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Advice on setting boundaries with grandparents, around birth of gc - from pregnancy announcement onwards(37 Posts)
Just looking for advice on how to manage potentially overbearing, respectless, rude grandparents. I am nearly 10 weeks pregnant, not planning to announce anything until after the 20-week scan at the earliest. I can see trouble brewing ahead with unwanted visits (parents and PIL live overseas, and are unlikely to ask us if a visit is convenient before booking - sometimes even before arriving), aggressive behaviour, etc.
Firstly - my DH is supportive, he understands that my parents are completely messed up emotionally, that they are aggressive and overbearing and that they have little respect for me (they think I'm subnormal and can't manage my own life, my mother has told me it would be better for everyone if I were dead, etc), and that they rarely relate to me other than to criticise viciously. He also understands that his parents (who were initially very enthusiastic about me when I had the sort of career they approved of) now (that my career has stopped) see me as a feckless, stupid, lazy waste of space with my feet firmly under their son's table - so they are very unlikely to listen to me if they decide they want to do something with "their" gc. DH's approach to all this is "we'll discuss it and we'll work through it together".
However, I am slightly sceptical as to how that would work if his or my parents arrive on the doorstep, demand to be let in, snatch the baby, tell me I'm an idiot and shouldn't be looking after a child, etc etc. I suspect DH wouldn't do much, particularly if it were his parents.
Secondly - I am probably a bit wet and passive in all this, in that i just don't know how to manage these people. We have as little contact as possible. I visit once a year and spend the time basically zoned out and disengaged. Skype calls once every few weeks involve my parents talking about themselves, me saying "mm hmm" a lot, then me brightly "needing to get off so I can go and do some work". I give them as little informaion/ammunition as possible.
But aged nearly 40, I still feel criticised when my father tells me I'm a f***ing idiot, when my mother tells me I'm subnormal and blames me for being an embarrassment to her. When they crow about how my career clearly collapsed and I clearly have relatively few friends because I'm too stupid, I say nothing to contradict them, and a bit of me agrees with them.
If my FIL bites my head off in conversation over something where I'm trying to engage intellectually with him, I shrug and think "oh well, he does it to everyone, I'm too thick to provide enough mental stimulation for him" and say nothing at all for the rest of the visit. If my MIL makes nasty little digs about "flaring nostrils" (i.e. mine, apparently, on the grounds that all her friends' sons married lovely sensible stable girls with good jobs and good relationships with their lovely parents, whereas I'm clearly oversensitive, volatile, a loser), I politely take it on the chin and agree a bit, because to do otherwise would just confirm that I'm oversensitive and unstable and can't cope.
My PIL's friends sometimes sympathise with my MIL, in front of me, that not everyone has children who make the right choices, clearly meaning DH's choice of me. What can one say in those situations wothout making it all more awkward. Other than that kind of thing I am usually totally ignored at their parties - indeed at the last party most of the guests thought i was a caterer because I made most of the food and handed it around all evening - it was preferable to repeatedly attempting to start conversations and being rebuffed.
Thirdly - the outside world seems to think both our sets of parents are absolutely wonderful. I have on occasion been excoriated by friends of my mother's for my uselessness toward such a wonderful, vibrant, loving woman - or by ex-colleagues of my father's, for being such a failure after all my father did to set me up in my career - on the first time I've met these people.
How do we set boundaries so as to shield ourselves and our child appropriately from these people? I don't want to be wet but I don't really know what to say that will work. Most of the things i can think of will just convince PIL that I'm oversensitive and unstable, and my parents that I'm subnormal and incompetent.
Well personally I think you should cut your parents out of your life and talk to your DH about getting the PIL out too. Then go for some therapy, I am fortunate enough that I cannot imagine how it must be growing up with parents that treat you that way, but it must be very hard to believe in yourself.
I have a psych appointment lined up for next week where I'll ask to be referred for counselling. I guess at the moment i am not entirely ready to take the step of going completely NC - as that seems like it would be letting them win somehow. Perhaps i need to look beyond that.
You're right that in general I feel guilty for existing, for being a disappointment, for being basically incapable of relating to people because it all seems like too much effort, for having so little to offer to the world.
The only way to 'let them win' is if you let them keep doing this to you. Cut them off, no Skype, nothing. And breathe, all on your own, without the need for their approval.
They can't win if you don't play the game.
The game they are playing is using Magnificat as a verbal punching bag.
This is definitely a good reason to stop all communication with your parents. Do not answer their calls and even change your skype/email if you have too.
What parents would tell you that's you should be dead.
They probably will kidnap your child from the way they are talking, thinking they would make a better parent. Well, I have cases like this a lot of times, and even happened to my grandma. Her sister tried to kidnap my mom.
Why the hell do you keep these people in your life when they're so revolting to you? Can't you just cut them all out of your lives, they obviously don't give a shit about anyone but themselves.
The fact is, Magnificat, you don't have to be working, intellectly brilliant or anything else to be a valuable member of society. Your parents and in-laws have very sick and skewed ideas, but, particularly with your parents, as long as you are in contact with them they are feeding you this self-image. Nobody in this world is worthless and you certainly don't want your children to be around people with this type of garbage in their heads.
Given their disdain for you, what would you have to lose by telling them to fuck off and slam the door in their face?
Not much by the sounds of it.
I haven't cut them out due to many years of conditioning that you don't abandon people (family members) just because they aren't very nice. For a long time I have been able to see my parents as the products of emotionally stunted, abusive childhoods - and thus feel sorry for them, and guilty at the thought of walking away from them.
What's changed now is that this pregnancy seems to be going OK... and I need to work out where to go from here.
you don't abandon people (family members) just because they aren't very nice
That's fair enough as far as it goes. They've gone way beyond "not very nice" and into the realms of actively toxic, though (was trying to avoid that cliché but it really is the ^mot juste^; they are poisoning you). Understanding and feeling sorry for them is also well enough. Maybe they can't help being ghastly. However, like an irritated scorpion or a rabid dog, not being able to help it is not a reason to invite them into your home. You must deal with them as they are, as no amount of sympathy will ever make them change into decent human beings who know how to treat a child even after 40 years of practice.
... for the avoidance of doubt, I did not mean you must deal with them in the sense that you must carry on having a relationship with them. Just that any decision you make must be for your own, your DH and your child/children's welfare, not for these excuses for parents, because it is too late for them to change and they wouldn't even want to.
It's interesting that being pregnant is causing you to rethink how these relationships are. I've seen quite a few posts from people who grew up in really strange and sometimes terrible relationships with their parents who find they look at their own child and it comes home with a bang just how bad their parents really were at being parents.
I also think it's interesting that you are so aware of how you are internalising these messages from your family.
I can agree that it is horrible to get confirmation from your parents' friends that they have discussed you in unpleasant ways behind your back. This happened to me in a small way - I saw written evidence that a member of my family regards me as a complete failure and a bit of a joke, and we are not in touch very often but they are close to a member of my immediate family - so I wonder where they got those ideas from... It's not a good feeling.
If you are going to stay in contact (and it's a big time of upheaval to make a decision to stop contact), then perhaps you can just start making a few boundaries of your own? 'How incredibly rude' 'I've heard enough on this subject, let's talk about something else' 'What an unpleasant thing to say, let's move on' stuff like that? And I have to say I have only once been to a party given by my PILs, is it essential that you go to these things? (Babies make a terrific excuse to get out of shit parties you don't want to go to )
Just read your post again. Flaring nostrils?? These people sound bonkers....
Congratulations on your pregnancy!
Read up on toxic parents and get counselling help if you can. The main thing is your and DH's handling. If you're not confident he'll support you and DC, and set boundaries himself with his parents, that's a problem that'll need addressing.
If they announce they're visiting or (worse) turn up, you are under no obligation to let them stay or even let them in! Ditto "snatching" the baby: you and DH can decide who holds or takes out DC.
Self esteem sounds an issue for you. Why do you think you're "thick", "volatile" etc? What do you mean your career's stopped? And you seem to blame yourself for this. Do you plan to WoH after maternity leave?
thanks annie, and annandale. (Do you live there? I know it well )
Most of my understanding of how relationships work comes from the MN relationship boards, or NHS counselling. It took until I found MN to be able to decode much at all about my enmeshed, suffocating relationship with my parents.
The boundaries you describe may well be what i need. They will probably be interpreted as me being oversensitive, but I'm beginning to see that it doesn't really matter how the parents or PILs interpret what I do.
Oversensitive... interesting. In fact you have coped with this by making yourself 'undersensitive' and trying to absent yourself mentally and emotionally from the situation.
I think they would find if they said these things to their lovely friends (still can't get over the flaring nostrils) their friends might be a bit sensitive too.
Re grabbing the baby - again, so far you have tried to protect yourself by making yourself passive and invisible in these situations. Don't underestimate what a parent will do when they feel their child is threatened. In fact, practising not being passive would be the best way of protecting your future child.
(No, never been there, it's from a song I like )
Yes, they can think and say what they like, but if they continue to say negative stuff to you, do things that are unacceptable (like turn up unnanounced and get pissy if they can't stay, aggressively seek to "look after" DC) and are unwilling or unable to change their behaviour the you and DH might decide to limit or even cease contact.
Oh, and before you announce the news best consider a plan for ensuring you don't have to deal with them in the days/weeks after birth. And making sure DH is on board with it. You won't want this kind of family buzzing around when you're newly postnatal and in the early days looking after your little DC!
Yes, the time round the birth is likely to be a flashpoint.
I was kind of looking for ways of setting "acceptable" boundaries - to reach a compromise where they feel OK with not being within 1000s of kms in the months immediately before/after the birth. I guess that is setting a time when they are welcome (after the birth, so there won't be room to stay with us) and working out ways to limit the length of time they stay. I've already said there is absolutely no way on God's earth that I am visiting them over Christmas this year (baby due end of November) and DH has agreed to that - we haven't told them that yet either. I'm just hoping they don't decide to descend on us over Christmas though.
Acceptable to them? That will be hard because they're unreasonable. The Q is what's acceptable to YOU!
They can't "descend on" you without your permission and you don't have to give it, or "compromise" (appease). You can simply say when they are welcome to visit and what the "deal" is, eg you won't be available for a long visit, they will need to sort out accommodation.
You can also just tell them you will be spending Christmas and new year with Dh and DC, alone.
First of all congratulations on your pregnancy.
Re your comment:-
"I guess at the moment i am not entirely ready to take the step of going completely NC - as that seems like it would be letting them win somehow. Perhaps i need to look beyond that".
Yes you do need to look beyond that, self preservation is now the name of the game here. You also have FOG (fear, obligation and guilt in spades, infact your DH has that as well). Your DHs approach i.e. we'll discuss it and work through it together will not work either because he is similarly as emotionally harmed by his own parents too. He will just give in to their demands.
None of these people were good parents to either of you; they will not be decent grandparent figures to your as yet unborn child. Your parents and ILs could well do similar damage to your child as has been done to both of you; after all they have bullied you your whole life and have damaged your self esteem markedly. These people will continue to undermine you both as people and parents. As for setting boundaries people like your parents will simply ignore any boundary you care to set; also setting boundaries would be difficult for you to do primarily because you've been trained by these people to put your own needs and wants last. A small but significant boundary is to completely reduce the Skype calls to them, start by reducing all levels of contact over a number of weeks. In the longer term I would consider moving and not leaving any of them any forwarding address.
Why would they win if you went no contact with them?. This is not about winning. You've dragged this horse to water long enough, you have tried to seek their approval your whole life and they are not interested in either listening to you or ever changing their ways. You have physical distance thankfully between yourselves; now you need to put mental distance in place too. Tell them all what they deserve to know; nothing.
It is NOT your fault they are like this; their own families of origin were likely to have been abusive themselves and instead of seeking the necessary help simply continued doing the same old crap to you. Toxic stuff like this can and does go down the generations.
People like your parents and ILs do not really have friends; they use people to their own ends. They act accordingly so as not to receive any of their barbed comments.
You need to protect your child from these malign influences by not letting any of these people near your child; letting any of them into your lives will be a retrograde step for you. These people are also not above using the child to get back at the parents either. Your child could well end up being mistreated right in front of your very eyes.
Find a therapist that has NO repeat NO bias about keeping families together despite the presence of mistreatment. Also these people are like shoes, you need to find someone that fits in with you. The first one you see therefore may not be the right one for you.
Do read Toxic parents as well (your H needs to read that as well) and do post on the "well we took you to Stately Homes" thread on these pages.
I was kind of looking for ways of setting "acceptable" boundaries - to reach a compromise where they feel OK with not being within 1000s of kms in the months immediately before/after the birth
Am so sorry but it does not work like that at all, the rule book goes out the window when it comes to dysfunctional families and your parents and his have never played by the rules. Compromise is anathema to such toxic people like your parents and inlaws; they will never accept any compromise.
Reducing all forms of contact now to the barest of bare minimums will help you with an aim of going no contact. They have tried to completely destroy you emotionally and your self esteem is in bits, do not let them do that to your child. The best gift you can give to your child is to not subject him or her at all to people like your parents and your H's parents. They will use your child as ammo against you and will try to completely undermine your own parenting skills.
Thanks everyone. Food for thought here. I need to get off and make dinner for now, but will think through all this and come back tomorrow.
Duckdeamon - Xpost further up the thread - my career stopped because I gave up after trying very hard to keep it going when we left the UK, but wasn't able to get a job and live in the same city as my husband. Also I had been pushed into it by my father and didn't enjoy it and was really depressed. So I'm at the beginning of switching fields, doing a degree in a different area, which is unlikely to be finished before the child gets to school. I work at home, very part time, but am hoping I can give that away at some point as it's very poorly paid and is the last relic of my previous career, which I'd rather leave behind.
Thanks for explaining! So your career hasn't "stopped", your previous field didn't suit you and after a big change circumstances you decided to work towards something else and are studying. Good for you!
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