Dear Carolyn: I have an 18-month-old toddler. My husband died unexpectedly when our baby was 3 months old. Since then, my in-laws have been clingy toward me and the baby. I understand this, as they are grieving their son and do not want to lose their grandson, whom they probably see as what they have left of their son. I think they are afraid I will get remarried and replace them with a different set of grandparents.
I've tried to be understanding because they are wonderful grandparents and they clearly loved their son, and love their grandson very much. However, this summer I am planning to take my son to my family's summer lake house for the first time. My family will be there as well, and I've been looking forward to relaxing. My son will love the water and being with his cousins.
My in-laws told me they want to rent a cabin on the same lake during this time. This is horrible, but I don't want them there. My family has a routine and traditions, and I don't want to have to worry whether my in-laws are enjoying themselves or not. I don't want to spend what should be a rejuvenating week for me compromising between two sets of families. My in-laws are also extremely risk-averse — again, understandable — and I don't want to spend the week talking them off the ledge every time my son does anything.
I love them and want them to be a part of our lives, but I need to recharge in a way I can't with them around. Is there a way I can say this to them? If no, is there a way I can salvage the vacation?
In-Law: There is a way you can say no to them — “I know you want to stay close and I love that you are so close, but I am overdue to give my family 100 percent of my attention. Thank you for understanding!” And if appropriate: “Let’s plan something for when we get back.”
There is also an argument for just letting them do what they need to do, and rent their cabin, because they’re no doubt utterly devastated and trying to function. With this choice, you salvage the vacation by not worrying whether they’re enjoying themselves, and by not trying to talk them off ledges. Just do your thing, kindly, and trust it to work out.
If they respond badly to this, then it might require one declaration of boundaries from you that is, again, kind, but also firm: “I know you want to be close to Grandchild. This is how we do things here, though, and have been for years. These are our traditions. Please respect that.”
I am not endorsing this choice to include them against your instincts — I’m just setting it out there as one option. It is not “horrible” that you don’t want your in-laws there, so make whatever choice you need to make to get through this difficult time. My condolences.