Once your newest addition is born, everyone from your parents and siblings to your in-laws will want to spend time with that little cutie. While most of these interactions are full of love and good intentions, it doesn’t mean there won’t be moments that make us want to pull our hair out. You know those overbearing moments filled with unsolicited advice, judgmental stares, or intrusive visits.
When dealing with our own families, most don’t feel shy about vocalizing our needs and opinions. It can be harder to broach these topics with in-laws, especially if you have difficulty communicating or your relationship is already strained.
If thinking about this gives you anxiety, try to keep your cool and focus on actions you can take rather than worrying. Many parents have been in your shoes before, and the best way to navigate these situations is by setting clear boundaries early on. So, now is a great time to start thinking about what you will and won’t accept when raising your child.
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Figure Out Your Priorities as Parents
An excellent place to start is to make sure you and your partner are on the same page. Take time to discuss your values and your priorities in how you want to parent your child. From there, figure out what you will and won’t tolerate. For example, when do you want your family to meet your baby for the first time? Will you allow overnight stays with the grandparents or social media posts?
You won’t decide everything at once; it’ll be an ongoing process that continues to evolve as your child grows. The earlier you and your partner can have these discussions about what is most important to you both, the easier it’ll be to set boundaries and communicate them in advance.
A good guide is to always keep your child’s best interests in mind. Try not to hold any past grudges; most likely, you want your baby to get to know their family on both sides. When thinking about situations that might arise, consider what is most helpful to your child. But also, be honest with yourself about limitations too, and don’t accept things that make you uncomfortable to get along. If you’ve both decided something is important to you, that’s enough to justify your boundary.
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Be a United Front
You and your partner must be a team and act like one even when tense situations arise. If you have different perspectives, take time to talk about those in private. You don’t want to undercut one another, especially during a heated moment; it’ll only add confusion to your position, and your boundaries are then sure to be broken.
Once you’ve spoken about your priorities and set up your boundaries, communicate them openly together as a family. Please don’t make it a negotiation but an informative conversation. Send a clear message about what you will accept and won’t accept as you embark on the next chapter for your family.
Realize that you are now the primary parents in your family and your home, raising your children. You are the central authority. This doesn’t mean to be closed off to any advice, but to be respected if you choose to do things your way.
If your relationship with your in-laws is already tricky, you might want your partner to lead the conversation. This way, they understand it is coming from both of you as parents, not just you.
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Set Consistent Boundaries Early On
It’s human nature to look for loopholes to the rules. Try not to open that door because it can get dicey. Enforce the boundaries that you set, and don’t be loose with making exceptions. Sure, extenuating circumstances might come up, but try your best to be intentional and consistent with your set boundaries.
This also means not playing favorites; try to keep the same rules for both sets of grandparents and families. For example, if you’ve discussed only having visitors with advanced notice and no “drop-bys,” it would be unfair to have one family stopping by while the other respects your wishes.
It might be uncomfortable to have these difficult conversations. Still, it’s better to address this early on before things intensify and before your child is old enough to recognize any tension. Rather than being reactive to any overstepping, be proactive in communicating your expectations.
This way, if a situation arises later on, you can refer back to this conversation and say, “Hey, remember when we spoke to you about…, and you agreed to… .” This will hopefully put a stop to any boundary violations right away.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Clear communication between partners and each other’s in-laws is the key to ensuring a united front holds firm. Grandparents may want to spoil their grandkids with some sweets, a little extra TV time, or maybe even a long nap. Your level of comfort with these or other indulgences will vary, so make sure to be clear with your in-laws what is acceptable and what’s a no-go.
Some things may have a little wiggle room, or a situation may come up that you hadn’t previously considered. If that’s the case, then no need to set a strict boundary yet; just let the other person know to hold off until you and your spouse have had a chance to talk about it. You might find you both agree that a long nap at an off-hour is disruptive for your child, but a little bit of ice cream from grandma every once in a while is perfectly okay. Either way, you don’t want to find yourself making firm decisions or concessions on the fly.
What matters most is that you and your partner agree on the fundamental values to your family and then convey that to your in-laws. Be sure to communicate those values from the perspective of your child’s needs so that in-laws understand these aren’t the wishes of just one person in your household. Keep the lines of communication open and honest with your partner, so they can step in if their parents just don’t get it.
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Bridge the Gap
Listening for the positive intentions behind an in-law’s suggestion is a great way to bridge the gap without compromising your parenting ideals.
For example, let’s say co-sleeping is a technique you prefer, but your mother-in-law is opposed to this. You might consider saying something to acknowledge both of you have the baby’s best interest in mind while also recognizing the differences in your approaches. In doing so, you’ll help build the bridge of common understanding without wasting your energy on a fight focused on the negatives. You might be able to gain more appreciation for your in-laws, even if their beliefs don’t align with your parenting approach.
If the issue is minor, try your best to let it go and instead focus on what matters to the big picture: allowing your little one to bond with their grandparents.
Be Mindful of Your Tone
The old saying “you attract more flies with honey than vinegar” is a good one to remember when parenting disagreements arise with your in-laws. There’s no need to bend to their ideas nor get into the mud with them. In the long run, it won’t do either of you any good.
Have your in-laws done something to irritate or annoy you? Take a step back, cool down, and have an honest but respectful conversation. Levelheadedness will help you reinforce the boundaries you set without coming across as demanding.
In some cases, your in-laws might be subconsciously expressing distress at their shifting role in your partner’s life. Mothers-in-law, in particular, can be somewhat territorial even if they are not self-aware of it. Still, you don’t have to bend to their expectations or indulge their outbursts. Be firm, open, and respectful when having these conversations.
Sure, your in-laws might have different thoughts on what’s right or wrong when raising a child, or maybe their unsolicited advice gets under your skin. Try to remember that they did raise the child who became the partner you chose to build a life with. Be open to the thought that there could be some similarities in your approaches that aren’t immediately obvious.
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Let Them Share in the Baby’s Growth
It’s essential to make sure your in-laws are included, but never in a way that undermines your role as a mom or interferes in family time with your partner and children.
If your in-laws are popping in unannounced or can’t take the hint when it’s time to go home, don’t fret. Even if you have an excellent relationship with your in-laws, you’ll want to make sure your boundaries are clear to everyone.
Come up with a schedule of recurring visits with your in-laws so they understand that even if you need space, their efforts and contributions are appreciated. If you get along well with your in-laws, you could even plan a family trip to keep bonds strong for your baby. Don’t worry if there aren’t any grand plans in the works. Just spending time with the little ones is plenty of fun and excitement for your in-laws.
Need a little “me” time or need help welcoming baby number two into the house? Inviting your in-laws to babysit or come over for backup will help make them feel included and needed while giving them the time they desire with their grandchild.
Accept Your Own Parenting Mistakes
Even if you read every parenting book published, you’ll make mistakes raising your child despite your best efforts. That’s normal, don’t let it deter you from following through on your decisions when it comes to parenting.
Everyone, including your in-laws, will have opinions or try to offer guidance when it comes to raising kids. At times you and your spouse will reflect on your childhoods, looking to replicate the good and eliminate the things that didn’t quite work for you as a kid. And as your parenting skills evolve, you’ll be more confident to test out methods that may be total “out there” as far as your in-laws are concerned.
Just remember there’s no monopoly on perfect parenting, so keep calm and carry on doing the best you can. Some things you do will be great; other things not so much. It’s all part of the ride, even if there are some bumps and scrapes along the way.
Try to Focus on the Positives
Health and safety come first, and as long as your in-laws don’t do anything that puts those in jeopardy for your child, you can sort out the rest.
You already know your child is brilliant (they're yours, after all, Mama!), so of course, your baby is aware that the parents run the show. Try your best to focus on the positives as much as possible. Think back to when you were a child and your grandparents would slip you a little candy when your parents weren’t looking or would let you stay up past your bedtime. Likely, these minor bending of rules could become a cherished memory for your child.
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