DEAR CAROLYN: To say I don’t get along with my parents is an understatement.
The only thing they like more than their grandchildren is being in control. Neither of them has any respect for the rules my husband and I set for our household. If I say no, my mom keeps asking, or storms out of the room. When I tell her we don’t give treats before meals, she waits until I leave the room and gives my toddler cookies just minutes before dinner. When my parents are sick and I tell them not to not kiss my kids, I get yelled at. When I remind my parents about my child’s nut allergy, my father tells me I’m overreacting. It feels like any rule I try to set, any direction I try to go in, they’re behind me undoing all my efforts.
My mom makes promises to my toddler like, “You’re going to come stay with us for the summer!” or “We’re going to take you to Disney World!” without ever talking to us to make sure it’s OK — and it’s not.
A few years ago, I noticed a male friend of my mother’s was sharing photos of my child on Facebook without permission — I didn’t even know the man — so I asked my mom to stop posting photos of my child. She recently started posting photos again of both my children, without asking, and I know she still remembers my request because she complained about it several times.
These are just a few examples. We used to get along, when I was younger, because I did everything they told me to without question. But eventually I grew a backbone.
My brother and his family cut my parents off three years ago for similar reasons — constantly giving their unsolicited opinion, going against the way my brother and his wife wanted to raise their kids, and getting extremely offended when called out on their toxic behavior. Rather than try to learn from that, they treat me and my kids however they want as compensation for what they lost.
When one of my sisters tried to approach them, my parents blamed her for the problem, talked about her behind her back, and had little to do with her for over a year. I feel so much anxiety about the situation, because I know my children love them and deserve to have grandparents around, if possible. But I have no idea how to have a positive relationship with people who make me feel so upset all the time and who deny any wrongdoing on their part. What would you do in this situation?
DEAR EXHAUSTED: They minimize your child’s food allergy? The visit is over. You leave, or you ask them to leave. (Sweet holy nuts, what is wrong with these people.)
They yell when you ban germy kisses? Then the visit is over.
They slip your child a predinner cookie? Then the visit is over.
They post photos of your children? They take them down or they receive no more photos of your children.
Your mother says, “We’re going to take you to Disney World!” You say on the spot: “I’m sorry, Poohbear, that’s not true — I don’t know why Grandma said that.”
Why? Because, judging by the pathological behavior you describe, they don’t “like” their grandchildren. If they liked the kids, then they’d care about their well-being, yes? So would people who genuinely cared for the kids do things deliberately to undermine you and your husband? Your parents are actively damaging these kids’ very emotional foundation: the parent-child bond. Wow.
What your kids “deserve” is protection from manipulators and other sick influences.
So you are the New Sheriff, and you take no bull. Zero. Let them either respect your rules, or feel the proverbial butt-thump of the door on their way out. It’s learn or lose.
What your parents apparently do like is the booster effect your kids have on their ego and self-image. They give cookies and over-promise trips and post pictures, why? Not for your kids’ benefits, but for their own, to be seen as Fairy Grandparents.
Don’t be shy about running these possibilities by a skilled family therapist.
You’ll be in your brother’s position — soon — if your parents keep trying to undermine you even as you deny them such opportunities. In the meantime, though, maybe it’s not the worst thing to be in your sister’s position: Tell Mom and Dad explicitly you won’t stand for their disrespect of your and your husband’s authority as parents. Maybe they’ll see fit to reward you, too, with a year’s worth of relative peace.