Monday, February 07, 2011

More Please

Why, why do I not ask you all for advice more often? You are so wise.

Jul hit it when she said: “So WHY did I waste all that time trying to make you feel secure, you little s__?” Because yes, my distress really is all about me and wanting to believe that none of my sacrifices have been for naught. Even though OF COURSE THEY HAVE. Most of them, anyway.

And I instantly recognized that Law’s suggested response would work: “… besides it’s against the law to kill anyway.” I said to him, “Hey HB—you know how you can’t be sure Daddy and I aren’t evil?” “Yeah?” he said nonchalantly. “Well you can at least be sure we won’t kill you. Know why?” “Why?” “Because it’s against the law!” “Oh, right right right!” he said. “I mean, everybody would be a robber if it wasn’t against the law!” I didn’t even try to argue with that one, but he seemed to think the subject was entirely settled.

So thank you.

(Another thing he said recently: “A lot of parents tell their kids everything they do is great because they want them to feel happy. But I don’t want that. I want the truth.”)

To tap into your collective wisdom some more: You were incredibly helpful on the subject of Nana in the past, and we could use a little more advice.

Her last visit was the anticlimactic birthday party eight months ago. TH speaks with her on the phone and emails from time to time, and she rarely brings up the topic. When she starts to, he changes the subject, and she usually follows.

Until recently, when he got an email from her:

From: Nana
Date: December 3, 2010
To: TrophyHusband
Subject: HB’s gift

I’m glad he liked the book. I thought chapter books are fun for his age.  ....

We are really devastated that we aren’t allowed to see him.  It makes me sad whenever I think of him growing up not knowing or seeing us.

Love, Mom

TH freaked out and forwarded to me, and I said, what a way to escalate! You never said anything of the kind. Read the original email you sent her. And he did, and then quoted it back to her, and she let it drop.

But this begs the question: where DO we go from here?

HB has asked when we will go up to their “farm” again, because, he says, there are fun things to do there. But he also has asked me out of the blue, “Why did Nana say she would give me a time out if I cried because I missed you?” (When she was babysitting him two years ago.) Recently, he asked if we were ever going to see her again, and I said, of course. (We haven’t let him in on the whole discussion, just told him that he won’t be left alone with Nana babysitting again.) And then he said, “I know a way it could work: I could just do everything exactly the way she says.” Wellllll …. yeeeesss … in an alternate universe. He won’t even get on the phone with her. (And not just now; he never would—he hates to get on the phone when someone tells him to do it, which she always does.) Clearly he’s not ready to maneuver around her without freaking out. Most adults can’t do it consistently.

Traveling to Nana’s is an ordeal, and it isn’t “on the way” to anyplace. So that’s pretty easy to get around. But do we just wait for her to suggest something doable? They come near us on business from time to time, and I could see meeting them for a couple of hours someplace … but I really don’t know. Do we suggest it?

She hasn’t made even the tiniest of conciliatory moves, if that matters, which it probably doesn’t. E.g., HB asked us to take a photo of himself smiling next to the gift they sent for Chanukah/Christmas and text it to them as a thank you. When TH did so, she called and said, “He should write us a thank you note now too.” (Not that there isn’t any merit to the argument that written thank yous are more proper than texts/emails—just that this isn’t quite the place for that argument, is it?) (And the gifts are far from conciliatory—she has always showered him with presents and then demanded that he show exuberant gratitude in return. Once when we were visiting her, she banished him upstairs when he didn’t like a book she bought him. He found a phone and called TH’s cell, which was pretty funny.)



Annon SIL said...

I didn't even realize we were SILs. Before DS was born Granny brought a 7 year old grandson into her lap and hissed "I've never liked you" to him. Which only confirmed everything he had ever suspected.

DS is still small enough that we never leave him in the room with Granny (although Pops is fine and OH MY what friction that causes). We are never going to. Still, we believe that DS needs to know her and so we just have totally unrelaxing visits.

That is just the way Granny's brain works, we are careful about how we frame her crazy and we tell him before the visit that we are the authority and that he needs to be polite to her but look to us for what he should/shouldn't/can/can't do.
Yeah, that doesn't help much ... sorry. :/ Good luck!

Shandra said...

She's escalating to test your boundaries. I think you handled it really well. This is where you basically, IMO, just have to settle into the pattern where you hold your boundary.

But you can offer suggestions if you want to help too. "Just to be clear mom, we said no one-on-one visits. But it would be fine to get together sometime when you're in town for business."

The missing piece is the part where she would ask something like "what can I change about myself so that we can interact differently?" That isn't likely to come. But it's what you would have to see and test before it would be safe right? I think that could eventually be shared with HB. That it's not about his behaviour, but hers, and that's what would need to change.

Anonymous said...

wait, i missed something.
1.HB wants to go to the farm, not visit with Grandma.
2.Grandma tried to intimidate you into inviting her.
So how could the answer be to invite her to your house? Isn't that rewarding her bad behavior for a visit all three of you are uninterested in?

zb said...

I'm in the fortunate position that my childrens' relationships with their grandparents are a fabulous boon to their lives (both grandparents and children). The sets of GPs are different, and the relationships are different, but both are acceptable and neither is toxic (though one GP has a moderately fought relationship with another daughter-in-law, probably for both valid and invalid reasons).

Assuming that you continue having a relationship with MIL, and that HB wants to have a relationship with GP, you seem forced to figure out ways to have that relationship with sufficient supervision that you don't allow her to control anything HB does and that you are aware of passive/aggressive/hidden methods of undermining him (so that you can talk to him separately).

Skype, potentially? You could have conversations while you watch in.

I also think that some things that drive us (parents) crazy (like complaining about the absence of thank you notes) roll of the kids back. We interpret the behavior in the context of all the other behavior, and interpret it (correctly, often) as an attempt to control and manipulate. The kids, though, don't have sufficient context, and are sufficiently used to grown-ups telling them to do a series of what they see as bizarre things, that they don't pay attention. So, it might be worthwhile considering which aspects of her behavior really hurt HB, and which hurt you and TH.

Anonymous said...

He found a phone and called TH's cell? I love that kid.

No suggestions. My crazy relatives more or less were pushed off from the rest of us when they got too harmful, and I didn't miss them (they don't "do" warm, loving relationships). Hell can be other people though it should not be all the time.

Anon Lawyer

Annapolitan said...

Have you mentioned to your very bright HB that you don't like the way that Nana treats him sometimes and you're trying to protect him from that? Because that's what parents do?

I ask because of his comment about doing everything that Nana wants exactly the way she wants it. It's almost a universal rule of child development that a child this age tends to see a deficiency in (grand)parenting as a result of something that he has done: "If Nana is acting this way, it's because of me. I've done something wrong/bad." So HB may need reassurance (I'm sure you've already done this) that he's fine and it's Nana's behavior that you find troubling.

My sister and BIL deal with the grandmoms (both of them troublesome but not nearly on the order of HB's Nana) by going on vacation close to where the grandmoms and other relatives live and inviting them to stop by and visit. Gives everyone a chance to spend time together on neutral territory. Sis and BIL aren't staying at Gramma's house and beholden to her rules and her crazy, nor is Gramma enduring the stress of being under their roof.

Nana has a point about the thank you note. What he writes in the note may not satisfy her, but he should send one anyway. Though I'd suggest that if she responds to his note by writing him back, you should intercept and read it before he sees it.

Wabi said...

Reading this I just remembered the time my grandmother told me I was ugly. I was ... 8? Like your MIL, my grandmother was demanding and self centered. But this was the first time my parents discovered nastiness directed toward grandkids.

My parents reacted pretty similarly to you and TH. I still saw grandma occasionally but never alone after that.(The "ugly" comment came during a sleepover stay at Grandma's w/o parents.) And if she got out of line in her actions or words again with anyone, Grandma was always immediately called on it after that. There were various functions over the years where she was either asked to leave because of this, or our family opted to leave instead.

Anyhow, I just wanted to give the kid perspective on the nasty-grandma phenomenon. I think you're doing fine with this. HB knows his parents have his back because of your reaction to what she said. And HB is not too young to begin to understand that Nana is sometimes a jerk. I would use respectful language when discussing Nana with HB, but I would not pussyfoot around that essential fact! Realizing my own grandma could be a jackass allowed me to take the crazy stuff she pulled with a grain of salt.

Green said...

I think your son is wicked smart. Like not just the average smart, but extra.

Ya know, there are tons of farms with fun shit - take the kid to a couple of those. Then he'll realize all the fun farm shit doesn't ONLY have to happen at the grandparent's farm.

E. said...

I like Shandra's suggestion: TH reminds her what he actually said (which apparently he's already done, resending the email, but this seems like a person who could benefit from repeated simple messages), then tells her you'd be happy to have lunch or go to the children's museum or whatever next time they're in the area. You need to stay firm on the no one-on-one, and I'd say the more circumscribed and public the visit, the better. And call her on her shit if she pulls any during the brief visit, if it should actually happen.

No guilt when it comes to crazy, manipulative people. That's my new mantra.

mary said...

I don't think it's your job to figure out how to give Nana what she wants. If she wants to spend time with HB, she should be the one suggesting options to you. Seriously, if she really loves that boy and is distressed that she can't see him, she'll figure out that she CAN see him and make it work. It's not your responsibility to make sure that she figures that out. You and your TH do not need to repeat yourselves over and over again.

Anyway, I say the ball is in her court. No need to suggest anything to her... re-quoting the original email was brilliant.

sara said...

This may not be tremendously helpful, but I had a bad grandma too, and due to financial constrains, we had to be babysat by her several summer vacations.

Well, we pretty much hated it, but it didn't leave any lasting damage, and we knew exactly who was the problem and could laugh about it, including even with my parents, them explaining that family is family, and that they were doing the best they could to keep us from the worst of her.

Seriously - the things she does might be hurtful to him, but he'll eventually realize (sounds like he already does) that she's nuts and it ends up being a good lesson in how to take people like that with a grain of salt. Don't worry about her doing permanent damage to him in one or two visits. It might be a temporary upset, but he's going to side with the loving parents who can help him put it in perspective. At least, that's what we did.

Anonymous said...

I was once engaged to be married and then broke it off for very, very good reasons. My grandmother said that if I didn't go through with it (the marriage) she would disown me. Imagine that. Off course this didn't change my mind about the engagement, but it did change my mind about my grandmother. I think that in some ways this is what you are trying to avoid with HB and Nana - that she have the opportunity to really alienate him (because that is never a good thing, but especially from someone you know is supposed to care about you). If so, then limiting her opportunities to say crazy stuff to him is what you have to do.

Anonymous said...

Wabi's story reminds me of the time when I was 4 or 5 and my Greatgrandmother (who was 70ish and already both senile and the kind of mean/nasty that comes up for some people with senility) and I were alone at Christmas, she looked at me in the frilly dress and necklace with locket that my Mom forced me to wear, and hissed "I only like little girls who wear bracelets."

I wasn't hurt, because she was such a witch all the time that even at that age I really wasn't surprised that she was nasty - but I never warmed up to her at all over the course of my life. I think that my Mom was angry with me for a long time that I didn't love GGM, but what was there to bond with or like there?

The real family problem came with GGM's son, my grandfather, who was a royal jackass (and alcoholic) until his death. My parents NEVER called him on his behavior or demeaning comments and tormenting, so I ended up hating all of them, and my Mom is probably still mad at me for not excusing all of her dad's bad behavior and letting him have his way all the time.

So the moral is - asshat behavior can be overcome, but lack of parental support to the kid is damaging. Just keep that united front for HB's protection and he'll be OK (with you, which is what counts).

Anon Lawyer

Anonymous said...

I always feel for Nana. It's not like she wakes up in the morning PLANNING to alienate people; she's living with a disorder that probably wouldn't respond to treatment even if she sought it.

And I didn't really think she escalated things out of control: she identified a real problem, which is that you're uncomfortable with her having much intimacy with HB. She probably gets it that she's allowed to see him at supervised, public occasions like his birthday party, but, sadly for her, she wants him to really "know" her.

But you and she both know that for her to "know" him (which could reall happen only if she gets him in her clutches) would be harmful to HB.

It's just sad. Sad for TH that he grew up with that manipulative, impulsive, self-centered woman; sad for TH's brother that she damaged him so badly; sad for TH's bio dad that he got entangled with her; sad for HB not to have a Nana; sad for you that you have to deal with her sh*t; and sad for her that she is so unlovable.


Anonymous said...

I don't think this is really about HB at all, I think it's about Nana wanting to manipulate TH, and now that he's got a kid, she can pull the sad grandma act to make him feel guilty.

My kids had two thoroughly toxic grandfathers and one sarcastic grandmother, with whom we strictly limited contact and supervised visits carefully. Those were our parents, we knew the damage they could do if unguarded! Fortunately, their other grandma was fine.

IMHO, the best thing you can do is support TH while he stands up to his mother and continue to guard HB from her. And don't feel guilty about it! It's good for kids to get used to writing thank-you notes, as best they are able although his idea of the photo is very sweet and a grandmother who really cared about the kid and didn't have an agenda would love it.

I think Skype (with supervision) is an excellent idea. And HB sounds bright enough to have the situation explained to him in simple terms. Good luck!

Unknown said...

The real question is what kind of relationship do you want HB to have with his grandmother? If you want to build something there, you need it to be on your terms. Maybe you claim to be going to the half-way point between your houses (even though it's out of your way) and you meet for a meal at a neutral location. If you don't want HB & Nana's relationship to develop further, wait for her to make the next move. If visits become too frequent, don't be available.

My husband has an extremely strained relationship and very little contact with his mother. For reasons that are too complicated to go into here, we never told her about the birth of our daughter (now 17 months old).

It did recently come to our attention that she has known about her grandaughter since I was 7 months pregnant. She has talked to my husband a few times in the past 1.5 years, but never once mentioned anything to him. It sure doesn't seem like she's interested in building a relationship with her. If she initates contact, visits will be limited to a few times/year, supervised, and in a neutral location.

We have no intention of keeping grandma a secret and will tell our daughter about her and our reasoning when the appropriate time comes. For now, we've decided to wait before initiating anything ourselves. We regularly discuss this, because we want to be fair to our daughter, but we also want to protect her. I hope to someday find a balance between the two.

Anonymous said...


I've got a question not related to this post. Oh, I completely identify with your post, I had a Christmas with In-Laws hell, and I'm just as puzzled as to how to move forward in the aftermath. So I am soaking up all the advice here and I've got nothing to offer, except my sympathy.

Do you have any insight into the benefits of running for peri- or pre-menopause? You know, those lovely years between roughly 40 and 50 (varies by person) that lead up to full blown menopause?

sqpeggy said...

I agree with Green above- lots of fun farms without toxic grandparents to enjoy. Is it the farm or Grandma that he wants to have fun with? If he wants to see Grandma, then I'd make the offer to meet somewhere the next time she's in town. Otherwise, look for fun farm adventures elsewhere...

I was also really struck by Anon Lawyers poignant story above about his parents not having his/her back against the toxic relatives: "asshat behavior can be overcome, but lack of parental support to the kid is damaging." I think you already get that. Stand your ground. Proceed with caution.