Care and Feeding

Grandma’s Priorities

My mother-in-law is a great grandmom—until her husband shows up.

Photo illustration of an older woman, presumably a grandmother, holding an infant.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our 14-month-old has been lucky to be watched by her grandmother for extended periods of time over the first year of her life. Grandmom lives multiple states away but came to our home for the birth, to watch her for a month so we could extend the time before she began day care, and for two weeks here or there during the year. She’s not wealthy, so this time is truly a gift.

She’s very good with my daughter and a deeply devoted grandma. However, during her most recent trip, her husband came up at the end of the trip for a family wedding. In the morning, we asked whether she’d prefer us to drop the baby off at day care, and her response was “No, I want to spend my last day with my grandbaby.” But upon his arrival, her husband said he didn’t want to stay at our house or watch the baby (the excuse provided later was that we live in a city, and he prefers the country), even though it was his first opportunity to meet my daughter. So Grandmom called us up to ask where could she drop off the baby immediately because they needed to go. She left my daughter at my husband’s work during the middle of his workday, and then they went to do their own thing.

My husband and I are furious. It seems obvious that she chose the minor comforts of her husband over the care of her grandchild. We spoke to them afterward about the situation, and they did not see what the issue was. It makes us question whether she’s a reliable caretaker at all, let alone when her husband is around. Her husband is self-absorbed and quite controlling of my mother-in-law.

I don’t want her staying at my house to watch my daughter anymore, but that means they won’t spend any time together. Am I overreacting?

—Grandmom Troubles

Dear GT,

I think dropping your kid off in the middle of an agreed-upon child care shift just because Dear Hubby came around is not ideal and suggests that she is in a relationship where she subverts her expectations and desires in order to satisfy his. And that just bums me out. And while I understand the visceral reaction this situation triggers in you—I would feel the same way—I don’t know if the best response is to punish her by barring her from seeing her granddaughter at all.

You ask if she’s a reliable caretaker but the answer is in your letter—90 percent of what you’ve described suggests yes. But is she a reliable caretaker when her husband is involved? Clearly not, because that was the one time she did not do the main task of being a reliable caretaker, which is to give reliable care. (To be fair, she didn’t drop the kid off at the bus depot, she just took her back to dad.)

So were I in your spot, I would trust Grandmom when she is visiting, but I would not trust Grandmom when her dude is anywhere around. I know that means that she may see her kid less, but frankly that’s not your problem. Something stinks in that relationship, and it’s clear that it’s not an ideal place for your baby daughter to be.

Also, I would keep an eye on Grandmom as a whole. Continue to talk with her, be kind to her, and make sure she has a place to talk about her relationship safely if she ever wants to do that. Be patient with her, and more may be revealed. Good luck.