AdviceHey, Bonita!

My Mother-in-Law Doesn’t Know Her Boundaries

Hey Bonita,

My daughter has a mother-in-law who takes over everything, always ignoring my daughter’s wishes and requests. As an example, there’s a very special birthday coming up—their little boy’s first birthday. My daughter and son-in-law are planning a big birthday party to celebrate him with all their friends in the afternoon, with balloons, etc., the typical hoopla with the traditional cake smash. It will be about a week after his true birthday so my son-in-law can return from an out-of-town trip. Sounds fine, right?

Here’s the kicker: the mother-in-law’s birthday is also the same day. She’s sabotaging everything by planning her own party before their [party] even takes place. Although this date is a few weeks away, she’s already posting things on social media, saying that she doesn’t need gifts this year (!) because he’s the best gift ever, has decorated her house for a toddler’s birthday (maybe one relative will be there, not a party) planning a “smash cake,” etc. She is bulldozing her way into this celebratory event and making it her own, taking the wind out of their sails, a child long awaited and wished for. It’s ridiculous for a person her age (70) to be putting so much importance on her own birthday, linking it up to his. How does my daughter make it clear that this is not OK, and to keep it from happening every year? She wants to keep a good relationship going, but it always seems to be very difficult.


Keeping my nose out of it but seeking advice

Hey there KMNOOIBSA,

It’s going to take some very intentional conversations about the problem that are also clear about the solution that your daughter wants. She will need to assert herself as the mother of this child and make it clear to her mother-in-law that Mom is the one who calls the shots on her baby’s birthday. I know it can be tough to assert oneself in the face of a pushy relative, and especially an old one who may turn on the waterworks or make wild claims about a loved one’s desire to have particular boundaries in place. In a perfect world, she would respond calmly and simply announce a change of plans about the birthday parties on social media, and then leave it at that. But I do worry that she may also make accusations doubting your daughter’s love for her or something wild like that. The commandeering of the grandchild’s birthday doesn’t imply a reasonable nature to me.

But that assumes all kinds of ill will in her actions, and it’s very possible that she has no idea that she’s doing something wrong. I wonder how your daughter talks to her in-laws about their grandchild and her expectations of them as a support system. There’s a chance that your daughter is overly agreeable and generous when face-to-face with grandma, agreeing to whatever they want in the spirit of cooperation and free childcare. This may have blurred the lines of your daughter’s intentions for her in-laws’ presence in her kid’s life, establishing a relationship paradigm that Mom now realizes she doesn’t want. Course corrections can be tough when the way has been long-established, and a year is plenty of time for patterns to become normalized. I would recommend that your daughter take a hard look at what the established pattern is for the grandmother and baby, and that can let her know if grandma is doing what she thinks is expected and OK, or if she is truly wildin’ out.  

I also wonder why your daughter and son-in-law chose the grandmother’s actual birthday for the baby’s belated birthday party. I can’t decide if that was shady or clueless of them. They could have chosen the day before or after. There are seven days in a week, so I just can’t see why grandma-in-law’s actual birthday was chosen for her grandchild’s belated party. That fact alone might have her thinking that combining their birthday celebrations is A-OK. I think everyone in this situation could do a better job of thinking of others.

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