Ask Amy: For baby-sitter granny, griping means 'no'

January 3, 2014 

Dear Amy: My husband and I play in a band. My mother-in-law takes care of our kids (2 and 6) for some of our show nights.

Some of these are late weekend nights, in which case she sleeps on the couch. We have a baby sitter that we hire half of the time, so she knows we don't depend on her for every show. And we pay her in favors or help around her home. Sometimes we give her money and/or buy her lunch or dinner. My mother-in-law watches her daughter's child constantly (the daughter is a party animal). The child literally lives with her.

She has started to call us hours before our shows and comes up with reasons why she can't help us. Then she calls my husband selfish because he gets upset. Then she will give us a bunch of grief but will ultimately agree to do it.

I am tired of this. I feel like we bend over backward to make this easy for her. It's exhausting. I want to have a good relationship, but she makes me so angry that I can't even look at her.

Are we a bunch of jerks for asking for help with the kids, or is she nuts? Do you have any suggestions on how we can make it easier on her, or should we just cut the baby-sitting ties? I would rather have her say no right away than put us through all of the grief, which has been conveyed to her multiple times.

— Confused DIL

Dear Confused: Your mother-in-law is saddled with almost constant child care (according to you), and then you are aggrieved that she doesn't want to baby-sit for you and sleep on your couch a few times a month. This puts you somewhere on the "bunch of jerks" spectrum.

Yes, the baby-sitting she does for you versus her daughter is unequal, but she does not owe either of you automatic child care.

When she tries to say no (calling and making excuses), you don't accept it. She sounds passive aggressive — so you should accept that for her, griping means "no."

She might be willing to have your children spend the night with her a couple of times a month instead of coming to your house. But you should also accept that she does not want to baby-sit. The burden for you is to not take this personally.

Dear Amy: While I liked your advice to "Understanding Mom," whose son wanted to wear a skirt to a friend-hosted dinner at a fancy restaurant, the solution is simple: She should get him a kilt!

— Practical and polished

Dear Polished: I understand your suggestion, but my point is that this mother should not be involved in her adult son's wardrobe. He needs to figure this out.


Contact Amy Dickinson via email at, follow her on Twitter @askingamy or "like" her on Facebook.

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