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Dear Care and Feeding,
We have an almost 2-year-old, and she is the absolute light of her grandparents’ lives. My in-laws live a two-hour-drive away, and my parents live in a different country, about half a day of traveling away. We have done our best to make sure everyone gets a fair amount of time with their first grandchild. This means, so far, us going to my country every three months, my parents visiting us every two or three months, us going to visit my in-laws a couple of times per year, and my in-laws coming to our house at least once a month. Frankly, it is all becoming too much for me.
For a while, my in-laws always expected to stay at our house for multiple nights when they visited (we both work full-time; they are retired). I asked my husband to set boundaries (no more than two days and one night, in a hotel), but I keep finding myself needing to set more and more after each visit. I’ve come to realize that it is only under their own impulse that we see them, never because we actually want to see them. Nothing is ever enough. When we visit them, it is always deemed too short, and they don’t think we visit often enough.
When they are here, they take out their diary to set up the next visit. They arrive at 10 a.m. on Saturday and leave Sunday at 8 p.m., leaving a messy house, after I’ve had to cook for everyone the whole time. I’ve offered several times to meet up for a day out where we could each drive one hour and meet somewhere in between, but that idea has been brushed off. They want to see our daughter “in her house, playing with her toys, reading her books.” They want to be there for bath time like it’s some sort of show (which really makes my skin crawl now that she is no longer a baby).
For what it’s worth, they have babysat her several times, and I try to busy myself and leave the house when they are around so they can get time with just their son and granddaughter. So they do get a lot of quality time with her! But again, it is never enough. They have also made faux pas of various degrees in the past couple of years, such as pressuring my husband to make me give formula instead of breastfeeding; taking my infant daughter out of my arms without asking; putting her in a bouncy castle without proper supervision when she was 18 months old, which ended up with her falling hard on the ground; saying things such as “your mummy has got you all the time, so it is my turn,” etc. I have found some of these issues hard to forget, let alone forgive.
After almost two years of seeing my in-laws at least one weekend per month (and sometimes more!), I simply cannot stand them anymore. Their loud voices and constant baby talk and their very comfortable attitude around my house drives me mad, and since the tantrum era started, their intensity makes my daughter quite difficult to parent while they are present (why eat or go to bed when she could sing and dance with her cartoonish grandma?). I am at a point where I could never see them again and be perfectly happy with that. Believe it or not, I used to enjoy their presence when we only saw them three to four times a year, pre-baby. I want to say I get it, they love her so much, but their love for her just makes them really selfish. I know my daughter loves them, and I know how good it is for her to bond with them—but if it is at the price of my sanity, is it really worth it? Am I being too harsh if I set more limits?
— Too Harsh With the Grandparents?
Dear Too Harsh,
I’m all for setting boundaries with family, which we all have a right to do.
Monthly visits would feel like a lot to many people, and I hear that you’re at the end of your rope. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing your in-laws less often. But you’re also talking about going from seeing them all the time to never seeing them again if you had your way, which feels extreme—especially if you and your husband haven’t actually had a real conversation with them about some of the things you find annoying and/or unacceptable (if you’ve had such a conversation, you didn’t mention it!) or tried reducing the number of visits.
That your in-laws would expect to stay with you sometimes and leave without cleaning your house feels fairly normal to me. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to just put up with everything they do. Some things (like their loud voices) are probably in the grit-your-teeth-and-deal-with-it category, and some (like throwing an 18-month-old into a bounce house alone, or undermining you when you try to put your child to bed) are clearly over the line. You and your husband—ideally, he is willing to take the lead in this discussion with his parents—can talk to them about safety, and how the two of you want to parent, and the fact that it bothers you and/or hurts your feelings when they make comments that seemingly take aim at normal, healthy things like breastfeeding.
Now, should they already know better than to do and say most of these things? Yes.
But they might just be oblivious—at any rate, it doesn’t sound like they would purposefully try to jeopardize their relationship with you and, by extension, their grandchild. Perhaps if they’re made aware of some of the bigger issues, they can make different choices at least some of the time, and you all can have better visits and an easier (if far from perfect) relationship. It’s still okay to say monthly visits are too much. It’s okay to take little breaks from them, for yourself, when they’re in town. It’s okay to get takeout, or ask them and/or your husband to cook sometimes, if cooking for the group is too much. My point is: Look for ways to improve this situation before you contemplate tossing out the whole relationship. I think it is probably worth some irritation on your part for your daughter to have her grandparents in her life.
(It isn’t worth your sanity, but I don’t think that is what’s on the table here.) If you let them know what you need and what’s out of bounds and they react badly or nothing at all changes, then you’ll know it’s time to set more limits.
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