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  1. Karen

    In- law question.
    For years, I have always checked in on my in-laws, who are divorced. Recently, I stopped because I feel like it’s not reciprocated. I also feel that my husband should be responsible for that, since it is his family. I’ve done well with it until now. My daughter is a ballerina and will be performing in the Nutcracker. My M-I-L recently sent me an email (which I haven’t received one in months) and said she and her husband would like to come see us during that time and then added “unless you would like us to come at Christmas”. She hasn’t been to visit us in 2 years and her husband has never been to this house. She hasn’t been to a Christmas at our home since my children were toddlers. My parents have already confirmed that they are coming and staying with us. I’m not one for alot of company in our house to begin with but during the Nutcracker, its a bit chaotic. There are rehearsals, the volunteer work at the ballet, we have a restaurant and its a busy time of year, my husband is working a ton, meals for my kids, my parents, and now my in laws too!! The other problem is, I don’t really want her here for Christmas either. (It’s a difficult relationship with her) Should I let my husband answer her or just tell her that Nutcracker is fine but my parents are staying with us?? A few years ago she came by herself and I had her and her ex husband staying under one roof! It was soo stressful! I felt like a full time maid and cook, on top of my other obligations. I have tried talking to my husband about it and all he says is I know you can’t stand my family. I really can’t stand them in close quarters, but what’s wrong with asking them to stay at a hotel? The other issue in this nightmare is that they will also want us to provide them with a car. I work out of my home so she thinks I should just loan it to her since I don’t have “a real job”, my husband will be at work, and my son’s truck will be sitting there. But it’s his truck, he doesn’t want his grandma trashing it.
    HELP!!! Terrible that I’m already stressed about it!

    • Clara

      Karen, the holidays are overwhelming as it is and to have this added pressure is not fun. Let’s try to simplify it. First of all, your husband absolutely should be the one communicating with his mother about this (after discussing options with you, of course). It is not fair that you should be the one organizing and deciding everything for the entire family. Ask him to put himself in your shoes–would he find it awkward and stressful to have to communicate with your parents on these matters? When he says “yes” then you can say that is how awkward it feels for you.
      Secondly, if it has already been decided that your parents are staying in your home and there is no room, that is a logistical factor that you cannot get around. Try to keep things positive and tell them that you really look forward to taking them out to dinner, having them over for a couple of meals, having them see their granddaughter in the Nutcracker. As far as use of a car, there is no obligation to provide them with a car. Tell them that all the cars will be in use. You are not responsible for filling their day–you concentrate on your obligations with your daughter, your restaurant, etc. As far as not hearing from them via email in awhile, not having them visit in 2 years–let all of that go. I understand you are saying “I haven’t heard from her and now she is going to swoop in and disrupt us?” They want to see their grandchild–use the suddenness of it has motivation to create boundaries–but be pleasant and ask your husband to step up!

      • Karen

        Thank you for the advice Clara. Unfortunately, this is left on my shoulders because my husband cannot entertain, plan, or help much this time of year. We have talked about how he doesn’t entertain my parents or plan, nor should I have to do that for his. But at the end of the day, it is left on my shoulders. I always am cordial and welcoming to her. It’s just dealing with the the what-ifs prior to arrival that stress me out. Unfortunately, It is difficult for me to let the infrequent visits go, because there is more to the story there. We visited her a year ago, and she had no food for us, nothing planned, no clean sheets. It was a nightmare(she lives in costa rica), and to top if all off, it was a constant barrage of insults to me. (I let them roll off my back, but my son noticed it) Unfortunately, she isn’t really coming to “see” her granddaughter, she is coming to run errands. This is what she does when she comes to the states. She runs errands, takes over my dining room with paperwork, and expects me to feed her, pick up after her, and run her any where she needs to go. She is extremely intrusive. I will always be pleasant, but she will definately get in my face and ask why she couldn’t borrow my car when it’s sitting in the driveway for 5 minutes. It’s not that “I haven’t heard from her and she is going to swoop in and disrupt us” either. It’s just that she knows (because she has been here at Nutcracker before) how incredibly busy it is. She is a fairweather person and is very determined to start drama with me. I just try to avoid her and let my husband spend time with her. I can get through I guess if I’m busy, I just don’t really like the confrontation. The sad thing is that my parents have said they would go to a hotel so she can stay with us, but they shouldn’t, they have said for months that they are coming to the Nutcracker. Ughhhh!

        • Elizabeth

          Karen, keep in mind that it is your house, your rules! Confrontation can be hard, especially if you are naturally inclined away from it, but you might practice (on your own or with a friend) for what to say when she raises certain things. Have an answer ready when she asks why she can’t use the car. (Actually, it will be a moot point since you will have already told her she has to rent one.) When she spreads her papers all over the dining room table, say “MIl, just so you know we will be using this table for dinner so you will have to pick these things up beforehand.” If she does, you sweep them up in to a pile and put them aside. If she insults you, look her in the eye and say “I’m sorry? I’m not sure what you mean. If that’s the way you feel, perhaps you’d prefer to end the visit for today?” Definitely don’t allow your parents to stay in a hotel. Let them know calmly and confidently that they will be staying with you and MIL will be staying at a hotel. End of discussion. Whether or not she “expects” you to feed her/pick up after her is besides the point. Presumably you (or other family members) cook for yourselves – she can join you for your typical meals or she can figure out something else. Whatever you normally eat for breakfast is what she can eat for breakfast – or she can stop at Starbucks near her hotel : )
          Just drop the end of the rope, don’t let her bully you in to anything. Find a few good phrases and repeat as necessary. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible.” “Unfortunately, I can’t accommodate that request.” and “No.”

        • Nonnie Mowse

          Hi Karen,
          When you mentioned that your mother lives in Costa Rica, I’m wondering if her behavior is some kind of reaction to being a country where she feels she will have more cultural freedom? I was trying to research it, and I think CR is one of the countries that’s very patriarchal. The words suppressed and repressed came to mind. All the advice here has been fabulous, but I thought maybe looking into some cultural aspect of her perception of what it means to be in America (as in maybe free to act whatever way she wants to), might help with navigating her visitation? A thought from the crazy train here, maybe gift her with some color office folders for her papers, so she can keep them organized at their hotel? That way let her know that you’ve paid attention to something she needs to do? I don’t know if I’m making sense here. Along with words, a non-verbal but tangible way to get her to realize you’ve noticed her behavior, and that you understand she needs to do what she does – she just has to do it somewhere else. A small gift basket at the hotel with folders, restaurant gift cards, or VISA gift cards so they can pick up whatever little thing they need they may have forgotten or want to take home? Just brainstorming, haven’t thought it through. I come from the school of a crazy wrong idea sometimes leads to a right one.

          • karen

            Thanks. She isn’t from CR. She just recently retired there. She has lived all over the world. Home is VA though. I would do the gift cards, however judging by previous attempts at niceness, it would not be appreciated.

    • Elizabeth

      Karen, Alicia and I have both posted responses to earlier versions of your question. The additional information here doesn’t change anything. Bottom line: it’s not rude for you to decline their visit – etiquette can’t tell you what to do in this situation, it can only guide you in communicating it. You can respond by saying, “We would love to have you down for the Nutcracker, and I know Daughter would love to have her grandparents there to see her perform. However, the house will already be full with other guests, so unfortunately you would have to stay at X or Y Hotel. Additionally, it would be best to plan on renting a car, since we won’t have a spare to lend.”

        • Clara

          Karen, the more detailed information definitely painted a different picture than the original impression. Why does your husband accept the way his mother speaks to you? You are supposed to be a team, no matter how busy both of you are. I’m not saying he should plan his mother’s visit by himself, but these conversations should be taking place between him and her, especially since it seems she does not treat you respectfully. That seems to be the bigger issue than this one particular visit.

          • Vanna Keiler

            Ahhh! The MIL stepping on eggshells scenario! How many of us know it well (including the MILs). I concur with the advice suggested regarding Karen’s dilemma. Furthermore, being one not to mince words, I would naturally suggest the direct approach suggested here: your home (and car) is unavailable this year, regrettably, but your (limited) presence is always welcome. Put kindly, with enthusiasm, and any ill-intentioned or over-bearing extended family member may grudgingly (and huffingly) concur. Then, your holiday worries will be limited, you will enjoy the MIL’s visit, she may enjoy you better (due to your increased and genuine enthusiasm to see her) and the kids and your husband will all benefit. Of course, she may make a fuss and complain to her son, but that is an issue between those two. And as Elizabeth pointed out…it’s your house (and car)…and sanity. :)

          • Karen

            Thank you all for your help with this. Clara, you asked about “why does [my] husband accept the way his mother speaks to [me]”? Well, because she never does it in front of him. She is on her best behavior when he is around. I’ve told him some of the remarks before and he says that I’m being sensitive. Unfortunately, my mother has always used the old adage. First time, shame on them, second time, shame on you. So I always try to think things will be positive, but usually at some point she’ll say. “I’ve been thinking” and out with whatever is annoying her. But if your teenage son notices it, then you know it’s bad. There was one time, that my husband told her she was rude but she didn’t really learn from it.
            As for her staying in a hotel. Well, I sent an email and simply told her the Nutcracker is on the 7th and it would be better for us. My parents are staying with us that weekend also. It might be better to rent a car so you guys can have more freedom. ” So now, I don’t think I can go back and say oh oops, you should stay in a hotel. So I guess my son will sleep on an air mattress. She has not replied yet.
            Yes, I agree with you Clara, there is a bigger issue! And Vanna, I love your response. I’m afraid I may lose my sanity during this time!!

  2. Clara

    I have been seeing a therapist since the summer. I really like her and I go every 2 weeks for about 45 minutes. By chance, I just put some facts together and realized that one of her grandchildren had my Mom as a teacher going back a few years ago. My therapist may even realize this based on my last name, although she may also not remember the names of her grandchildren’s teachers each year. I feel awkward now b/c I feel like I’m violating my Mom’s privacy by talking about family matters with someone who may know of her (or may not.) The son is in a band and through facebook I realized that he is also facebook friends with some one of my younger aunts and her friends. Is this cause to discontinue seeing this therapist? I feel like I won’t be able to be as free to speak my mind and express myself. It’s disappointing b/c I would have to start all over with someone else.

    • Alicia

      Have you ever heard of the 6 degree of Kevin Bacon idea? Every Actor is connected to Kevin Bacon within 6 connections. This happens in real life too. Particularly within a geographic area people will know someone who knows someone who knows someone. It just is a fact. Your grandkids teacher a few years ago is is not a close connection. Also therapists are good at separating their sessions from their personal lives. So if she is a good therapist who is helping you you should ignore this and focus on the issue at hand and if it really bothers you discuss it with her. But you should feel free to discuss everything as you have been.

      I fail to see what your son being friends with his great aunts friends has to do at all with the therapist.

      • Clara

        Alicia, simply put: my Mom is a teacher. My therapist’s son and grandchildren live in my Mom’s district. My Mom had my therapist’s grandchildren as her students. My Mom also has a younger brother (my uncle) who is apparently friends with my therapist’s son. I am discussing my family in therapy and it has become apparent that my therapist may actually know my Mom and my uncle.

        • Alicia

          The son thing was unclear it sounded like it was your son. Now it is clear but the situation is the same. Either decide to trust in that your therapist either does not know your family or can separate her work from her personal feeling or discuss it with her. Maybe she knows some of your family maybe not. But any therapist in your local area is likely to have the same distant connections to your family. So if she is good trust her professionalism and continue to use her. If she is not good then a new one but the new therapist could easy have the same slight connections. A grandkids teacher and a adult sons friends are not close ties. She can almost certainly be trusted in the same professional manner as had you not made this connection and likely she has not made this connection.
          But all that said go to whatever therapist you feel best with. But do not be surprised if you pick a new one and they have even stronger ties to your family.

        • Elizabeth

          Clara, if you’re feeling anxiety about this, you should bring it up in therapy! Therapists are bound by a code of ethics, part of which includes confidentiality – but you’re aren’t. So I don’t think you have to worry about your therapist knowing (in a fairly indirect way) members of your family. Even if those connections are there are realized, they are definitely distanced enough that she will be able to be objective about the whole thing. But again – why not bring this up to her as a source of concern and see what she says. I can’t imagine she will be anything but reassuring.

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