Lawn care, mundane errands and my mom’s crazy sleep schedule are perennial excuses for why they aren’t available, so there’s a false scarcity of time that I have to navigate. Also, if a diaper accidentally gets left out or if the kids make a mess at mealtime, there’s a 50-50 chance it will put a damper on the whole day.
This past weekend, I put the kids down for a nap at my parents' house because they were so tired. I forgot to make the bed my daughter slept in, and my parents were so upset about it they ignored my calls for 24 hours afterward, when my mom called to say how insulted they were and that they were leaving town early.
I apologized, and eventually they decided to stay “to work on the lawn,” but they never took us up on getting together that visit. My husband loves them, and they love him, but the drama and unreliability are becoming a problem.
They just invited us to their 40th anniversary dinner, no kids, and I’m resentful that I need to pay for a babysitter to hang out with them, when babysitting from them is so scant. They want us to go on vacations with them. And the thing is, aside from this kind of petty drama, we all get along! But seeing them takes a lot out of me — navigating all the scheduling and emotional demands from them and also talking my husband down when he gets frustrated about it. I feel like I can’t voice my own frustrations about it around him, or else I’ll feed his resentment.
— In the Middle
In the Middle: And you haven’t grown more resentful? That five-alarm unmade-bed freakout would have been the end of something for me.
Yours is really two questions, because babysitting and the freakout are different things. Easier one first, the babysitting:
They don't want to, and don't owe you.
And please never ever again dismiss someone’s use of their own time as “false scarcity” just because you’re miffed they don’t spend it on you.
Grandparental babysitting is manna, and I understand wanting it so badly. But that is not the same as being entitled to it. Such care is voluntary and optional, so the only right thing to do with this issue is drop it and hire your help. Not to mention, the last babysitters you want are the ones who don’t want to do it.
Except maybe the same parents who have emotionally abused you? This is the more complicated Answer 2.
Maybe your folks are indeed loving and you’ve overemphasized their “very particular” — holy wow, chaotic, volatile, manipulative — side. But your scrambling to please everyone sure does look like the other side of the controlling-parent coin.
Even without that abuse-level severity, your husband has every right to be done, done, done with parental antics that turn you inside out. Apparently he's still abiding them on your behalf, power to him. But please see what I'm guessing he sees: that you're “navigating all the scheduling and emotional demands from them and also talking my husband down when he gets frustrated about it.” Translation: negotiating your own family's schedule, ministering to your parents' feelings, “talking” your husband “down” instead of just giving him room to feel what he feels. And why?
Why is it your job to orchestrate how everyone else feels?
This is where your two questions have one answer: boundaries. Recognize what is their business, like whether they babysit or how they feel about something; recognize what is your business, like your schedule and how you feel about something; recognize when you're getting sucked into other people's whirlwinds, and when you're creating your own.
Counseling can teach you these skills. For a brief introduction, I'll let Brene Brown do the honors: http://bit.ly/Browndaries.
Dear Carolyn: I have a friend who was a “walking buddy” about every month or so during the pandemic. I enjoy her but always seem to be the one initiating contact.
I know sometimes she is depressed and overwhelmed, sometimes just busy, like all of us. If I text her and don’t hear back, should I text again? Or just wait to see if she surfaces?
Friend: Both are fine. It’s also okay to give her a get-out-of-walks-free card: “I enjoy our walks, but understand if you can’t now that things are opening up. Let me know if you want a break.”