Naming Game

by admin on September 12, 2013

My MIL and I generally get along very well, but there have been many bumps in the road in the past decade plus of my relationship with her son. There is one instance that really stands out in my mind where I really want to know if there was anything I could have done to handle things better. It happened while I was pregnant for the second time. There are some basic details that you need to know before I begin the story. First, my FIL and MIL are notorious in the family for arriving late to family functions or not going to them at all (birthday parties, holidays, etc) including things hosted by their own children. Second, my MIL and FIL’s relationship with my BIL and his wife is strained and includes a time where neither couple spoke for nearly a year. Third, my MIL is mentally ill (has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, depressive type and is on meds).

We were at my niece’s 5th birthday party. I was 29 weeks pregnant with my son and it had not been an easy pregnancy. My DH and I arrived to the party with our daughter (3), who immediately latched on to her cousin and started playing. I was helping my SIL in the kitchen set up the food and chatting, when my MIL and other BIL arrive (without my FIL). My daughter sees her and comes running to give her a hug and kiss, then goes back to playing.

My MIL walks into the kitchen and starts greeting people. Then she asks how T is doing. I don’t answer her initially. She had started calling my unborn son by my father’s name intermittently about a month or so prior for a reason I’m not entirely sure of. We hadn’t told anyone at the time any of the names we were considering, and that one wasn’t even in the running. Most times when she asked I would answer her and just ignore the whole name thing. This time, I had decided enough was enough, and I was no longer going to let her call him by a name that wasn’t his. We had already had one bleeding scare by this time, and I was very superstitious about the whole thing. She asked again, and I still didn’t answer her question. I did ask her who she was talking about. When she said her grandson, I snapped and told her that wasn’t his name and we would let her now when we had one. Then I left the room before I said something I would really regret.

I know that the tone of voice I used was not the best, but I still can’t get over what happened next. My MIL left. She didn’t say goodbye to anyone (her sons, her granddaughters, etc), just got in her car and drove home. The first we knew she was gone was when my niece (the birthday girl) came in looking for her to say hi. I tell my SIL about the incident, for lack of a better term, and my husband calls his parent’s house. He is informed that my MIL is horribly upset, crying and won’t be coming back to the party and that my FIL might not be coming either. Meanwhile, both granddaughters are asking about their grandparents and I’m trying to apologize to my SIL for causing the whole situation.

In the end my FIL does come, I feel guilty for the rest of the party and my MIL tries to claim the name thing is a cultural tradition. If it is, its one that none of us knew about and something she didn’t do with any of her granddaughters.

Was there anything I could have done better, or can I just chalk the whole situation up to my MIL’s illness? 0906-13

I think you overreacted and handed your MIL an opportunity to play drama queen on a silver platter.   Ehell is all about using good manners and civility to not only control yourself but take command of any situation in a calm, assertive way so as to defuse the boors and dramatists as much as possible.      Personally I would have played the “dumb card”….as in, “My dad? Oh, he’s doing fine.”   And if MIL insists she is referring to the as yet unborn T Jr., “I don’t know anyone by that name here,” and then beandip.    The problem will resolve itself eventually when the baby is born and you name it something entirely different than “T”.

{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

Miss-E September 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Here’s the weird thing: MIL was calling the baby by the OPs fathers name? So it isn’t like she’s trying to sneak a name in or anything. I had to reread this because I thought she wanted to call be baby by HER (MIL) fathers name…it’s a weird thing to specify but it’s not like she’s trying to pick the kids name or anything. It’s an odd thing to say and an odd thing to get upset over. It doesn’t seem worth the drama.

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Stacey Frith-Smith September 12, 2013 at 4:15 pm

OP-this one is pretty much all you. If you lose your cool then you’ve lost control not only of yourself, but of the situation and its aftermath.

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E September 12, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Wow, quite a stretch to say the the OP “humiliated” the MIL. From the story, the conversation went something like this:

“Oh hi, OP, how’s little T doing?”
“Who are you talking about?”
“My grandson!”
“That’s not his name, but we’ll let you know when we pick one.”

Even if said in an annoyed tone, I would hardly call it humiliating nor even rude.

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RC September 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I agree with Kendra; MILs mental illness had no bearing on the story, and I think that OP acted poorly at a family event and owes MIL and SIL/niece apologies.

In saying that, I also agree that we cannot be Miss Manners all the time and I can understand being hormonal and stressed and reacting unexpectedly during a pregnancy. That’s where apologies are great :)

OP, I hope all is well with your family now and that your boy is healthy and happy.

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Ergala September 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I have bipolar and let me just say that I can be quite over sensitive. HOWEVER I have learned through consequences that I absolutely should NOT do stuff like the MIL did. The first time I did it people ignored it. Second time I did it I was spoken to later on that if I did it again all invitations would cease to future events. I feel bad for the OP because it sounds like this has happened numerous times. And since she has told the MIL (at least from what I read from her post) that the baby will not be named that and the MIL persisted in referring to him like that, I don’t blame her for firmly telling her to cut it out. Was the it the right place? Probably not. But she was blunt and to the point.

I would hate to think people are giving me a “pass” when I am rude simply because I have bipolar disorder. I’m not stupid or incapable of understanding it when someone tells me I’m being inappropriate. If you tell me “I really don’t like it when you call my child XYZ nickname. Do not do it again please” I won’t do it again. If I do it again I fully expect you to be a lot firmer in your request that I not call your child that.

When I was pregnant with my youngest we were still deciding on a name up until a few weeks before he was born. I was informed that he was going to be referred to by a nickname I didn’t like if we chose the name we really wanted. Not because I didn’t like it but because that is what they wanted to call him. The first time it happened I corrected them. Second time I corrected them firmer. Third time I said “Don’t call him that. His name is Samuel. Not Samwise (not the real name)”.

Op if your father passed away unexpectedly I can understand your feelings even more. I have an older sister who was named after my grandmother. My sister sadly died at birth the year before I was born. My grandmother absolutely refused to let any other family members name their daughters after her. She thought it brought bad luck because my sister had died. My first name is my grandmother’s middle name but I was never referred by that name. The name my family calls me isn’t even close to my first name. Kind of hard to explain to people when they hear it. My husband’s side refers to me by a shortened version of my first name and I like it. It’s my name, I want to use it. I understand the feelings behind it but it’s still MY name. And it’s a name I love. It’s classic and timeless and I am proud to have it as my label.

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Jenn50 September 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm

I won’t crucify you here, OP, because my FIL likes to needle people by calling them names he knows irritate them, which he thinks is all in good fun, but in fact, is nearly universally insulting and aggravating. To someone who hasn’t experienced the endless battering ram of someone constantly twitting you, it isn’t obvious how irksome it can be. I will say that I think you overreacted, and a couple of apologies are owed from you. One to your SIL for turning her daughter’s birthday party into a battleground, and the other to your MIL for snapping. I’d visit her, maybe with a small bouquet and say, “I’m sorry for snapping at you at neice’s party. I wanted to explain to you that in my family, we don’t traditionally use the grandfather’s name, and we are superstitious that naming a child before it’s born invites harm to the child and their namesake. I’m sorry I was so sharp with you, though. I overreacted, and I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” While she was wrong to usurp your naming prerogative, it is most charitable (and peacekeeping) to assume that she didn’t mean any harm. Hopefully, your apology will help her to understand why you were so upset and stop her from repeating the offence.

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hakayama September 12, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Dear OP: There are many wonderfully well intentioned comments from people that just don’t seem to “get” that MIL did not need YOUR specific reaction to her BS in order to blow up. In all likelihood MIL would have found some other trivial non-event to make the day all about her.
Why would I be willing to bet on that? Simply because she and the prince consort (FIL) were late to the festivities. And I’ll continue to show my propensity to games of chance by stating that it is something quite customary of those two. Probably mainly because of MIL.
Chronic lateness is supposed to signal all kinds of “stuff”, in this case a total disregard for others, their time, their feelings.
Please, OP, do not even try to “talk things out” with that wench. There is nothing but more grief to come from any attempt at rational discussions with an irrational individual. Good luck.

P.S.: My own in laws were great. However, I’ve met characters like MIL throughout the years, and I’ve learned to minimize contact with them as soon as I get their “number”. Also it’s important to never be alone with such individuals.

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ImpossibleGirl September 12, 2013 at 7:52 pm

I don’t have a single problem with what you did, OP. I’ve got a problem with you and others here who are making something out of the fact that she has bipolar. First, she’s not “mentally ill”, she has a “mental illness”; it’s not who she is, it’s something she has. And speaking as someone with depressive and anxiety issues, pretty severe ones at times, not everything I do is about my depression or anxiety. I am who I am, and my depression is part of that, but most of the time how I behave is because of a whole bunch of things: how I was brought up, what my natural personality is, what kind of stress I’m under at the time, etc. There’s nothing about bipolar illness which makes someone manipulative, condescending and overly dramatic – from what I hear, that’s more of a hallmark of being a mother-in-law. Blaming a medical condition, which millions of perfectly lovely people have, for being a nasty person? Now that’s worth a ticket to E-Hell.

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Cat September 12, 2013 at 9:07 pm

A friend of mine says to be careful what you call an unborn child. Her son arrived much later than his supposed due date so she and her husband got to calling him, “Roger the Lodger”. They became so accustomed to thinking of him as “Roger” that they named him Roger.

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Sarah September 12, 2013 at 10:29 pm

You behaved poorly, OP, but your MIL overreacted.

I may be more willing to give you a pass since I’m in the middle of a difficult pregnancy myself. It’s hard for outsiders to imagine the stress of the constant fear for your health and the life of your child. It’s not an excuse for poor behavior, but it does cause an incredible amount of stress.

My MIL tends to overreact as well, even to mild corrections like, “that won’t be the name” in a polite voice and without anyone around. That sometimes means dh and I bite our tongues about mild annoyances to avoid drama and to save energy for te fights we care about (like boundaries).

There are times those irritations can build and if you’re caught at a bad time I could see slipping. It’s not okay, but somewhat understandable.

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hakayama September 12, 2013 at 10:43 pm

P.S. @Kendra: Would you please consider re-reading OP’s text? CAREFULLY, this time? Your own “stage directions” don’t quite jive with the words most of us have read…

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Another Sarah September 13, 2013 at 4:22 am

@Hakayama

“Why would I be willing to bet on that? Simply because she and the prince consort (FIL) were late to the festivities. And I’ll continue to show my propensity to games of chance by stating that it is something quite customary of those two. Probably mainly because of MIL.”

“First, my FIL and MIL are notorious in the family for arriving late to family functions or not going to them at all (birthday parties, holidays, etc) including things hosted by their own children.”

Might I suggest that before you condescend to others about how carefully they read the post you do so yourself?

PS. I’m taking the “charitable” assumption here that you did just miss that part of the post rather than sneakily try to stack the deck by trying to bolster your own opinion with a little extra detail that OP has supplied.

Incidentally if MIL’s mental illness is no excuse for MIL’s bad behaviour, then OP’s hormones are no excuse for hers – and OP herself admits her reaction was first ignoring, then snapping at her MIL and storming out.
Could she have done something better? You bet she could. She could have politely nipped this in the bud at an earlier occasion before it built up in her mind, she could have reacted rationally and told MIL in a polite tone rather than ignoring it to build her own anger, she could have pulled MIL aside later on rather than having an attack be the first words out of her mouth to MIL when she walks in the door.
Whether MIL would have found something else to carry on about is not OP’s problem. Her own behaviour is, and it was appalling.

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sv September 13, 2013 at 6:38 am

It’s quite possible that, rather than trying to irritate you, MIL was simply trying to bond with you and the baby and chose using your father’s name as the way to do that. I understand the impulse not to name the child until it is born – in my neck of the woods, it is not uncommon for parents to keep the name private until the baby is born, for various reasons – but I think choosing your niece’s birthday party to confront her about it was inappropriate. I get the fact that hormones play a huge part in this (during pregnancy, I once sobbed because my husband made rice rather than pasta for supper) but whether you meant to or not you humiliated your mother in law at a family gathering. Imagine how you would have felt in the same situation? I think you should have either made light of it or ignored it altogether. Personally, I would have simply said, ” There’s no way we’re calling the baby T. We’ll let you know when we pick a name! ” Smile. Beandip.

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metallicafan September 13, 2013 at 9:10 am

I would be very interested to know what the OPs husbands reaction was to all this.

In the original post, the OP stated that her MIL had started calling the unborn baby T intermittently over the last month. Unless she sees her MIL every single day, how many times would she have heard her MIL say it? 3, 4, 5 times even? Irritating, I’m sure it was. But I’m not seeing how that was worth snapping at her MIL at a family function. Wrong time and place.
I do think that the MIL should not have just ran out without a word to anyone either.

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NV September 13, 2013 at 10:11 am

OP, from the sounds of things, your MIL was having a bad day and that was just the one thing that topped it all- that, or she was looking for a fight. You did nothing wrong here, and I can understand why you were so annoyed at her. No, you can’t chalk it up to her illness because there are all kinds of reasons why she acted the way she did that have nothing to do with that. Occasionally people overreact to the smallest things, so don’t let her reaction guilt-trip you. You really don’t need the stress. If it gets brought up again, I’d suggest apologising for your tone, but not for what you said. T is not your child’s name, and she had no right to presume to know what your child’s name would be. If she tries to explain it as a cultural tradition, then bring up the fact that this was never seen before with her other grandchildren. But above all, don’t let anyone guilt-trip you. This really isn’t an incident to spark a feud over, but with the right words in the right place, it might end up as one. Family fights have gone for years and involved dozens of people over incidents that amount to ‘he said, she said’- don’t let this be one of them. Good luck.

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Abby September 13, 2013 at 10:25 am

@E-

“Wow, quite a stretch to say the the OP “humiliated” the MIL. ”

I think it comes down to tone. Some people, with or without bipolar issues, are just deeply sensitive and being told something in a snappy tone, particularly in front of people, would be hurtful. It’s not worth crucifying the OP over, but snapping at someone is generally not advised. The MIL may have been purposely trying to annoy the OP. She may have genuinely believed, for whatever reason, that the baby’s name was what she said it was. Or she may have just taken it upon herself to nickname the unborn baby and that’s how she refers to him and sees it as harmless.

We are all guilty of snapping at some point. But the OP asked how she could have handled it better, and I think a lot of posters are saying, just accept it as an annoying trait of MIL’s and try and keep your tone pleasant. If the MIL referring to your baby by name, accurate or inaccurate, is really upsetting you and causing stress during an already difficult pregnancy, talk to her privately, or better yet, have your husband talk to his mother about how referring to the baby by name freaks you out.

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violinp September 13, 2013 at 10:42 am

It’d be nice if we could all keep our temper forever when someone irritates us. However, we’re human and mess up. The OP deserves one smack with a wet noodle compared to the MiL, who was deliberately trying to cause a commotion and tick off her DiL.

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Enna September 13, 2013 at 11:06 am

Hmm – whilst bipolar and pregnanacy do not excuse bad behaviour I can imagine at times they are both conditions that those who have the respetive conditions have “off days”. I think maybe OP if it annoyed you so much you should next time nip it in the bud and say straight off “that’s not the name”. So long as you did not swear or shout at your MIL she shoud’ve just got on with things.

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Lisa September 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm

One thing I’ve noticed here is that OP doesn’t mention whether her father is still living or not.

What if her father is deceased and MIL is calling the baby by her late father’s name? I could see where that could be very bothersome. Just something to think about.

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Tracy September 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Miss-E said: “MIL was calling the baby by the OPs fathers name? So it isn’t like she’s trying to sneak a name in or anything. I had to reread this because I thought she wanted to call be baby by HER (MIL) fathers name…it’s a weird thing to specify but it’s not like she’s trying to pick the kids name or anything.”

I don’t understand. It IS, exactly, like she’s trying to pick the kid’s name. The fact that it’s a name from the OP’s family and not the MIL’s family doesn’t make it any less pushy.

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hakayama September 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm

@Another Sarah,
No condescension was intended. Nor “stacking” either. Liking of real games of chance is just an expression that seemed to fit here. I’ve been “cured” of gambling at the age of NINE. :-O
Thank you for catching the missing element: …[quite customary of those two] in all kinds of events.
Would you like to co-write the “Great American Novel” with me? ;-) We could do a wonderful job of editing each other’s lines. Peace?

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Jays September 14, 2013 at 9:26 am

I agree with others that the OP overreacted, but I’ve also been there with a difficult pregnancy, complete with bleeding scares and other issues. I remember hanging on by tooth-and-nail to my smile and my calm, and many people around me probably thought I was just fine, thank you.

I wasn’t.

Add to that boiling pit of stress just under the surface even something relatively minor … calling the baby by a random name, especially when you have feelings, superstitious or otherwise, about it … and, yeah, I see why you reacted the way you did. Was it right? No, but you’re human. And it sounds like MIL overreacted too. (And she certainly shouldn’t have been walking around calling the baby by a name that you hadn’t approved!) I hope all is well with you.

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ALM September 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I think the OP and the MIL behaved equally badly.

On the one hand, we have the OP with her difficult pregnancy which limits her patience and ‘superstition’ that she feels should be catered to. On the other hand, we have the MIL, with a diagnosed mental illness who is apparently accustomed to having that catered to. And the two of you are playing battle of wills dominance games with each other.

We can either take both the pregnancy hormones and the bi-polar disorder as states of compromised mental capacity and accept both of your behaviors as beyond your control and not hold you accountable to adult standards of social behavior. Or we can accept that both of you currently have mental challenges that not everyone is experiencing right now, and give you a bit of leeway and understanding when you take responsibility for your actions and behaviors. The former means that you would continue to act like squabbling children or self-centered teenagers and expect the world to bend to your every emotional state or whim (the OP by expecting MIL to respond positively to her pent up frustration when she made a scene, the MIL by having her family stop the party and beg her to return when she left), while the latter means you would BOTH own up to your obnoxious behavior and APOLOGIZE to both your SIL and your niece for your role in it.

A reason behind bad behavior (hormones/mental illness) is not an excuse for bad behavior. Each badly behaving party needs to decide on their own if they are going to be a grown up or if they are going to keep acting like a child.

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Another Sarah September 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

@hakayama: peace indeed apologies for being sharp

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Jenn50 September 16, 2013 at 8:56 am

ALM, I don’t think it’s “catering” to a superstition to expect that others not try to impose a name on your unborn child, even if that’s the reason for your objection.

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acr September 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

I’m really surprised at the responses the OP is getting. OP may not have reacted with perfect aplomb, but for the MiL to get up and leave with no goodbyes is such a HUGE over-reaction. So the OP spoke sharply to MiL. It happens. If MiL cannot ever handle being spoken to sharply for any reason whatsoever, that is MiL’s problem to sort out. It is not on OP to constantly make sure her tone is syrup sweet.

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pbird September 17, 2013 at 2:58 am

What in Heaven’s name do you people mean by “beandip”?

I don’t think OP humiliated the old biddy at all. Old biddy was looking for excitement. Count on it.

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Another Sarah September 17, 2013 at 3:58 am

Acr: I do agree with everything you’re saying but so, I think, do most of the commenters. What doesn’t sit well with me is the OP’s description of her own behaviour followed by her final line

“Was there anything I could have done better, or can I just chalk the whole situation up to my MIL’s illness?”
MIL’s reaction WAS over the top, but there is no doubt in my mind that OP created this situation. What is worse, she appears to be completely unaware of this.

“This time, I had decided enough was enough, and I was no longer going to let her call him by a name that wasn’t his.”
OP was clearly intending to create a scene. The only thing that backfired was how big a scene it became.

“She asked again, and I still didn’t answer her question. I did ask her who she was talking about. When she said her grandson, I snapped and told her that wasn’t his name and we would let her now when we had one. Then I left the room before I said something I would really regret.

I know that the tone of voice I used was not the best,”

MIL walks in to a party, asks her DIL how her grandson is doing, DIL ignores MIL twice, then turns round and shouts at her that she’s using the wrong name and storms out.

I actually have nothing but sympathy for the MIL. If anyone deserves a pass for overreacting it’s her, not her DIL, who then apparently “chalks the whole thing up to MIL’s illness”, blithely ignoring her own childish temper tantrum.

As I said to hakayama above, MIL’s behaviour is largely irrelevant here. Maybe MIL is a drama queen, maybe she was having an off day with her illness.
It doesn’t matter because OP cannot control her MIL but she can control herself. That doesn’t mean she has to be syrupy sweet at all times but it does mean that when she is annoyed about something she deals with it like an adult, and that includes owning the consequences of her actions when she chooses to scream and shout.

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Samantha September 17, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Sounds like my mom’s mom…

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