Management of the MIL takes on a whole new level when grandchildren appear of the scene. The overriding priority when dealing with MIL and her interactions with her grandchildren, your children, is what is best for the kids. Remember that as you reflect on your own experiences and read through a few of mine. I haven’t always got this right but of all the interactions I have had with my MIL the ones concerning my children are those which I feel most sure of. My instincts kicked in early on and I have never really given a damn if she disagrees or disapproves of my childrearing. My kids, my rules, suck it up MIL.
Narcissistic grandmotherly interventions start with the announcement of any pregnancy. There are predictable responses that a narcissistic MIL may select from. First is jealousy that the pregnancy will take attention away from her. She may choose to minimise or ignore the pregnancy or suddenly develop some health problem or other crisis in her life to get some attention back on herself. Alternatively she may decide to take over the pregnancy and give all manner of advice and opinions solicited or not, research the best birthing methods, the best baby equipment, even invite herself along to the hospital on the day and right into the delivery room.
My MIL opted for the first approach and after being told we were having a baby (her first grandchild) she refused to discuss it or get excited “in case something goes wrong” which was a very tactless thing to say to a woman expecting her first child. This lasted the full nine months. Every time she visited or spoke to my husband on the phone any news about the pregnancy was deflected and dismissed. After the birth she managed to say “congratulations” literally that one word to me and nothing else. No enquiries about how the birth went or a chat about how lovely the baby was, nothing. As I mentioned before in the section on abuse amnesia she refused to even hold the baby on her first visit which she made sure was only brief and spent the entire time moaning about her own mother whom she had been visiting, she saw us on the way back from her mother’s, we were not the priority that was clear enough.
I have heard tales from others with and NPD MIL about how they completely dominated the whole pregnancy with their interference. From buying the right vitamin pills, insisting on certain doctors only at certain hospitals, trying to use money to buy the treatment they wished for their DIL, trying to dictate the birthing method and environment, even inviting themselves to be the poor woman’s birth partner. Thank God I never had to deal with that. Her disinterest was a relief to be honest. Pregnancy is a vulnerable enough time without extra pressure from someone you dislike trying to control your every move.
There was one incident with my second pregnancy which to this day is a sore point but that was more to do with my husband than with the MIL. She knew the pregnancy had been hard, ten weeks of twenty four hour a day “morning” sickness, pelvic girdle pain, an unexpected bleed and admission at 31 weeks, then a sudden concern about my blood sugar and the babies growth rate (high) led them to put me on a special diet for the last four weeks and demand finger prick tests six times a day. MIL decided she wanted to come and help by staying for four days when I was 38 weeks pregnant. I felt ill at the very thought. She graciously told me she wouldn’t be offended if I wanted some time to myself, in my own house, when nine months pregnant. Offended. As if my overriding concern at that time was if I was causing her offence. Mercifully the doctors decided to induce the baby early. I was so disgusted that my husband had joined in an applied pressure on me to allow his mother her chance at “helping” rather than do what was best for me which was to arrange an easy and relaxing last couple of weeks of the pregnancy. It rankles me to this day.
Having declined to show any interest in our newborn child the first time, she arranged her own special visit a couple of weeks later. This was when she started to accelerate her interest in the baby. First she insisted on buying some clothes she thought we would need. Then some more, then toys. Then she came every two to three weeks for the next six months. Each time the baby was bought more and more stuff. A lot of it was second hand from charity and thrift shops. Piles of stuff wholly unsuitable for the baby like a gardening set when she was three months old. She wanted to be the grandparent who bought all the significant items. Upon hearing that we had taken the baby to get her first pair of shoes she sent a cheque covering the cost (which I never cashed), as she wanted to buy them.
Not content with buying everything she could lay her hands on she also indulged in competitive parenting. Shades of anything you can do I can do better. For example our daughter sat playing with a jigsaw and her grandmother had to show her the correct way to do it, offering a running commentary the whole time on how she was educating the child through her interference. She went on to relate how she had done this sort of thing with my husband and SIL and then with sickeningly sweet coyness practically fluttered her eyelashes and remarked how of course not all parents did this (as she glanced across at me), maybe it was just her. The implication was clear, that somehow I was not stimulating the child sufficiently. She even commented to me that I had a much lower level of interaction with the baby than my husband did because I just sat watching the five month old play with her toes one day rather than talk to her. That I spent all day, everyday with the baby and therefor hardly needed to be constantly in the child’s face evidently did not occur to her.
One other issue over which MIL had an epic sulk was the naming of our daughters. The first was not a problem, the second was. We had first heard her unusual name when my husband started lecturing a course for a professor at his lab who had that name. We both liked it and called our second daughter after this professor, a lovely and successful woman. When MIL heard it she sulked. She assumed we had chosen it because it was also the name of her ex-husband’s aunt, a fact she was aware of as she extensively researches family trees in the belief that she is descended from aristocracy. Neither of us had any idea that we had chosen an old family name. My FIL has a large family on one side, seven aunts and uncles and he is not terribly forthcoming about these things. He only mentioned it to us some weeks after the child had been born and named. Apparently MIL had been hoping we would somehow just know that she wanted us to choose her mother’s name or her own name. The old telepathy trick again, expecting mind reading and getting upset when it doesn’t happen.
These behaviours are irritating but not dangerous or damaging. There are ways in which narcissistic grandmothers can behave that do actually tip into worrying. Outright disobedience of any rules you make regarding your children is one of these. This is a concern for several reasons. Firstly it is a continuation of her disrespect and attempts to control you and your other half, it is about power not love. Second it undermines you as parents in front of your children showing them that your rules do not need to be obeyed. Lastly it can be dangerous if your rules are designed to ensure your children’s safety.
The next post will cover some of the more concerning behaviour you may experience from a narcissistic MIL and what to do about them.