How New Moms Can Cope with Intrusive In-Laws One reader’s woes lead in-law expert Jenna D. Barry to weigh in on how much is too much when it comes to your kids and their grandparents. BY JENNA D. BARRY
Creating boundaries with your in-laws is extremely important to your happiness.
“ Grandparents are not supposed to be another set of parents; they already had their chance to raise their own kids—now it's your turn.”
My husband and I have two kids and live right down the road from his parents (big mistake). They come over about five days a week. My husband thinks it's no big deal because they don't stay long, however, it's just the point that they are intruding when it's my time to spend with my kids. I work an average of 50 hours a week, so my time with my children is precious and sometimes I feel like my in-laws see my kids as much as me. I feel like grandparents should be grandparents, not another set of parents. I believe that grandkids should only see their grandparents two, maybe four times a month, tops. We need our privacy. My mom always calls and asks permission to come over or hints for me to invite her—she has never just "stopped by." Anyway, my question is, "How often do you think your in-laws should come over?"
It's no secret that tension with in-laws can worsen once grandchildren enter the picture. For a daughter-in-law who has had a poor relationship with her husband's parents from the start, the decision to have a child can intensify the hostility. Even a wife who has previously had a good relationship with her in-laws can become frustrated when they start to visit more often, offer unwanted advice, etc. Even the best in-laws can become controlling and intrusive once they become grandparents; that's why it's important for new parents to be confident and assertive.
Here are five common questions asked by new moms in my support group, which include your concerns, and the advice I give them:
1. How often should in-laws visit their grandkids? There's no single correct answer to this question because all of us come from different backgrounds, and therefore we all have different opinions. Some wives complain that their in-laws visit too often, while others feel offended because they don't visit often enough. Communicate tactfully with your in-laws to discover how their expectations compare to yours. Most importantly, have a discussion with your husband about the frequency and length of visits from parents then try to reach a loving compromise based on his needs and yours.
2. Is it okay for in-laws to invite themselves over, drop by unexpectedly, and/or walk in without knocking? Some women aren't the least bit offended when their in-laws drop by uninvited, while others consider such behavior to be disrespectful and intrusive. Rather than letting resentment build, communicate honestly and draw reasonable boundaries. If your in-laws call to invite themselves over—or drop by unexpectedly—you can say something like, "This isn't a good time for me, but you're welcome to come over Saturday afternoon if you're free then." If necessary you can add, "Be sure to call first next time; I'd hate for you to waste a trip if I'm not available." If they continue to drop by uninvited, don't feel obligated to answer the door. If you don't want your in-laws to barge into your house, either ask them to ring the doorbell or simply keep your door locked. (Keep in mind that you can't control whether your husband answers the door when his parents drop by uninvited; you can only control your own behavior.) Discuss these issues with your spouse and work toward a win-win solution.
3. How close should I live to my in-laws? The answer to that depends on several factors. Are your in-laws respectful of your needs as a couple? Do you and your spouse frequently argue about his parents? Are you and/or your husband able to be assertive and draw reasonable boundaries when necessary? Some women enjoy having their in-laws nearby so that (1) their kids can have a close relationship with the grandparents, and (2) they have trustworthy relatives who are happy to help with childcare every now and then. Other women feel smothered when nearby in-laws visit too often, offer unwanted advice, interfere with parenting decisions, and cause marriage disputes. If you have toxic in-laws who are a constant threat to your self-esteem and/or your marriage then it's wise to have as much distance from them as possible.
4. To what extent should my in-laws be involved in parenting decisions? You and your husband have the right and responsibility for making decisions about how to raise your kids. The two of you can turn to others for advice, but ultimately you should value each other's opinions over your parents' opinions. Grandparents are not supposed to be another set of parents; they already had their chance to raise their own kids—now it's your turn. It is not acceptable for them to undermine your authority with your children. With that having been said, be a bit flexible and teach your kids that some rules are different at Grandpa's house than at yours. If you feel that your in-laws are too involved in raising your kids, then don't put them in a position to provide frequent daycare/babysitting.
5. How should I respond when my in-laws give unwanted advice about the way I raise my kids? If you seethe with anger whenever your mother-in-law offers her opinion about how you should discipline, feed, and dress your kids, then you are placing too much importance on what she thinks. Her opinions are not fact and she doesn’t outrank you. The next time she offers unwanted advice, respond as a confident adult instead of an insecure child. Say things like, "Thanks for your suggestion, but I've decided to do it this way instead" or "You're entitled to your opinion" or "You may be right." If she refuses to back down, say, "I'm sorry you disagree, but this isn't your decision" or "I'm not willing to discuss this with you anymore. Let's talk about something else."
It’s very important for new parents to protect their marriage by presenting a united front to in-laws and being prepared is a great place to start.