Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Take conciliatory tone with mother-in-law on items for baby
Confused in Florida: My mother-in-law and I have had a good relationship. After my son was born seven months ago, she stopped calling me completely. She used to call every week, or I would call her. He is her first grandchild.
She just told my husband she is upset and angry because I am not using a lot of the stuff she got for the baby.
That is true, but this is why: She bought everything at garage sales, and much of it is either age-inappropriate (toys he can't use yet) or does not meet current safety standards.
I asked her when I got pregnant not to buy anything because I wanted to pick out the big items. They live out of state, so I could not shop with her. I did use all the clothing she bought — I don't care if clothing is new or used — and displayed pictures and knickknacks she purchased as well.
My sister gave me many of her children's things, like a highchair that cost $300 five years ago, which I am using instead of the highchair my in-laws bought for $1 from who knows where. I hope I am not being unreasonable. My father-in-law had said to feel free to give any of it away because they spent less than $100 total. I don't know what to do to make this right.
Carolyn: You need to talk to her yourself now, and smooth things over.
But don't mention your garage-sale skepticism. It's a common problem between new parents and their parents, since the two generations right now span the litigation divide; however, "garage sale" and "unsafe" don't correlate 1-to-1, since that one-buck chair could be newer and/or safer than your sister's, right?
And, it is a real eye-poke to say, "You knew about babies once, but your knowledge is out of date and useless to me." Some baby knowledge is timeless, and some has gotten needed updates. Yet we can't always be certain which is which, so overruling an "elder" is sometimes necessary but sometimes presumptuous.
Meanwhile, parents have the last word. That leaves grandparents emotionally exposed — wanting badly to be involved, often having a wee bit of ego on the line, but knowing their involvement is at the pleasure (sometimes whim) of the parents.
So grandparents often will tiptoe in, self-consciously, in a way that feels safe to them — through, for example, stuff. That means the stuff is more than stuff; it's an overture.
The parents, of course, have to handle it as stuff — do they need it, want it, like it? There's excitement and a little ego involved here, too.
As you've found out, the grandparent who sees the overture cast aside can have an outsize reaction of anger or hurt feelings or even scorn for the "snooty" new parents.
So tell your mother-in-law you miss her. Explain that you received things from many people and maybe you weren't as mindful as you should have been about people's feelings. Tell her the clothes she gave you were lifesavers.
And encourage her to tell you when she's upset, because you value her. You want her to know she's not the dispensable bystander to your growing family; that's a real fear, particularly for mothers of sons.