Breaking news to unsupportive parents - halp.
October 4, 2019 4:58 PM   Subscribe

We have some big (very good!) news we need to break to my in-laws. I like to think it comes from a place of love, concern, and their own life experiences...but their response is likely going to be very very negative. I'm looking for practical tips for 1) drafting the email with the news and 2) handling the inevitable hysterical phone call that will follow.

Calling and telling them over the phone is a non-starter, it makes it worse. We're out of state, so can't tell them in person. Would you provide explanations in the email, or no? When they call... I'm tempted to commit to just listening and not responding right away, so they're heard but we don't get in an argument -?

Hubby's currently reeling somewhat - we're visiting their city next month and they basically told us our kid could spend the night but that hosting *us* is too much work. (Yes, these are the in laws I've asked about before.)

He has a therapist, will try to get an appointment lined up I think.
posted by jrobin276 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Without knowing the context, I'd say that the more you try to justify or explain, the more you give them to argue about. If you must tell them, I'd keep it short via email and then not answer any phone calls. Or draw a firm boundary: "Our decision is unhappy. I hear you are unhappy, but this isn't up for discussion. If you keep talking about it, I will hang up." And then you follow through.

Why is hubby still keeping his terrible parents in your life? They want access to your kid but don't want to be respectful to their son. I don't think you all have any obligation to provide them with a grandchild if they can't be civil to you. What would it mean to cut them out completely?
posted by bluedaisy at 5:06 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

(I recently said, "If you want a relationship with your husband's grandchild, you shouldn't have been so terrible to your stepdaughter." Which is to say, if you want a relationship with a child, you need to maintain a relationship with the child's parents.)
posted by bluedaisy at 5:07 PM on October 4, 2019 [13 favorites]

Dear In-Laws,

We have some great news to share with you: we’re doing X! Spouse and I have wanted to do this because XYZ and we’ve finally been able to. We’re excited to tell you more about it when we’re in town in a few weeks and answer any questions you might have. We are just so thrilled that we couldn’t wait that long to give you the news. How are things with you?
posted by sallybrown at 5:16 PM on October 4, 2019 [22 favorites]

Hi Fun Stuff--

Great to see you over X. Really enjoyed Y.

We have some news we are really excited about: we've decided to move to Mars! We will really appreciate your support--it's a big move for us!

Looking forward to Z.


And then hide from your email and voicemail for at least five days.

Source: in-laws were supportive of neither our marriage nor our house buy. If I had do-overs, I'd invest less in their reaction and give them less space to have the reaction.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:24 PM on October 4, 2019 [49 favorites]

Hubby's currently reeling somewhat - we're visiting their city next month and they basically told us our kid could spend the night but that hosting *us* is too much work.

Unless you are psyched for the idea of a night on the town together (and that could be great) this is a big fat No, Our family stays together.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:26 PM on October 4, 2019 [27 favorites]

We have some big (very good!) news we need to break to my in-laws. I like to think it comes from a place of love, concern, and their own life experiences...but their response is likely going to be very very negative.

If it's something that's decided but not yet enacted (like buying a house, moving, changing job) you have to tell them before it's done and dusted? Maybe the cost of being unsupportive unrelenting jerks is that they don't get six months to badger you about moving to France or a month of hysterics about the dangers of changing jobs.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:36 PM on October 4, 2019 [48 favorites]

Yeah, unless they need to know, as in they’re involved, you don’t have to tell them until like a week before The Thing happens. This is clearly hard to parse in detail, but like, you don’t have to talk to your parents about things. It’s weird at first, but keeping things superficial with parents like that can be really nice and freeing.

Like, my parents haven’t known about the last several job changes I’ve made for example. It comes up when it does, and I’m not deceptive or anything, but I don’t bring it up largely for the behavior you’re describing.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:58 PM on October 4, 2019 [13 favorites]

Can you enlist a third party to tell them and absorb the initial reaction, and maybe explain to them _how_ to be supportive, and why that's important? They might honestly not know the impact that words can have -- not everybody does -- both on you and on them (via reactions from you). That could save you a lot of headaches.
posted by amtho at 5:58 PM on October 4, 2019

Why do you need to tell them at all?
posted by mhoye at 6:30 PM on October 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

I really like Captain Awkward's advice in this letter: "Keep reminding yourself and your family that this is happy news. This is not news you feel like apologizing for."
posted by foxjacket at 6:40 PM on October 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'd definitely do inform by email + be unavailable for their phone calls for several days. Let them stew in their reaction and possibly pipe down before you are available to discuss the issue.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:48 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Own the framing you want. Be proactive in telling them what to think about this. Prevent the negativity.
posted by k8t at 7:05 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

if it's a fixed single event incident then i would tell them after it occurs (we won a free car! no, we already have it you can't do anything about it); if it's something like moving to another city/country then i would wait until like the day before you go. honestly. from your previous questions these people sound like a godawful nightmare and you don't need to schedule your lives or your emotions around them.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:30 PM on October 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

Play the long game. When they are unreasonable or angry or demanding, get off the phone. Don't engage in negotiating, endless explaining, pointless arguing, getting berated. In the short term, they'll try hard to get you to listen to their concerns. Concerns are fair, but the other stuff isn't. Listen, I love you and I hear that you have x,y,z concerns. I'll give them some thought, but we have decided on this plan. I have to get off the phone now. Bye When they are reasonable, praise them. Thanks for hearing me out. Really listen hard; they're his parents. But show them that you will not participate in unreasonable BS. It gets a lot easier, but it's hard at first.
posted by theora55 at 8:19 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your kid is what, 5 or so? Definitely should stay the night with you, not them.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:02 PM on October 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

Cheerful, hearty, and short. Other people have posted great examples. No apologies, no defensiveness, no explanations, no downplaying. It's good news! Pretend you're sharing it with a supportive acquaintance. Cheerful, hearty, and short.
posted by lazuli at 9:04 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Don't answer the phone? Just send the email and don't pick up for a few days.
posted by fshgrl at 10:46 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

The message: What lazuli says, totally.

Anticipation of the phone call: you know it's gonna be stressful, and you know that you can't control what's gonna happen. Go in "don't let yourself be provoked, reduce arguing to a minimum" mode.
Lifeline: decide beforehand that if stuff gets too crazy to actively pick a moment where you say, "sorry, I will have to think this over, let's continue talking some other time" (this technique, while often unpopular with the receiving party, has saved me a lot of grief in a number of existentially very challenging situations).
Preparing for aftermath: in anticipation of their "very negative" phone response, lay out boxes with tissues, chocolates, a tumbler with whisky and two glasses, etc., or plan or prepare whatever else you know you'll likely need to help you debriefing afterwards, or plan an out-of-house activity for right after the call, or even ask a friend to stand ready to listen to rants or provide hugs. (Anticipated difficult phone calls are a terrible terrible burden, but they can be soldiered through and ultimately, they often are less traumatic in hindsight than any actual events happening in your face. Try to relax about it, if ever possible)
posted by Namlit at 4:40 AM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

You are adults and can do whatever you want. They are adults and choose their own reaction to your news.

One thing a therapist shared with me was about her own mother. Her mother would always start being negative on phone calls, either about her or a relative. She told her mother, "I love you, and when you start in on this negative stuff, I am going to hang up."

And then she did. "I told you to stop this negative gossip, criticism, Mom, good-bye now."
It seemed drastic, but it was her way of setting boundaries with her Mom.

I would not leave my child overnight with grandparents who were emotionally manipulative. You can either be honest and say, "if you refuse to tell us what's been wrong and why you have been cutting us off with no good reason, then it is not possible for grandchild to stay with you."
Not sure why you would feel an obligation to share good news with people who you know will be negative and rain on your parade. Someone got a job, moving house, having another kid, etc., those are all things to be happy about, and people who love you will be happy for you. People who have weird baggage will gripe and moan about why are you doing this to them, or how awful you are for making this choice, and who the heck needs a Debbie Downer, a pair of them no less, to burst one's bubble? Not me!

I have visited towns where I had relatives, and purposely didn't go out of my way to see them. Made my life a lot easier.

I also make it a point not to give my grown son advice. I say, "wow, cool!" or, "gee, sorry to hear that, what are you going to do?" And if I can help with a bit of cash, "would you like me to send you some money?" Lately, the answer is "No, Mom, I'm a grownass adult, and I am done asking you for money, but thanks anyway."

I also have limited contact with my daughter and granddaughter. I don't get along with my daughter, for various reasons. Every year, I send birthday cards and Christmas gifts, and she sends them to me, along with a nice separate handwritten card from my granddaughter. We don't talk on the phone, we don't email, we are not friends on Facebook. This is the level of contact she is comfortable with, and that's her decision. I'd been sending cards and gifts for a while, then one year, she surprised me with a big box of gifts, cards, and handmade things from my granddaughter. We've been doing this for a few years now, and while it's painful for me not to have more contact with my granddaughter, I guess when she's 18, she can choose for herself the level of contact she wants (or doesn't want) with me. My life is more peaceful now, and they know how to get in touch with me if they want more.

Ask yourself what would happen if you chose not to share this news with them, or waited until it was done, and then chose to share it.

I don't have to know everything that goes on in my son's life, and I only know what he chooses to share with me. I didn't share every detail of my life with my parents, either. Back then, it was phone contact or in-person visits only, a few times per year (they lived 5-6 hours away). There were a few times when they found out things that I'd rather have not shared with them, via another family member (who was a pot stirrer and no longer has info on me and my life choices), and yeah, I got questioned and the 3rd degree (I left a stressful job and they wanted to know why I'd quit such a great job, and I got this question for YEARS after I'd done so, despite my explanation that it was too stressful to continue working there, it was like talking to a brick wall). And I had a pretty good relationship with my folks!

They do not set the rules for your lives. They also do not set the rules for visitation with your child. You are under zero obligation to tell them anything, especially after the way they've acted in the past. Live you life the way you see fit, and feel free to cut them out of your lives, or set major boundaries, such as my therapist did with her mother. And best of luck to you with your new good news situation!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:31 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

There's lots of great advice here about how to tell them, but I'm with mhoye - why do you need to tell them? If they're unsupportive, why are you going out of your way to engage with them?

And why are they so eager to host your kid but not you? I wouldn't do this unless 1) your kid old enough to be excited about this, 2) you absolutely trust them not to do anything weird or upset your kid, 3) you want a night out on the town (totally valid!) and 4) you are okay with setting this as a pattern. In essence, if they're so negative that you're asking how to give them good news because they're going to be terrible about it, what exactly is the upside to continuing to engage with them?
posted by bile and syntax at 9:53 AM on October 5, 2019

Oh, and for the phone call: Stupid and cheerful, as Joy Browne would say. They act negative, you act too cheerfully stupid to even grok their concern. "That's going to be horrible!" they say. "I know, it's going to be wonderful! I'm so excited!" you reply cheerfully. Don't engage, don't get hooked, don't take their concerns seriously. Stupid and cheerful.
posted by lazuli at 5:31 PM on October 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I read your ask history about your in laws. They are emotionally abusive and you should have zero contact with them. Most important, they need to have ZERO CONTACT with your child..
posted by medusa at 7:43 PM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've looked at your ask history. These people are absolutely emotionally abusing your husband, attempting to emotionally abuse you, and will abuse your child.

They should have no further contact with you or your child. They should never, ever, ever, not for a milisecond be allowed to spend time with the child unsupervised. Leave the country rather than let that happen. Please. I'm speaking from experience here.

I'd say they should have no further contact with your husband, but he's a grown adult and you don't have control over him.
posted by Ahniya at 11:52 PM on October 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

To avoid abusing the edit window:

They want to spend unsupervised time with your child so they can assert control over her while she's young, allowing them to yank on her feelings much like they're currently yanking on your husbands.

They sound fairly typical of emotional abusive in-laws, right down to the unspecified but enormous transgressions committed by everyone not them and trying to separate a child from its parents. I very much doubt that they see anything wrong with their behavior, or that they will ever change. I'm sure they think they're in the right. They probably think and possibly suggest that you are an unnatural shrewish harpy witch who ensorcelled their son, etc, etc.

They are trying to fight with you for control of your family. Do not go along with their demands, no matter how much of a fuss they make. The more leeway you give them, the worse they will get. Don't let them take charge of your child. Don't let them talk to you or your husband alone, only the both of you together, if at all possible. They only interact with your family when they treat your family with decency and respect. That may not happen quickly. It may not happen at all. Honestly, the not-ever outcome is much better than you think it is. Don't let them turn that into a threat.
posted by Ahniya at 12:08 AM on October 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Congratulations on your exciting news!

Given your previous question about your in-laws, and their new offer to host your child - but not the two of you - when you’re nearby next month, it doesn’t sound as if they’ve moved past the “want a relationship with their grandchild without a relationship with the parents” stage.

While I don’t know what’s happened between your Ask questions, this is an utterly unreasonable position, and it shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s easy for me or any other external observer to say that - we don’t have to deal with an utterly nightmarish situation, or with your husband’s feelings, which I’m sure are complex. Nevertheless, it is easy to assess the situation from outside, because what they are asking is so far beyond the pale of normal relations that it should be impossible for them to even consider it as an option.

From that standpoint, I think the question of news becomes a lot easier - they have basically tried to cut you and your husband out of their lives, and the only reason that you are still in contact is that they are trying to retain access to their grandchild, in the least reasonable way conceivable. If not for the grandchild, they probably wouldn’t be speaking to you at all, so why extend them a courtesy (in keeping them updated) that they’ve made clear they would prefer not to extend to you?

Which is to say, I’m with the commentators above who advise you to cut contact with them to the greatest degree possible, and at least to refuse any feedback, which you acknowledge will be inappropriate (and from my perspective at least, obviously intended to hurt and attack you and your husband). You could consider setting down your decisions in a physical letter with no return address, for example. I would also consider changing phone numbers, if that isn’t already going to be a consequence of the decision. Any contact that you choose to have with them should be entirely on your terms, but perhaps the best choice would be no contact at all.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:56 AM on October 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Incidentally, I have a good relationship with my parents (we live on different continents and I just came back from a two-week holiday so that they could spend time with their similarly aged grandchild and it went wonderfully) but despite the strength and openness of our relationship, I long since stopped keeping them up-to-date with my romantic and professional lives, except very casually and retrospectively. That’s because I take their advice on a lot of subjects but never found their advice useful on those two, and worse, I felt that they tended to receive even factual updates as an opportunity to contribute unsolicited advice / criticism, and I found that difficult for various reasons.

That policy was really helpful when it came to breaking big news (like the arrival of their grandchild, and a move and career change that came with it), because I was telling them from a position of sharing news that was mine, on subjects that I wouldn’t usually have been forthcoming about. That was a much healthier way for the conversation to go, because we were all clear that they were being informed and invited to share in celebration, not asked for their honest opinion on the wisdom of my choices or anything like that.

So it’s entirely possible (and desirable!) to manage communication quite firmly with parents and in-laws even if your overall relationship with them is positive and healthy.

In your case, I would honestly start from zero communication (maybe with a short note that they can’t respond to, which politely recaps your reasons), see how that goes, and perhaps cautiously work up to “Great news! We’ve decided to share some key details of our life with you through the medium of Christmas cards” when and if you feel ready.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:12 AM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

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