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Dueling Parents


I wonder if you and your readers could bring some fresh outside advice to this awkward and somewhat charged situation.

My husband & I have been married 4 years (together 9), our parents were introduced to each other in Year 1. They’ve never been overly close but have been polite (My in-laws are definitely the more friendly of the sets). My parents have their own issues; recent divorce, lifestyle choices (dating & over indulging) and poor parenting decisions of my younger siblings.

My in-laws have their own issues too; easily stressed & controlling to each other & us. There’s never been any incidents between the two sets of parents but they are clearly ‘different people’ with different views on family & relationships.

Since my son has been born the negative feelings my parents have towards my in-laws have come to boiling point. My stepmom now refuses to attend any but the most formal (Birthdays, Christenings) get-togethers and makes constant snide remarks about how unpopular they are with the rest of the family. My father also avoids our house if they are visiting and will often decline joining us if they’re also coming (though won’t be blunt and say it’s because they’re here). I have caught them gossiping about us (and our preference for my in laws) behind our backs and some very hurtful comments about me in particular. I’m starting to get very tired of this and aggravated that my parents are acting like children.

My parents often say they “never see their grandson” but are awkward when trying to arrange dates and rarely initiate planning (except at the last minute). Which means often I am already booked or my in-laws have invited us to an event/come to visit us. My in-laws are also very eager & hands on with my son and always offer to help out, whether it’s coming to babysit so I can catch up with cleaning or when we stay over they’ll take over a night feed/let us have a lie in. My parents like seeing their grandson but are quick to hand him back when he requires ‘work’, I don’t mind this but again it’s the source of nasty comments about my in-laws being ‘overbearing’. I’ve tried talking to them but they’re both stubborn & ignore anything I say.

I feel so awkward, I’ve now taken to actively trying to conceal when we meet up with my in-laws to avoid the remarks & gossiping my parents do behind our backs. Am I right in just carrying on in inviting all parents to events, then arranging separate catch ups when we’re available? I feel like going out of my way again & again to facilitate my parents (over what I do for my in-laws) is just enabling this behaviour. What can I say when the snide remarks start? And when my parents are pointedly turning down meet ups? Just to be clear, I love both sets of parents and they are a part of our son’s life. I just need help dealing with the drama my parents keep creating. 0203-19

{ 38 comments }
{ 38 comments… add one }
  • Katrina February 12, 2019, 8:00 am

    Drop the rope! Offer the opportunities, but don’t go out of your way to accommodate this behavior. You are not responsible for creating a relationship between them and your kid. They are. That your in laws spend more time with your family is not a problem, it is them taking the time to 1. Build a relationship with your kid, 2. Build a relationship with you, 3. Make sure they are welcome by contributing more than just to the fun stuff. Your parents are making sure 1. You view their visits as work, 2. To disrespect you and make you be responsible for their feelings, 3. Teaching your kid to disrespect you through their behavior. One of my “litmus tests” for someone I feel obligated to work for a relationship is would I allow a friend to treat me the way this person is. If not, I really turn down the effort and put my energy into feeding other relationships. Yes, they might get mad, but it seems they already are, so this way you get to drop your stress level. Ps it will never be fair, someone is always going to have extra time. Focus on justice, i.e. offering the same opportunities to attend big events, but let reaching out for babysitting, etc go to those who reach out to you.

  • Catherine St Clair February 12, 2019, 8:06 am

    My impression is that you are spinning your wheels with your parents. They won’t listen to you; they won’t change their behavior; you are bending over backwards to try to accommodate them and, eventually, you may break your back with all that bending. I would continue to invite and let them come or not as they please. Don’t comment on their gossip-neither confirm nor deny. Say, “I am afraid I don’t know anything about what they are saying. You’ll have to ask them for an explanation.” You are making yourself responsible for their behavior and trying to fix it. Stop. Let it be their problem and not yours. You invited them. They chose what they wanted to do.

  • essie February 12, 2019, 8:09 am

    I see no reason why you MUST dance at your parents’ commands, like a puppet. Continue inviting everyone (if that’s your preference) to all events; if your parents decline, that’s their choice. and you don’t owe them a make-up or second chance session. If they issue invitations at the last minute and you have to decline, you don’t owe them anything except polite regrets. If you just happen to overhear rude remarks, ignore them, but if it’s clear that you were MEANT to hear them, then address them.
    Having said all that, let me point out a couple of caveats:
    (A) There’s no requirement that ALL the grandparents be invited to every single gathering, either. You can invite one set for dinner on a Thursday night and invite another set for miniature golf on Sunday afternoon (or for dinner the following Thursday night). As the hosts, you OWE nobody an invitation.
    (B) You said your in-laws are “controlling” and that your parents invite you at the last minute. You might want to step back to see if the in-law invitations are so frequent and issued so far in advance that any other possible invitation is pre-empted. My own in-laws were this way: they invited us to spend “Our First Christmas” with them as soon as we announced our engagement – 2 YEARS before the wedding! They had to settle for hosting “Our First Christmas as an Engaged Couple”. We did spend more time with them, but we didn’t allow them to monopolize our social calendar.

    • Catherine St Clair February 12, 2019, 2:21 pm

      A friend of mine simply says, “We can’t make plans that far in advance. We’ll have to wait until closer to the date to commit to anything.” Both the “too far ahead” and the “at the last minute” folks expect you to acquiesce to their preferred schedule. No one ever seems to ask, “What is convenient for you?”

    • saucygirl February 12, 2019, 2:51 pm

      you are so right about your point b! my mom and my in laws are like. my mom will invite for thanksgiving the following year before we have even bought the turkey for this year and then say she asked first so she gets. but my in laws can’t plan that far in advance and are more likely to issue an invite 1 month out.

  • staceyizme February 12, 2019, 8:12 am

    I think that you have to take a long, hard look at what works for you and what doesn’t. Your parents are more work than the new baby- they sound exhausting! Your in-laws are pleasant, present and helpful. I’d stop enabling your parents and keep some distance from them. Whatever their stressors or personal difficulties, they have no right to gossip or to shame you. If your in-laws continue to be helpful and largely positive, it makes sense that you will spend more time with them. Stop hiding your schedule and advise your parents that their behavior makes scheduling family time difficult. Specifically, refuse to compensate for their preciousness about who they “accept” when around your son. (Hint- the guestlist really isn’t up to them.) Also- their actions indicate that they don’t plan to show up without drama. Believe them and consider distancing yourself. You may miss them but you will have less drama and stress, and much less need to try to compensate for their impossible demands.

  • Kitty February 12, 2019, 8:45 am

    “and makes constant snide remarks about how unpopular they are with the rest of the family.”
    If their attitude is as bad as it reads in this, albeit biased, writing, I can’t say I’m too surprised.

    Bluntly tell your parents that you don’t appreciate their attitude. Neither the snide remarks, nor their lack of tact or anything when it comes to dealing with other people. They complain about not seeing their grandson enough? Tell them that any further contact with the grandson will have to come from them, with plans already made; not last-minute plans. Spontaneity is nice and can bring some fun in everyday life, but such spontaneity doesn’t work well when the grandchild is still very small and at infant stage – which this writing seems to indicate, with in-laws offering nighttime feedings.

    They will probably turn on you and complain that you are ‘denying them access’. Best thing to do is to ignore it: you are choosing a path that is best and least stressful for you, as well as for your child.

  • Val February 12, 2019, 8:56 am

    I would keep extending the invite to things that would be considered “parties”, but apart from that stop trying to cram them all together in a room under the guise of “big happy family”. Just because you and your husband are married doesn’t make them family to each other, and I personally resent being thrown into forced bonding sessions. They are not each other’s kind of people, and that’s ok. Sharing a grandchild doesn’t mean that they have to be friends. Even though it takes up more of your time, wouldn’t it be easier to just deal with each set separately? The caveat to this is that you’re not going to put time in a savings account just in case your family wants to make plans at the last minute. “Mom/Dad, I’m not going to force you guys to hang out anymore since it’s clear that you don’t enjoy my inlaws’ company. But if you want to see us, last minute is never going to work for us. We’re a busy family, and we book up fast so we all need to plan ahead.”

    By the way, saying “sorry, we’re busy that day, how about this date instead?” without going into details of “oh we’re doing xyz with my inlaws” isn’t concealing your plans, you’re an adult and you don’t need to justify your time to anyone. A simple “that won’t work for us” suffices.

    • OP February 13, 2019, 5:46 am

      In terms of ‘Bonding’ we tried that in the beginning and it didn’t work, so I abandoned that completely.
      The issue is mainly that our parents want to see us as much as my In laws and get jealous is they don’t.
      But, they dont plan in advance and won’t meet us in the middle.
      I’m going to stop over worrying and pandering to them and we’ll see what the outcome is.

      • Lanes February 13, 2019, 7:54 pm

        I’m not sure that your parents want to see us as much as your in-laws… I think their jealousy more likely stems from the fact that you’re spending time with other people rather than simply not spending time with them.

        Much like a child doesn’t want their toy until they see someone else playing with it…

      • Annon February 14, 2019, 8:22 am

        OP – there is a book called “The Dance of Anger” by Harriet Lerner. My friend sent to me as a gift when I was going through things with my own mother (that also related to my inlaws too). It helped. I had my “ah ha” moment at the end of the book reading an entry……
        I’m the one that posted earlier about “you can’t change how a person is, only how you react to them.” It’s hard…….but I hope you can find middle ground to avoid all this unwanted and unneeded stress….
        Best of luck to you……Enjoy your baby!

  • Lenore February 12, 2019, 9:13 am

    It might be time to be blunt with your parents. Point out that your in-laws are proactive and plan visits with you more than 24 hours in advance, and aren’t drama llamas about who gets to spend more time with who and imaginary popularity contests.
    If the steps/divorced parents can’t bear to be in the same room, then they miss out on milestone parties that are traditionally celebrated with family, and that is 100% on them. Tell them if they can’t grow up and be adults, you’ll be quite happy to muddle along without them and all they’ll get is the annual Christmas card.

    • Chris February 13, 2019, 5:16 pm

      I must disagree about comparing LW’s parents directly to her in-laws. That is likely to feed the drama llamas. Treat any issues with either set separately from the other.

      • Lenore February 15, 2019, 10:33 am

        That is a valid point, I didn’t consider that. Thank you!

  • Ask Kim February 12, 2019, 9:21 am

    Do NOT and I repeat do NOT distance yourself from your loved ones or those that love your son ( sorry, life is so short, why does everyone think the solution is always to distance yourself or cut people out of your life? It’s the opposite!)

    This is a common issue. Grandparents often feel a bit of competition to see who’s the best/better/more liked/loved. It’s natural & common. But not without its grief. I even felt some of that and finally said 1. Its not a competition 2. I’m thrilled my grandchildren have so many adults who love them 3. I’m glad theres someone else to babysit or whatever because physically I’m not able to do that ( because of spinal fusions I cant lift over 10 lbs so theres not much I can do with a 9 month, 16 lb baby)

    We would make friends with the other parents. Go out to eat etc. We certainly didnt become best friends but knew each other well enough that when we happened to be together for birthdays etc we could talk. Itll be easier too, OP, when the kids are older and can go & do things with the grandparents instead of everyone having to visit at your house.

    But it goes without saying too, try not to ever tell the other set of grandparents what the others did, bought, are going to do, how often they are there etc.

    Meanwhile accept them for who they are & accept what they do & realize this is their issue to overcome and not yours.

    • Nialla February 12, 2019, 5:24 pm

      What they do is make the letter writer’s life extremely stressful, and NO, she should not “accept it.” What the hell kind of advice is that? Boundaries exist for a reason. She should continue to say no to last minute invitations, unless of course they are free with nothing else planned. Continue inviting both sets of grandparents to events and if your parents won’t come, just say Oh that’s too bad, we’ll miss you. And do not schedule any make-up sessions. New parents need to focus on their baby, not immature, drama queen grandparents. That’s shutting the door to the incessant drama, not cutting people out of their life.

    • staceyizme February 12, 2019, 6:51 pm

      I think that the issue isn’t “grandparents”, it’s “reasonable expectations and common decency”. No generation gets a pass for bad behavior and yes, grandparents can be sidelined if they are difficult. It’s not the end of the world that there are other grandparents and other schedules. If either set of grandparents try to dictate the schedule, guest list or things that are basically (normally) up to the parents, then stepping back is normal, healthy and can help to avoid stress and needless conflict. Why “wrangle” about things just to convince another person that you have the privilege of raising your own child and setting your family’s schedule? Each family (and each generation) has to decide for themselves what will work. Barring outright favoritism, relatives shouldn’t complain. (Even in the face of favoritism, complaints don’t generally resolve much. Being reasonable, generous with time when possible and pleasant to interact with is a better strategy. I think this also applies to kids who are too bossy and domineering of their parents and who presume on their time, money and goodwill more than is wise. Parents, too, have a right to step back and have a little distance from family members who are difficult.

    • OP February 13, 2019, 5:29 am

      I appreciate the sentiment but don’t find your advice all that helpful, I’m not going to ‘cut my parents off’ in any way shape or form. But, I will stop pandering to their behaviour as others have recommended.
      Unlike you my parents have made it clear they will not ‘make friends’ with the in laws or be more than civil at large gatherings. This is hard especially for my husband as we’ve been more than forgiving & unserstanding of their behaviour & friends/ lifestyle choices.
      As much as I love them bending over bckwarda and constantly putting up with the behaviour is bad for my wellbeing and puts strain on my own family.
      Again, their lack of helpfulness isn’t the reason I’ve posted, but for them it has nothing to do with help issues it’s just ‘how they are’.
      Sorry if this post comes across a bit direct but Ive tried and tried to be patient and accepting but it just doesn’t work. They always want more and their attitude gets worse.

    • Soop February 13, 2019, 8:41 am

      Sometimes accepting them for who they are means distancing from them. Not all grandparents are created equal and not all love their grandchildren. I wish we could have been more distant from one of my grandmothers. Even as children, we could feel that she didn’t like us (luckily Opa did like us). The minute my eldest sibling was born, she declared that she wouldn’t babysit. Happily, my other grandparents, who lived next door, filled in the gaps. Although my Nana was a bit jealous of my Gramp, because he was the only one who could babysit me. Anyone else and I would cry and cry and cry. As I got older we were best buddies.

    • Anon February 14, 2019, 9:58 am

      Kim, your advice is great if the OP’s parents were seeking it…unfortunately they do not seem inclined (or maybe even have the capacity) to do as you did. I think you are very smart for taking the approach you describe, and I hope you are reaping the rewards of a good relationship with your kids/grandkids.

  • Wild Irish Rose February 12, 2019, 9:58 am

    You just described my late mother versus my in-laws! My advice: Make your plans the way YOU want them (and by YOU I mean you and your husband). Include whomever you wish to include, and if your parents aren’t okay with who will be there, then they have already decided not to attend and be gracious. If they start in with their negativity, gently remind them that it’s not about them, and if they can’t be civil they can leave. I had to take a REALLY hard line with my mother and I can’t say she liked it much, but I’m still sane so . . . .

    • OP February 13, 2019, 5:31 am

      I think I’m going to follow your example, I’m not a passive aggressive person (my parents are) and up till now bro g direct has worked for me. I’m going to stop pandering and treat them like adults x

  • Annon February 12, 2019, 10:17 am

    Best advice given to me by a friend:
    “You can’t control another person, you can only control how you respond to them.”
    So…..unfortunately it may be difficult, but invite them and it is up to them if they want to come. If they have snide remarks, let it roll off your back (even if hurtful) because that means they are accomplishing what they set out to do. If you can care less about their comments and what they say, you will be better off (and happier and less stressed)….trust me from personal experience.
    It really stinks they are behaving this way, but I’m sure they are jealous of the in-laws for whatever reason……but that shouldn’t be your problem to bare.
    If you invite them to events, you know you did the right thing and no one can say differently. You can’t be responsible for their responses (coming or not) or their actions while there.
    Best of luck, I know the situation stinks. Enjoy your son, and enjoy the love and affection given to him by your inlaws……

  • OP February 12, 2019, 12:04 pm

    When adults act like children, the best way to handle it is to treat them like they are children. When them misbehave (gossip about your in-laws), you calmly be firmly call out the behavior. (Ned and Nancy, it is unkind and hurtful to me when you speak ill of my in-laws around me. Please stop it.) Tell them what the consequence will be if the behavior continues. (If you do it again, I will leave/hang up/ end our visit.) And then follow through every time. Sure, this will mean you see them a lot less at first, but that is a consequences of THEIR actions. If they wish to change it, they can choose to change it by behaving better.
    When they have difficulty committing to plans to visit, give them a controlled choice. (We’re available for a visit Saturday, Sunday, or Monday after 5.) If they hem-haw or push back because the in-laws are there, do not go out of your way to accommodate them. (These are the dates/times we are available. I’m sorry if that doesn’t work for you. Perhaps another time.)

    • AMC (Not OP!) February 12, 2019, 12:06 pm

      Sorry, I am NOT the OP. My computer just autocorrected from a previous post.

      • Nialla February 12, 2019, 5:27 pm

        You still gave excellent advice.

      • OP February 13, 2019, 5:37 am

        Hi Op!
        Thanks for your comment, I’m going to start doing this (starting today!) fingers crossed they get the message and stop trying to involve us in the drama.

  • DGS February 12, 2019, 12:12 pm

    All you can do is make your plans and invite your parents, and if they choose to accept and attend, treat them with kindness. Do not lower yourself to their level, and continue to spend your time with your in-laws as you and your husband see fit. It’s not okay for them to gossip about you, and they need to know that it’s not okay, but you don’t need to get involved in trying to convince them to be more generous grandparents or kinder and more supportive parents. There will be a natural consequence to their behavior – their grandson is going to prefer his other grandparents and have a better relationship with that side of the family. All you can do is include whomever you wish to include but you can’t change who they are.

  • lakey February 12, 2019, 12:12 pm

    Badmouthing you to others is pretty bad, but it reflects poorly on them, not on you. If other people choose to give their remarks credence, that’s their problem. Invite your parents when, and how, it works for you. Don’t change your behavior or plans to suit them. I wouldn’t make special plans with them because they don’t want to be around your inlaws. They’re adults, they need to accept the consequences of the choices they make.
    If they make a snide comment about the inlaws, how about changing the subject in a way that makes it clear that you don’t like the comment.
    Parents: Inlaws certainly are blah, blah.
    You: The weather is lovely.

  • bopper February 12, 2019, 1:59 pm

    Are your parents not planners? but the ILs are? It could be that the ILs have planned many visits so when your parents are more spontaneous and want to visit, you are already booked up.

    If you want, you could set up some visits in advance…e.g., Come visit the first sunday of the month. Or twice a year. Or however often is good for you.

    Also keep an eye on the ILs…are they just helpful nice friendly people? or people who want to take over parenting your kids?

    • OP February 13, 2019, 5:43 am

      My Parents are separated, Mom is a planner but Dad not so much.
      Mom is currently ‘living her best life’ which leaves a lot less room for us kids, I’m happy she’s happier but she doesn’t recognise she is choosing to do other things (meaning we see her less).
      Dad works lots & quite late, but has no concept of bedtime routines or the fact we now have to fit everything into each weekend, so book in advance.
      Neither react all that well to scheduled visits (IE come down every other Sunday) and find no issue making us come to them/fit around them.
      Again, this wouldn’t be a problem on its own but the jealousy & nastiness is bringing it to boiling point.
      I’m going to stop allowing them to drag us into it and they can then choose how they deal with it.

      • JB February 13, 2019, 6:03 pm

        You might try to humor your way through it a bit. If your Mom complains, then tell her “Yep, you missed our watch the baby and clean the kitchen party, we served leftover peas and mac and cheese from last nights dinner dishes” kind of thing. Maybe she’ll take the hint that every visit with the in-laws isn’t a party or outing to a park. They come over to help out because they also get to spend time with your son. If that’s not the type of thing your parents are willing or able to do, then yes of course they’re not going to see you all as much.

      • Pep February 14, 2019, 6:45 am

        Helpful hint: remind yourself that they own the problem. (I have been in a situation like this!)

  • Cat2 February 12, 2019, 5:59 pm

    What you need is a way to respond to others – because if I am reading this right, your main issue is having to deal with the comments from others in your family about how you are being painted by your parents?

    If so, leave it simple “Yes, they often turn down our invitations. It’s too bad, but it’s their choice. Sometimes we can make the last minute get-togethers they prefer work, and sometimes we can’t. Life, right?” said calmly, openly, with a matter of fact tone. More a verbal shrug than anything else (and can be accompanied by a physical one if you wish).

    And then continue on.

  • JD February 13, 2019, 12:21 pm

    OP, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I saw a possible red flag in that the in-laws are controlling and seem to be offering to do so much with your baby — as someone else mentioned, I think. Are they making so many opportunities to be with your son that your parents hardly have any time alone with him, when the other set is not already involved? Are the in-laws sucking up all the family time so that your parents only get what little is left?

    I’m NOT excusing the behavior of OP’s parents — they seem to be acting very childish about all this, and the snide remarks are beyond the pale, but they may feel cut off. I’ve seen this happen before — a new, “sweet friend” was always inviting “Invitee” to do things with her, visit with her, see movies with her, have a meal with her, etc., until one day Invitee suddenly realized that “sweet friend” had very nearly cut Invitee off from her oldest, best friends, simply by sucking up all of Invitee’s free time well in advance, always in the “sweetest” way possible, of course. Invitee then started declining some of “sweet friend’s” invitations, in order to spend more time with people she still valued very much and with whom she wanted to retain strong relationships. Might OP want to plan ahead and set aside some time for her own parents to see her son by themselves?

    Now, this may not be true with OP’s in-laws; if so, then OP would do best to just invite whom she will and let people decide if they are coming or not. OP might want to make it clear that the choice is theirs, not hers, to miss out on their grandson when they decline. She might also want to ask just what is meant by the remarks and why they were said.

    • OP February 13, 2019, 1:37 pm

      Thanks for your insight. Although we do see the in laws quite often it isn’t a case of them booking us up, I’ve done a quick check and we haven’t got any plans booked with them until May.
      My parents always have been less hands on, my Mom (though she said she would be there in seconds) only visited me & Baby once in hospital in the Week we were there. She never offered to help or cook for us (not that I’m bitter) or offered that much support in what was a very hard time for us.
      I love my Mom but her ‘Image’ of herself doesn’t match what she actually is/does and she takes no responsibility for how her actions or behaviour impacts on us (and how my Younger siblings are turning out).
      My Dad is just clueless at relationships.
      I love both very much and I hope we’ll all benefit from a healthier ‘Grown up’ communication style, rather than me pandering to them.

      • staceyizme February 14, 2019, 11:48 am

        Wow, OP! It sounds like you’ve really hit the nail on the head! Your parents have some baggage and some issues and they may simply lack the capacity to “be there” for you in meaningful ways unless/ until they do the personal work needed to deal with mom/ dad. Forgive me, but I’m PROUD of you for deciding to stand up for yourself in a way that works for you AND for getting on with things in a way that works for your family!

  • Sarah B. February 13, 2019, 7:42 pm

    I think I get the problem. Your folks have always been a bit… difficult… and they’re dealing with two different transitions in their lives at the same time, and doing both really badly. They’re transitioning to living separate, new lives *and* trying to navigate dealing with you as being an adult with your own family and life rather than the kid they control. And you’re having difficulty switching from default kid mode with them to adult mode — that transition always has a hiccup or two at the best of times. Maybe it’d help if you took a step back when they’re being difficult again and ask yourself, “How would I handle this if he/she was an unrelated adult I didn’t want to totally cut out of my social circle?” I’m sure at one time or another you’ve had a friend who dated somebody who behaved in ways you didn’t like, or that one mutual friend that behaved in ways you didn’t like, but had to find ways to deal with if you wanted to see somebody else in the friend group. Maybe those strategies, possibly with some modification, would help with your folks.

    Or you could be me with 99% of my family and find ways to enjoy them when they do show up and not especially mind when they don’t. Celebrate holidays on whatever time table works for your household. If they show, cool. If they don’t, that’s also cool.

    But I do recommend a good “Come to Jesus” talk/letter/email/text where you very firmly tell them that your in-laws are now part of your family, too, and they *will* stop the insulting of them in your hearing and on your property because when they insult the in-laws they are insulting your husband and son and thereby you. They have two choices: comply or stay away until they can comply. You can’t really control what they say behind your back, but if you’re firm enough and they give half a damn, they’ll probably at least tone it down just in case you hear about it and decide to go nuclear.

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