Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,
My son Jerry and his wife Candace (our daughter-in-law, DIL) have been married for three years. We live several states away, and since they have been married, we have visited them three times and stayed three days. Before they got married, we were fairly close to Candace; we had gone on several trips together and got along fine. We have always had a strong, close relationship with our son.
I’ve nothing against my DIL; I have never had any problems with her until after they got married. The first time we visited everything went well until the last day when she became moody and untalkative, making it very uncomfortable for us. That is basically how the other visits went, we would have a good time until the last day or so.
The baby they are expecting soon will be our first grandchild. My DIL told us that when the baby came they would like a couple of weeks to themselves, and after that her mother was coming to stay and help for a while. No time frame was given when we could come and visit. I’m respectful of their wishes to be alone for a couple weeks and I also understand that she would want her mom there to help.
Candace told us that she has decided to make it a family tradition to have Thanksgiving at her house and that we would be welcome to join them. Nothing was mentioned about getting together with our side of the family for a holiday. I mentioned Christmas and she said that they would like to start their own traditions.
We really don’t feel comfortable spending Thanksgiving with her family. I feel that it is a tradition that they are starting, and while it is thoughtful of her to include us, it really isn’t something that we want to do. Also, that will be the first time that we get to meet our new grandchild and we would prefer to do that when we can spend time with the baby on our own. They also invited my daughter, who feels the same way.
My question is how do I politely turn down her invitation and ask to arrange another time when it can be just our family? I don’t want to cause any problems or any more rifts that could hurt our relationship.
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response
I appreciate that you contacted me specifically to help you craft a message to gracefully decline your DIL’s Thanksgiving invitation. Instead, as I explain, I want to persuade you to gratefully accept their invitation. I begin by sharing with you some observations I have regarding the situation you have described.
First, it is common for new moms, who are close to their own moms, to use them as their primary resource when a new baby arrives, sometimes to the extent that mothers-in-law, like you, feel left out. In fact, your DIL has clearly let you know that her family will be more involved than will you and your family. This is not all Candace’s doing: I point out that your son, as close as your relationship has been, would not be the first son to fade into the background as his wife and her close family members take the lead in all new-baby matters. It is likely that whatever plans are in the works in their household concerning the new baby, they are with your son’s approval.
I mention this because I think you need to think about these decisions and changes as coming from both your son and his wife, and not as things that are happening against your son’s wishes. This is your reality at the moment, and I urge you to simply accept it and not try to change things. If you do, you could marginalize yourself and become viewed as someone who is needy and an energy drain.
Make Yourself as Welcome as Possible
I understand you feeling hurt and excluded, but I do want to remind you that if you want to have access to your grandchild, it is in your best interests to accommodate whatever requests and dictums come from your son and his wife regarding your visits with their baby. I also suggest that when you do visit in the future, that rather than staying in Jerry’s and Candace’s home, you stay in a hotel or Airbnb.
It is possible that your previous three-day stays were just too much guest time for Candace in her space. This would account for the dwindling of her usual cordiality around day three. In the future, when you inform Jerry and Candace that you don’t plan to stay in their home, I suspect they will be relieved. And this may increase your welcome factor.
It is for these reasons that I suggest you enthusiastically and gratefully accept the Thanksgiving invitation extended to you. In this way you can help ensure that you don’t, in your words, “cause any problems or any more rifts that could hurt our relationship.” If you want to be in the game, even if it means being on the bench, that is certainly better than not being allowed to play at all.
In short, I urge you to make no demands and to accept Jerry’s and Candace’s conditions with a smile and gratitude. Be patient and agreeable, and perhaps over time you will be able to spend time with your grandchild in ways that are more in line with your preferences. But right now, your desires and preferences must take a back seat to Jerry’s and Candace’s plans and decisions, at least in the foreseeable future.
As unfair as this may seem, you have to earn the privilege to spend time with your grandchild, and because Jerry and Candace are clear as to their expectations, the path ahead for you is also clear.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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