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Naming Game

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… add one }
  • Kate September 12, 2013, 5:45 am

    OP, my father has bipolar disorder, and you can spend a lifetime trying to figure out why such and such set them off this time but not the last time, and why such and such is a okay this time but last week cause a three-day depression.If you choose to have this person in your life you have to accept that some of the things they do and say make absolutely no sense to you, and never will. They most likely don’t make sense to them either, or at least not in a way that we would understand. It is a chemical imbalance that will never be cured, and can only be helped with medication. Believe me, if your MIL is on her meds most of the time, you’re doing better than a lot of other families. And congrats on your new little bundle!

  • HollyAnn September 12, 2013, 6:21 am

    This seems like a situation where speaking up at the right time would have made a big difference. Did you ever ask your MIL prior to the party why she was using that name? When she told you, you could have said, “Oh, I didn’t know about that tradition, but we’re probably not going to use that name. We’re considering other names and we’ll let you know when we decide.” If you did tell her that previously and she insisted on continuing to use the name, I can see why it was irritating you.

    But it sounds like your approach was to not respond and ignore the use of the name. That created a situation where you got more and more annoyed and when people bottle up their annoyance, they snap! That being said, you probably couldn’t have predicted that her reaction to your snap would be so extreme. I would chalk this up to a learning experience – if something is bothering you, get it out in the open and don’t let it fester.

  • Mary September 12, 2013, 6:37 am

    Kate is absolutely right about a bipolar person. Even when they are on their meds you never know what will set off depression. My husband is bipolar and I still can’t predict his moods even after being together almost twenty years.

    However I really don’t think the OP did anything wrong. The comment you made was not rude. The only thing questionable was how long you ignored her. But I think it helped make it more clear that you weren’t giving in to her game.

  • Dominic September 12, 2013, 6:46 am

    You are not required to “play along” if your MIL wants to pre-name the baby, for whatever reason. It might have been better to explain that you had not picked a name yet and make it clear that that is your prerogative, rather than ignoring it and then finally snapping. It should not have gone on for a month before it finally came to a head, and having it happen at the party was, as Admin pointed out, just giving MIL an opportunity to make it all about her.

  • Kirsten September 12, 2013, 6:52 am

    I’m sorry, but my sympathies here are with the SIL. The MIL was just…annoying. I don’t see why this would annoy you so very much, but even once it did, couldn’t you have just held off one more time, instead of snapping at her in front of everyone, at someone else’s event? Couldn’t you have spoken to her alone? Or spoken to her in the kitchen calmly? You say you ‘decided’ to do this – why on earth would you decide to create awkwardness at a party?

    MIL is now hugely humiliated, other people are probably embarrassed, SIL is left having to explain to her children why Grandma left the party.

    You ask ‘can I chalk the whole thing up to my MIL’s illness’, to which I would say no, you can’t. Many people would be really upset to have someone snap at them in front of their relations, mentally ill or not. She was rude but so were you. Please don’t just leap to the conclusion that because someone has a mental illness, it explains everything they do.

  • Abby September 12, 2013, 7:15 am

    It’s not unforgivable or anything, OP, but since you did ask how you could handle it better, I think when she first started asking about how T was, you could have immediately said T? and looked at her questioningly. When she said, you know, your baby, I’d say, oh we haven’t picked a name yet, but we know we aren’t going with T. And granted, you may have to do this every.single.time which I know gets tedious, but isn’t it better than how the situation turned out?

  • Amber September 12, 2013, 7:46 am

    I feel this whole situation was blown out of proportion by OP. I have no idea why MIL referring to an unborn child by a stand-in name drove the OP up the wall so much that she snapped. People use stand-ins all the time, and if the OP never informed MIL of the baby’s natal nickname, I’m not surprised she just started calling it something. This doesn’t mean MIL was trying to name the kid!

    Due to the way OP confronted her MIL (really, OP had to stand her ground in an angry fashion at her niece’s birthday party?), and the way a stand-in name drove her to such anger, I wonder if it isn’t OP who’s the real drama queen. And I think I’d also leave if a family member upset me by insulting me out of the blue.

  • KS September 12, 2013, 7:49 am

    I’d like to point out, as someone with two in-laws who are bipolar, one of whom could give Machiavelli lessons (I’ve know her 35 years, since our teens), that all rude behavior is not due to the illness. Sure, this woman might go off easily because she is ill, but her being naturally manipulative sounds like a more plausible explanation for her boorish behavior.

  • Lo September 12, 2013, 7:58 am

    Well first off, you do say you are superstitious about it so I can see where that would have made matters tenser for you about the names. It’s a bad situation for all parties involved. MIL is accustomed to being treated tenatively because of her disorder and you are predisposed to be upset about her calling the unborn child a name you don’t want for the child. Names are a highly personal thing. In my family the parents to be are not in the habit of revealing them before the birth which I think is fantastic because it gives no one a chance to criticize.

    You could definitely have handled it better but I can’t blame you for losing your cool. It’s very strange that she’d do this. That being said I would give much more leeway to someone with bipolar disorder over an issue that was bizarre and annoying but not offensive or dangerous.

    It would have been better to just tell her gently, “That’s not the baby’s name.” I mean you could even ignore future attempts to call the baby by that name. It’s hard not to get possessive about the name of the child but her insistance doesn’t change anything about the name you pick.

    Now if she keeps it up once the child is born, then you have a problem. But that’s something you and your husband could address with her together.

  • Tanya September 12, 2013, 8:07 am

    While I agree that perhaps a party wasn’t the best time to take a stand about names (though I don’t think that what the OP did– simply saying that it wasn’t his name and that they would let her know when they had one– was necessarily wrong), I think that this line is important:

    “Most times when she asked I would answer her and just ignore the whole name thing.”

    The OP says “most times,” not “every time,” which to me implies that on at least one previous occasion (possibly more) she has pointed out to her MIL that the baby’s name is not T. I think in that context, when the OP responded first on this occasion by asking who the MIL was talking about (a clear reminder that the baby’s name was not T), the MIL should have backed off and not continued to push. Of course, we don’t know how the MIL actually responded– I would react a lot differently to a genuine apology like “I’m so sorry, I keep forgetting that it’s not his name! I meant my grandson!” than a snotty “I was referring to my grandson, OF COURSE!”

    So in answer to the OP’s question, I think that while her original reaction wasn’t necessarily rude, she could’ve handled the situation better by nonchalantly responding, “Oh, no wonder I didn’t know who you were talking about! Like I’ve said before, MIL, we’re not naming him T.” It’s all in the tone, I suppose. I can understand other family members not really paying attention to the conversation and only noticing that the OP snapped at her MIL, who reacted badly– if the OP had responded in a pleasant tone of voice (even with the original words), then no one could have blamed the OP for simply clarifying a misunderstanding.

  • Susan September 12, 2013, 8:10 am

    Honestly, I think the OP is totally in the wrong here. Why should it matter? Among my family and friends, we have used a host of names for unnamed infants, usually something ridiculous. Even if you did wish her to stop, just ask her. Don’t publicly humiliate her. She knows she has a problem and is probably sensitive about it. She’s probably excited about the coming birth of a grandchild too. But the OP chose to first ignore, then embarrass her in front of friends and family.

  • Lo September 12, 2013, 8:12 am

    OP, I just realized something. Is the superstition one of the baby being called after the name of a living relative? I know that’s common in some Jewish families. If that’s the case I have even more sympathy for you. When one is superstitious that’s some bad mojo to be messing with. If this IS the case then I would have a private talk with your MIL and explain this to her because a lot of people don’t understand this tradition.

  • Callie September 12, 2013, 8:16 am

    We had my son’s name picked out way before he was born — it was to be my dad’s name as his first name, and my FIL’s name as his middle. For the sake of example, let’s use Thomas Joseph, with the baby boy to be called “Tommy.” My FIL (the Joseph part) used to say, “Oh good, I’ll call him TJ!” knowing full well that’s not what we intended to call him. I ignored it at first, but after a few months of this, I was getting thoroughly annoyed, and finally responded “You won’t be able to call him TJ if his middle name isn’t Joseph.” He finally stopped after that! I know he was just kidding around, but I don’t know, there’s just something sacred about your baby’s name. I think many expectant parents feel this way, which is precisely why many of them don’t tell people the name before the baby is born. Who wants to hear the rude comments? “Oh, I HATE that name!” etc.

  • AMC September 12, 2013, 8:32 am

    I’m inclined to give OP a little bit of a break because she was pregnant at the time. (During my own pregnancy, I was more sensitive than usual and had a few regrettable lapses in judgement of my own.) However, because of the MIL’s mental health, I’m inclined to give her a break too. OP overreacted. Simply ignoring MIL’s behavior or beandipping would have been a better choice. As annoying as it might be, MIL did not have any power over the choice of the baby’s name, so what harm was she causing?

  • kate September 12, 2013, 8:36 am

    Yes, you could have handled it better by not snapping. However, your MILs reaction was all on her. Even a cross ‘that is not his name, we will let you know when we had decided on one’ is not an insult. Not polite, no. But not an insult. MIL’s reaction of makeing All About Me and punishing her granddaughters by walking out on what was a birthday party for one of them? Very rude to the guest of honour, to her hosts and just plain mean to two tiny girls she supposedly loves. My daughter is four, and if a grandparent did this, she’d be devastated – and I’d be pretty irritated. Yes, initially sympathetic that you words might have stung, but yeah… Rude to goh, rude to hosts, mean to granddaughters. Not behaviour that I would support. And if it was my parent, not in law, I’d be quite clear that if they expected to continue having a relationship with my daughter, they needed to keep their grown-up panties on.

    As for the bi-polar aspect – my aunt is bi-polar. We grant her much leeway, but not of this kind. She can still be grown up enough to be polite and walking out without a word isn’t polite. So while yes, her mental health is something to take into account, it isn’t a get-out-of-ehell-free card.

  • E September 12, 2013, 8:37 am

    I think the the MIL should be apologizing to the OP. The OP is pregnant and has already had a minor scare. The MIL very presumptuously began calling the unborn child by a name. Since when is it the prerogative of anyone but the parents to be to give the baby a name, even a prenatal “stand-in” name? And I don’t agree that MIL was using a stand-in name. She didn’t choose any old name, like “peanut” or “sweet-pea”, she specifically chose the OP’s father’s name. I would have interpreted that, like the OP, as if she were trying to name the child herself or at least being pushy about her opinions about it. If I were the family, I would worry less about upsetting grandma and worry more about upsetting high-risk pregnancy lady. I think the family did not do well in fussing about the MIL and calling multiple times. She choose to leave after one comment (which wasn’t even really rude, just forceful), so she’s the one who has something to apologize for.

  • PM September 12, 2013, 8:37 am

    I have an in law with a severe personality disorder, somewhat similar to bipolar.

    With my inlaw, I learned that when she repeatedly brought up a subject, despite my beandipping, or made assertions of what she “knew” I was going to do, one of two things was happening:

    1) She was afraid of something she thought we were going to do and in her mind, vocalizing those thoughts was a “warding off” gesture and a way to get reassurance from us. For instance, she was afraid that we would allow her access to our unborn baby. She was right, to an extent. We would not leave her unattended with the baby due to various safety issues, both related and unrelated to her disorder. But that didn’t mean she would NEVER be allowed to see the baby.

    Due to her disorder, she sees things as very black and white. She wasn’t going to get the kind of relationship she wanted with the baby (unrestricted access, constant contact, feeling as if she was co-parenting with us) therefore she was going to have “no” relationship with the baby. So throughout the pregnancy, she repeatedly stated, “Well, I’m not going to have any sort of relationship with this baby, I might as well not even call myself, “Aunt X.”

    And so we would have to reassure her that yes, she was going to have a relationship with the baby.


    2) She wanted me to do something, and the repeated statements were her way of “subtly” persuading us into doing what she wanted. For instance, when she wasn’t stating that she would have no relationship with our baby, she would make statements about what would happen “when” she took the baby on trips and “when” she kept baby overnight.

    She wanted our assurances that we were going to allow her to do this, which we did not give her. Because it would be cruel to set her up for that level of disappointment.

    Eventually, we learned to say things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way” to the “never going to have a relationship with the baby” statements or “That will not be possible” to her plans of overnight trips with our infant.

    Yes, OP responded inappropriately and snapped at MIL. But she has my sympathy. Between the fixations, super-inappropriate/intrusive questions, the public meltdowns, and blatant boundary violations, dealing with my inlaw is exhausting. OP was also pregnant, hormonal, feeling picked on and in a family gathering situation, which can be stressful.

    It’s a no win situation but no one is perfect. Yes, in an ideal world, everyone would have limitless patience and kindness in dealing with the mentally ill. But we’re human, and annoying, upsetting behavior from a mentally ill person is no less annoying or upsetting just because it happens to come from a mentally ill person. OP should do her best to make amends, forgive herself for making a mistake and try to move on.

  • just4kicks September 12, 2013, 8:40 am

    We have three boys and two daughters. With every announcement we were expecting a boy, my MIL would start badgering me to name him after my husband. I would have done so gladly, and wanted to, except my husband HATES his name and always has. I would brush her off gently and say, “oh yes, that name is in the running!” Until one day, very tired and cranky and very pregnant with our third son, she started in with the name game. I held my cool until she very meanly spat at me “WELL! You were considerate enough to give (first son) YOUR FATHER’S name as his middle name!!!! How do you think that makes MY son feel?!?” I lost my temper and said (DH) HATES his name, and refuses to name ANY of his kids that name. She was furious, called me a liar and other hateful things until I silently picked up the phone dialed my husband’s office and said, “your mom is here and wants to talk to you.” I handed her the phone and waddled into the kitchen to make some tea. After a few minutes of talking to my husband, she gathered her things and left the house without so much as a goodbye. Not a minute later, my hubby rang back and the first words out of his mouth were, “What in the HELL was that all about!?!”. Of course, I still got blamed, even after my husband told her repeatedly he didn’t want to name his child after himself!!!!

  • kjr September 12, 2013, 8:40 am

    As annoying as it is, that was not the time or place to finally confront your MIL about this name thing. If you had the strength to ignore it before, it would’ve been in your best interest to do it in this scenario of all places. It created drama at a 5 year old’s birthday party which caused her grandmother to leave – the birthday girl should have come number one here. Although you are not to blame at all for not appreciating your MIL trying to name your unborn child, there is just a time and place for everything.

  • Mae September 12, 2013, 8:45 am

    OP, you overreacted. You let your annoyance get the best of you (we all have at some time) and put a damper on your niece’s birthday party.

    If MIL calling the baby “T” bothered you so much, it should have been brought up earlier and/or most definitely at another time or place.

    Best of luck in dealing with your MIL in the future.

  • MrsL September 12, 2013, 8:48 am

    OP congratulations on your little one 🙂 I too think that the situation could have been better handled. Being ignored and then snapped at would rattle and upset most people and someone with bipolar disorder will most likely be very sensitive to this. Mental illness is very common in my family and my husband has a severe form of it. You do not need to walk on proverbial eggshells around people with this condition but you do need to be sensitive to the fact that they can get upset easily if they are having an off day. Mental diseases are just like physical ones in that they do require a little additional patience at times. If you haven’t done so already, I very strongly encourage you to have an open talk with your MIl about her condition and do some reading up on it. It’s a hard disease to live with but there are so many little things that can make it easier.

  • Wild Irish Rose September 12, 2013, 8:49 am

    I have to think that if my MIL had done this, I would just have answered her and ignored the whole “T” thing at its most basic level–meaning MIL can call the unborn baby whatever she wants to, but in the end I’m picking the name and once the baby is born, MIL will just have to get used to whatever name I picked out. OP handled the whole thing badly, in my opinion, and she owes her MIL an apology for snapping at her in front of people. Calling you out for that, OP–there’s never a reason for it if it can be at all avoided. I have actually been known to tell my BOSS that I won’t tolerate being berated, yelled at, criticized, etc. with an audience.

    As for MIL’s being bipolar, I think that is irrelevant here. Lots of people call an unborn baby by whatever name they think up. My uncle called my unborn cousin by a name that my aunt despised, but Aunt never lost her cool about it, and of course once the baby was born, that name was totally forgotten. It’s petty and trivial, and once again, OP, I think you owe your MIL an apology. Oh, and your SIL and anyone involved in that party who was puzzled or upset by MIL’s leaving.

  • Cat September 12, 2013, 8:52 am

    I am willing to cut you some slack here. You were well into your somewhat difficult pregnancy, your hormones were probably surging, you were at a birthday party for a young child, and you snapped. We cannot all be Miss Manners all of the time.
    Your MIL may be hypersensitive as well as her other difficulties. I have a half-sister who is bi-polar and she went through a period of demanding that I send birthday emails to people whom she knew, but who were total strangers to me. She was upset that I felt that would put me in a very awkward situation and refused to do it.
    I always suggest a sense of humor: “Oh,you mean little Harry Potter/Elvis/George John Ringo Paul.” Just pick one and smile.

  • gramma dishes September 12, 2013, 9:02 am

    OP ~~ You said she is calling the baby by your father’s name. Is your father (T) still living? If he is, do you have a good relationship with him? Because those things would make a huge difference in how I would have felt about her using his name for my unborn child.

  • Joy September 12, 2013, 9:07 am

    KS- I completely agree. Bipolar issues are difficult, no question, but there are times that rudeness is just that, rudeness. I have contact with a SIL with bipolar, who has been catered to due to her illness. No responsibility for her own life or for her two children, no expectations of civil behavior. It Gets Old.

  • JesBelle September 12, 2013, 9:16 am

    The problem will resolve itself eventually when the baby is born and you name it something entirely different than “T”.

    Or not. My mom called both my son and niece by names she liked rather than the ones they were given.

  • Elizabeth September 12, 2013, 9:22 am

    The problem (and problem behavior) needs to be owned by MIL. I have deep experience with a family member of this type; you can’t feed them any power. MIL behaved like a brat and stomped out. This is MIL’s bad behavior and illness or not, it is still her responsibility. She was baiting you. Yes, you took the bait (you fed her power!) but it doesn’t rationalize, or legitimze, her exit. Please don’t feel guilty because it isn’t your fault. The history of no-shows suggests her impulsiveness is a regular pattern of behavior – her choice but not your responsiblity.

  • Alex September 12, 2013, 9:34 am

    OP, while maybe you shouldn’t have snapped, you were 29 weeks pregnant and probably very emotional. And by the nature of some bipolar people anything can set them off and you really have no idea what is going to do it.

    To those of you who are saying the OP should have let a stand in name go, she doesn’t want the name and may have been nervous giving her baby a name already. I know some people do not name babies until they are born just to be on the safe side, not knowing the circumstances I don’t blame her for not wanting her baby to be called a name, any name. It was almost as if the MIL was trying to take control for the baby boy by giving him a name she choose.

  • Angel September 12, 2013, 9:44 am

    First off you know that your MIL is mentally ill. Would it have killed you to just say “fine thanks” and walk away? I understand you are superstitious but still, you are dealing with a mentally ill person. She probably thinks she is just making conversation and no real harm is done. Just think in your mind that she is asking about your dad and leave it at that.

    IMO you made a mountain out of molehill and made an already tense situation even worse. If you keep reminding yourself about your MIL’s illness and that she probably doesn’t mean any harm, it will make ignoring the comments easier.

  • SPuck September 12, 2013, 9:49 am

    I really can’t see where the OP is at fault in this story. The MIL wasn’t responding to her non-verbal cues, and the poster might have ben abrupt but *she* wasn’t over the top or particularly rude. It isn’t fair for anyone else to be beholden to another person’s potential over reactions to social situations, even if that person has a disorder. I have Asperger’s situation, and I can’t stand to be situation where there is loud music and people are expected to socialize. I decline events where I know this will happen, and don’t get mad when other people hold them or get mad. What I am saying is that despite by deficiencies it is my job to adjust myself to the social setting, not for the social setting to adjust to me.

  • Alexis September 12, 2013, 10:05 am

    Pardon my ignorance because I don’t have any children but I don’t understand why your mother-in-law doing this was such a big deal, OP. I get snapping while being super hormonal–been there!–but it seems like you still stand by what you did so I’m guessing temporary hormonal mood swings can’t be blamed. Our families can do things that are marginally irritating and rude all the time but isn’t it much easier to just let it go, especially something so insignificant?

  • Library Diva September 12, 2013, 10:08 am

    I don’t think you should chalk this up to your MIL’s illness. Maybe she overreacted, but so did you. The ideal thing to have done would be to talk to her privately once you’d established that this name wasn’t a one-off and tell her how it made you feel when she called the unborn child by a name that you didn’t intend to give him. In the moment, what you could have done is just as admin suggested, respond with “My dad’s fine,” and then when she elaborated that she meant the grandbaby, respond by telling her, “Well, we’re probably not calling him that, but he’s doing great. DH and I have been calling him Peanut until we settle on a name.” And then have the conversation about your feelings about this name later on.

    But it’s not too late to have this conversation with your MIL (unless this story is quite old and the Peanut just had his first day of kindergarten). Call her up, tell her how sorry you are for snapping at her and hurting her feelings, then explain why you did it, how the name thing makes you supremely uncomfortable, etc. You say that you’ve had a good relationship overall, so I’m sure you’ll be forgiven and your feelings respected going forward.

  • Mary September 12, 2013, 10:23 am

    I did not mention in my above comment that I have a feeling that the MIL is probably being passive aggressive in her giving the baby the name of her choosing. Illness aside, I have a feeling that MIL is a drama queen and a control freak based on the behavior she has demonstrated.

  • BMS September 12, 2013, 10:24 am

    My BIL is bipolar, has OCD, is basically housebound because of his mental issues. One Thanksgiving at my in-laws house when my son was a toddler, his dad and Grandad were down in the basement of the house doing something. My son asked what was down there, so I took his hand and we started walking down the stairs. BIL instantly got concerned and said, “I really don’t think he should be down there because it’s dusty and there might have been mold down there once and…” He then proceeded to run off a list of really paranoid reasons why a toddler holding his mom’s hand couldn’t go down into a perfectly ordinary basement (i.e. no power tools, chemicals, bugs, rats. Just an old ping pong table and boxes of memorabilia). I cut him off with, “Relax, I’ve got him, he’ll be fine” in what I thought was a friendly tone. BIL got offended by this comment, went to his room, and refused to come out for the rest of the day, missing the meal in the process. When asked if he was joining us for dinner he told his mother that “Someone said something upsetting to me and I’d rather not come out.”

    If I had said that to anyone else, they wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But this is just one instance of me saying something that I thought was innocuous to him and having him flip out. Some folks’ brains react differently and unpredictably. I could tell a story in his presence that others thought was humorous 50 times over, but he will find it offensive. I finally decided it was less rude to ignore him and speak to him as little as possible than to speak to him and offend him every time I opened my mouth. There’s just no etiquette manual for dealing with the irrational sometimes.

  • Ann September 12, 2013, 10:26 am

    My husband, his family, and I had fun during all three pregnancies making up ridiculous names for the baby and it was all in fun. Everyone knew, or I thought they knew, that Michigan J. Frog was not in the running!

    I can see how the OP’s MIL calling the baby by OP’s father’s name could be odd and irritating, but have to agree with Admin-OP overreacted. I know there’s stress around family things, and pregnancy; then add the name thing and a difficult pregnancy and I can understand why it happened. It would have been better to respond with “That’s not the baby’s name”, as Lo suggested, but maybe this is a lesson not to bottle things up until there’s an explosion.

  • Kovi September 12, 2013, 10:32 am

    I don’t think the OP did anything wrong. If the MIL was determined to make a scene and ‘play the drama queen’, as you said, she was going to find a way to do so, regardless on how sweet a tone the OP might have used. As it was, she reached the end of her rope, and snapped a little. I can’t blame her in the slightest bit. Even had she simple played dumb, I don’t see how that would have preempted the MIL from behaving in the exact same manner she already did.

  • Alli September 12, 2013, 10:41 am

    I think the OP needs some slack on this one. I know at 29 weeks pregnant I was a emotional mess. I think the family should have given her at least as much slack as they give the bipolar mother. There may have been something rational OP could have done differently, but that doesn’t mean she COULD have actually done it. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but both women would have had reason to react badly.

    If OP didn’t like the little T comments- the husband should have had a talk with his mom before it escalated.

  • The Elf September 12, 2013, 10:58 am

    I agree this could have been better handled – by both parties. But now that it’s over and done, the best thing is to just put it out of your mind and stop letting it bother you.

    If she continues to use the name after this incident, that’s a different story!

  • Ashley 2 September 12, 2013, 11:33 am

    Personally, playing dumb and bean dipping feels passive aggressive to me. Why not just flat out tell her that you haven’t decided on a name yet and that T isn’t really one of your choices? I think OP and MIL can both forgive each other here.

  • Politrix September 12, 2013, 11:44 am

    I think rather than “chalking it up to MIL’s mental illness,” OP should just chalk it up to her own hormones and to the fact that the pregnancy has not been an easy one. I’d cut both parties some serious slack — neither one was on their best behavior — but I can see why MIL, never having been corrected before, got upset that she was snapped at out of the blue. OP should have made it very clear beforehand that she didn’t want her future son to be referred to as “T,” ever. On the other hand, even the “easiest” pregnancies cause mood swings, hormonal imbalances and general unpredictability, so the OP gets a pass from me. Though I think it wouldn’t hurt to extend an olive branch to MIL and try to explain your POV when calmer heads prevail.
    On a separate note, kudos to the OP for an excellent post — it provided enough background info so nobody needs clarification (so no questions like, “Why did the FIL show up late? How strange” or, “Perhaps MIL has a mental illness, but I don’t want to diagnose,” etc.) — and yet, it didn’t seem bogged down with unnecessary details, either. I wish all posts could be like this one! Well done, OP!

  • Calli Arcale September 12, 2013, 11:55 am

    FYI, for those wondering about the superstition thing, many cultures (including European ones, whose descendents may have carried those traditions into America) consider it bad luck to name a child before it is born. These superstitions developed because of how terrifyingly easy it is for things to go horribly wrong in pregnancy; to some extent, there was the belief that if you didn’t name the child, you wouldn’t attract undue attention from the fair folk or whomever, but more recently there was the sentiment that if you don’t name the baby, you won’t get as attached, so it’s best to wait until the child has been born and is clearly going to survive. Nowadays, of course, infant mortality is much reduced and we know the fair folk aren’t involved, but old customs die hard, often lasting long after the original reason has been forgotten. In this case, though, OP had recently had a reminder of the reason for that old custom.

    I can understand her snapping; when I was pregnant, I was emotional. But I also have to agree that there are better ways to handle it. There are mentally ill people in our family too, and we have to treat them differently than others. It’s challenging, make no mistake, and you always have to ask yourself whether or not you should humor them on a particular thing or correct them or what. There aren’t blanket answers to that; it has to be case-by-case, and you won’t always be right. You mishandled this one, OP, but that will happen. Best thing is to apologize and move on, learning from the experience so that you can handle your MIL better in the future.

  • Dee September 12, 2013, 12:36 pm

    OP never expressed anything to indicate that MIL was irritating her with the usage of the nickname. As such, OP gave MIL clear and tacit approval. Then, out of the blue, OP expressed her ire and insulted MIL with her tone. Now OP wonders why MIL was upset. Who’s the original drama queen here? OP walked out on MIL and SIL first; so, MIL upped the ante and walked out in a more dramatic fashion. That OP was under stress is understandable; how she expected others, such as MIL, to read her mind is not. I would love to know what the SIL thought of all this. As OP says she usually has a great relationship with MIL I can’t understand why she would treat it so frivilously. Bi-polar or not, MIL’s use of the nickname doesn’t seem odd or rude. The OP, however, seems to assume MIL can read her mind. That’s insane.

  • L.J. September 12, 2013, 12:37 pm

    The MIL would have found some excuse to be a drama queen. It’s not your fault; you were just unlucky. She could have decided to be upset by anyone else at that party. It might even have been one of the grandchildren, possibly even the birthday girl, who “set her off.” You mention that your daughter went to hug and kiss MIL immediately but the birthday girl didn’t look for her for some time. If MIL hadn’t already chosen you to be her victim that day, it could easily have been the birthday girl who was scolded and forced to apologize.

  • Challis September 12, 2013, 12:39 pm

    I agree with Kirsten: “You ask ‘can I chalk the whole thing up to my MIL’s illness’, to which I would say no, you can’t.”

    No, you can chalk it up to you losing your cool about a very trivial thing.

    I had sympathy for you until that last line in your post.

  • hakayama September 12, 2013, 1:23 pm

    Am I wrong to think that neither illness, old age or disability should entitle anyone to trample on other people’s rights, space and dignity? But since we live in a less than perfect world, it seems that ENTITLEMENTS are rampant…
    In someone’s definition, the family is a social unit governed by its weakest member. Enter OP’s MIL, the likely coddled one on account of her infirmity, her years and status within the family. She appears exempt of the usual rules of polite behavior, and feels entitled to set her own tone as no one ever objects, or God forbid, calls her out on improprieties.
    So here we have a situation involving said unhinged MIL and a too long-suffering HORMONAL, pregnant young DIL. When DIL dares to say “enough”, she’s the bad guy because she hurt MIL’s feelings…
    And it doesn’t take much to do that. It does not take much to send people of all ages into crying or screaming fits, attacks of hysteria, etc. It can be as scary (super wink 😉 as finding a dead snake on the road, as inconsequential as dropping a container of milk on the kitchen floor or as joyful as getting a much hoped for present.

    Dear OP: Please keep in mind that, even with you being pregnant with MIL’s grandchild, the playing (?) field will never be level. YOU will have to do the “leveling” at every step of the way, perhaps including YOUR sane, logical rules for the birth and baby’s first days/weeks at home.
    Ultimately, you might want to make sure that MIL is never left alone with a defenseless child. Not just yours, but any other.
    Congratulations and best wishes.

  • Elsie September 12, 2013, 2:49 pm

    I feel a lot of people here don’t really know what living with someone with BP disorder is like. I have the great misfortune of knowing two people with this disorder, one who refuses anything is wrong with her and refuses medications (A), and another who (at no fault of her own) has medication but it doesn’t work (B). I could go at length into the hurtful, stressful, dramatic, and awful things they have done to those living with them, but I shall not. Suffice to say, it is not easy, and has led to others more closely tied to A cutting her out of their lives entirely, and a strong desire to do so with B for those closer to her.

    However, OP did overreact. Totally agree with admin on how it should have been handled. I will add that the OP should have never ignored MIL calling the baby by that name. The first time it happened should have been met with ‘polite confusion’ followed by ‘we are not planning on using that name, bean dip?’. If she insists on it and ignores the topic change, I’d simply leave the room. Quietly make it clear this is an issue not up for discussion.
    Was the MIL wrong in her reaction? Yes. Completely. I’m sure everyone will agree with that here. While I do not consider most disorders/age/upbringing/etc a pass on acting poorly (sorry, everyone has an obligation to act as a decent person), everyone involved in OP’s situation should understand that MIL has no control over her behaviour in a way we do not personally understand. Now, don’t walk on eggshells or anything. Seriously, keep your spine. But don’t make it worse. All you can do is respond politely as you would to anyone else – if you do anything short of that, you look like the ‘bad guy’.

  • cdubz September 12, 2013, 2:57 pm

    Totally, 100% with Kirsten here. There were so many better ways to handle it, and better venues than your neice’s birthday party. All she did was walk into a party and start greeting people, and was looking forward to a happy day. However you, knowing how your MIL is, flew off the handle because she dared refer to your unborn baby as “T”. There are much worse things to call an unborn baby. Her being mentally ill had nothing to do with the story, BTW. Anyone would have been extremely upset if they were snapped at that way in front of loved ones.

  • Kendra September 12, 2013, 3:06 pm

    This is a case where I completely disagree with the admin and several of the PPs. Personally, I think you behaved abominably OP. You gave a lot of, irrelevant, background on how difficult your parents-in-law are to excuse your own behavior.

    You even admited ” She had started calling my unborn son by my father’s name intermittently about a month or so prior…Most times when she asked I would answer her and just ignore the whole name thing.” You never spoke up prior to this incident and then blew up at her out of the blue for no reason then stormed out of the room leaving her standing there humiliated in front of her family. I’m sorry you were having a difficult pregnancy and ” had already had one bleeding scare by this time, and I was very superstitious about the whole thing.” How was your MIL to know that you were feeling superstitious about the whole naming thing? Did you ever tell her or were you just expecting her to read your mind?

    And why was the name she was calling your unborn child stick in your craw so much? You said that “We hadn’t told anyone at the time any of the names we were considering” and maybe she got tired of calling it the fetus, or grandchild to be and figured that “T” was a likely candidate and as good a name as any until you deigned to let her know what the “real” name was going to be.

    You asked “can I just chalk the whole situation up to my MIL’s illness?” You hurt and humiliated your MIL so she ran and hid. Most people would have been hurt and humiliated by your behavior, so that has nothing to do with her “illness”. The running and hiding, part–maybe. I also would like to know where your husband and/or BIL were when you attacked their mother for no good reason. Why didn’t they stand up for her?

    I also feel sorry for the rest of your family that got to witness your outburst, especially SIL and niece. I’m sure that SIL worked very hard to have a nice party for her daughter and niece was likely really looking forward to is and you had to come along and spoil it with your drama. So sad.

    As for the rest of it “Was there anything I could have done better” Yes. You could have used your words earlier, you could have just bean dipped and waited until a more appropriate time/place to broach the name subject, you could not expect people to read your mind.

    You can still mitigate the damage you did by apologizing to your SIL and niece for spoiling the day. Also, I believe you owe your MIL an apology…something along the lines of “At {neice’s} birthday party, I was stressed about the pregnancy and you happened to hit a nerve, but I had no right to snap at you, I’m sorry”.

  • Marozia September 12, 2013, 3:34 pm

    We’ve all given our baby bumps a ‘name’. Is that what MIL is doing? Otherwise, Admin’s advice of ‘Oh, my dad, he’s doing fine’ or ‘Dad’s not here right now’, dumb-card may work well.
    Bipolar disorder is horrible. I really feel for people with the condition. I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, so I understand. Hopefully MIL is staying on her medication.

  • Amanda H. September 12, 2013, 3:57 pm

    I think Admin’s advice is spot on.

    And can you chalk her reaction up to her illness? Maybe. I don’t personally know any bipolar folks, but it’s possible she overreacted to being snapped at due to her illness. Or maybe it’s her natural inclination or personality to react dramatically, and is unconnected to illness. Or maybe she’s just extremely sensitive (like me; I wouldn’t have left unannounced like that, but it would have bothered me for quite some time to have a relative snap at me like that after ignoring me).

    I do have to say, OP, that if this has been going on long enough for it to build up and make you snap, one of two things has happened and both mostly fall on you to react appropriately (because you can’t force someone else to change). Either you’ve been ignoring the wrong name ever since she started using it, in which case you should’ve spoken up (calmly!) much earlier, or you’ve been constantly correcting her, in which case she’s not listening and you can’t force her to listen and should continue to practice bean-dipping.

    I’ll second the comment that if she continues to call the baby by your father’s name after he’s born, you’ll need to be more direct in correcting her. That still doesn’t mean snapping, though. Be firm, but patient.

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