Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I had my baby (the first grandchild on both sides) two weeks ago. She is premature and still in the hospital. My in-laws came to see her and help us out during this stressful time.
I was chatting with my mother-in-law yesterday about how I knew it was frustrating for them when there are many rules in the special-care nursery. I said, “At least you got to hold the baby, though.” She looked me in the eyes and said, “No I didn’t!” I know she did, her son told me! So I said, “Yes you did.” She denied it again! I finally said that her son had told me she got to hold her, and she finally answered truthfully that she had.
I am very upset that she has already lied to me about the baby. How do I go about getting across how I feel and making sure she doesn’t lie to me in the future about my child, without shutting her down?
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Baby’s First Lie
Well that’s just bizarre.
I don’t think the most useful goal here is to get across what you feel. What you really need is to understand why your mother-in-law chose to lie to you; that will be much more helpful later on as you weigh whether you can trust her. The best way to get to that understanding is to ask gently and leave a lot of room for her to answer. You won’t learn anything if you’re talking.
There’s no guarantee she’ll tell you, of course, but anything she says is information. So ask: “I realize I’m putting you on the spot. I just keep replaying our conversation from yesterday and I can’t figure out why you told me you didn’t hold the baby. I’m not angry, just confused: Are you willing to talk about this?”
If you think it would be more effective, your husband can talk to her instead.
Obviously you need to add any basic understanding of how your mother-in-law ticks. You don’t mention anything about her history, but if she’s a habitual liar, truth-withholder or conflict-avoider, then you’re going to need to build in some skepticism about anything she claims. Which of course affects how she spends time with her grandchild, but that’s for later.
Re: Lie: Maybe the son said “wife” would be upset if she found out. Maybe your mother-in-law thought she would get a second chance to hold that precious baby if she denied it. Maybe the new mom should have said right off, “Oh, I thought (son) told me you got a chance to hold her,” versus “Yes, you did.” Maybe your mother-in-law is a nutjob.
But most important, everyone is stressed and worried when normally they could just be joyful. Please let it go.
Re: Lie: It could be some strange reaction to being worried out of her mind about several of the people she cares about most. Speak gently and with as much empathy as you can muster at this difficult time.
Re: Baby: Um, how’s the new grandmother’s health? Could she have forgotten that she got to hold the baby? Age can bring a lot of challenges.
Such compassionate ideas, thanks everybody.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.