Hax: Gift for grandson crosses a line

The Washington PostJanuary 10, 2014 

Carolyn: My mother-in-law asked me for Christmas gift ideas for my 4-month-old son. I said I thought he was too young for electronic toys and asked for something simple, like blocks, board books or a teddy bear.

She bought him a "baby laptop" that lights up and plays music, saying, "Well, I didn't have time to travel back to the 1950s to buy him blocks."

I am very upset that she not only completely disregarded our wishes but also insulted our choices. My husband agrees with me and does not understand why his mother did this.

I do not want to hurt her feelings, but I am considering returning the gift.

I also feel this situation is symbolic of a much larger problem. She questions every decision we make as parents and is constantly making snide comments about our choices. I am tired of fighting these battles with her. Any advice?

TIRED MOM

Yeah. Duck.

Kidding, or thereabouts. You're right about a larger problem, but it's larger even than the snide comment problem. Such lashing out reveals that she's in shaky emotional health. Your different choices, to emotionally unhealthy people, are rejections - not of their choices, either, but of them.

You can neutralize this. It takes time, though, plus patience, compassion, careful battle-choosing, and full spousal cooperation.

• Understand that people who lash out usually feel wounded or confused.

• Gently draw a baseline. "These are exciting times for us. We'll mess up - but praising successes would help me so much more right now than trying to fix nondangerous mistakes."

• Decide what lines are uncrossable.

• Include, include, include his mother, however you can abide, unless/until she crosses uncrossable lines. Warmth is best at softening resistance.

• Ignore minor affronts …

• To save your strength and accrued good will for enforcing those lines she can't cross. You'll need it, whether you return gifts, call out her sniping, or, worst case, limit visits.

You and your husband are in charge.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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