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Carolyn Hax: Mother-in-law is all social media, no action on seeing grandchild

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I’m struggling to find some grace, or maybe a mantra, about my mother-in-law’s behavior. She has been up to visit us TWICE since the baby was born almost two years ago — once as a newborn, once when she was 9 months old. She lives about 2½ hours away by car. We visited over Christmas. She won’t Zoom or FaceTime or learn video chatting.

Yet she posts on social media almost daily about how she misses visiting with her granddaughter, how they have this great “relationship” and “rapport,” how covid has ruined this time for her, etc.

Carolyn, she never freaking came up BEFORE covid, and NOW she’s lamenting that it’s covid preventing her from seeing her granddaughter? She was preventing herself just fine before the pandemic.

So I guess the things I'm struggling with are: resentment that she rarely visited in the before-times, and was not helpful when she did visit; secondhand gall at her social postings framing herself as an active/involved Grandma; and a feeling of general injustice that she gets to portray herself as a victim.

I’m never going to just call her out because it’s rude, and I would like to maintain a cordial relationship with her. My husband shrugs and says, “She’s always been into appearances,” but he’s had 40-plus years to accept this. Do you have any words of wisdom to share?

— Resentful

Resentful: How about that your husband spent 40-plus years wrestling with his mother’s preoccupation with appearances so you don’t have to.

It can't have been easy for him. It sounds as if he has made a healthy degree of peace with her limitations.

So enjoy the fruits of his emotional labor and write her off, guilt-free, as an attention-seeking fraud. He knows it, you know it, she knows it — and what the rest of the world thinks is irrelevant.

And stop following her on social media. It is not oxygen; you can cut it off completely, immediately and forever, and still not die.

Re: Mother-in-law: I fully support Carolyn’s suggestion to unfollow your mother-in-law. I’ll also offer that my therapist has suggested I view my own mother’s comparable behaviors through the lens of sympathy.

What you’re describing sounds like someone who is trying really hard to convince people her reality is something wildly different than it is. There’s a reason she feels the need to do that — and it’s not because she’s a happy, secure person. It’s nothing you can fix. but you can — if you want to — choose to feel empathy that she’s stuck in that kind of emotional place.

— Sympathetic

Sympathetic: Great stuff, thank you.

It’s also applicable to almost any frustration with any difficult person. The unpleasant traits you see on the surface are probably a watered-down version of whatever roils at the core. And to behave in a way that repels people is generally not a person’s first choice. As always: an explanation, not an excuse.