When parents act like children, start treating them as such
Q: My husband and I live an hour from our families, and each lives in a different town. We try hard to spend equal time with each. Yet we are trapped in a constant tug of war between his parents and mine, and between my mother and father, who are divorced. We have an infant son whom they covet, but my mother can't stand that I spend time with my father because of his wife ("that woman"), and my mother-in-law constantly picks at us for visiting my parents "too much." It is starting to seem more like a competition than a desire to see their grandchild.
It has gotten so bad that they ask us where we are on weekends to see whether we are at another grandparent's house, and if we are, all hell breaks loose.
We are trying to establish ourselves in our own town, but lately we spend weekend after weekend driving to visit family. My husband and I have also been arguing more.
We're trying the saying "no" approach, but how can we help them to understand how hurtful it is to be given so much guilt?
A: They'll find out eventually — by seeing it on your faces, hearing it from you, or feeling the pain themselves when you withdraw out of self-preservation.
Had they one adult's worth of maturity among them, they'd see it on your faces. But they don't. So: Option 2.
It won't be enough to say, "This hurts," just as it isn't enough to "try" to say no. As you're seeing with your baby, children don't instantly internalize abstract concepts like fairness, respect and decency. You have to simplify the concepts; spoon-feed them; effusively reward the behavior you're teaching; attach age-appropriate consequences to bad behavior; and hold the line gently but firmly for years until your kid gets the hang of it.
Since these grandparents are acting like children, adopt the above as your game plan.
(1) Simplify the concepts: "We know you love (Baby), but the travel is wiping us out, and the second-guessing about who we visit really hurts."
(2) Spoon-feed: Set up a visit schedule. It can be a simple list of families — A, B, C, A, B, C, A, B, C — where you see each in order, at home or away, as you please. Or, it can be a geek cabaret, with spreadsheets and time logs and minimum weekends off. Whatever it is, make it something you and your husband agree upon, then present it to all parties as nonnegotiable.
(3) Reward good behavior: Whenever you aren't pressured, say, "Thank you SO much for not pressuring us." They'll either be happy you're happy, or gleeful for their perceived leg up on the grandparental competition. Their motivation isn't your problem; this is about results.
(4) Discourage bad behavior: When the guilting starts, say, "We are trying to be fair to everyone. Please respect our choices." If the pressure continues, say: "I'm sorry, I won't discuss this any further," and then end call/change subject/leave room.
They all want you; the consequence is your absence. Be meticulous about small absences, and you likely won't need to withhold visits.
(5) Hold firm: "We are doing our best. Please respect our choices. (Change subject.)" Your family — you, spouse, baby — comes first.