Extended family

Pregnancy or having a new baby may change your relationships with your family and in-laws. We talk to NCT members about navigating the new dynamics

Everyone’s relationship with their family is different and the news that you’re pregnant, or the arrival of a little one, can have a big impact.

Some mums and dads say relationships improve, while others find things a little strained. However you feel about your family or in-laws, here we try to help you handle the ups and downs.

Taking the strain

Your parents and in-laws

Before your little one arrives it can be beneficial to think about what sort of role you’d like your parents or in-laws to play. You might want to talk it through with your partner so you’re both on the same page and you could discuss different scenarios and how they might make you feel – as well as how to handle them.

One mum says:

‘I feel more anxious about the relationship with my in-laws now we have children. I’m not sure they understand or remember what it’s like having babies or toddlers.

‘They live several hours away and visiting them can be hard work – from getting the children to sleep in new surroundings to worrying about them damaging the house or having tantrums.

‘I’m self-conscious about disciplining the children in front of an audience. But I try to remind myself that I’m the mum and I know my children and how to handle them best. I also try to make the effort as I can see how important it is to them and my husband and I know my children gain from the bond.’

You could try to think of compromises to keep you and your parents or in-laws happy. For example, if having relatives to stay, or vice versa, is too stressful, you could offer to meet halfway.

Alternatively, if they’re dropping hints about not seeing your little one enough, it may be worth coming to a regular arrangement so you both know in advance the dates for get-togethers.

Growing distance

Some people find their parents or in-laws don’t seem very keen to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives, which can be upsetting.

You might find it helpful to ask parents or in-laws if they could help with specific things as they may just not be that natural with grandchildren, not know what to do, or feel worried about being seen as interfering. There may have been a misunderstanding or miscommunication.

If there is still a distance, some parents say they find they have to just accept the reality, try to move forward and perhaps focus on other positive relationships in their own and their children’s lives.

All shapes and sizes

Families come in all shapes and sizes – and often they’re not a conventional structure. For example, you may have step-parents to try to include. Some people say it’s a struggle to fit everybody in and avoid upsetting anyone.

Dealing with jealousies

Jealousies between sets of grandparents are also relatively common – particularly if one set live closer than the others or get more time with the children.

If this is the case, you might want to try to explain that your children have several sets of grandparents and you value time with all of them, but this might mean you can’t spend as much time with individuals as you’d like. Think about whether you can use FaceTime or Skype to help everyone feel more included.

Also if there appears to be some grandparent jealousy, try to take comfort from the fact it shows your child is loved by lots of different people.

And, as hard as it may be to deal with, remember your children will gain very different, but equally important, things from each set of grandparents.

Parenting your way

It can help to acknowledge that they’re still adjusting to a new role as a grandparent – and they might not have found the right balance between being supportive or interfering.

One of the trickiest things can be persuading your parents or in-laws that you’d like to do things differently with your children and dealing with unsolicited advice.

Mum of two, Katie, says:

‘I have friends who have well-intentioned in-laws but they cramp their parenting style and belittle them. I’d say if this does happen to take a gentle but honest approach. And remember they did things very differently when we were little.

‘Remember people largely only mean well, even if it doesn’t always come across like that to new mothers in an inevitably tired and emotional state. And in years to come it’ll probably be us doling out similar advice to our daughter-in-laws!’

NCT mum Christina says:

‘I made a pact with my husband not to let other people’s opinions influence our parental decisions. That works well as we tend to inform them how we’re raising our daughter rather than ask for advice and our relationship with my in-laws has improved hugely.

‘We all seem to understand that different times and cultures means different ways of bringing children up and we respect each other’s points of view.

‘I think it helps to put children first as what is important is their relationship with their grandparents. So, if you can, try to put aside any personal issues or differences so they can enjoy each other’s company.’

The important thing is to decide what is right for you. After all, it is your pregnancy and your baby. Trust in your own parenting instincts and skills.

Growing together

Some people have a fresh appreciation of their own parents and everything they did – and continue to do. For some families, the birth of a new grandchild brings everyone closer together. There’s the common ground of being a parent and understanding the sacrifices and challenges that come with that. Katie says:

‘I now have a greater respect for my mother-in-law as I appreciate how hard she worked bringing up her sons. Often this was alone as their dad worked abroad a lot.

‘I feel our relationship strengthened after my first son was born as she had lost my father-in-law two years prior and I know this was the first time she felt properly happy again. Getting her involved with our son meant a lot to her.’

Many couples look to their parents or in-laws for support while they adjust to sleep deprivation, feeding troubles or other challenges in the first few weeks and months. NCT mum Maria said:

‘I’ve never needed my mum as much as I did in those first weeks of parenthood when I felt completely out of my depth.

‘She reassured us during our son’s constant crying and I didn’t feel so alone or overwhelmed.

‘As he’s got older she’s always been there to listen and come up with ideas to overcome challenges like weaning, teething or tantrums.’

If you don’t have this type of relationship with your parents or in-laws, remember there are other people you can rely on as a support network, such as your partner, friends or fellow mums and dads.

Dealing with loss

Many people experience pregnancy and parenthood when they’ve lost their parents, or are no longer in contact. This can be incredibly difficult if old wounds or feelings are re-opened at a time when you might already be feeling anxious or vulnerable.

Some say they go through the grieving process all over again. NCT member Kate says: 

‘I don’t think anything can prepare you for the feelings of loss and sadness which rear themselves more than ever.

‘I am sad that my son is going to miss out on knowing a grandma who would have adored him, but also that I am missing out on sharing the ups and downs of motherhood with my own mum.’

Remember you are not alone in grappling with your emotions. You can discuss them with your partner, friends or through professional counselling.

Some bereaved people say that becoming a parent brings back happy memories that were previously forgotten. NCT member Elanor, who lost her mum, said:

‘The bond I have with my son has brought back to me the sense of safety and peace that I had with my mum when I was little.’

Looking to the future

Strains in family relationships are perfectly natural when a new baby arrives

Remember that even those with previously good relationships can find there’s tension while everyone gets used to the new dynamics.

And, if there are serious problems that can’t be overcome, you don’t have to face them alone. There is support available (see below).

Fresh start

A new focus

Some couples find their pregnancy or the birth of a baby is a fresh start and provides a new focus for the wider family, even if their relationships haven’t always been plain sailing.

If you decide to talk through issues, try not to be accusatory. It’s important to acknowledge other people’s feelings, even if your opinion is very different.

Reflecting on your upbringing

You may find that as you embark on parenthood you start to think about your own childhood and what you’d like to do the same or differently with your little ones. You might consider what sort of parent you’d like to be and how you can make that happen.

Thinking about what life was like for your parents and why they made certain decisions can help you process your upbringing.

If there are old conflicts you feel aren’t resolved, you may want to talk to your family or in-laws to clear the air before a new start for all of you. You might also want to discuss things with your partner or friends if something is playing on your mind, or write down your feelings to see if that helps.

Finally, try to go easy on yourself and each other,  and hopefully you’ll all adjust and find a path that works for everybody

Some names have been changed by request.

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.

NCT Matters article on motherhood

NCT information on relationship changes

Association for Family Therapy

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