Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In-law dilemma

My in-laws are really nice people. I truly believe that they have the best of intentions, they love their three sons dearly, and are really happy with their daughters-in-law. They are absolutely thrilled about Phred, who will be their first grandchild.

Two issues. First, they do tend to be somewhat overbearing. I'm not sure whether overbearing is exactly the right description. In some ways I think it's because they're lonely - they will often call us (or M's middle brother a lot more), with nothing really to say. Recently they've been calling on an almost daily basis asking "So how's my grandchild?" Ummmmm..... fine as far as I know. I've heard them say, as well, that once Phred is born, they plan on spending two days a week with us. Ack. Again, they're really very nice people, but they're not family to me in the same way that my mom and sister are - I feel like I need to entertain them and keep them busy where with my mom and sis I know that I don't. So that's issue number one.

Issue number two is going to be even harder to deal with. It has to do with gift giving, for birthdays, but way more so, for Christmas. My MIL is a shopaholic. Which is a really bad thing when you are planning on retiring in about six months, have your house fully mortgaged, and over $30K in credit card debt. Christmas at their house is a truly disgusting event, in my mind. Each person gets a stack of presents about three feet high. The first few years we estimated that the total value of gifts amongst the three sons and their spouses was in excess of $2K. It's gotten better since then, but still completely and thoroughly over the top. So much waste, excess, spending for the sake of spending.

A prime example was my baby showers. I had two - one organized by my MIL for her friends and relatives, and another organized by my sis, for our family friends. Similar to my bridal shower, I felt completely embarassed by opening the huge stack of gifts all from my MIL. To me, a single gift would have been more than sufficient, given that she spent all the time and energy to throw the shower. But no. She got us (brace yourself!) 1. the bedding set we had registered for, 2. along with the matching diaper stacker and 3. sheet. 4. A box full of about fifteen different bibs for all sorts of occasions, all individually wrapped in the appropriate paper (e.g. heart paper for "baby's first valentine"). 5. Another pair of sheets. 6. Waterproof bed cover. 7. Two sleep sacks. 8. Hangars. I don't know about you all, but spending fifteen minutes opening presents from one person was a bit much for me - again, I know it's well intentioned... The real kicker for me was at the baby shower thrown by my sis. I was completely and totally taken aback when I was handed a SECOND stack of presents from her! More bibs (we have 29 in total, thank you very much), more hangers, more sleep sacks, another sheet, another set of waterproof sheet covers, three or four sleepers of different sizes, and the Graco stroller we had registered for. All told, around $600 worth of stuff.

After this, M tried very gently to tell her that although it was much appreciated, it was way more than they should have done... and that Christmas is going to have to be *very* toned down, i.e. only one or two gifts. And nothing for Phred (in my mind, it is worthless to give gifts to a child before they're old enough to grasp what's going on, and at 4 months, I can pretty much guarantee that even if Phred is a super genius, that's unlikely). She told him that she has already purchased a bunch of outfits for next summer! Argh!

So that's issue number two.

I feel like I need to address these things with them now. Set expectations up front so that we don't have to battle every Christmas and birthday, and so that they don't expect to be living part-time with us! The rules that I would like to set are one toy and one outfit for Christmas and birthdays. If nothing else, I feel like it's unfair to us for them to do more than that - this may be their first grandchild, but it's our first child, and *I* want to have the enjoyment of picking out toys and clothes! If they're buying dozens of outfits, on top of all the hand-me downs I'm probably getting from various friends and relatives, I feel like I won't be able to have that fun (I am extremely frugal and thrifty, and aside from my car, really don't buy things that I don't *need*. Which makes their excess even worse in my eyes!). And we'll need to figure out how much we actually want them to visit, but I think weekly visits should be more than enough. I don't want to have to plan our lives around them, and also want to have time to spend with OTHER people.

My dilemma is how best to address these so that I can get my point across without getting their backs up and making them all defensive. I thought of a few options - 1) writing a letter, 2) inviting both of them over to dinner this weekend, along with my mom and her husband, and laying this out for all of them, so that my in-laws don't feel as targeted, or 3) taking my MIL out to lunch, just the two of us, and trying to get the point across to her on our own.

Which option do you think is most likely to work (feel free to make other suggestions too!)? Am I completely deluding myself in thinking that there is anything I can do about this?


AnotherAmy said...

I completely understand where you are coming from, unfortunatly all youre going to be able to convince them is that you dont like them the way they are, you are critisizing the way they do things, and their feelings are going to be very hurt.
Count your blessings and bite your tounge.
Just my assvise since you asked

pixi said...

M. is also very frugal and he does not like to be showered with gifts (for him or the baby). He has tried to communicate this to his family for years, but somehow they just think that he doesn't like the type of presents they get him, so they keep trying harder. I've been a little bit more successful in getting my family to understand. I've told them that M. is very frugal and can't stand waste of any kind. He doesn't want spend his spend his own money unnecessarily and even more so, he doesn't want his friends and family to spend their money unnecessarily. My family gets this now. For example, two birthdays ago, my mother bought M. a 100 dollar toy (Robosapien), because M. is into gadgets. M. was horrified. 100 bucks for something that he would fiddle around with for a little while, and then what? This birthday, she got him a nice bottle of wine, and that was it. He was thrilled. And she was thrilled that he was thrilled.

But I know it'll be harder when it comes to the baby. One thing I do tell my family is that I already have too much stuff in my house, and that I can't deal with anymore. I try to convince them that I'm trying to go "minamalist," and that I don't want anything that adds to the clutter situation in my house.

I do think it'll be tough to bring up the issue with your MIL, because gift-giving seems to be her thing. I guess I would vote for getting both families to together, so she doesn't feel like the target.

As far as the visits, go? Oy, I wish I knew. my SIL said something about coming over every day -- I think she was kidding, god I hope so, but still I shuddered. I hope you get some good suggestions for that, because I'll be very interested to read them!

Six days???? How are you doing with that?

Jenn said...

I like the idea of having her and your mom over and talking about it. That way she won't feel singled out.

DD said...

I wouldn't even look in the direction that sleeping dog is lying. If she wants to spoil Phred and bankrupt themselves in the process, that is their decision and problem, not yours. Take what you can back to the stores and put the cash into a savings account (when possible).

As for the time they want to spend with you: again, let them...at first. But give them a specific schedule that you want them to keep. This could be done in your group meeting, so no one feels singled out.

One Mother's Journey said...

I think it's best to get it all out in the open now before the baby is here but it'll be hard to not hurt her feelings. Doing it with your mom is a great idea so she doesn't feel singled out.

Also - if it were me, I think I'd have my husband attempt to talk to his mom about it first to "feel" her out about setting limits. I couldn't talk to my MIL without my husband otherwise I'd be the bad guy.

Good luck.

Kath said...

Oh, Nico, that's such a tough one. I don't really know what to say. Of course you don't want to take away her joy, but it looks like she's in over her head, and that she's hurting herself with her shopping/giving addiction.

This problem affects or will affect all of you -- and if yours is the first grandchild, then it would be best to take care of it now, preferably with your BILs and SILs, and say you would really like the mutual gift-giving to be reduced to one (small) present per head. If it's a family decision, it won't be "you ruining her joy." Just say, hey, the family is getting bigger (spouses, now children), let's all keep this within reasonable limits.

About them visiting -- that's even tougher. You could think about making a "counter-offer," along the lines of "Gosh, the first few weeks are so draining, and we really need a bit of alone time with the baby. We'd be thrilled if you could come, though, on the weekend of ____, and on September _____. Does that sound good?" It's unfortunate that they have already stated their (unrealistic) preference, but it's really inadvisable to establish a precedent like that...

I'll try to give it some more thought...

Good luck, my dear!

fitgrl said...


The family is always tough... My MIL loves to gift give as well...she bought our cat a cat spa if you can imagine...the cat had absolutely NO idea what the thing was, sniffed it once and that was it :) We returned it...

In the case of my MIL it would break her heart if I approached her on the gift giving as she loves doing it so very much. We just let her do it and either return them (as mentioned by dd), or re-gift certain things. I have asked N to hint to her when we have too much stuff and that we are trying to 'pare' down and that seems to help as well.

I like Kath's advice on the visiting counter-offer in terms of saying that it is going to be very busy once Phred is born and that you & M would like time to yourselves to get to know him/her.. That is a conversation that I would have with her one on one though (unless you genuinely plan to have the same conversation with your mom) so that she doesn't feel like you and your mom are ganging up on her..

That's my 2cts...

soralis said...

I understand about your MIL... my mother is the same with gifts. She doesn't listen to anything I say as I have had many chats with her.

I probably wouldn't write a letter if I were you, sometimes people interpret things in a different way than it was meant. If anything I would try having a chat with her, but if she is anything like my mother she will do as she wants anyway. My mother bought our boys their first christmas outfits and ortanments, and their first this and that. I was not happy but it did save us some money, stuff we didn't have to buy ended up being a good thing.

(29 bibs... we have spewers I definately could have used those! LOL!)

Good luck with the MIL

Well-heeled mom said...

My MIL is a gift giver. Christmas at our home is much as you described. She is also very crafty and likes to make us nice seasonal things to set around. My SIL's husband mentioned something to her about it being too much, and seriously, it ruined their relationship. Be careful.

nichole-e-o said...

Hi, I've never posted to you before but I can relate to your gift issues. I honestly don't think you need the extra stress right now of discussing the issue with your MIL. If anything your DH should be the one to say something. After the baby is born and everyone gets used to things they hopefully won't buy so much. If it really gets to be too much, I would just tell them you have no more room for toys, clothes, etc and have to donate things to a charity. You can just tell everyone if they give Phred more than one Christmas gift (for example) then you'll have to donate the others they give. Good luck!

Watson said...

Yikes Nico!

I'm not sure how helpful our comments are going to be, as we seem pretty split.

Since you asked for our assvice, however, here's my two cents: I think you should separate these issues and pick your battles.

If the frequent visits are causing you stress now and will be a real problem when the baby comes, that might be something I'd address now, or ask your husband to speak directly with his Mother about it.

I would be careful about bringing up the whole gift-giving issue now, as that could have a detrimental effect on your relationship if your MIL misunderstood where you were coming from.

Maybe wait until the holidays and have a frank discussion then about what you and your husband want to create for your baby in the years to come, how your values for sharing the holidays with family don't have to revolve around expensive and plentiful gifts!

Whatever you decide, good luck!

NCD said...

I like the idea of getting all family together for a discussion early. We had to set some serious limits for christmas gift giving and we came up with a nice idea. We agreed to spend a weekend together somewhere fun, either skiing, or something similar instead of any gifts.

Also, an outfit, a toy and perhaps money in a college fund seems a very reasonable gift. If you accept her outfits now, you are only breaking the barriers before they start

Leggy said...

I'm late in commenting, but I can so relate to this as we have similar problems with my inlaws, though not quite as excessive. Don't really have much assvice because I still struggle with this and my son is 5 1/2. But boy can I sympathize.