Toddlers: 12 - 24 Months

Alcoholic Mother In Law

I have posted about my MIL before on this site, however the situations before (some overbearing behaviors, boundary issues) I feel pale in comparison to this latest issue.  I believe my MIL is an alcoholic - albeit "high functioning".  She vehemently denies it, however, my husband is also one (sober for some time).  When my husband relapsed, I made a condition of his being alone with our 2 year old son that he would have to be completely sober.  MIL was very supportive of that decision...for him.  However, about a year ago when we were visiting she'd had a lot of wine and asked me to give LO a bath.  I was very uncomfortable but I agreed, not wanting to make things awkward (ignored instincts).  I did however send my husband upstairs to check and make sure all was ok when I heard them on baby monitor.  He returned, said things were fine.  10 minutes later I hear my LO screaming and sent him up there again.  When screaming continued I finally went up myself.  LO had fallen off a rather tall bed because she'd left him on it to go across the room to get diapers out.  I was horrified, and even her other son made comments about her inability to care for him bc of drinking.  Husband told my FIL and he said she wasn't drinking however when we pointed out a large glass of wine out he went and poured it down the drain.  

Later, she kept saying she felt terrible even though she knew it "wasn't her fault" and was an "accident."  Never acknowledged it was because she'd imbibed too much.  I kept LO on a shorter leash for some time after that but eventually let her start keeping him every other week, especially when my husband explicitly told her she was not to drink when caring for LO.  She didn't agree that she had a problem with it but acknowledged that she would not drink with him.

Fast forward to the last few weeks.  On Easter Sunday she was acting bizarre at a brunch we hosted at our house.  She blurted out to my future SIL and brother the minute they walked in the door I was pregnant before I even got to tell them.  We had just asked her and the rest of the family not to tell anyone).  I later asked my husband if he thought she'd been drinking but he insisted no.  He said my FIL told him my SIL had made a comment about babies and that was what prompted the outburst.  

The following week I went to pick him up from her care and immediately smelled strong alcohol on her breath.  I later learned my FIL had been out of state the entire day and so she was watching my LO unsupervised.  There have been other times where I have suspected based on behavior she'd been drinking (post my husband's talk with her) but this was the first time I really smelled it - olfactory senses have gone wild since pregnancy!  I kept my mouth shut and was inclined to keep quiet until my brother told me my SIL had smelled alcohol on her on Easter.  I confirmed this directly with SIL as well as that she had not said anything about babies and had no idea why my MIL had blurted out the pregnancy.  I was very concerned that she would be shitfaced drunk at 11am.  

I finally amassed the courage to tell my parents, mainly to see if they would be willing to fill in more if necessary or if I'd need a babysitter.  It was then exposed to me that on two separate occasions she'd brought my LO over as a baby and smelled like alcohol.  I.e. she had driven him in a car while drinking.  They were afraid to say anything because they didn't have any proof but I was furious they didn't tell me.

This all came to a head when we had a family get together this past weekend and she asked me about taking LO for the day this week.  I said my husband and I needed to discuss.  She was visibly upset.  Later that afternoon she called him and when he hung up he walked out of the room upset and his mom she was calling me.  Then we got in an argument because I didn't feel he was supporting me and leaving me alone to deal with her (I am not good at confrontation especially unexpected) and so he just left the house.  

I finally called her that evening, emotionally explained every single incident and how there were multiple people with an experience and she denied it all and said she'd never drank with LO when I know that isn't true.  I told her I'd heard it all from my husband when he was drinking and that I just did not feel comfortable with her alone with LO.  I even thought she might have already been drinking when I was talking to her but couldn't definitively say so.  She insisted that this was only MY issue with her, that I was putting my husband in the middle and I should have come to her directly, making me feel completely isolated from my husband.  I told her our marriage counselor disagrees (how to address this has come up in the past) and I told her while it wasn't my place to tell her what to do I thought she was an alcoholic.  She insisted she was just a "social drinker" who also drank wine nightly.  She also said she was willing to have nanny cams and take a breathalyzer to make me feel comfortable with her taking care of LO, but again, I've heard all this from my husband when he'd come home stinking drunk so I know how easy it is for an alcoholic to lie and hide things.  She also said my FIL was very upset about this and that I was severing the relationship between them and their grandchild.  I told her I thought the relationship was important but I was not comfortable without one of us being there (especially when I feel he's protecting her and putting my LO at risk as such).  I also think she's the one really hurting him by not admitting to her problem and getting help.

After talking with her I felt very upset with my husband bc from what she said he did not stand up for me at all and was putting this all on me, meanwhile MIL and FIL are presenting a united front so I am all alone.  When we talked the next day he said that wasn't true and he had also told her that she was an alcoholic (she denied) and that there had been other incidents where he WAS present.  He was very supportive and called and told his dad it wasn't just my issue when it involved our son and his safety and to stop singling me out.  Everything I have read from psychology and dealing with ILs says when you have an issue with your ILs it should be up to husband to be the speaker and you should present a united front bc MIL and FIL will be united without question.  I would be the speaker if the situation was with my family.  And my family would NEVER call my husband to confront him directly.  I do feel my husband finally did this and I resent that my MIL said otherwise because it hurt our marriage.  

In the end, we decided she would not be able to take care of LO alone unless my FIL or one of the parents (myself or my husband) was present the entire time.  I feel she should be completely sober (permanently) in order to take care of him alone again.  My husband thought that was asking too much but he is the dad and I told him the same thing and have held steadfast on that decision (which FIL and MIL supported at the time).  I just am not willing to risk something bad happening - what if it was that my LO was severely hurt or worse?  Another odd ball in this situation is while I have plenty of my own problems, I am the only one in this group of 4 that does not have an addiction.  FIL, husband and MIL all do.  So they are more "sensitive" to the issue.  I am terrified of LO being exposed to alcohol too early bc he will have genetic predisposition for addiction.  

Has anyone else had this issue?  How did you handle it?  I should also add my ILs are local and this is the only grandbaby so there seems to be some entitlement that they get to take care of him a lot not just see him.  We are completely financially independent so finding a babysitter would not be an issue.  

Re: Alcoholic Mother In Law

  • My oh my, I feel for you. My mother is an
    alcoholic, my son is 14 months and I can
    count on one hand how many times my mother has seen him. A big part of this is I am not leaving my son with an alcoholic who smokes and has a pool at her house.

    The difference between me and you is I've had this distance with my mother for years so it wasn't a new thing I had to establish. My mother knows how I feel and my sisters have told her I won't let her hold the baby if she's smoking or has been drinking. A lot of the times this scares her from even joining us, but I think boundaries and consitency are extremely important. 

    As some one with years of experience in this I don't know what it would be like facing it for the first time as an adult with a child. I will say, you MUST be firm and consistent even if it makes you the "bad guy". Alcoholics are notorious for not accepting responsibility and understanding consequences. Furthermore, the change won't come until they want to, so it is up to you to do all the work. Hang in there. 
  • I agree with@karlimonster. I don't have experience dealing with this as a parent since my alcoholic father died when I was still in high school, but I'm familiar with the denial, relapses, and unwillingness to take responsibility. It's sounds like you nailed it saying FIL and H both have addictions, making it harder for them to probably want to see or admit MIL's problem as fully. It sucks that the relationship is strained, but that's what alcohol does, and your priority has to be taking care of your kids.
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  • I say find a babysitter.  You leave your LO with her and you have no piece of mind. I don't trust my IL either. I refuse to leave my daughter with them. Luckily I can stay home with her. I mean, I know you said you don't like confrontation, but when it comes to your child.... no body messes with your kid! This is a safety issue not a personal like or dislike issue. Oh well if people get mad at you it is your child and you do what you have to do to keep them safe. Good luck!

    PS I think you will feel really good about yourself if you stand up and put your foot down. : )

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