Grandma Drama

21 Aug

Dear LetterBalm: My husband’s mother is a real piece of work. During our engagement and in the early years of our marriage, she was kind and sweet. I actually regarded her as a second mother. But when we had kids, she changed over time. She wanted no one else to babysit but her and got angry and argumentative when we occasionally hired sitters. (Whenever my husband and I go out, we have to keep the information from her.) She insisted on buying expensive, fussy and too-small clothes for the kids and sulked when they couldn’t wear them. She gave unsafe toys to our daughter and our two boys and quizzed them afterward about whether they played with them. She’s raged in front of them. (“You’re horrible children! You don’t know how to be good!”) My husband confessed that she behaved like this when he was growing up, but he didn’t say anything because he thought she had changed when we got married. She’s gotten so bad with inappropriate and dangerous behavior, that my husband and I don’t trust her with our kids. They’re old enough to be asking questions about their grandmother. What can we tell them?

–Living in Lunacy

Ms. L.B. suggests that the family try to get your mother-in-law to her doctor for a full workup, including a neurological one to rule out physical reasons for her bizarre conduct. She trusts that you and your husband are working out strategies – perhaps with the help of a family counselor – to deflect the damage your controlling mother-in-law is inflicting. Since it looks like she bays at the moon and grows hair on her palms when kids are in her life, it’s safe to assume she has ingrained behaviors that she’ll find difficult to change. If your husband can’t convince mommie dearest to get therapy, there’s not too much more you can do. You and he must decide how much contact you want with her. Concentrate on your kids. You and your husband sit down with them and keep it simple. Obviously, you won’t badmouth Grandma:

Kids, your dad and I know you’ve been pretty upset and concerned about your grandmother. We’ve been worried too. She hasn’t been feeling well for a long time. And, because she’s sick, sometimes she says and does things to you and all of us that aren’t very nice. That doesn’t mean we don’t love her and hope she gets well. But until that happens, we won’t be spending time with her. This is a sad thing, but what you can do is send good thoughts to Grandma and keep her safe in your heart. Is there anything you want to ask us? You know we’ll listen and try to answer all your questions.

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