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Dear Care and Feeding,
My in-laws, who live locally, are heavy drinkers. They start in the morning and continue all day. They bring flasks to every visit with us. They habitually drink while driving: They show up with roadies and make fresh ones before they leave. They rarely (but not never) get sloppy during these visits, but I know they are drunk. They are also extremely eager to babysit for our now 5-month-old, and the question of whether they can ever be alone with the baby has become a big point of contention in my marriage. My husband (who believes that his parents are heavy drinkers, but not alcoholics) has told them that they must not drink before or during babysitting, and they readily agreed; however, they have continued the drinking habits described above during visits with us even after that conversation.
After much discussion, my husband and I agreed that we will keep any babysitting short and during the day. He refuses to have a franker discussion with them about our concerns, because he believes that they will abide by the rule he set down. I do not. I believe that they are alcoholics and have no control over their drinking, that they could not abide by this rule even if they wanted to. I am already uncomfortable and anxious about the limited daytime babysitting we’ve agreed to—which has not yet occurred, and which is becoming an issue for them (exacerbated by the fact that my parents, also local, have babysat numerous times).
Now we want to go on a trip, just the two of us, after the baby turns one. In an ideal world, the two sets of local grandparents would split the time caring for our child in our absence. But there’s no way I’m ever leaving my kid with my in-laws overnight. I do not believe that they can drink in moderation, I do not believe that they will refrain from drinking for more than a few hours at a time (if that), and I believe it would be reckless to leave our child with people who habitually drink while driving, even if they promise not to do it while he is in the car.
But it was a big deal for my husband to raise the subject about staying sober while babysitting. I have not yet told him my feelings about sleepovers and about driving (never ever ever), but I previewed my position about leaving our son solely in my parents’ care when we travel, and he seemed potentially receptive. Questions: Am I being unreasonable? Should his parents be given the chance to show that they can abide by a no-drinking-while-babysitting rule? Even if they can, is an absolute boundary against sleepovers and driving reasonable in these circumstances? And: Husband wants to go on this trip (and therefore will, I think, ultimately agree to care solely by my parents) but doesn’t want to hurt his parents’ feelings. How do we even begin to approach this while abiding by my husband’s preference not to discuss this massive elephant in the room with his parents?
— Biased Against Boozy Babysitters
The question of whether or not your in-laws are alcoholics or “just heavy drinkers” is moot.
(Although I recognize that it is not moot to your husband, who does not want to believe his parents could be alcoholics, or to the heavy drinkers themselves, who do not seem to believe they have a problem.) I would not waste energy debating this with your husband, and if he does not feel up to the task of dealing head on with the elephant in his parents’ living room, he is going to have to come up with some other way to explain to them that the two of you cannot leave your child in their care. If he refuses to do this, I’m afraid you are going to have to tell them yourself (and I’m sorry if that turns out to be the case).
Alas, your husband needs to recognize that hurting his parents’ feelings is the least of (any of) your problems. People who drink while driving are engaging in a criminal act as well as an unethical one. People who drink all day long and bring flasks when they visit others will not hold themselves to a promise not to drink for any amount of time. They are humoring their son, since they clearly don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing; that he does not or cannot see this is sad, but immaterial to your decision-making about childcare. You cannot leave your child in your in-law’s care, ever. If your husband balks at this, you are going to have to stand your ground. Marriage counseling may be in your near future.