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I don’t know how to handle this, help please

(110 Posts)
muffinthemoo Sat 19-Oct-19 21:29:52

Hello ladies. I wonder if I might bring something to you for some advice. I have a bit of a tricky situation on my hands and I desperately do not want to do the wrong thing.

My BIL who is very dear to me has been in a relationship for about a year with a lady who has a very small child, the same age as my middle one. The relationship has progressed very quickly and they are living together as a family.

My little ones are very fond of this wee girl (let’s call her Isabel, I don’t want to use a real name of course) and she of them.

My MIL is making a strong effort to be inclusive of and accepting of Isabel as a family member. The situation is delicate as my BIL is still not allowed to parent Isabel or direct her although she often is in his sole care. As a result, my MIL is not identified as a ‘granny’ or he as a ‘dad’. I don’t have any views on this either way as Isabel is not my daughter and it is not for me to pass judgement on how BIL’s partner manages these relationships. Isabel’s birth father has never met her or been in her life and I realise this is a difficult situation for her mum to navigate.

I would absolutely definitely never willingly or knowingly do anything to endanger these relationships.

Here is my first trouble. It seems minor but the situation is very eggshell-y and I’m not sure how to proceed. DH says he doesn’t know what to do and wants me to handle the issue. My MIL over the years has tended to keep all of the kids’ christmas and birthday presents at her house for them to play with there. I have at times felt uncomfortable with this but have never made an issue of it.

However, Isabel has been using these toys/furniture etc when she is at MIL’s, both when she’s there alone and when all the little ones are there together. My eldest two (aged four and three) have been strictly instructed about sharing, so they do share with her, but have recently cried after some visits because “my granny gave [toy] to ME and now Isabel just takes it”. There have also been a few items that Isabel has taken home and that my children have noticed are missing.

The second issue is that MIL has taken down all pictures of DH and some of my children and replaced them with pictures of Isabel. The children have noticed this (it was absolutely not drawn to their attention) and have asked why this has happened. They have asked if they have to share their granny with Isabel and whether she is Isabel’s granny too. I have basically flannelled them with vague answers but am not sure how to approach this. She does not call BIL dad or anything like that.

The third issue is that BILs partner and I parent a bit differently. This is in no way a criticism of her. I am probably too strict and old fashioned in my approach to be honest. However I am strict about good manners and good behaviour when out or when visiting. On our last visit together to MIL’s, Isabel threw furniture, toys and food, and pushed my youngest (just turned one) off a ride on toy that MIL had purchased for him. Isabel also frequently wets “for attention” (according to her mum, I don’t make any judgement) and removes her clothing in public. At my youngest’s baptism, she had to be removed from mass for doing this and also for hitting my middle child.

My girls are questioning why they are corrected/not allowed to do things that Isabel is allowed to do without correction. I would add that my MIL is quite willing to correct them but Isabel not at all (again, this is a difficult relationship and I completely understand her position).

The wee ones are all fond of one another and we ensure they meet up regularly. This good relationship is really important to me and I don’t want to do anything to damage it.

How should I handle my children’s questions/reactions to all the above? I am desperate not to say the wrong thing.

LondonGranny Sat 19-Oct-19 21:35:55

When you say 'very small' how old is Isabel? If she's three or four it's in the range of expected behaviours. She's going through a time of change too. As for toys at your MILs, Isabel needs to have some toys there too.

muffinthemoo Sat 19-Oct-19 21:41:35

She’s three. I know this isn’t outwith the norms of “threenagers”. That’s why I mentioned I fear I am too strict sad

I need to avoid any variant of “because Isabel’s mum thinks that is fine, but I don’t”. That’s just insanely bitchy. sad

The idea about the toys is a really good one, thank you LondonGranny and I will bring this up with my FIL.

I also have asked DH to bring up carefully with MIL that it is probably not a good idea for the girls’ Christmas and birthday gifts to be kept at her house this year whilst Isabel’s go back to Isabel’s house. I don’t think there is any benefit in looking for trouble.

paintingthetownred Sat 19-Oct-19 21:46:59

you may not be liking you for this, however, I really think you need to be withdrawing from these peoples lives and concentrating on your own.

If you do this, they will come back to you.
Other peoples relationships are really none of your business.

LondonGranny Sat 19-Oct-19 21:48:42

I would add that children don't wet the bed for attention in my experience.

LondonGranny Sat 19-Oct-19 21:56:39

I don't know whether this is a factor but some families put an unhealthy emphasis on family solely being blood relatives and regarding anyone else as 'an interloper'. Blood is not thicker than water, love is. A family is a group of people who care about each other. Back in the 18th century family meant a household of people which often included servants.

LondonGranny Sat 19-Oct-19 21:59:05

Also the unhelpful 'blood is thicker than water' trope always ignores that the mother and father are usually and ideally (from a genetics POV) totally unrelated.

Hetty58 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:03:29

Why is it a 'tricky' situation? You are talking about a very small child. Her parentage or time spent as a family member are just not relevant. It helps if children are treated equally, of course, so MIL should take charge and apply the same 'rules' to all.

Toys should always be shared. Who owns what shouldn't matter. Parents have different styles, some strict, some more relaxed. If they are consistent with their own children, that's all that matters.

MIL should be reminded to have photos of everyone (or nobody) on display - in the interests of fairness.

I think that your critical attitude is part of the problem. You have every right to intervene if there's hitting involved (to protect your child) but any 'rules' should be agreed with her mother.

Your parenting style shouldn't be applied to someone else's child. Please don't assume that it's superior, either. Personally, I dislike your thinking about emphasis on manners and 'ownership' of toys. I'd say that they will be played with, shared, sometimes broken. They 'belong' to MIL if they are in her house.

Gemini1789 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:06:08

I think you sound like a very good Grandma . It is not old fashioned at all to ask for good manners. ‘Isabel’ is obviously upset by the new family arrangements and will need time to adjust. All you can do is to continue to tell her gently what you need her to do. As you know children will grow to understand that different people have different standards.
I suppose the stripping off is attention seeking. Showing as little reaction as possible will take away the shock value from her. Pretend it isn’t happening . ( I know ! ) Pick up the discarded clothes with a bored expression and wait till she gets cold.
Seize every opportunity to reinforce her good behaviours. It may seem unnecessary to say for example ‘ you are walking nicely ‘ but she will appreciate your approval however small.
You could take your own children aside and ask them to help you show her their nice manners etc. at least the one who is the same age I mean. When she asks why Isabel is allowed to get away with no correction reply along the lines of ‘ we don’t think that’s right do we ? We behave nicely don’t we so the other children will want to play with us . Do you think Isabel is showing off ? So do I.
You are probably doing all this already. It is hard work but the rewards are great too.

MissAdventure Sat 19-Oct-19 22:09:09

Except the op isn't the grandma. smile

Gemini1789 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:11:57

I put Grandma but I don’t know if that is the right word. Apologies.

Gemini1789 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:12:37

We crossed in the post !

MissAdventure Sat 19-Oct-19 22:13:24

Ah! Yes.
Sorry, crossed wires and posts.

muffinthemoo Sat 19-Oct-19 22:14:41

I think I’ve not explained myself clearly, sorry.

I’m really happy for my BIL and I am deeply anxious that I answer my wee ones’ questions in the most positive and appropriate way. My family of origin isn’t a blended one so I was hoping for some help from folks within more experience than me of how to do this in the best way.

I am in no way whatsoever “interfering” in any relationships. My kids ask me questions like “is our granny Isabel’s Granny too?”, I just would like some help with the best way to answer them.

Please, please do not think I have some type of weird “blood family” prejudice. I worked in adoption processes for some years and I believe absolutely that DNA doesn’t make a family.

I just really don’t want to screw up here. My BIL has always wanted a family but due to some health issues would not be able to have genetic children. Isabel is really sweet and my girls love her dearly. I enjoy all the time I spend with her and I dearly hope she remains part of the same family as us.

As an aside, the wetting isn’t night time wetting, which would be a) none of my business and b) nothing for anyone to be concerned about. She is wetting the floors/chairs when out in public or visiting houses. My own view is that this is 100% an issue for her mum, I don’t think or feel anything about it, but I have strongly reinforced to my kids that this is not a behaviour they have displayed and it is not a behaviour I will accept. (Always under explanation that sometimes you might have an accident and you never will get in trouble for an accident).

LondonGranny Sat 19-Oct-19 22:18:06

I'm not sure about the stripping off being attention seeking. One of my nephews did this as soon as he physically could (at about the age he started walking because he's one of those kids that feels too hot or uncomfortable in too many clothes) and it was a family joke that whether at a wedding or at home he'd get naked whenever he could! My SIL used to put his nappy on back to front so he couldn't undo the sticky tabs. As an adult (he's now in his mid-forties) he does an outdoorsy job & wears shorts and T-shirts even when it's winter. He cannot abide synthetic fabrics because they're uncomfortably hot & sweaty. We are not identikit beings.

notanan2 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:19:18

How do you cope out and about?
Everywhere you go there are children whose parents have different rules and parenting styles. Its not "tricky" you just get on with it.

If you cant manage this what are you going to do when your kids friends have phones/revealing clothes/alcohol before yours do?

Sounds like you are not particularly confident in your own parenting. This is about you not Isobel.

The world is full of Isobels.

MissAdventure Sat 19-Oct-19 22:22:50

It all sounds strange.
Your brother in law being in sole charge of the little girl, them living as a family, (after just one year) and yet he isn't allowed to direct her?

I would say its no wonder she is 'playing up', if that's what it is, but I've my doubts there, too.

muffinthemoo Sat 19-Oct-19 22:23:14

Also re the toys:

These toys are every birthday or Christmas gift my PILs have ever given my wee ones. Some have their names on them. They have always been told by their GPS that these are ‘their special toys and books’.

Hetty I quite take your point that toys at MIL’s house belong to her; all I was trying to explain was that this is the exact opposite of what the wee ones have always been told by their GPS and they are looking to me for an explanation.

I 100% believe it is Isabel’s mum’s right to parent however she sees fit, and as I said upthread, I have a lot of doubts about my own approach.

I do not know how to appropriately answer my children’s questions as to why Granny ‘lets’ Isabel do things that they are told off by Granny for.

Please, I didn’t come here for validation, I really need the advice.

Oopsminty Sat 19-Oct-19 22:24:23

The world is full of Isobels.

How true, notanan2.

And muffinthe moo, I'd just say to your children that you do things your way and that's that.

muffinthemoo Sat 19-Oct-19 22:26:32

notanan I cope fine out and about because my explanation has always been, “some mummies don’t mind if you do [behaviour], but I don’t want you to do that”.

That’s a fine approach for soft play, but it’s a receipt for disaster amongst similarly aged kids in an extended family, no?

I didn’t spend time with any cousins as a child so I don’t have that experience to draw on either.

I’m sorry if I’m just annoying people. I am struggling with this and scared to mess it up. I want to do the right thing.

notanan2 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:28:00

The toy issue is also not about Isobel. You have not addressed it (and it is weird to never let children bring any of their gifts home) and your children would start questioning it even if Isobel had never come along.

Children will ask you to justify your rules, decisions, actions and inactions
They will do this more and more as they get older whether there are "Isobels" to compare to or not.

This is not about Isobel.

This is about YOU and your inability to justify your own parenting to your children.

notanan2 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:30:29

That’s a fine approach for soft play, but it’s a receipt for disaster amongst similarly aged kids in an extended family, no?

Its not usual for extended families to all parent the same.
Its not a problem so long as you are confident in your own parenting and have explained your rules to your children well. And "because theyre my rules" wont cut it as they get older.

notanan2 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:34:03

My childrens cousins all have very different rules to mine.

We're close. Its not a problem. I parent my own my way and can explain to them why I make the decisions I do.

I intervene ( or used to, not so much now theyre older) if the cousins were doing something dangerous or destructive. Otherwise, differences are not a problem.

muffinthemoo Sat 19-Oct-19 22:36:06

notanan I have addressed the toy issue with DH since eldest was born. The relationship between him and MIL is high conflict and at times that has come into our relationship too. DH pushed back on me very strongly in a very negative way about this issue around gifts.

I have had some professional input on my own to help me negotiate some relationships better and one of the things I was most strongly advised to do was to not focus on things I felt upset about that MIL did/had done and not to raise them with DH as he responds aggressively.

So yeah. The gifts all get opened and taken away. I have not justified this behaviour to my children because I thought I was doing the right thing in not upping the conflict level.

I feel like the comment that I am unable to justify my parenting decisions to my children is unfair because I work extremely hard to always give them reasons for why I decide things and to discuss them with them. They are used to getting their questions answered by me. This is a raft of connected questions that I am struggling to answer.

What would your advice to be me about how I should deal with these questions/discussions going forward? I am sorry if My tone appears defensive. I am truly open to any suggestions.

notanan2 Sat 19-Oct-19 22:39:13

As I said, this is not about Isobel at all is it?

Why are you with a man you cant question?

Why are you accepting that you must walk on eggshells around you ILs and DH?

If someone wanted to give my children gifts that they would immediately take away I would not go round to "accept" the gifts in the first place.

This is definitely not about Isobel!