10 tips for dealing with in-laws

Dealing with in-laws can be tricky when you have a baby, whether it’s disapproval of your parenting or them handing your child sweets. Here are our tips.

While you might have had the odd awkward moment with your in-laws pre-baby over your plans for the festive season, having a child can cause a lot more. Now they have a new role as your child’s grandparents, they might feel they can interfere in your life more. You’ll also undoubtedly have things you disagree with them on.

Here’s how to deal with it so that you don’t end up having a full-on family fallout…

1. Be kind

If you’ve started going over how much they are irritating you in your head, when or if you do decide to speak to them about things, it might come out in a torrent of resentment. Instead, try to take a deep breath and balance out the problems with all of the nice things they do that you appreciate. No seriously, rack your brains (kidding).

Think about what was positive about their parenting when they raised their own children. After all, they must have done something right to bring up the person you chose as your partner. You might even be doing some of the same things they did (Kidspot, 2017).

2. Make sure your partner leads things

Delivering a message your in-laws won’t like, such as requesting a shorter visit, is much better coming from your partner. If you deliver the message, they might harbour resentment for a long time after this conversation is over if you manage to insult them. If your partner leads things, well, they are their child so they can’t be angry at them for that long (Motherly, 2018; NewParent, 2018; WeHaveKids, 2018).

Do make sure though that it’s clear you and your partner share a united front and this stuff is coming from both of you.

3. Be firm on the things that are important to you

It’s ok to have boundaries. They’re your child.

If you don’t want them to drink juice, watch TV for five hours a day or have the kind of nap that’ll mean they’re awake until 10pm, then you can say so. You can do it firmly and clearly but without being rude.

You have your family values that need to be communicated with your in-laws (FamilyEducation, 2018). If you talk from the viewpoint of your child’s needs, grandparents are more likely to understand and change anything that could confuse your child (Kidspot, 2017).

4. Understand things from their perspective

If your in-laws are doing some regular childcare for you, you may have to accept that – like you – they do the things that get them through a long day with a newborn or toddler.

It might mean your child does watch a bit more TV because your in-laws are exhausted. It might mean your baby falls asleep on the sofa as they couldn’t get them to nap in the cot. Whatever it is, you might have to bite your tongue and go with it.

Some things don’t really matter in the big scheme of things. Think how much help you are getting from your in-laws and what your children are getting from their relationship with their grandparents (Kidspot, 2017).

5. Write down their good traits and read over the list when you’re mad

If you have interfering in-laws, that probably means your child has grandparents who love them. They obviously care about them and may well be up for babysitting on that Saturday in November when you’re desperate to go to your friend’s wedding.

Keep it in your mind – the wedding, the wedding – when they’re driving you nuts. Use your sense of humour and try to gently laugh it off when an in-law is particularly insistent and intrusive (Motherly, 2018).

6. Get examples ready

If you decide you do need to talk to them about their interfering or pushing their parenting ideas on you, have specific, recent examples to hand. Otherwise you’ll start floundering and your points will feel less constructive and more OTT.

If you don’t want your in-laws to look after your child, maybe because they are physically or mentally not capable of doing so, it’s better to clear the issue with them upfront. This might also help you to compromise on something else that will work for everyone, like all of you spending a few hours with your baby together at a park or zoo (Healthdirect, 2018).

7. Don’t enter into every row

If you flip out every time your mother-in-law tells you that smacking, rusks or whisky on the dummy was fine in her day, you’ll probably lose your mind. Instead, walk away and pick your battles: namely, only the ones that actually affect your child, not the theoretical child-raising ones (FamilyEducation, 2018).

Tell your mother-in-law that the method you have chosen does not reflect a judgement of their parenting (Parents, 2005). More than likely, your mother-in-law is feeling defensive that you think her methods were wrong as they differ so much to yours. She’s probably trying in her way to justify herself. Nagging can mean she thinks her advice is not being taken seriously or is being ignored (Parents, 2005).

8. Try not to ask for too many favours

Obviously, the occasional babysitting stint is great. But leaning on in-laws for every bit of help, advice and childcare that you need can make them feel like they have earned the right to interfere. Remember, they also need time alone and they are entitled to say they have other plans (NewParent, 2018).

9. Pick out the useful parts

The tut-tutting about the state of your kitchen two weeks after you had your baby might not have been helpful. Nor was the suggestion that by cuddling your child you’re creating problems for yourself in the future (Kidspot, 2017).

But when your in-laws say something vaguely useful, cling to it and tell them very enthusiastically how helpful that was. What we’re saying here is: throw them a bone (Motherly, 2018).

10. Focus on the joyous parts

Try to steer conversation or phone messages away from how you choose to feed your baby, and towards the cute thing that they did today at the park. Bonus points if you can thank and appreciate your in-law for their help in being part of this, if they were (Motherly 2018).

The one thing you’ll definitely have a shared view on is how wonderful your child is. So if in doubt, stick to the joyous side of things for now.

This page was last reviewed in November 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Kidspot. (2017) Just had a baby? Here’s how to handle the in-laws. Available at: https://www.kidspot.com.au/parenting/parenthood/relationships/just-had-a-baby-heres-how-to-handle-the-inlaws/news-story/0a4bd2957c15459444a87077062272ea [Accessed 11th July 2019]

Motherly. (2018) 6 common in-law conflicts after baby arrives: How to handle them. Available at: https://www.mother.ly/love/6-common-in-law-conflicts-after-baby-arrives-how-to-handle-them [Accessed 11th July 2019]

NewParent. (2018) Dealing with in-laws. Available at: http://newparent.com/mom/dealing-with-in-laws [Accessed 11th July 2019]

FamilyEducation. (2018) 10 tips for dealing with in-laws. Available at: https://www.familyeducation.com/life/dealing-laws/10-tips-dealing-laws [Accessed 11th July 2019]

Healthdirect. (2018) Having difficult conversations with in-laws. Available at: https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/having-difficult-conversations-with-in-laws [Accessed 11th July 2019]

Parents. (2005) Surviving your mom’s first postpartum visit. Available at: https://www.parents.com/baby/new-parent/motherhood/surviving-your-moms-first-postpartum-visit/ [Accessed 11th July 2019]

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