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My sister-in-law has developed a habit both my wife and I find annoying: in order to try and get us to come to their house more often, she constantly pulls my son aside when they're leaving from a visit, and tells him to "tell mommy and daddy to bring you to our house so you can see x" (where x has been, variously, "our Christmas lights", "my new car", "our new puppy", etc.).

We both find this behavior manipulative, and it puts our son in the middle, since we then wind up having to tell him "no" more frequently than not.

As for why we say "no"... well, the full details aren't relevant, but their apartment is small, there's little for him to do aside from sit there and watch their TV (which is always on), and we want my mother-in-law to get out of the house as much as possible, since she's essentially a shut-in ever since she broke her arm, and was told she can't drive.

My sister-in-law drives her over to our house for visits frequently, and we also meet them at local restaurants for dinner regularly. In fact, we average seeing them at least once a week.

By contrast, we only see my own mother, who lives only 5 minutes further away by car, maybe once a month or so. My son actually gets particularly excited to see my mother because, according to what he's said repeatedly, he doesn't get to see her very often (he's explicitly compared the frequency to his frequency of visits to my MIL, e.g. "I get excited seeing Grandma and Grandpa, because I don't see them as often as I see Grandma and Aunt").

My son, for reference, is 5.

How, if at all, should we handle this? Should we say something to my SIL (who will, incidentally, burst into tears at virtually any criticism)? Should we say something to my son? Or should we just let it go?

  • Yeesh, family! Is she offering to babysit, or getting your entire family unit over for visit? – Acire Jan 5 '16 at 0:34
  • @Erica this is just for family visits. We do have a standing offer for them to babysit, and we take them up on it sometimes, but in these cases she's specifically asking us to drive over and hang out for an hour or so. – user420 Jan 5 '16 at 0:37
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You can address it with your son as it comes up. It may be possible to redirect ("puppies are fun, let's get a book on puppies from the library soon!"), promise a future visit (as long as you do plan on following through), or outright refuse ("we'd all love to see Auntie Jane but we don't have time to go there today"), depending on the situation.

However, that doesn't really get at the root cause, and you will be repeatedly dealing with new requests. There are a couple possibilities for why your sister-in-law is inviting visits via her nephew...

It's possible that's how she relates to your son, by discussing things she thinks he would enjoy to see. Puppies, holiday decorations, and so on are all pretty specific; I've certainly mentioned interesting activities or objects in my own home to children of friends and family, hoping they'd keep it in mind the next time they came over -- "can we build the potato clock you talked about" and "can we make a pie like you said" came out of my niece's mouth when she visited last week.

This would be the ideal scenario, because you can very easily discuss an accidental misunderstanding. Validate her interest in spending time with family, and look for a compromise that is going to work with everyone's needs and wants. Suggest she bring some of those neat things to you (if possible -- a puppy is portable, holiday decorations not so much), or simply ask her to be a little more careful with her phrasing. "You'd love my new puppy, he's so cute" is less of a demand than "Tell your parents to bring you to see my new puppy!"

It's possible she's being passive aggressive. You don't visit frequently enough; rather than bring that up directly, she gets him to ask for visits. Drawing kids into a dispute between adults is unfair, and ultimately will have negative impacts for everyone involved. Indeed, she's effectively teasing him ("if your parents visited more, think of all the fun you could have!") with things he can't have, and forcing you to be the bad guys when you decline.

This is tougher to deal with, particularly as you note she doesn't deal well with criticism. (I have a relative who similarly manipulates my kids into things I have to refuse. On the plus side they no longer take my kids places without informing me, but Relative still hasn't learned to just ask me... instead they now get a third party to tell the kids about a promised activity, involving additional people.) But regardless of how tough it will be, it should be handled for everybody's sake.

  • Focus on the positive aspects of your extended family's relationship. You like that everybody gets together frequently, which is great. You're not trying to decrease contact, you're just uncomfortable with the way that invitation is being extended.
  • Try not to get dragged into long-standing or larger disputes. If you're focused on the impact on your son of being stuck in the middle, and stay focused on that, it may be solvable. Have a workable alternative to her current approach ("ask us to come over, not your nephew" or "when talking about exciting new thing, don't merge it with an invite") so it's not just a complaint.
  • Ask about why she wants you to come over to her house, to understand her motivation and hopefully come up with an agreeable solution or compromise. Does she like playing hostess? (Ask that the TV be turned off when you visit so everyone can focus on family!) Does she like showing off her stuff? (Ask her to bring pictures, or the puppy!) Is she tired of being your mom's chauffeur? (Offer to pick up Grandma for outings occasionally!) Is it a tedious long drive, or is the expense of gas a lot? (Plan to meet in the middle more often, or get a gas station gift card!) Does she just want to complain about something? (Listen and sympathize!)
  • Great answer. I'd give a +1 for just the last point, try to find her motivation for doing this and a way to work with her to meet everyone's needs. – Aravis Jan 6 '16 at 15:46
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Should we say something to my SIL (who will, incidentally, burst into tears at virtually any criticism)?

If it were me and if someone would have been bothering me like that, I would have spoken the truth, as follows:

I request you not to tell our child to come to your house to see X because he gets excited and then he asks us to go to your house. Problem with this is that we may not always have the time, energy, or will to do as he says.

And then, we have to say no to him which makes him sad, and in turn it makes us sad. Literally speaking, going where ever and when ever the child wants is not really feasible for us.

That said, I'd like to stress that we'll come to your house whenever our circumstances permit us.

Personally speaking, I don't have enough energy to deal with other people's problems - specially those people who create problems for me (knowingly or unknowingly). After all, you can't please all the people all the time, so I often choose to please myself!

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As part of the tact of handling the situation, you could tell her you'd be glad to plan a visit on your way to somewhere else, or stop in to see the puppy/lights/car when you pick up your MiL for a trip to the restaurant. That would limit your time in the cramped apartment while giving your SiL an opportunity to show off the little whatevers she wants to.

I think the real issue is not that you say no to your son's request a lot, it's really that it sets up your family for bad feelings. Your SiL is telling your son to do something that he subsequently receives disappointment from doing. In other words, you are rejecting his request when his aunt said it was something he was supposed to do, which is going to fundamentally put his loyalties in conflict -- which is why adults shouldn't use children as messengers.

If it's possible, bring it up immediately after she pulls your son aside to sell him on something. Address her and not your son. Reject the request directly to her instead, before your son can ask you later. You can do this in a kind or tactful way, but that way you are bypassing your son and modeling the kind of behavior you expect.

  • Fitting in short visits on the way somewhere else is a really good way to satisfy everything. Relative gets time at her house with you as guests, but there is a built in escape plan with a timer -- "this has been so nice, but we have to get to (other activity) now!" – Acire Jan 7 '16 at 11:19

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