Child Caring

Visit with stepmom needs some prep work

My husband's stepmother recently almost overdosed on prescription drugs. At her last visit to our home, my husband's father told us she was much better, but when she got here it was the same old thing. She was falling asleep at the table, falling asleep in the middle of interacting w my 2 year old , and inappropriately showing affection ie. long kisses on the cheek ( because she was falling asleep). Almost like a heroine addict. I told her not to pick up my 2 month old, she still tried. I told her not to pick up my 2 year old and she did multiple times. It was frightening.

Then she confronted ME! Told me she wouldn't have come if she had known she was going to be treated that way. My husband and I are meant to go to visit them and we are arguing over the duration of our stay. My husband insists we must visit them at their home and that she's doing much better now. I do not want to be put in that position again. I told him I could do 2 hours and he is telling me it has to be 4 hours. Honestly, I'm so unbelievably uncomfortable around this woman at this time that I don't want to go at all.
Please give me a better perspective. How can we stay in a relationship w his dad and stepmom while she is suffering through this and still keep our sanity and children safe?

From: Erica, Glendale, AZ

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Dear Erica,

Here's the best perspective I know: Keep in mind that life is about achieving balance.

It sounds like you love your husband and want to respect his need to stay in a relationship with his dad and stepmom, and it sounds like you both want what's best for your children and their safety. If your information is true, maybe the stepmom is doing better. Meanwhile, here are some thoughts on how to make this work so you're not a nervous wreck, the children are safe, your marriage is intact and the visit a success. (PHew! That will be an accomplishment, huh?)

1. You and your husband write them a letter before you arrive, saying that you support the effort she's making to get healthy but you also hope she will understand your concern about your children's safety. Of course, you want her to have the chance to be affectionate with the kids, but that you need her cooperation to make sure that happens in a safe way. For instance, of course she can hold either child, but only when she's seated in a safe and comfortable chair, and you're nearby. Don't make contingencies; NOT: "If we see you can hold the baby and you aren't falling asleep...." because that could lead to an argument. Keep the tone of the letter neutral, not judgmental or scolding or threatening. Especially not threatening. Tell them you're looking forward to the visit. Talk about something new each child is doing. Both of you sign it. Before you go, have a phone conversation: "So you got our letter? You're comfortable with our visit?"

2. How long should you stay? Once you've set these parameters, maybe you can do the four hours. Maybe you and your husband can compromise on three.

3. If you're concerned about what the 2-y-o thinks of step-grandma's behavior, tell him she gets very tired because she hasn't been feeling well. That's as much an explanation a child that age needs.

4. Before you go, make a pact with yourself that you will be pleasant. Scenes don't get you anywhere. If she's doing something that upsets you, gently remove (either) child from her and tell her simply, "You know what? This isn't working."

The letter serves the purpose of putting her on notice that you want to make the effort but that you need to set boundaries. After that, the ball is in her court, and so are the consequences: maybe she won't be welcome at the next visit.

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