Carolyn Hax: Advice

Giving grandma some boundaries

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn: Today my parents informed me (not asking) that they’re coming to town for a month when my second baby is born, renting a place nearby as we have no room in our city apartment. I said, “Honestly, that’s a little long, two or three weeks would be better,” and they, mostly my mom, got totally huffy and said a bunch of stuff like “We have a RIGHT to come to your city whenever we want,” “We have lots of friends here,” and “You don’t have to entertain us,” (yeah, right!) “This is baffling,” “You’re being ridiculous.”

And that is the perfect illustration of why I don’t want them here for so long.

How can I handle this, which is a rerun of a fight we had when I was pregnant with my first and a couple of times since? I want them to have a good relationship with their grandchildren, which they do with the first one, but thinking about them in town for so long makes me feel crowded and exasperated.

Setting Boundaries

There is only one answer here, and it’s hard: to ignore the huffing and puffing.

How you accomplish that is up to you. You can, for example, come up with set phrases to ground you when you’re in the emotional thick of one of their visits: “Today is not a good day, Mom, but we’ll see you tomorrow,” then no further discussion; “I’m sorry you feel that way, but tomorrow is what I have to offer,” then no further discussion. “I’m hanging up the phone now, I have to go — bye Mom,” then hang up the phone.

Or you can screen their calls when they’re in town and see them only on your schedule. Or you can talk to a good therapist about why your parents still are able to pressure you even as you’re (apparently) fully aware they’re doing so inappropriately. Or you can repeat to yourself till you believe it that your job is to co-run your little family by your and your partner’s best judgment, not to please your parents. Or you can abide by their own rules: “Tomorrow is better for us. I’m so grateful, by the way, that you have friends and things to do here.” Not sarcastically! Genuinely bring them back to their having a niche in your city without you.

Try all of these, even, but cross fighting off your list. Your job is to be yourself, not explain yourself. Get to that point and there’s no fight left to have.

It may help to understand that it’s not mean to your parents to do this. On the contrary: It’s a gift, because if you don’t figure out and then enforce a comfortable level of grandkid access, then both you and your parents, but particularly your parents, will feel unsure of what comes next. That uncertainty, meanwhile, is what drives the insecurity that drives the grandparental clinginess that has you in such a (perfectly valid) snit.

So making rules now that don’t bar the door to Grandma, but instead make it clear to her when the door is and isn’t open, gives all of you your best chance to stop waging the access war and just focus on loving the kids.

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