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Background

I am a happily married mother of two, ages 3 and 4 respectively. My parents are in good health, mom is 62 and dad just turned 70. They have a good marriage and my mother lives in a house, which is one hour away from where I live, for most of the year. My father stays there, too (he occasionally travels there), esepcially for the whole summer.

I don't expect anyone to help raise my children or to be a secondary caregiver. My husband and I provide and pay for our babysitting. I have never asked my parents for money.

Even when there's been an emergency, they have not helped. For example, last summer, I was admitted via emergency in the hospital for three days and they never showed up to visit, asked who was taking me home or if my husband needed help. They never showed up or mailed a card when my 3-year-old broke his collar bone. Because of this, I don't even feel like I could ask either of them to watch the kids so I can go get a mammogram, PET scan or a haircut.

At this point, I feel that my parents are a source of irritation, not comfort. They feel entitled to our help when they think they need it and they don't reciprocate. I usually don't have the time to talk to them on the phone, but they don't understand that. Yet they often ask why it might take me a whole day to call back. They refuse to email, to text or to read texts. They've also asked me to bring the kids to visit more this summer, though I went at least once a week last summer. It's just too much this year with current circumstances but they don't want to be part of any solutions, unless the solutions exclude them making an effort. I wished I had any help from them or felt as though I could depend on them for help.

What I tried so far

I've asked them in the past "why" and I get the too tired or too busy excuse. But they are not too tired to travel 2 hours to go to a scrapbooking convention or visit a friend at the same times.

When I ask them what I could do to make things easier for them to be with us, they reply that they think everyone is doing their best and one day things will be easier for me.
In contrast, my paternal grandmother, who was widowed and worked full time, was there for my parents, even taking us for whole weekends several times a year before she retired at age 75. Besides, my parents have raised us to be religious, teaching us that it is ungodly to ignore family needs.

I've tried to explain to them how such would benefit them. I've tried reasoning that their help could free up time for me to help them, call them back sooner, or socialize with them more. I've even outright asked for it. Nothing has seemed to work.

The straw that broke the camel's back

My parents have been back for over a month and we've seen my mom once during this whole time. I'm overworked due to several events, like our children having been sick for two weeks etc. This month, no one offered to help or agreed to help when I asked. I cancelled us going to a family cookout in 2 days, because I'm simply overwhelmed and it sounds like more work to go at this point. I'm not doing it to punish anyone. It doesn't sound relaxing or fun to me and I told them so without anger. So, my parents are now boo-hooing. Their response shows they obviously value our involvement.

Question

Is there another way to get what I need from them, aside from what I've tried? I wonder if, by responding with "no" more frequently when they ask for non-essential involvement, they would start missing us and be more likely to drive up here and/or help when asked so we can stay involved. Or should I come out and boldly negotiate with them that unless we have more of their presence at our house, we won't be present at theirs? Or is there another way to nicely ask?

Goal

The less I'm busy and the more I'm at home, the easier things feel on my end and this is a solution to me feeling less overwhelmed that doesn't involve my parents directly providing help. I personally don't really want to do any of these options or be that person, but nothing else has worked for me so far. I have a hard time not believing that there is another, nicer way to solve the problem.

I would love my parents to be present more frequently and to reciprocate help, when they are back in the state. We offer to help them and agree when asked because we want to.

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    Hi and welcome to the site! We're not like most other parenting sites out there, in that we're primarily a Q&A site rather than discussion. You've posted this as a question, but it reads as a kind of long complaint (i.e. a rant). Can you edit this to remove the rant (the opinion that your parents aren't involved enough is important to the question and perfectly valid) and form a specific question ("how can I...", etc.) I'll put this question on hold for now; please flag for moderator attention once you've edited and it will be reviewed for reopening. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jun 1 '18 at 14:57
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There is a saying about anger:

Holding on to anger is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.

The same can be said of resentment or any other negative emotion you allow yourself to experience repeatedly.

Don't get me wrong; your situation is very unfortunate, and I understand your feelings. But the truth is, nothing you say or do can control another person. The only person you actually have any control over is yourself.

In other words, no, there isn't another way to get what you need from them. They will never be the parents/grandparents you would so love for them to be, for you or your children.

What you do have control over, however, is how you want to relate to them. If you find their behavior too painful, limit your contact with them to a level that's tolerable/doesn't cause you excessive distress (knowing you will always wish for more but won't get it.) Draw reasonable boundaries for yourself. I would guess from their expectations that healthy boundary-setting has not been modeled in your home growing up, so you'll need to read about boundaries and how to set them. Make sure you understand that boundaries don't change people; boundaries you set exist to keep you psychologically healthy.

You're left with some decisions to make. Keep in mind while you make them that your little ones are watching and learning from your behavior how to treat their own parents in their old age. So if you decide you want to model love, helpfulness, and generosity, do that, but remember you're doing it for yourself and your children, not in order to get anything back. That should allow you to let go of a lot of the turmoil you're experiencing.

You're far from alone. My own mother died before I married, and my mother-in-law wanted "to be a good mother to [me]". She would end many conversations with, "If there's ever anything I can do for you, just let me know." 3.5 years later, my firstborn was ill and I was up all night with him, and I had to go work the night shift in the ER. I called her to ask if she could come up and watch my son so I could get some sleep before my shift (she lived a bit over an hour away.) She was busy, "but if [I] ever need[ed] anything, please let [her] know." Whenever I asked her for anything, even just parenting advice, the answer was always some version of, "I can't, but if...". I learned that her offers were empty and stopped asking for anything. I don't think she ever realized that she wasn't a giving and helpful MIL, and I never told her, because kids. But it powerfully shaped the kind of MIL I wanted to be, so I'm honestly grateful for that.

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