Parents-in-law can be wonderful assets in one’s family life but sometimes they can present tremendous challenge. Often, it’s a little of both! And when one’s in-laws become the grandparents of one’s new baby, one’s relationship with them often takes on a new curve. Focus is diverted away from the adult children, to the new baby instead. But what does one do when in-laws are a bit too helpful or too opinionated, too needy or too intrusive?
If you have an interfering in-law, consider the following:
Start with Understanding
Babies are exciting! And if this is the first grandchild, you can especially understand the enthusiasm of your in-laws. In fact, you’d probably be disappointed if they showed no interest whatsoever in your new child. Moreover, if this is a first grandchild, keep in mind that your in-laws don’t yet know where to put themselves, don’t know the boundaries, don’t yet know the place of the grandparent. Even if this is not the first grandchild, your in-laws may not, for some reason, know how to behave appropriately. (In many cases, there are obvious reasons why they don’t know). You can, in a gentle and respectful way, begin to set boundaries in a way that your in-laws might be able to benefit from. For instance, you can say “Oh, thanks Mom – but we prefer to give the baby her bath ourselves.” Even if Mom-in-law is upset by this, you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re not responsible for her upset, unless you’ve abused her by being insulting, loud or harsh. Being quietly persistent with your wishes can set the boundaries over time.
Be One With Your Spouse in Planning How to Draw the Line
What if your in-laws are the stubborn type? They contradict your guidance, make major decisions without consulting you, and usurps what you feel is your role in child-rearing? Your spouse may be able to help. In some cases, your spouse is actually your best ally in negotiating boundaries. MAKE SURE YOU TREAT HIM OR HER LIKE AN ALLY rather than someone who is on the enemy team. Let your spouse know that you want to enjoy his or her parents and have them actively in your family’s life. Ask for your spouse’s help in making the relationship workable and positive.
Your spouse knows your in-laws a lot more than you do. He or she will know how to approach them without creating further complications. Let your spouse deliver strong messages if he or she is willing to, so that you can stay out of it and maintain a good relationship with your in-laws. However, sometimes spouses cannot stand up to their parents or do not know how to properly support their partner. If your spouse will not draw the line, don’t despair: draw it yourself. Again, remaining respectful is the key. However, in the case of “difficult” in-laws, expect a more negative response. They will have to comply (because, after all, your baby is YOUR baby and YOUR kids are YOUR kids and YOUR home is YOUR home), but they might put up a big fuss. They can go ahead and do that if they want to and you can’t stop them. Again, their reaction is not your responsibility. Only YOUR behavior is your responsibility. As long as you have remained respectful, you have done nothing wrong. Be careful to NEVER raise your voice to them, never swear or use harsh language, never insult them. Suppose, for instance, that they want to feed your 4 month-old baby some solid food while you want the baby to be at least 8 months-old before starting solids. You see your father-in-law putting a spoonful of mashed food into your baby’s mouth! You go up to the man and say, quietly but firmly, “Dad. I believe I told you that I don’t want to give Jason food yet. Doctor’ s orders!” You then remove the baby and resolve to yourself to stay in the same room with the baby and the father-in-law until the child reaches the ready-to-eat food stage.
Use the Parent Card
It’s possible that the reason why your in-laws are extremely hands-on with their child is because they feel they are the more experienced ones when it comes to parenting — and they are! Communicate with them that, while you appreciate their presence and their help, you also want to learn the thrills and frustrations of parenting first hand.
Their advice is welcome, but this is your family; you may do things differently than they did. Ask them to give you and your spouse a chance, and assure them that you both will do the best that you can because you love your child and your family.
Assure Them That You’re not Taking their Rights as Grandparents
If your in-laws express concern that you are preventing them from developing a relationship with their grandchild, explain to them that they are always welcome to bond with their grandkids. But when it comes to particular issues, you and your spouse will be the in the lead role, and them in the supporting role. Clarify that this doesn’t mean they are not needed, and that they their role is not critical. In fact, let them know just how loved, important and needed they really are.
Compliment your In-laws
Let your in-laws know how much you appreciate them. Be generous with praise (“You’re so great with the children. No wonder they love you so much!”). Express gratitude freely (“Thank you SO MUCH for babysitting. You are the BEST!”). Buy the occasional gift (“I picked up some of your favorite chocolate for you.”) Let them overhear you speaking well of them (“Grandma & Grandpa are very hands-on – we’re so lucky.”). Do whatever you can to make them feel loved and valued – this is usually the easiest and surest way to gain their cooperation and reduce conflict.
Don’t Blame your Spouse
Hopefully your spouse loves his or her parents. If you have complaints about your in-laws, try to share them with your friends or therapist rather than your spouse. Your spouse can’t help who his parents are. It’s hard enough having difficult in-laws – don’t make your life even more miserable by fighting with your partner about them. Keep your marriage strong by keeping your complaints as rare as possible. If necessary, arrange for a couple’s session with a professional therapist in order to address difficult in-law issues without hurting your relationship.