Wednesday, November 07, 2007

wfmw: the backwards edition (now with updates, on the bottom)

Okay, so the holidays are coming up and I have this serious problem to deal with.

My In-Laws. . .

Now, if you've read me for any length of time, you know that I just don't get along with them. Mainly my mother-in-law. She is the most selfish person I've ever met. That among other things.

Anyway, now she and my father-in-law are in that awkward state of "getting a divorce, but can't afford to officially separate (ie: live in separate homes, have separate lives) so they are stuck, together, fighting constantly.

They were here on Halloween and it was VERY uncomfortable to anyone in the room.

Debby would talk about how worthless Steve is, and Steve being the man he is sat and took it all.

Anyway, all of this to ask a question. Thank you if you're still reading. . . .

With the holidays around the corner, Tim and I have already decided that we are NOT going anywhere. We are holding the festivities here, to make our own traditions. So the boys can actually play with their toys on Christmas.

The in-laws know this and so far, it hasn't been a problem. But, I really don't want them here if they're going to fight the way they did on Halloween.

Some hurtful things were said about Steve (Boppa, to the kids), in front of my children. Not a good situation for anyone. Not to mention, not very holiday spirited.

I've talked to Tim about this and he isn't comfortable saying anything to his mom. Not that I can really blame him. She has a tendency to blow things WAY out of proportion and will promptly announce that she will not be coming for Christmas, instead of actually listening to our concerns.

Any ideas? What should we do to insure a happy holiday season for our children and not something fresh out of Jerry Springer?

Thank you so much for all the awesome ideas so far. You've all given me so much to think about.

However, let me just explain a little more about my mother-in-law.

What seems simple and easy for most of us, is almost impossible to do with her. Like talking to her, in a calm manner.

The woman is crazy. Not to be mean or spiteful but she is. Tim and I, over the years have approached her about her behavior with Steve. See, even when things were "good" with them they would still argue on a regular basis. She would still put him down in front of us, all the while using him as her personal servant.

Steve has his own problems,mind you. Number one: he's let this go on for so many years, without standing up for himself.

So, he's always been her doormat.

Anyway, when we have said stuff to her, she always takes it to the extreme.

A couple years ago, when we lived out of state, we came to visit for Christmas. They were their normal, dysfunctional selves, and my children were there to witness it all.

We tried to say something to his mom quietly about it. Saying something like "hey we understand that you aren't used to having little ears around anymore but we wouldn't want the children to get the wrong idea. They love you both and are beginning to worry that you are fighting because of them." Well, she flipped out and spent all of Christmas in her room yelling for Steve to bring her this, and bring her that.

We ended up opening gifts, quietly and then spent the rest of the holiday out and about, trying to stay away from the house. We even had TV dinners that year. It was horrible.

My oldest, after we left to go home, told me he never wanted to visit their house for Christmas again because of this.

Oh, and did I mention that this was Bumpo's first Christmas? Yeah. . .

Now, because we live here and see them on a regular basis, the kids already consider Yaya (what she insists the kids call her) to be mean and nasty. Bumpo, who loves everyone, hates to be around her anymore. He says that all she cares about is her dog and her computer. It's a terrible, terrible situation.

Basically, the only reason we are still in contact with them is because she IS Tim's mom. The only real family member he has. And he hangs on to the good times they shared when he was growing up with just her.


CityStreams said...

This sounds like a really complex situation and my simple answer may not be fitting. But I would try discreetly inviting them to seperate Christmas events. You could cushion this by saying "I know you don't enjoy being around Steve right now so I was thinking it would be nice if you came for supper Christmas night by yourself." And then to Steve say, "We'd really love to have you on Christmas Eve for dinner. The boys will be so excited to have their Boppa all to themselves."

Kristin said...

We don't have the best relationship w/ my in-laws either. But, one thing my mother told me in response to hurtful things being said in front of the children is that kids are very resiliant. A wrong must be done over and over and over again for it to really sink in w/ the kids and affect them. So, don't take that too seriously just yet.

Suggestions? I think it's a great idea to have them come to your house. The only thing is now you are stuck and can't get away. Maybe if you schedule ongoing activities in and out of the house it'll keep things moving along so that no one gets too idle. Make an ornament together, go to the park, open 1 gift, have supper, then walk around the neighborhood, then open 2 gifts, then sing Christmas carols, have dessert, then open 1 gift, bath time, then kids to bed, then watch tv or clean up kitchen. ???

Unsinkable Kristen said...

I just found you from Rocks In My Dryer's site. Perhaps you could just let them both come over, and if anything is said, in a quiet voice lean over to her and say "I understand that you are upset with him right now, however, I would appreciate it if you could refrain from those types of comments in front of your grandchildren. I would hate for them to see you in a negative light." Saying that once or twice, always in a quiet and gentle voice, may get her to understand that the only person she is making look bad is herself.

FunkyMonkeyJunk said...

Since the festivities are at your place, it seems you can make the rules. If they can't play nice, they can't come. Your kids may be resilient, but are they at an age where they mimic words or attitudes? Could you be setting up an example for them to witness that will bite you back later?

I understand making your own holiday traditions. We look forward to doing that with our new family. But the good thing about being at other people's homes is that you can excuse yourself whenever necessary. When everyone is at your place, it's hard to kick them out. :-)

SAHMmy Says said...

That's a really hard family dynamic to have to deal with. If she refuses to listen to reason and her craziness has affected your kids so much that they don't even enjoy her presence, it may be time for your immediate family to do your own thing on Christmas morning. Why let her hateful energy spoil the magic of Christmas for your kids? Maybe you could invite them over to take the kids to the park to run around in the afternoon--it's a little harder to fight when you're trying to make sure nobody falls off the slide.

Janelle said...

That sounds complicated! My suggestion would be to schedule different times that each of them can come. We do that (my parents are divorced and my dad refuses to be in the same vicinity as my mom) or we skip one of them completely.

I would also say that since you appear to be concerned with how the negativity is bothering your children, at any point ask your MIL to leave if you think it is detrimental to your children. It puts your husband in a rough spot, so it will have to be you, but make sure he's on board to back you up.

And above all, remember you are making wonderful memories with your children, if you aren't then don't do it. If that means have her over on a different day by herself, or not at all, you do what you have to do. Your family (husband & kids) are more important than making her feel welcome. Either she'll get the idea and straighten up around your family or she won't see your family, IMO, either way you win! Hang in there!

Amber said...

Having dealt with many dysfunctional family members (and extended friends/family, too) in my life, I sympathize.

But unless Tim himself is willing to step up and say, "Mom, you can't talk about Steve in front of the kids and you can't behave this way or that unacceptable way in front of the kids" etc., then you're kinda screwed. This is his mom so it's his call.

And if you insist on getting involved by putting *your* foot down about it, you risk alienating Tim because he'll probably go see his mom on his own out of guilt if she refuses to come and yatta yatta yatta.

Personally, I decided long ago I don't need drama filled people in my life. I don't care who they are; if they are causing negativity and grief, they're out. No time for that; life is short.

And my husband Dan disconnected from his mom long ago. We have zero contact with her and he's much happier. His siblings, however, are still guilt-ridden and she still causes them, and their children, no end of grief. Every time Dan talks to them, it's "mom said this, mom said that" etc. Every holiday puts everyone into an uproar because of some awful thing "Mom" said.

Even at the family reunion we just went to, good old "Mom" reduced my sis-in-law to tears. She's a dysfunctional mess and nobody ever knows what she is going to say or do. That makes any time around her very very stressful for everyone.

Oh and all the kids (20 down to 3) call her "Scary Grandma".

I feel extremely blessed that Dan made the decision to cut her out of his life. Our holidays are filled with joy and love and peace every year because there is no one in our sphere of family/friends that does otherwise. And I love it.

As for my ex's family (extremely dysfunctional) we never invited my ex's parents to our house, never. Right from the beginning when we married at 18 and 20. And when we went to their house, there were times we just up and left because of his mom and her crazy ways. I never forced our kids to sit there and "take it" the way my ex had been forced to "take it" because he couldn't get away.

I would just say, "time to go" and we would go. Actually, over time this made some improvements with his mom as she tried a lot harder not to alienate us on our visits. She wasn't always successful but she was trying, I could see that.

Eventually, though, as my kids got older I refused to go with him at all when he'd visit his parents.

Of course, you must realize, they had been incredibly abusive to him. How distanced I would remain towards in-laws, or parents, for that matter, would depend upon how much abuse had gone on during childhood.

My ex's parents had severe issues. And Dan's mom...let's just say his childhood is a horror story.

Please understand, however, that when I stopped seeing my ex's family, it drove another wedge between us, leading down that road to divorce. So cutting off family members is not a decision to make lightly. Forcing someone to choose between a family member they are not willing to let go of and their spouse is extremely risky and I'm not suggesting it.

I only know that, for me, just me, eventually I had to make a stand.

Oh and it's total bullshit that kids do not remember harsh words or dysfunctional situations unless they are repeated over time. I still remember very hurtful things said to (mostly others in front of me) when I was very little and they only happened once. So does Dan.

Your oldest already said he doesn't want to go back there. I have no doubt that when he's 15, 25, 35 65, he'll still remember the ruined Christmas where everyone had to tiptoe around crazy shouting Grandma and ate TV dinners.

I know not only because I remember certain times from my childhood but my kids still remember the times where something was wildly out of place. Especially at holidays.

Now, how much this kind of exposure is damaging depends on the child; how sensitive they are, how well can they handle such things. Some kids/people are good at it, some are not.

Bottom line, this is Tim's issue overall. Like Dan's sibs, I hope for his sake that one day he can look at the peace he has and the chaos she creates and choose the peace for good.

In the meantime, support him as much as possible and yet, at the same time, you must protect your kids even if it means kicking out Tim's mom. Talk to them openly before she comes over. Go over what she might say or do. Practice how everyone will handle her. Explain why she acts that way. Try to inspire compassion for her, that she's emotionally ill and can't help doing what she does. Most of all, let them know that no matter what, you will NOT let their holiday be compromised in any way and Christmas will not be "ruined".

That's what they most want to hear; that you two will step in to keep their holiday joyful, if needed.

Sorry I blathered so long but this is a problem I have struggled much with for many years and so has my husband.

Good luck! I hope some of what I said maybe helped a little! :)