Care and Feeding

My Mother-in-Law Says I Cut My Kids Out of Her Life. It’s for Her Own Good.

She claims we’ve replaced her.

Older woman looking concerned, resting her hand on her chin.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

My husband and I recently welcomed our second baby. Previously, my mother-in-law, who lives locally and was glad to do it, was our main babysitter for a random night out or child-free errand maybe two to three times a month. My husband and I both have concerns about his mother continuing to act as a caretaker for both kids, although she’s very willing and excited.

She has severe anxiety and there is not a single childcare task she seems to be able to complete with confidence. To be clear, I haven’t doubted the safety of our child in her care, I’m looking out for her mental health. She seems to agonize over everything she does, which I don’t think is positive and productive for her or for our kids as they’re growing up and picking up on more of it (both my husband and his sister also have anxiety and I have no doubt that some amount of that was learned from the high-stress environment they were raised in). Importantly, her severe anxiety is not something his family is willing to bring up with her, as it “just makes her feel worse and like she needs to be fixed.”

Because of this, we decided to find a babysitter for the two kids. I asked a friend teaching at the local high school for some trustworthy teen recommendations and we have really taken to Emily. She’s only stayed alone with the kids three to four short times while we were both out, but has also come over some to help with the kids while we do things around the house or join us on a walk/playground trip. We have continued to see my in-laws regularly, going to their house weekly for dinner and regularly inviting my MIL to go on walks with us, to the pool, etc. We have her occasionally watch just our older child still, for example when our youngest has a doctor’s appointment.

But when we told my in-laws about Emily, MIL got very quiet. Since then, my FIL has let us know that it was incredibly cruel to replace my MIL. She’s so upset and feels as if she’s been cut out of the kids’ lives. We feel we’ve been very careful to make sure that is not the case. She’s started refusing invitations to join us for anything or come to the house. She has also made a few comments about how when I return to work (in almost a year!) the kids will both be in day care and then Emily will be watching them all the time outside of that so “they and I better enjoy this time spent together as a family” since it won’t exist once “all these strangers” are watching them.

These comments do nothing but anger me, as I know we are making the right choice for our family, which includes her. I think the comments are starting to get to my husband and make him feel guilty. I really don’t want this to become an issue between us where I stand firm on our decision and he becomes convinced I’m the reason his MIL no longer cares for the kids. How do we navigate all these emotions?

—Not Cutting You Out

Dear Not Cutting You Out,

You need to have a talk with your husband about how you two are going to communicate with his mother about your decision. If he is unwilling to discuss her anxiety and your concerns about how it impacts her ability to perform care, then you may have to brace yourself for some additional passive-aggressive commentary from her. Either way, you all should let her know that the decision to hire Emily is in no way a reflection of how much you love and value her, but simply what you both felt would be the best childcare solution at this time. You can try to frame it as an opportunity for her to have more carefree, fun moments with the kids.

It would be ideal for you to schedule a little extra time with her, but it sounds like that may be difficult considering that she is currently turning down outings in anger. I think the best thing you all can do is be honest with her, but again, I understand that your husband may not be on board with telling the truth; and even if you do, it’s likely that she will struggle to accept your reasoning. Stand by your decision and refuse to be guilted into changing. Hopefully, over time, your MIL will get past her feelings of rejection and get back to interacting with you all normally, whatever that may look like. All the best to you.

—Jamilah

Classic Prudie

I found myself extremely upset after reading a friend’s Facebook post recently, in which he admitted to taking a belt to his 2-year-old daughter in the hopes that it’ll teach her to sleep through the night. I find this behavior completely abhorrent. At 2 years old, a child barely knows right from wrong, and if you admit to striking your daughter with an object once, who says you won’t do it again?