Dear Doula -
We’re expecting the first grandchild in the family and my mother-in-law insists we give our son a Family Name. The Name is truly awful. My husband and I don’t want to name our son The Name, but she keeps pushing! She even gave me a blanket embroidered with The Name at my baby shower. How do we tell her we won’t be using The Name without making it awkward?
Sincerely, Nope To The Name
Dear Nope -
First of all, congrats on your upcoming bundle of joy! My son is also the first grandchild in the family - on both sides - so I understand the excitement that’s bubbling around you right now.
I’m so glad you and your husband are on the same page in this situation! It makes it so much easier to start from a place where you’re working together instead of against one another. You’ll need this kind of teamwork in parenthood, too! Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, so no one really knows what they’re doing as a parent, especially the first time around. As you learn from experience, you’ll grow in maturity as parents.
In the same way, your mother-in-law is going to need some time (and grace) to grow into her role as “grandma”. This is a new stage of life for her, too! Most of the grandmothers I know are tickled to love on their grandchildren and only want to be helpful to the family. Of course, some of these grandparents end up overstepping and reverting back to their familiar role - parent. Can you blame them? They’ve probably been a parent for as long (or longer) than they’ve been not-a-parent by that point!
Now, I’m not excusing her blanket trick - that was low and manipulative even for a bad mother-in-law, and I’d bet my bottom dollar she knows it. In a way, I’m glad she sprung it on you in front of a group of people. It makes it clear that she’s the one pushing the conflict while preventing you from reacting to her tomfoolery in a way you might regret later. So, kudos to you on the self-control! The question becomes: how do you want to handle this moving forward?
Ideally, you’d like your mother-in-law to cut out the aggressive suggestions, yes? I definitely recommend using what I call the “smile & nod” method. Essentially, just hear the words coming out of her mouth, smile, nod, and change the subject. Don’t register it, don’t react. The point is to make the antagonism pointless. This trick usually takes the wind right of a pesky mother-in-law’s sails! Of course, you and your husband both have to adopt this new strategy together.
Alternately, you could call her out - gently - when it happens. The next time she mentions The Name, ask her outright: “Do you think that mentioning it over and over again will force us to name our son The Name, Barbara?” Before you do that, be sure you can drop the venom in your voice. Just ask the question frankly, plainly, and without snark. Then zip your lip and wait for her response! Odds are, she’ll probably feel awkward, try to laugh it off, and take your point.
And then there’s snark. You could always take the low road, get passive aggressive in response to her manipulation, and turn it into a great family drama! 0/10, would not recommend.
No matter how you choose to call her off, might I recommend a few helpful tips? Don’t tell her the name you decide upon. Wait until she is in the room, with the baby, before you announce the baby’s name. Who can be upset when they’re holding their first precious grandbaby in their arms? Only a monster. Also, I’m sorry, but this is going to be awkward. She’s made it awkward by pushing the subject, so know this is not your fault. It’s also temporary - you’ll all survive the moment of awkwardness, I promise.
Best of luck to you, Nope! Hope your son loves the name you choose for him.