Hi The Band,
I feel kind of dumb typing this out, but I need to talk to somebody – out of respect for my husband and his feelings, I can’t tell the people I’d normally go to for support. I’m not even sure where to start, so forgive me if this is disjointed.
I’ll start here: I have an incredibly complicated situation with my in-laws.
Some background: my in-laws are lovely people, and I genuinely love and care for them, BUT they drive me a bit crazy. Sometimes, my in-laws act in a less than socially appropriate manner – they want to be as close as possible to my family and me.
Before my husband was born they had a stillborn daughter, followed by my husband (who is healthy), followed by 10 miscarriages. Then, my in-laws adopted my brother-in-law, who has had mental health and behavioural problems from the get-go.
I don’t think they’ve ever really dealt with the death of their daughter. Back in those days, baby losses weren’t really acknowledged, you know? So when we got married, I was embraced as the daughter they’d never had, and frankly, I felt smothered by their desire to know everything – to be a part of everything in my life. I’m a private person and feel uncomfortable answering questions about my sex life (why in the world would you want to know what your son and I do in private?!) or other personal stuff from my husband’s parents.
Anyway, the smothering got worse when my daughters were born. I totally understand how precious it is for them to have granddaughters, particularly after the pain they’ve experienced, so we tried to be understanding. Although there have been issues over the years with boundaries being crossed, we’ve worked hard on getting along, and my girls have a good relationship with them (I’m super careful not to say negative things about them).
Fast-forward to a few months ago.
My father-in-law came over, and as we had some errands to run, he offered to look after the girls. No big deal; that’s happened plenty of times before. This time, though, while we were out, my oldest daughter called, upset, and begged us to come home NOW. We did. She was settled; everything seemed normal, but after my father-in-law had left, I asked her about it. She said she had felt really uncomfortable around him and didn’t want us to leave them with him again.
I felt sick.
She assured me several times (and has when we’ve discussed it since) that he didn’t say or do anything wrong, didn’t touch her or anything like that, just that she felt really uncomfortable. She’s very open with me, and I am confident she’s not lying; she seems really confused about why she felt that way, but is adamant that she did feel that way. Thinking back, I wonder if it was a culmination of my in-laws’ more “natural” approach to things (e.g. they had a naked photo of themselves kissing on their fridge for a while (just a Polaroid, not an artsy one) and on one occasion my toddler had gone into the toilet with him and he didn’t send her out (I called her to come out and he was cranky about that).
I wonder if it was something like that.
I genuinely don’t believe that he would molest a child. One of the things I really respect about my in-laws is that they supported a childhood friend of my husband who had been molested by their minister and went to court to testify, despite enormous community and family pressure not to. They lost “friends” through that process, but did the right thing.
I really don’t think he has done anything to my daughter. HOWEVER, obviously, I will never leave her in a situation where she isn’t comfortable, so my in-laws won’t be babysitting any more. That’s really awkward, though, because they’ve babysat before.
My husband and I have talked and talked about it and just can’t find a good way forward. My in-laws want as much contact with our kids as possible and now want sleepovers, too. We won’t let that happen, but how can we possibly explain it? They would be SO hurt, and I think their good relationship with our eldest daughter would be very damaged. It would be impossible to explain in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings, and honestly, there is NOTHING they could do that would make it okay to look after the kids again. My father-in-law will forever have this question mark lingering around him – since I don’t know why my daughter was upset and uncomfortable with him. My mother-in-law has MS and can’t cope with them on her own. It’s just a nightmare.
My husband is so sad that we’re in this situation. He loves his parents and wants them to be happy, but what they want isn’t a possibility. My littlest daughter is only 2, so I see years and years ahead of conflict about access to our girls. It’s meant that we never leave the kids at the moment because if they hear that we’ve used other babysitters they’ll be even more hurt – no more dates or possible weekends away. I don’t see a good way forward.
I don’t actually know if I even want this published, but I just needed to get it out. I don’t want to go on and on to my husband because it’s so hard for him but it bothers me everyday, and I just want to bounce it off of somebody, you know?
Anyway, if you’ve read this far, thank you for your time.
What would you do? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Or am I not reacting enough? I’m going nuts just thinking this out!
Kids (especially girls) deserve the right to set their own boundaries with people, even relatives. Your daughter may be going through a phase or maybe not. But she deserves to have her wishes honored and respected. My suggestion would be to only spend time with grandparents as a family for now and if/when the subject of babysitting comes up, just tell them “the kids are going through a phase of wanting mom & dad around as much as possible” or “the kids prefer sleeping in their own beds at home right now”. If you do need a babysitter for a date night or what not, try to find someone who you can present to the grandparents as an auntie or uncle the girls just adore spending time with.
You are doing a fantastic job in honoring your daughter’s feelings and showing her that she matters!!! The rest will get sorted out.
Hugs to your whole beautiful family! Keep us posted!
That is a really difficult situation to navigate. I admire your ability to listen to your daughter and honor her feelings. Many people have a “no sleepover” rule these days. It does limit parent only weekends away, but can protect kids from dangerous or uncomfortable situations. Personally, I would attempt to schedule other activities to avoid relying on your in-laws for babysitting & keep talking with your daughter. You are the parents, so you get to set the rules for your children even if it upsets your in-laws. For me, every time I set a boundary with a family member they get upset. It’s hard but if the boundary is important it’s worth the struggle. Good luck!
Wow. Tricky! Here’s my only advice: if you believe your daughter (and you should), you should side with her and let her know that she’s important enough to warrant a change in arrangement with her grandparents.
I don’t know your father-in-law at all, just that he sounds to be a bit much for your oldest.
Ask your daughter if she’d like to go to grandma and grandpa’s house. See how she responds.
IDK that’s prolly shitty advice.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was to explain and reinforce in my dad that he is not entitled to any display of affection from my children, nor is he entitled to their time. He likes to say “that rule doesn’t apply to grandpa” a lot and it was making both me and my children uncomfortable. I started by telling hime that we are trying to ingrain in our kids a sense of bodily autonomy: what happens to their body is their decision. That allowing them to decide what they are comfortable with and respecting when they say no is so important to their health. He was bitter for a while but he got over it and now he’s completely on board. I don’t know if that will help you here but it might be a way to approach it with your in-laws?
I agree that your first step is to let your daughter know that you believe her and value her feelings. You’re already much more in touch than you seem to be giving yourself credit for. If your daughter isn’t comfortable, that’s all that matters. You can let your in-laws know that she’s going through some things and you’d like to keep her with you for now…or something. The main thing is that your kids are okay and that they know you have their backs, always.