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First off, feel gratitude toward your helpful in-laws. They are truly doing you a huge favour, saving you wheelbarrows of cash and unknown amounts of aggravation. (James Woodson/Getty Images)
First off, feel gratitude toward your helpful in-laws. They are truly doing you a huge favour, saving you wheelbarrows of cash and unknown amounts of aggravation. (James Woodson/Getty Images)

My in-laws help watch my kid, but how do I get them to leave when I get home? Add to ...

The question

My husband is a stay-at-home father to our young daughter. His parents, both retired, come over every weekday to help him out and to spend time with their grandchild. I genuinely like my in-laws, and feel that our child benefits greatly from having loving grandparents to play with and learn from. My only concern is: How do I get them to leave once I get home? I don’t want to seem ungrateful; however, I only have two hours a day during the work week to spend with my daughter before her bedtime. I often feel that she is less attached to me than to her grandparents, which hurts. My husband doesn’t have much of an opinion on the subject, and is not good at being tactful, so any plan would have to be executed by me.

The answer

Now and then, I get some variation of this question from a reader. Obviously, it’s a ticklish subject for a number of reasons.

First, as you say, you don’t want to appear ungrateful. In the autumn of their years, your in-laws, who could be playing golf or reading a magazine, have chosen to transport themselves to your domicile and, 100 per cent free of charge, perform numerous drudgeriffic, possibly highly objectionable tasks, e.g. attempting to wipe your child’s rump while your child, tomato-faced, squirms and screams and tries to get away. These things aren’t even fun when it’s your own kid. You might seem like the Queen of the Ingrates if you come through the front door in your dry-clean-only, go-to-the-office clothes and say: “Thanks for everything. Okay, you must go now.”

Secondarily, it’s always ticklish, when you have freely invited someone into your home, to ask them to leave – the conceit being, especially when it comes to relatives, that they should stay as long as they like. That’s always been a bit of a head-scratcher to me.

Finally, as you also hinted, it’s nice to get that tri-generational thing going, wherein the grandparents are all involved in their grandchildren’s lives, and vice versa.

In short, I get where you’re coming from. As to what you should do … First, I would inhale, exhale and let the gratitude you should be feeling for the help they are giving wash over you. They are truly doing you a huge favour, saving you wheelbarrows of cash and unknown amounts of aggravation. My mother has always helped us out – she’s like some kind of geriatric superheroine, answering the phone like a bat-signal after one ring, jumping in her convertible Chrysler Nanamobile and scooting over here, bleached blond hair ruffling in the wind. When my wife Pam and I tell people what she does for us, they turn the colour of organic spinach baby goo with envy. So if I’m ever tempted to feel anything less than purely grateful (like when she criticizes my parenting – in front of the kids!), I merely grit my teeth and quash the thought.

Speaking of quashing thoughts, next inhale and exhale and tell yourself your kids being close to their grandparents is the price you pay for all that help, and is in fact a great thing. Don’t worry about that relationship trumping the one you have with your daughter. You’re her mother. Nothing trumps that.

Next, look around the house and locate your husband. Then point your finger at him, turn your hand palm up and, making a finger-crooking “come-hither” motion, say, “I want to talk to you.”

Sit him down, tell him 1) how you feel and 2) that it’s his job to handle it. Why? Well, 1) they’re his parents and 2) he as the person staying home with your daughter is deriving the most direct benefits from their ministrations.

I don’t buy this “not good at being tactful” guff. That’s like saying, “I don’t know how to do the laundry” as a way to wiggle out of it. I’m sure he can summon the necessary resources of tact if need be. Example: He could wrap his message in an ameliorating diaper of gratitude, issuing a sort of “thanks-missal” like: “I really want to thank you guys for coming, we’ll take it from here.” Or: “You guys have been so great, but we gotta get the kid ready for bed.”

Unless they have rhinoceros-thick hides, they should get the hint. If not, well, I think you have the right to whisk the kid off to the bath or somewhere else while he entertains his mom and dad.

If none of this works, and somehow it still comes up, then be honest: “Look, I’m a working mother, I want to spend a little quality time with my kid, it’s precious to me.” Hopefully it won’t come to that, but if it does, they should understand. They were parents themselves once.

What am I supposed to do now?

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