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Making The Best Of A Bad Situation

I’d like to submit a story that ends happily. It is about a visit from my husband’s family a few months ago. DH and I celebrated the first birthday of our son and were happy that my MIL and SIL were both able to visit for the occasion. MIL and I have an interesting relationship – not bad, not particularly close, but we have our differences because of differing views on family, strong personalities on both sides, and those types of typical family conflicts. When I had my son, these tensions quickly surfaced and I quickly made clear that while we were happy for her to visit (the 6 times a year she kind of demanded) that DH and I decided how our son would be raised and cared for. DH and his mom also have tensions, mostly based on the fact that they have not really worked on establishing the adult parent/child relationship. Still, MIL loves us and our son and she is the only surviving grandparent, so we all agree that relationship is important.

SIL and MIL come into town and, as expected, we have a bit of family drama. Being the direct kind of person I am, I decide to address the elephant in the room the night before they are expected to fly home. The conversation starts with me explaining that DH and I are trying to foster an environment in our home where we can be open with each other and family, show love and grace, etc. I then acknowledge the issue and we have a good, albeit tough, discussion about how everyone feels, what may be at the root of the weekend drama, etc. We walk away with some things to think about but generally better for the conversation. And there it would end…. Or so we thought.

Overnight, SIL suffered a common (for her) but problematic medical incident that required an ER visit on the way to the airport. What we thought would be a few hours in the ER turned into a 3 week hospital stay, much of which was in the ICU. It became clear early on that she was not under much real threat to her health but they needed her in the ICU for close supervision. Phew! So, once any real threat was gone, we could turn to the minor (in the grand scheme of things) annoyance of having anyone stay for such a long period of time. Of course, we did not know it would be 3 weeks – all parties involved assumed “maybe SIL will be released tomorrow” for most of the time. MIL needed to rent a car. She was originally going to stay at a hotel near the hospital because we lived some distance away. Thankfully, that did not pan out because the cost and idea of her not staying with us was ridiculous. So, she stayed with us the entire time SIL was in the hospital.

What can I say? Even if you have the greatest relationship, a 3 week unscheduled stay is difficult for everyone. We were not expecting to host for 3 weeks and MIL certainly had not prepared her affairs at home to be gone that long, let alone poor SIL in the hospital for 3 weeks. I prayed A LOT. It turns out that the talk we had before they left resulted in a couple more good conversations during the three weeks, including an opportunity for me to stop trying to “help” DH and MIL in their relationship. MIL was actually quite a gem at home – helped with babysitting, loved time with her grandson, immediately pitched in with household chores, including buying the foods she would normally eat at home. I thought of writing to this site a couple times for advice on how to handle an unexpected transition from guest to house-mate, but it actually worked out well, by God’s grace. In the end, MIL and SIL were anxious to get home, SIL got more understanding of her condition as a result of the stay in an excellent facility, and we got our home back. And, of course, our little boy got a lot of time with his grandmother, which we captured in picture and video. None of us want to go through that again, but it definitely went far better than I ever imagined it could, if you had asked me in advance what I thought of a 3 week visit with my MIL.

Just like you, I am definitely the kind of person who sees the elephant in the room and wants to talk about it if I perceive it as being an obstacle to good relationships.   Done graciously with some humility, it gets results such as you have seen.   Bravo for your realization that you cannot fix the problems between your husband and his mother….that is a battle they will have to wrestle with each other.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mary March 10, 2014, 6:36 am

    I’m glad everything worked out but this is the vaguest post I’ve ever read. What was the problem and what did you say to address it?

    • Wild Irish Rose March 10, 2014, 9:52 am

      Yeah, what Mary said.

    • Yasuragi March 10, 2014, 6:23 pm

      I felt the same way. A thing happened. Words were spoken. Characters converged. More words. Then a different thing happened. After more words were spoken the thing was less bad. Satisfactory resolution! Much relief.

      • LizaJane March 10, 2014, 9:25 pm

        I thought it was just me…

        • Comradde PhysioProffe March 11, 2014, 1:16 pm

          Need juicy deets! Lolz.

  • Nicole March 10, 2014, 8:31 am

    That is great that it went so well. I imagine that not knowing the length of the stay in advance and having a “one day at a time” mindset helped out a lot. Then you just have to make the best of each day as it comes, rather than worrying about or dreading a 3 week long visit every day from the very beginning. That is a good lesson for everybody – focus on the Now instead of wringing hands about the What Might Be.

  • Caligirl March 10, 2014, 9:57 am

    Thank you for sharing your story! What a wonderful example of tactful communication and giving grace to others in a tight spot. Great way to start the week; thank you for sharing this on a Monday, Miss Jeanne! 🙂

  • Jewel March 10, 2014, 11:15 am

    In interpersonal situations, the “devil is in the details”. It sounds like the discussion had a good result for the OP. I trust the MIL/SIL also felt the conversation was a healthy, positive experience.

    I do hope that people who are “direct” like the OP says she is, know that sometimes it can be better to just let something go than force a discussion about it. Everyone has off days that can be made worse if the others involved can’t or won’t just let things slide every once in a while. And, sometimes, people need a little emotional space and time to process and don’t appreciate being expected to have a discussion before they’re ready. In both cases, a little grace can do wonders.

    Again, the details make all the difference. We don’t know the situation, we don’t know how the in-laws perceive what happened, or what may transpire in the future that stems from the discussion. Hopefully, the OP’s positive impression is also shared by her MIL, SIL, and husband and has long-term benefits for the family.

  • EllenS March 10, 2014, 11:17 am

    And here is an example of what it looks like when we say “reasonable adults should be able to work this out amicably.”
    Graciousness, courtesy, generosity and humility from all parties = resolving differences to the betterment of the relationship.

  • mark March 10, 2014, 12:01 pm

    I think OP handled this well. Though these things can be a craps shoot. You can win (things are better), you can lose (things are worse, and I’ve had this happen.), or things really just stay the same (most likely). It’s hard to know whether to gamble and address the issue. I think in general if you are going to be in long term constant contact, addressing the issue is the best way to go. If this is a second cousin whose name you can’t remember at a family re-union forcefully offering parental advice, probably best to smile and change the subject.

  • Onlyme March 10, 2014, 12:51 pm

    Great to see that all parties were able to grow and work through things. This kind of ending doesn’t happen enough.

  • padua March 10, 2014, 3:23 pm

    i agree that this post is vague. “the 6 times a year she kind of demanded” to visit? why should she have to ‘demand’? is she not welcome more often? i’m wondering if there’s information that’s been left out. it sounds as if the OP is really annoyed with her MIL for just being around.

    what’s the drama?

    • Tracy March 12, 2014, 10:11 am

      Doesn’t sound that mysterious to me. When the baby was born, MIL presumably announced that she was going to visit at least six times a year, without waiting to be invited. That’s why it’s a demand, rather or not she’s actually welcome to visit that often.

  • Marozia March 10, 2014, 3:42 pm

    A good story with a happy ending. The issues were addressed and all your family got on.

  • Jay March 10, 2014, 5:19 pm

    @Mary: I’m sure it must have been a family matter that was fairly private, otherwise I’m sure she would have mentioned what it was. If she’s not comfortable sharing it with strangers on the internet, she isn’t obligated to.

    That aside, I think the main lesson here is that tackling problems head-on in a gracious manner solves many problems that might have otherwise come up. I know too many people who will wallow in a self-pitying, passive-aggressive stupor rather than talking about a problem (“Oh woe is me! I have a problem with something person X does but I’m not going to talk about it with them to come to an understanding, pity me!”) , and not understanding that this attitude often makes the problem worse. As well, a lot of people don’t get that they’re not the only ones who feel the mounting tension of the elephant in the room.

  • Rosie March 10, 2014, 7:45 pm

    For all the problems people write in about, it’s nice to see a happy ending with regards to what might have been an unhappy time. Looks like all involved were grown up enough to put the big-girl panties on and figure out what to do under the circumstances. Kudos. OP did not need to post details, nor should we need them. Best of luck to OP and her family for continued good communication. Sounds like they’re on the right track.

  • oogyda March 12, 2014, 9:49 am

    I hope the OP was as quick to tell MIL what a “gem” she was and why as she was to open the discussion around the weekend drama.

  • Enna March 12, 2014, 1:34 pm

    I’m so glad this went well – maybe why the OP kept certain details away is to protect the MIL and SIL since things went so well?