Q. We are expecting our first child, and as we both work, we have begun discussing the various options available to us for day care. The main issue that has cropped up is how to collect our child from day care around our work schedules. One option is to ask my father-in-law. He is free on weekdays and all too happy to help out. However, he is an alcoholic.
He lost his career because of it, and has on numerous occasions let his son down by being drunk. He hasn’t had any major lapses recently that I know of, but I have seen him drink and drive in the past and I know he still partakes in alcoholic beverages, though I believe without becoming inebriated.
My husband and mother-in-law are either engaging in self-denial, or of the school of thought that alcoholics can recover and be trained to drink in a normal fashion. I do not believe that it can be fixed or recovered from. I have tried to explain to my husband that I can’t trust his father with my child’s safety. It would always be in the back of my mind that he may get into a car crash or something equally dangerous.
I have tried to get my husband to understand that I would be a bad mother if I were to knowingly allow my child to be placed in a position of harm. However, my husband so desperately wants to believe that his father is better, and almost seems to think that bestowing this trust on him would somehow help in keeping his father sober.
I need a way to explain to him that our child’s safety is paramount. I also need to explain to him why it is wrong to keep pressing the issue of making me trust his father, as I fear that if he doesn’t understand where I am coming from, he may let his father transport my child behind my back.
My father-in-law and I do not get along very well for other reasons, and I fear that my husband thinks that I am making this decision simply in order to spite someone who I don’t like very much. What should I do?
A. The arrival of a first baby represents a big transition for any couple. You have to move from being solely concerned with your own relationship to learning how to parent together and work out who does what in terms of childcare and working outside the home.
In addition, a first baby can bring up lots of issues and differences that you may not have been aware of before, particularly in the case in relation to the role of grandparents and extended family.
Relationships with in-laws can be delicate enough at the best of times but they can take on a new complexity with the arrival of a child, when there might be very different expectations of how grandparents will be involved.
For example, whereas a new mother might be happy for her own mother to become involved in the daily care of her baby, she might be more reluctant to allow her mother-in-law, whom she knows less well, to become involved in the same way.
Of course, the exact dynamics in each family are different, but these varying expectations lead to very delicate issues and are fraught with the potential to upset and offend.
In your situation, it sounds like your husband expects the new baby to be an opportunity for reconnecting with or reinvolving his father, but it has also highlighted your reservations about his role particularly due to his drinking.
While I can’t comment on how serious the risk is from your father-in-law in terms of his drinking and caring for your new baby, it is important that as a parent you trust your instinct and only agree to an arrangement that you are happy with.
Whether an alcoholic can return to drinking in a controlled way is a controversial subject. A lot depends on the severity of original problems and how excessive his drinking was in the past.
The bigger the original addiction, the harder it is to return to social drinking, and most treatment models recommend abstinence as the safest option for long-term recovery.
In my view, the central issue here is how you resolve the dilemma with your husband. It strikes me that you both have strong feelings and it is important to try to communicate in a way that you both hear each other.
The ideal is to try to seek a “win-win” solution and to explore if there is some way that you can come to an arrangement that you are both happy with.
To do this you really need to listen to each other. Your husband needs to hear your genuine concerns of safety and to accept the difficulties you have in your relationship with your father-in-law, and you need to really listen to and understand your husband’s feelings about his father and to accept his wish to reconnect with him and/or to care for him.
Then the two of you can think of options that are acceptable for both of you. Is there a way that your father-in-law can become involved in a manner that is safe (for example, without transporting your baby) or are there other ways your husband can reconnect with his father that you can support?
Out of respect for your husband, can you put aside some of the original difficulties with your father-in-law and try to reach out to him? Or can your husband do anything to support you in managing the relationship with your in-laws?
Resolving difficult issues about in-laws is a challenge for most couples, but by mutual respect and patient communication you can hopefully find a way forward that avoids it becoming an issue in your relationship and instead brings you even closer together as a couple.
Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times, November 2010. John writes in The Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.