Posted by: Kate | August 10, 2008


I have a mother-in-law dilemma.  Perhaps you can help solve it.

We haven’t heard a thing from her since last month’s not-calling and such.  This is fine with me.  Every day that slips by makes it that much less likely that she will be able to cram in a visit before the school year, and once school starts it’s much easier to prevent visits until the holidays, at least some of which we’re planning to spend with my mother this year.

But a few nights ago, Emily suddenly remembered that she has her own email address, and asked to send a note to Willem, who continues his West Coast Mancation with reckless abandon.  Or something.  I’ve only spoken to him two or three times since he left, so either he’s having a great time or they won’t let him use the phone in the Mexican prison.

So we logged her on, and she dictated whilst I transcribed.  And then she decided to send more emails, and she chose her pen-pal (we can’t convince her that it’s cooler to have a paper-and-pen correspondance than an online conversation) and her Grandma C.  I sighed, inwardly, but have tried to walk a careful line between being honest with Emily about the fact that relations there are strained and yet still allowing her to have as positive a relationship as possible with her grandmother.

She included some tidbits about her summer adventures, including the fact that she spent a week at my mother’s house, and ended it with, “I miss you and I love you.”  A very cute note, all around.

Grandma C wrote back the next day, and included the following:

Your Mom and Dad told me they’d let me know when I can come to visit you so I’m hoping that’s pretty soon.

OK, so.

I, personally, have had two conversations with her, once in April and again in May, in which I told her that our summer was very busy and suggested that she pick a weekend to visit soon so that we could keep the days open.  Both times, she declined, saying she wasn’t ready to plan that far ahead.  Both times, she said she would call us when she knew what her schedule would be like.  I know that Willem has had similar talks with her.

(We’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact that she’s retired, with very few demands on her time.  Clearly she has a bustling and full agenda, and is not able to manage family relationships on top of the rest of… whatever it is.)

I’m a smidge irritated that she is, predictably but still annoyingly, playing the passive-aggressive angle.  We had already guessed that she has been sitting home convincing herself that she has been wronged because we don’t call her enough, and this offers some indirect proof thereof.

I’m a whole boatload more irritated that she’s using my kid as the vessel for this nonsense.

So when Emily read her reply tonight, I made sure to point out that sentence and explained, “Maybe Grandma is confused, or something, but I know that we’ve been waiting for her to call us.  She told us she wasn’t ready to make plans earlier, and that she would call us when she was ready.”  And then reminding Emily that it is never appropriate for a child to correct an adult, so she should just let Grandma and Daddy work their confusion out between them.  She was fine with this, and wrote a cute and appropriately noncommittal response, with no mention of visits.

But what now?  I don’t plan on calling or emailing her directly to point out her wrongness, but at some point this is all going to come to a head.  A nasty, unpleasant, boil-like head.



  1. Your imagry is so poetic…………

  2. Unibomber or Anthrax mailer come to mind, but they’re both out of commission, so I got nothing.

  3. Why must it come to a head? If the kids want to see her, she knows where they are . . let them do the inviting. Personally, I’d ignore it. Not worth your attention or concern and generally kids don’t give two hoots about visiting grannies, it’s usually precipitated by the parent. Sounds like this was more the novelty of email rather than Emily really wanting to communicate with her Grandma. Let the MIL play her passive agressive games, they only become a problem if you react. (There, that’s my two cents worth)

  4. Hmmmmmmmm. Tough one. 1. A directish approach: “Kate and I are disappointed that you would send Emily an email which makes it sound as if you are waiting for us to make the arrangements for your visit, when we’ve been waiting since spring for you to let us know which weekend you’d like to find time for your grandCHILDREN.” Heck, why not throw in, “An 8-year-old isn’t capable of understanding your passive-aggressive behavior, and just gets confused”?

    2. Ignore the whole situation. It’s never going to be better, and the less she’s around the less your children will think about and “miss” her. And the better your life will be.

    Sad, pathetic, nasty woman. Good luck.

  5. If you give the negativity energy, it stays alive and grows. Silence is sometimes passive-aggressive but also sometimes a powerful statement.

  6. I have a lot of suggestions, but most of them involve violence. So I’m going to go with ignoring her. Completely. Don’t play into her hands. That’s what she’s hoping for.

  7. Hmmm,. that kind of relationship does suck.

    You have two options (well, no, you have limitless options, but 2 come to my mind)

    You can either call her on the PA stuff directly, ie “Why would you say that you’re waiting for us, you were supposed to pick a few weekends for us to choose based on our schedule?”blahblahblah
    you could just email her and say, “Here are a few dates that we have open after Willem comes home, perhaps one of them would fit your schedule for a short visit” blahblahblah
    third, you could let you DH handle it. 🙂

    Luckily, your daughter is probably too young to pick up on any of the PA nonsense, so I wouldn’t worry about that.

  8. Wow Kate. I’m sorry. She sucks. I’m usually not one for ignoring situations. I do think the idea of e-mailing a few weekends that are open for you guys and letting her pick would be the best option.

  9. Oy, that’s hard. We have the opposite problem with my mil. She always wants to see the kids, whether it works with our schedule or not. And when we say no, we then have to justify and explain our schedule and why exactly we said no. And then she gets pouty about it.

    I like the idea of giving mil a few weekends and letting her be the one to say they don’t work. Then if your daughter asks, you can tell the truth – we told grandma when she could come visit, and she couldn’t make it those weekends. And when daughter asks why, you say, “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask grandma.”

  10. I dunno if I concur with most of the commenters. Emily is eight. That’s plenty old to get a sense of the tension, to pick up on what might be going on, and worse… to even get the idea that those PA approaches to situations might actually work.

    I think she needs to be called on it. She is out-and-out LYING to your daughter. I think she needs to know that while perhaps there are issues and strains between you & Willem and her, that under no circumstances is it appropriate for her to use her beloved granddaughter as a pawn in her head games. At the very least, let it be known that you read Emily’s email and will correct any lies therein.

  11. My mother-in-law, let’s just call her the Devil, lives a mere 5 blocks away from me. I go through anxiety attacks daily of when she’s going to call and demand to see our daughter. She refuses to conform to our schedule but demands for us to conform to hers. It’s mind-blowing. I think when mother’s son’s get married- they turn into that character from the Exorcits that’s head spins around & spits green slim. I can’t imagine that either of them are/were this annoying to the rest of the US population…but maybe.

    Good luck.

  12. **Exorcist

  13. although i understand how difficult it is to have a mil that is “that way”, but you have the control of how things are played out. it may not seem that way but your reaction to her madness may be the only thing that keeps it from going badly (or worse). i agree that giving her the few weekends that you are available is a good idea. continue to be open to her for the sake of your husband and kids (although they know how she is, or in the case of your kids, will eventually). but i don’t see why you need to be overly anything to her…good or bad. you know? she is who she is and no matter what you say or do she will continue to be that. which is unfortunate for everyone but true.

  14. I say ignore her. The situation is not going to get better by confronting her. She’s a loon, and no amount of reasoning with her will change her behavior permanently.

  15. you could as we have somehow and tick her off…we haven’t seen or heard from MIL since the beginning of May. 😉 Her birthday was today, we mailed an emotionless card last week, but never heard anything back…I guess she is still angry.

  16. […] bedtime story.  We let them choose the recipient and the content of their notes.  Emily chose to write to Grandma C, and each time wrote newsy, babbly, 8-year-old sorts of things, including referencing the times […]

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