About three years ago, my wife and I invited my mother to be our live-in nanny. She is truly exceptional with small children and, in fact, cared for children for a living (early childhood development). We were hard-working professionals who wanted our children to be with someone who loved them.
It didn't work out. After about 3 months, everyone was miserable. My wife felt my mother was trying to dominate the children's lives. My mother thought my wife tried to partition her away from the rest of the family when she was home. I felt caught in the middle; both expected my loyalty; and I tried to avoid taking sides, which pleased nobody. My mother thought that meant I was "against" her. She said truly hateful things, especially when I asked her to cooperate with family rules--she was more permissive with grandchildren then with children or clients--perhaps I asked too much. This situation persisted for two years before my wife finally accepted a less lucrative, more family-friendly position in another state. My job let me transfer. We let it be known that we could no longer afford a full-time care provider (we paid her) and that the children would go to daycare.
My mother followed us to our new state and, in fact, lives about 3 miles away. She does not respect boundaries--at all. At first, she begged for what almost amounted to visitation rights to the children. I refused at first, thinking this absurd: but finally relented thinking it would buy peace. Wrong. She just kept asking for more. The situation grew even worse when my wife and I had a 3rd child. My mother was outraged and gave very unwelcome advice.
My family is mostly on my mother's side. I am close to them, but most family members think my wife is a cold woman who drove my mother away. My mother is a very good, generous person in many respects, and I don't want to try to "win." But, recently, she's been making it a competition. I agreed to let her take the children to the zoo; a cousin of mine and I started planning a long bike ride. My mother learned and promptly invited the cousin to the zoo. At family functions, my mother immediately takes the children away and makes my wife feel unwelcome.
It seems the most rational plan at this point would just be to discontinue contact. That would hurt, and I would regret it, but the situation is again untenable. Yet, I feel that the rest of my family, except a sister, would exclude me and my children. As I said, my mother inspires fierce loyalty and has made this a competition. She's also economically vulnerable, while we are affluent, so they feel us better able to cope.
I don't know what to do. I don't want to lose my family. I want to have peace. But is there any way to achieve it? Sorry for the long question, but I've despaired of resolving this.
From: The WagnerAlternative, Coppell, Texas
Dear Wagner Alternative,
This sounds like an awful situation! Of course you don't want to have to take sides -- and good for you for realizing that. On the one hand, it sounds like your mom has over-stepped her boundaries and she's backed you into a corner. On the other hand, how can someone who has been an early childcare professional not recognize her mis-steps? Can grandchildren make us this blind?!
Have you considered going to a professional? I'm thinking about a mediator, or family therapy, that would allow all of you to have your say and also force you to really hear each other. It's to your credit that you want your mom in your children's lives, and that you know you'd regret shutting her out. It seems to me that seeking outside help is your last, and only, resort. I'd lay it on the table with mom in a way that she has no choice but to do this for you: this is what I want us to do; otherwise, I can't tolerate the stress and I'll have to shut down contact, for my own sanity.
Readers, what do you suggest?