I'm a woman who wants to help other women find their voice when someone has taken it away.
Now that you've welcomed your new baby home, you may also welcome a whole new version of your in-laws: grandma and grandpa. And sometimes, the transition to parenthood and grandparenthood isn't smooth or easy—this new baby brings uncharted territory for all involved. Let's figure out how we can get through it together.
How to Handle Difficult In-Laws
I read somewhere recently that it is always you and your partner vs. the problem, and that is so true! Here's how to get on the same page as new parents and set boundaries with grandparents.
1. Communicate With Your Partner
If the new grandparents are intruding or creating problems, you have to come clean about what you're feeling, discuss the issues, and brainstorm solutions together as a couple. Whether you are married, engaged, dating, not dating—whatever you are doing, you will need to communicate with the father or mother of your new baby. I cannot stress how important it is that your partner and you are on the same page when it comes to what and how you will be doing things with your baby.
2. Try Not to Be Defensive
It might be hard to hear your partner criticize your parent. Sometimes in disagreements, we get so caught up in being right that we forget about what's really important. You, as parents of this new human, should always have a united front—no matter what the circumstances.
3. Talk to Each Other First
When dealing with issues involving your in-laws, always try to communicate how you feel with your partner first.
4. Listen to Each Other
Do not allow your partner to dismiss you. I can not say this enough. If you truly respect your partner, you will not dismiss how they feel and you surely will want to at least hear where they are coming from. After all, they are the mother or father of your baby, and you both deserve a basic level of respect from each other's families.
5. Don't Point Fingers
When approaching any issue involving how another made you feel, you'll want to refrain from placing the blame entirely on another person. For example, if I tell my spouse "Your mother doesn't respect the way I parent our child!" they may feel attacked. Instead, I might say "I don't feel respected by your mother when it comes to how we choose to parent our child," and instead of feeling defensive, your partner might feel invited to help find a solution. It's not always about what you're saying but how you're saying it.
6. Don't Shut Down
If you're still having trouble getting your partner to understand where you're coming from, you'll probably want to throw your hands in the air and shut down—don't. Problems don't get resolved by walking away; they just fester and build up. Take a minute—or a couple of hours—and revisit the conversation once a little time has gone by. Maybe all your partner needs is to sit and let what you've said sink in for a little while to fully process where you are coming from. It's easy for us to call our parents on their wrongdoings, but it's not always easy to hear someone else do it.
How to Set Limits With Difficult Grandparents
Once you've communicated to your partner how you feel, come up with a solution to the issue. Setting boundaries on how you will be treated, spoken to, spoken about, and more is 100% acceptable. In fact, it is your right as a human being to say what you will and will not take from other people.
What to Do About Unwanted Advice
I think this might be every new mother's worst nightmare—unwanted advice from your in-laws. Now, let me just say this: If you want the advice, then by all means take it, especially if the advice is truly coming from a caring place. But unfortunately, this isn't always the case.
What to Do About Criticism
If you are dealing with a case where your in-laws are constantly critiquing how you parent or nurture your baby or child, let your spouse know. Remember that it is how you say it that can make all the difference.
Let the Old Family Deal With the Old Family
In the end, in the beginning, in the middle, wherever—a family always respects and hears things better from their own child rather than their daughter- or son-in-law. It's just a fact. You are the one who has grown up with your family and knows how to communicate with them (hopefully) so it only makes sense for you to be the one who sets the limit. Now, this doesn't mean you have to go full-on attack mode or make your family cry and get all upset. You just need to set the limit respectfully.
Now, I know a lot of men out there are not going to like this but, you need to say something to your parents if they are making your spouse feel bad. Your parents and your in-laws are there to support you as a new mother or father—that's all.
Set Boundaries and Limits Clearly, Without Emotion
You can say things like:
- "We appreciate your advice but we need to figure things out for ourselves and learn about what [insert baby name] needs."
- "Thank you for your input but I think [insert spouse name] is doing a great job and we can figure it out."
- "Mom/Dad please be aware of what you are saying to [insert spouse's name], it comes off a little degrading." (Even if it's a lot degrading.)
I can guarantee at some point or another your mother-in-law will compare your baby to your spouse or one of her other children. Now, that is all fine and dandy, but when she starts comparing how she struggled with how you struggle, then we might have an issue.
During a trip away from home, my friend told her mother-in-law how she was struggling with her 3-year-old. Her mother-in-law responded by saying, "You're talking to the wrong person because I had four little ones under the age of five, and I had no help." Well, that's just not something you say to your struggling daughter-in-law. If this mother-in-law chose to have lots of kids, she cannot compare herself to a woman who never really wanted kids but had a surprise baby. Now, of course, my friend loves her son, but she just wasn't someone who planned on having kids, and that's okay.
You can't compare one mother's struggle to another's, since every mother struggles with different things. That doesn't make any struggle less valid or important. As mothers, we need to support and encourage each other to handle our struggles rather than dismissing struggles because they weren't the ones we dealt with.
"You are a guest in their marriage and a guest in their home. You have to fold into their rules and their lives if you want to be welcome there."
— Dr. Phil, talking to a new grandparent.
It can be very easy to be one-sided when it comes to your family; I mean after all, they are your family. It can especially be hard if you've had some animosity with your in-laws in the past. Remember to be fair!
Compromise on Holidays
Holidays are always so hectic—the gifts, the food, the people, and let's not forget who will be hosting? If you have a large family and your spouse does not, you may end up spending every single holiday with one side of the family. You'll have to compromise on each end. Maybe one side of the family gets Thanksgiving dinner and the other gets Christmas dinner. Or maybe you can host and have both families over? Ugh, did I actually just say that? Unfortunately, I did. Keep the peace and compromise with your spouse over holidays to avoid neglecting or disappointing in-laws.
Make the Effort to Reach Out
Whether you are texting pictures, sending holiday cards, or inviting to activities with your littles, always make an equal effort with your in-laws. Now I'm not saying you always have to be the one to make the effort but do make an effort, even if you don't want to. There have been plenty of times when I didn't want to do something but still, I made the effort. (However, also please keep in mind if you are being completely disrespected by your in-laws, not making a 100% effort to do certain things is understandable.)
Further Reading for New Parents
Further Reading for New Grandparents
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
J Briceno (author) from New Jersey on March 23, 2019:
@Proudmommy29 It is such a difficult situation to be placed in. You're caught between respecting your spouses family and wanting respect for yourself. The only thing I can tell you is that setting boundaries and following them has worked so much for me. I feel respected and like I am in control of how people can treat me. If your spouse does not respect how you feel and where you are coming from maybe bringing in a professional you explain to them might make it more real t them what is going on.
Proudmommy29 on March 22, 2019:
My partner and I have been having the same uphill battle since my mid pregnancy with my in-laws to the point I’m just ready to give up on my relationship all together. My partner knows how I feel (and has expressed to his family) but yet nothing has changed. I hate that my partner is stuck in the middle. I highly doubt me talking to them will change things because the moments I do speak I’m looked at with complete shock. I just want to be respected as my son’s mother and not having always explain myself. I don’t know what to do.
J Briceno (author) from New Jersey on February 13, 2019:
@TonieJ It is so important to have boundaries with visitors and for your spouse to respect and understand your feelings. As helpful as people can want to be sometimes they can be more of an interference or distraction.
TonieJ on February 10, 2019:
This is so on point and is exactly what I needed right now. Thank you! My husband and I are first time parents of a two-month old baby. His parents live out of town and were here visiting us for the first eight weeks of our sons's life. Like, they were at the hospital from the morning after I had my c-section and didn't leave town until just recently. They are now pushing us to let them come visit again. I told my husband that we need some time to ourselves to bond with our son and to get into a routine as new parents, but he disagrees and insists that his parents are entitled to a right to see their grandson as often as they'd like. When he told his mother that we're not ready for visitors, she got upset and started crying. My husband and I have been fighting a lot about this to the point where we are going to meet with a marriage counselor. It's total b.s. because it's interfering with our ability to enjoy being new parents and with our ability to parent him.
You are so right that it's important to have a united front and to not let him dismiss my feelings.
RTalloni on July 03, 2018:
While it's true that a better wording in my comment would have been to write "one of the most important ways she can show her husband that she loves him is to truly love his parents and family," it is also true that truly loving his parents and family does not mean that she should put their needs first. Love does not have such a confined definition but may look quite different in different situations.
Husbands with wives who disdain his parents/family will not usually talk with their wife about that problem. They will usually just quietly deal with it the best they can in their situation for the sake of peace. It is her responsibility to show respect and love toward his family, just as it is his towards hers, otherwise there is a barrier in their relationship.
One of several reasons this is true comes from the fact that our roots are part of who we are. It is very affirming to us if the person we are closest to (spouse) finds ways to appreciate and even love those roots. There are plenty who will argue against this concept but that does not change the truth of it.
Sometimes compassion is the best love we can come to, but just doing what satisfies us is very limiting, and selfish. That selfishness has a way of turning us into something we don't respect in other people and winding up biting us badly. Sadly, that selfishness is far too common, and even sadder, it is so unnecessary for a believer because God's power to help us appropriately love unselfishly is infinite.
Though our feelings play into it they most often create a battle with the fact that real love isn't about how we feel but about what we do even when we don't feel like it. Honoring parents is just as much of a command to believers as honoring spouses. The ways that is done in each relationship looks different because of the circumstances but that does not negate either command. The obedience in each relationship stands in the context of the whole counsel of God's Word to us.
That you work at including your husband's family in spite of apparent difficulties from the perspective of a duty is admirable and certainly not to be dismissed, but the love of our Savior calls for us to go beyond duty both in our spirit's attitude and in our obvious actions.
Lwoa on June 18, 2018:
“...it is important for a young wife to remember that the most important way she can show her husband that she loves him is to truly love his parents and family.”
What self-serving nonsense. The most important way for a young wife (or any husband or wife) to demonstrate their love for their spouse is to put their spouse first. That doesn’t mean kicking one’s family of origin to the curb, it just means that in the hierarchy of family, spouse comes before parents.
My husband is satisfied that raising our children, cooking, cleaning, volunteering in various school and church activities, getting and keeping our kids involved in their own activities, and treating him with kindness and respect is a more than sufficient demonstration of my love for him. And frankly, if I didn’t arrange to keep his parents involved in our lives, we’d hardly see them at all. I don’t feel much affection for his parents—and even less admiration—but I do feel compassion for them, and I view keeping them in our lives as a duty that honors my husband and pleases my Savior.
If I have any advice for young wives, being that I’ve been happily married 25+ years, it is that men need food, sex, and respect. For women, making our husband feel happy and loved has to do with meeting HIS needs...not his parents’ needs.
My husband and I are raising/have raised our kids to be loving, independent, responsible people. Their job is to grow up and build their own happy families. It will not be their responsibility to include us, though I hope to always be a source of joy and laughter to them, that they and their spouses will WANT to include us, not feel obligated to do so.
RTalloni on May 18, 2018:
Good communication does help relationships. However, it is important for a young wife to remember that the most important way she can show her husband that she loves him is to truly love his parents and family. Maturity is required, and that takes time...time to learn how little we really know about life.
The young mother who remembers that one day she will be a mother-in-law (if she is so blessed) will have a good head start on that time of life with her own children, something she cannot begin to understand until she is in the position of being one. Until then she only has knowledge about how she feels.
The thing about feelings is that they often do not reflect reality, they are nearly always devoid of wisdom, they dismiss the future, and they are in a constant state of flux. Taking time to learn that rather than letting others inflame our feelings we can make ourselves step back to seek what love would look like in any given situation is a wonderful chance to have a future we can enjoy instead of look back on with shame over responding with immaturity.