Posted by: Kate | August 11, 2008

Dilemma, Part Deux

There’s nothing new to report on the Mother-in-Law Front (not to be confused with the Russian Front, which is colder and somewhat wider).  I appreciate the ideas and thoughts, and am shamelessly using the comments as a springboard for another blog post instead of, you know, branching out.

So, Baino wrote:

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.

Well, we could continue to ignore it; it’s been eight years of this, and nothing I can do is going to change who she is.  But how I react is a reflection of me; I can’t control her but my different options for response are going to have varying effects on my own self-image.  And I don’t imagine myself as someone who ignores problems until they go away.

Plus, her visits are decidedly not initiated by us.  In the early years of her grandmotherhood, she used to tell her friends that she vistied us at least once a month.  This was never – praise the tiny baby Jebus – true.  But she did visit more often, and we have always been careful not to extend even a vague invitation if we weren’t prepared for her to take us up on it.  Her visits were always timed for the maximum convenience to herself, with no regard for our own schedule, but starting in 2003, when she refused to come stay for a few days to help me around the house after I had my wisdom teeth out because she might be selling her horse and had to be there to say good-bye (um, [a] it’s a horse, you can probably say good-bye a few days early and it won’t hold a grudge, [b] she sold it six months later)… anyway, since that fiasco, when I declared that if she wasn’t willing to come out and help me as a family member, then she needed to wait to visit when I was fully recovered and ready to entertain company, she has been out much less frequently, and only when initiated by either herself or Emily.  Remember, Emily is a center-of-attention kind of gal; the more company we have here, the better, particularly when it’s a grandmother who brings an astonishing number of gifts every time.

Wordnerd and Kim both suggested violence.  I do appreciate the satisfying nature of these ideas, but I have worked inside a prison just long enough to be really, really certain that I don’t want to be on the other side of those bars.  Plus I’m kind of lazy.

Kristin opined:

[…] 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.

That available-dates thing has been our go-to response for the past several years, with pretty good results.  She either can’t come those dates, or she can but at great personal expense and angst and whining and guilt (and not just on my side).  The thing is, there really aren’t any weekends left in this summer; next weekend Willem’s still away, the following weekend I’m in Martha’s Vineyard and Willem wants to do something fun with the kids before school starts, and then, bang, it’s the school year.  I really don’t want to share my Labor Day weekend with her if I can avoid it – though, in the interest of Taking the High Road, if she were to call today and say, “I’d like to come out for Labor Day weekend,” then I would keep the days open and stock up on Ativan and Vicodin for the occasion.

Willem actually is planning to handle it, without me even needing to beg.  I wrote him yesterday asking if he had some idea of what he wanted me to do, and he replied,

“As for my mother…  I will deal with her personally when I get back.  I want her to hear our side of things before school starts.  For now just ignore her ‘request.'”

Awesome.  I just hope to be able to get to the camera in time.  Because this is really the crux of the matter: it’s Willem’s mother.  If he wanted to ignore her, or placate, or concede, then I would swallow the pride and the little bit of vomit that would rise to the top of my throat, and I would accept his choice.  But I think he’s reaching a point where perpetuating an uneven, unrealistic relationship just for – what?  The sake of family?  He has more family in his friends and in my family than he ever had at home.  For the sake of harmony?  Silence is more harmonious than this.  I feel like he’s at a breaking point of sorts, having the time and energy to devote to expressing himself clearly to her, whether or not she can hear it and respond in kind.

And as for Emily, I honestly think she’s at a point where she’s picking up on the passive-aggressive vibes already.  She can sense a disconnect in the way her grandma treats me and the rest of the family (“How come she brought a coffee for everybody but you, Mom?”), and I’ve promised her that I will always be as honest as I can be with her, even if she might not like the answers.  I’m careful about it; I try not to actively insult and smear my mother-in-law’s delicate reputation in my daughter’s presence, but I also don’t believe in hiding hurt feelings and frustrations from kids.

Jacob is still too young to fully grok the subtleties of the relationship.  Hell, some days, I think I’m still too young.  But I protect him from more of it, at least until he’s a smidge less black-and-white in his understanding of the world.

So, the moral of the story is, I think it will be addressed, within the next few weeks, but by Willem instead of me.  Which is very right and just, and I promise to intervene with my mother the moment she goes all crazy and passive-aggressive and… well, it’s possible she could have a brain transplant one of these days.  One never knows.

And the mode of address will be something along the lines of what Amy and Lisa suggested – a short, simple message identifying the specific problem – not, though I would sooooo love to, an annotated list of everything that has bothered, upset or hurt me over the past decade – with a clear statement of how we can avoid a similar situation in the future. And she will deny it, and get upset, and not change a thing, but we’ll have done the best we can.

Because, as Mariah put it, “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.”  Amen.

Oh, and by the way. Heather and Mrs. B? I cannot imagine the horrors which would inhabit my life if my mother-in-law lived less than a full day’s drive away. You both deserve kudos, acclaim, and chocolates for not having snapped already.



  1. My mil lives about 15 minutes away and “works” even closer and has been known to just drop in. Several times her drop ins have coincided with dinner, which the girls invited her to stay for. Lovely.

    As for the silence option, I can attest that it is harmonious. We once went seven months without speaking to the mil, and those were the most stress-free seven months, at least on the mil front, that I have had in almost 12 years of marriage. I keep waiting for her to do something outrageous again so we can go back to the silence.

  2. Thank you…I’m quite proud that the woman hasn’t sustained any broken bones thus far. Recently she asked to accompany us to my parents for the 4th of July- I let my mother know & told her that I’d already spun an enormous lying web of reasons as to why she couldn’t accompany us. My mom said “Well, lying is a lesser sin than murder.” And I can imagine that’s how our 4th of July vacation would’ve ended had she joined us.

    Good luck 🙂

  3. …”the following weekend I’m in Martha’s Vineyard and Willem wants to do something fun with the kids before school starts,”

    That could be the perfect time for her to visit! Well, perfect for you, maybe notsomuch for Willem.

  4. Awww bless Willem for taking her on. Tough call to confront your mother but if action must be taken then it’s right that it’s he who should do it. Many moons ago, my own husband confronted his mother in my defence (we’re now the best of friends mind) but his simple comment “Don’t make me choose . .because I won’t choose you!” Worked like a charm! (I often ignore bad family behaviour rather than go into conflict – then I live with a good part of my extended family so keeping the peace is paramount but I guess everyone has their limits!)

  5. I feel your pain. I don’t talk about my in-law issues on my site because they have the address. Only my sister-in-law and niece read regularly, but I don’t need to start nuthin, ya know?

    The main problem is my MIL. She took off and moved to Utah a few months after we adopted Sera. We’ve not heard from her since the previous Christmas. In their last conversation Jim basically told her what she would need to do to have a relationship with him. She refused, and he’s not backing down. Did I mention she’s a bi-polar who refuses to take her medication? She’s also addicted to beer and gambling. Fun times.

    I know this doesn’t help you with your issue, but I thought you’d like to know you’re not alone.

    I will confess it’s been so much easier since Jim cut her off. There’s a lot less drama in our life.

  6. Look away for a few minutes and look at the drama! I’m so sorry about your neck — I’ve discovered that my chronically hurting back feels better when I don’t begrudge myself massage. The money is so worth it for me.

    You and Willem are really getting somewhere, I think. He’s been patient and the more he has to deal with it the more it will get dealt with really. Not that she’s going to change, of course. Kudos on the kid-handlage. Emily will come around, eventually.

    And I’m glad he’s not actually in a Mexican prison.

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