on grandparents and boundaries

Life with a newborn contains so many unforseen challenges, and while the lack of sleep and the lack of control over one’s life can certainly be hard, I’m finding the familial relationships a bit harder. I’m speaking primarily of the Grandparents Genius.

My wife lost her parents in 2000, so Baby Genius has one set of grandparents–my mom and step-father–and a spare grandfather–my dad.

I refer to my dad as a spare because while he’s overjoyed to be a grandfather and while he loves BG, he’s also a big giant flake, and I don’t trust him to play an active role in BG’s life. I have learned over the past thirty-four  years that he isn’t reliable and that one ought not trust one’s feelings to him. Already he has flaked on BG. He came to see him in the hospital, and then, when I mentioned he was welcome to come see him a couple of weeks later, he agreed that he would. He was excited to do so. Then he called in the middle of the day on the day he was to come telling me he had been up all night cleaning up after a sick dog, and he couldn’t come. It was a lame excuse (and I’ve since learned it was a lie), but it’s honestly no surprise. I heard excuses like that throughout my entire childhood and into my adulthood. It’s why I spent two years not communicating with my father. So J and I agreed that when BG was born, we wouldn’t ever tell him when his grandfather was coming to visit. We’d just let it be a surprise because we don’t want him getting his hopes dashed when his grandfather decides to put himself before everyone else in his life once again. I’m at peace with this, but it saddens me that we have to do this and that my father can’t pull himself together well enough to be present.

My mom and step-dad are sort of at the opposite end of the spectrum. My mom has made the three-hour trip to see Baby Genius five times since his arrival. She would come every week if she could. They adore him, and she can’t go longer than a week and a half without seeing him. This is lovely. It’s one of the things I looked forward to when we moved a little closer to their part of the state. Sometimes it feels like little much, but there are few things that make her happier than her grandchildren, so we indulge them (still, I haven’t seen my mom this much since I moved out of the house to go to college). I anticipate BG will have many fulfilling and wonderful years with his grandparents, and J and I are so grateful for this. However, we’re starting to realize we are going to need to establish some boundaries here as well.

We just learned that my grandmother has congestive heart failure. She’s 88 and is otherwise in very good health. The worst part of this is that no one knows how long she has. She could have weeks left or years, and while I’d place my money on years, we still want to make sure she gets to meet BG, and we want her to meet him soon. J and I decided we could take a road trip in a couple of weeks for this purpose. We’ll stay at my parents’ house, and this way BG can meet his great-grandma. We had also hoped that my step-dad’s parents might make their way to my parents’ house to meet BG. It would be a simple trip and wouldn’t involve too much activity on our parts.

Previously, when we’ve gone to stay at my parents’ house, my mom has been controlling. She’s always telling us in her passive aggressive ways what we ought to do and when, whom we ought to see, and so on. When it has been just the two of us, it has been a strain, and it has led to stress, but we’ve dealt with it (primarily through lots of drinking).  And now we have an infant, and she’s trying to do the same, and neither of us can drink it away. I adore my mom, but she’s making things hard.

Because my parents have a previous engagement on Sunday, they won’t be around, so my mother came up with a whole slough of plans for us on Sunday to drive to each of the great-grandparents’ homes (an hour and a half round-trip) to take BG on visits, after which we would stop in to see my sister, and who knows what else. This would be on top of the three hours we have to drive back to our home that day. BG doesn’t do well when he has to get in and out of the car. He doesn’t deal well yet with too much stimulus, and honestly, all of this sounds like a bit too much for one day. His little nervous system is so easily overloaded, and then we have to recover for a day or two because he is so out of sorts. It’s already making me incredibly nervous to drive on Bay Area freeways with our son in the car, but now the thought of this, of my mom continuing to plan our every move when we are in her general vicinity, is making me rethink the trip entirely. It’s 11:00 in the morning, and I already want a drink.

We’re going to have to find our own way to do this. Setting boundaries with my mom is tricky; she’s very sensitive and gets her feelings hurt easily. We don’t want to hurt her feelings, but we do want some autonomy and some control over what we do with our son. We want him to meet his family, but we’ve got to do it a little more on our terms. I just never expected this. I always read about other people’s boundary issues with their parents when it came to their kids, and I thought, Not us.

Yeah, right.


Filed under Baby Genius, family

14 responses to “on grandparents and boundaries

  1. jay

    Blimey. Just popped by to say good luck – perhaps the “firm but fair” stance might work somehow? Whatever you do, I hope it works!!

    Know what you mean… I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of sugar that my mum is itching to bestow upon BB. I know this because she sneaks my niece sugar when my (annoyed but silent) SIL isn’t looking. O joy.

    Loving the Flickr pics, btw! xx

  2. As you were writing this very entry, I was venting to Nutella about my parents pressuring us to drive an hour to see them since my grandfather will be visiting (even though we’ve already visited him twice where he lives) on a day when we already have a driving engagement of an hour, etc….

    I SO know where you are coming from (with that end of the spectrum) and it sucks. I would talk about it on our blog if our parents didn’t read it, but they do (mistake?)

    They keep trying to send me on guilt trips and now I call them out on it every time. And I tell them no matter what they say to me, I’m putting my family and my baby first and I will never feel guilty about that.

    Good luck setting boundaries. You have my empathy.

  3. Can you stay somewhere else while in that area? And would it be possible to just make your own plans type them up and send them to your mother in an email as to what your itinerary will be while your in town. make up an excuse like ” in order to use the time most efficiently to see family” yadda yadda….

    Oh, pencil them in there somewhere.lol

    *Your bio pops and my bio pops must be twins:( I don’t even bother any more.

  4. N

    Yikes. I wish I had better advice, or, you know, any. You have my sympathy, though.

    (and especially on the father front. mine’s like that, to the point that I’m actually not actively making any moves to have him get involved with this. if he wants to, fine. but I’m not pushing, because it’ll only end in disappointment no matter what, and better to be disappointed and not have wasted my energy.)

  5. Jodi

    I’ve caved to T’s mom too many times about when we come, for how long, etc. I’ve said yes to things I knew would be a bad idea just to avoid conflict and prevent hurt feelings, and guess what? I get stressed out every. single. time. I can’t do it any more! It’s time for some serious boundary-setting, and she’s just going to have to understand. It’s not about her. It’s about our son, and driving him all over the place in hot weather in an uncomfortable car–no way.

  6. vee

    What a nightmare. I thank god my mum’s not too pushy, because I’m hopeless at saying no to her. I have found it helps to anticipate meddling and prepare our own plans in advance, then present them, leaving her no room for manouvre. This has worked well for Christmas arrangements. Not always possible though. Good luck with drawing up lines with her.

  7. My mom is like that now, and I’m not even pregnant! I love her to death, but like you said, sometime it can be too much. I hope you can all come to a solution, or at least a compromise.

  8. Joy

    Similar dad story here. Oh and similar grandmother story too. My Nana is almost 80 and was diagnosed with CHF earlier this year. She’s doing well though and I hope yours will too!

    As far as the pushiness, good luck! I think creating your own itinerary “for the sake of BG” is a good suggestion.

  9. Follow your gut. Have a drink and tell them no. Doing that much family visiting and driving would stress me out without a baby. I can’t imagine doing that much driving with a new baby.

    I am dealing with boundary issues too and junior is still in the oven. I have a feeling that this whole parenting business is going to give us plenty of opportunities to practice saying no nicely.

  10. A.

    T, I’m completely sympathetic to your situation with boundary-setting. My dad announced a few days ago that he wants to fly out as soon as the baby is born, and stay for more than a week. Umm…..NO. There’s such tapdancing that happens with our parental units, isn’t there?

    I’m sure that you both will come up with a plan that will suit you. It’s definitely your right to do so.

    PS – sorry about your dad. xoxo

  11. I hear you! I have such trouble setting boundaries with my mom and when I try to be fair but firm she acts out like a child. She calls my sister and says things like, “I know where I’m not wanted.” It can be so hard.
    We had a hard time setting limits with family visits, but I will say that it has gotten better with time. And you know BG’s limits with the car. Stick to your guns on that one. I hate being in the car with a screaming baby!

  12. poppycat

    Ugh. Good luck with this one ladies. It is so very important that you get these boundries in place now before resentments and anger build up and explode but how to go about that? I have no idea. I am going to bet honesty and firmness will be your friends but it’s a tough thing to do with a perent who has good intentions but poor execution. I hope you find just the right way to make this work.

    As for your dad, you and I have talked about that a little before and I just want to say keep up the good work. Hugs.

  13. Pingback: baby’s first road trip, complete with backseat drivers « Reproducing Genius

  14. K

    I have a similar problem. I truly feel for you. My mother-in-law wanted to take my 4 year old to an indoor water park without me along with her 2 step kids and possibly some other cousins (safety issue). I said no, and now I am the enemy and her parent (she isn’t). Boundary issues are going to need to be addressed with her, and in your situation they should be addressed as well. I have an infant as well, and i’m sure she would also expect me to do what you are being asked to do if the situation presented itself. It is so hard to have a self-centered mother-in-law. Much luck!

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