to this so much, but Mama Francine and I really don't gel, and I can't see this being fun for anyone if we have to be there together. Is it possible for you to tell her that this trip is really about our two families, just us and the kids? And you can assure her that if she wants some time with my kids, I will send them to her for a visit in February (or whatever.)" If she won't, then cancel.

Alternately, if you want to be sure it gets done right, you can deliver this message to Mama Francine yourself. You don't care what she thinks anyway, and maybe she'll be offended enough to take herself off your radar. But I'd understand if you didn't want to put yourself though that conversation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:59 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there any way you can send your kids with their father (or with their uncle/aunt/cousins if he decides not to go), so they won't be disappointed, and you stay home for two nights as a break for yourself?
posted by Everydayville at 3:04 PM on August 23, 2017

Everyone is being pretty harsh on Grandma but for her it must seem like such a great opportunity to see both sets of grandkids in one fell swoop. Also, it seems a bit like someone arranged a family reunion except the grandma and grandpa didn't get invited. It was obviously your preference just to see your SIL and her family, but I don't think you should be surprised that the grandparents wanted to join in.

I hope for your children's sake that your description/opinion of your MIL is something that they aren't exposed to. I think it's common for many daughters-in-law to not want to spend time with MILs. And it's common for grandkids to love spending time with their grandparents.

I think Jbenben is right. Grandmother=built in babysitter, but I doubt she will be "furious by the end". Your MIL and kids will be happy with the situation and you and SIL can spend lots of quality kidless time together.
posted by mulcahy at 9:39 PM on August 23, 2017

I hope I'm allowed to post a follow-up here. If not, apologies.

A clarification: My extended family has a very large family. SIL and I have dreamed of having only us-- her family and kids, me and my kids (and H if he wants to go)-- on a vacation for the many, many years we have known each other. Family reunions happen regularly. This was different than a family reunion;)

MIL found out about it from a different BIL, it turns out. So when MIL was visiting and staying with SIL and her H, she said to them, I'd like to go on the trip too. Can I drive with you? They were fairly stunned, apparently, said nothing. She said, "That is, IF I am invited." I am foggy on the details but it all sounded very awkward. No, SIL does not particularly want MIL coming either. But as I would feel very rude to say anything, and so would SIL (yes, I agree that if anyone were to have spoken up, it should have been BIL), I am going to go on the trip. I'm dreading it though now, because MIL is stressful to be around. I am not going to have her babysit my children. I don't do that anymore as I don't fully trust her and she doesn't make good decisions pertaining to watching children (ie: letting a two-year-old run way ahead down a street. Leaving sharp knives on the kitchen counter's edge). I will take breaks if and when I need to, and if it's so stressful that we have to leave early, we will. Thanks for all the ideas.
posted by ladybugmom at 2:22 PM on August 25, 2017

I mean take breaks from my MIL, not my children! haha!
posted by ladybugmom at 2:30 PM on August 25, 2017

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