My Mother-in-Law is My New Nanny (& She’s Making My Life Hell)

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When my hubby and I recently left the city for the suburbs, we had to make some pretty big decisions about down-sizing in order to afford the inherent new costs of home ownership. And since I work for myself and don’t earn enough to cover full-time childcare, our pricy part-time sitter was one of the first things to go. Never having had the closest relationship with my mother-in-law, I devised a plan that could help everyone out. She could watch our daughter one or two days a week while I worked and ran errands, freeing up the babysitting budget and giving her some much-sought after time alone with the kid.

This will be great, I thought to myself. This woman has never liked being in the same room as me, let alone suffering through dinners with me just so she can get some hang time with her granddaughter. She’s competent enough to handle the job and, despite hating me, demonstrates a truly passionate love for my daughter. Thus, I thought it would really work for everyone. Well, I thought wrong.

Day One arrived and I was ready. The house was as clean as a just-moved-into house can be with pets, a toddler, and two working parents (plus zero help). The fridge was stocked with some basics for snacking, lunching, and so on. Cash was out on the kitchen counter in case further food was required or desired. The diaper bag was ready to go, the stroller wiped down and loaded up with portable hand sanitizer, sun hats, and the like. Immediately upon entering my home, the woman wrinkled up her nose and declared it a mess. “How are you guys living like this?” she asked, wide-eyed. I thought, against instinct, for a moment that she was joking. There was exactly one pile of boxes in the entire downstairs and everything else was totally neat. I was actually pretty proud of the progress we’d made on no sleep, but according to the MIL, I was raising my daughter in a dump. Got it.

“You guys should go out,” I said, showing her the ready-to-roll stroller and forking over a list of free activities within walking distance. “It’s too cold,” was the reply with which I was met. At 72 degrees, again I hesitated for a moment wondering if she was joking, but no, dead-pan. “Okay, totally!” I replied, nearly exhausting whatever false cheer I had left within. “Why don’t I go out then, give you girls some space?” I grabbed my keys, laptop, and phone, kissed my daughter, and scooted. “I’ll be back in time for her lunch and nap.” Something I never had to do for our actual nanny, but I’m trying to make this an easy gig here.

As with any first-time sitter, I texted her once from the coffee shop where I sat, hunched over trying to work while ruminating on the dump of a home I’m raising my daughter in and what kind of a jerk mother doesn’t pile a sweater on in 72-degree-weather. “Everything okay?” I texted, adding a kiss-face Emoji. My MIL’s phone settings allow me to see when she’s read the text, which she did, but ignored. Twenty minutes later I followed up with, “I’ll be home in half an hour to make her lunch and put her down for a nap!” Read and ignored, too.

When I walked in the door I was verbally shamed for being “late” (I was actually early). And for having “no food in the house” (despite the multiple containers of fresh, labeled food for both toddlers and adults in the fridge). I ignored the criticism, fed the kid, got her down for a nap, and headed to my home office to get back to work.

By work, I mean spending the next two hours getting barged in on with a slew of criticisms. “You don’t own a broom!” (We do, and no one had asked her to clean anyway). “I’m starving!” (Remember all that food in the fridge and cash on the counter? Yeah…) “You’re not even working, you should be unpacking!” (Really? I have to turn in three articles in the next hour and a half, and thanks to you I’m only done with one of them). After the nap, the rest of the afternoon was just as crappy so I watched the clock while listening to my daughter scream downstairs as the MIL ignored my long list of activities in lieu of sitting on the living room floor, complaining about our lack of TV.

By the time my husband walked through the door I was happier than I’d been in as long as I could remember. I almost told him about our horrible day, but the woman was babysitting for free, after all. And she’s his mother, so as always with our tense relationship, I zipped the lip and waited for him to regale me with her account. “My mom thinks we need to get more done in the house this weekend” was about all I got, so I just nodded and moved along.

A few days later, and she was back. This time, I was prepared. Having spend much of the prior afternoon at the supermarket with a list of her favorite foods in hand, my fridge was really stocked this time. I am not even talking snacks that are easy to microwave; I mean fresh berries, cold cuts, her favorite bread, the works. Lemonade. I bought freaking lemonade.

Nope! As soon as I had spent an hour and a half cleaning up the random messes she’d made all over my downstairs, feeding my daughter and getting her down for a nap, I was summoned to the kitchen. “Make me lunch,” she demanded, cross-armed in my kitchen. An unfiltered reaction to this demand would have been something along the lines of, “Are you f**king kidding me?” She had three hours of blissful baby-free nap time ahead to make herself a Michelin-star meal for all I cared. I, on the other hand, had eaten up a good part of my day doing the stuff that she was supposed to handle herself, and was currently shoving a possibly expired pickle down my throat. Again on deadline and with the Internet out, I was halfway out my door to go work at the library and have a prayer at holding onto my job. Make her lunch? Seriously?

The night of the lunch incident, hubby and mother-in-law apparently had a chat. During this chat she informed him that I am nasty and unappreciative. She also believes he would be better off without me. Luckily, my husband disagrees. She told him that I treated her like a slave (?) and didn’t say thank you at all (not true; I followed her around thanking for crap she didn’t even do, all day long).

Since that day, I’ve told her to only come when she wants to and stay as long as she sees fit. We have a no-warning cancellation policy, so even if I have a meeting or a deadline, if she decides she’s not coming, that’s it. On our limited childcare budget, I have gotten super-creative about kid-swaps with other moms and short-term daycare at a gym near our home (they have WiFi!).

When my mother-in-law does come, it’s awful. If I text to check in, she will read and not respond. She gives me no updates and never says a kind word. She continues to wander around my house when my daughter naps, so that she can report to my husband a list of everything that is dirty, out of place, or that I’m doing wrong.

On the days when she’s coming, I wait for her by the door and literally slip out as she’s walking in, kissing my daughter goodbye ahead of time and explaining that it’s time to have “super special alone time with Grandma now — no mommies aloud!” It’s depressing and stressful that it even has to come to this, but we cannot even be in the same room. I do not want my daughter witnessing her mother getting cut down and berated. I get that I should be grateful that she’s willing to watch my child free of charge, and I am. I also feel genuinely happy that these two get their bonding time in when I’m not around, because I know how much she loves her granddaughter and I would never rob my child of that relationship she so deserves.

But man, is this situation making me crazy. As the eternal optimist, I’m always trying to find ways to turn a negative into a positive. At this point all I can come up with is, after the hell I’ve been through with this woman, one day I myself am going to be a seriously awesome mother-in-law. After all, I’ve learned from the worst.

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Photo: Getty