This obviously sounds exhausting and not at all healthy for anyone involved.
So far, I've played into their requests and spend time with her whenever I can, with them. But it's hard to bond with a kid when she knows her better choice is right there hovering over her, and I'm kind of over it. The last straw was asking whether I would watch her at the mall while they got their hair cut. I'm 40, not a 13-year-old kid, I'm not going to watch her at the mall.
Any suggestions on how I can deal with them and have a better attitude so that I can at least see my niece? I had grand ideas of being able to take her for overnights once a year or so, like my aunt did with me starting at 2. At the very least I had grand ideas of being able to babysit her while her parents went out to dinner. My annoyance with my brother and SIL is making me not want to see them at all.
Annoyed: Well that’s about as self-defeating a turn as I’ve seen a problem take.
I’m not unsympathetic. Watching people overprotect a child, which it sounds as if they’re doing, brings out a visceral response for some reason. I think it’s partly based in rational, villager concerns about the potential harm in limiting a child’s experience, which may not be an issue at 18 months but will become one if this continues — and about instilling in a child a fear-first worldview.
I think part of it, too, is the implied insult; even you, a loving middle-aged auntie, are with the rest of humankind on the Do Not Trust list? Really?
But no matter how valid the issues you take with these parents, they get the last word here — and the first and middle ones, too.
And, ironically, the more you resist or eye-roll their parenting judgment, the more you affirm — to them — their wisdom in maintaining a strict two-person child-rearing advisory board.
Time will crack this open eventually, of course. But you’ll make room for yourself sooner if you keep proving your value and keep minding their rules. Of course you’ll stroll the mall with their kid while they get haircuts. Because you’re not the reason they’re distrustful, they are. Of course you’ll come hang out with the child at their home. Respect their right to these rules if not the substance of them.
And while we’re here: Of course you won’t press for overnights, because even many relaxed parents would say no at 2 (or 5 or _) for all kinds of reasons. Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it suits everyone.
So. Back those expectations down to nothing, and your hopes to this: time with your niece.
That boosts your chance of being trusted when they rethink their “trust no one” stance — or of being the child’s badly needed outlet if the clamps stay on.