In-law problems are the topic of TV shows and numerous books, and how to deal with overbearing in-laws and parents who cannot let go of their married son or daughter. Nowhere is this more common than when the first grandbaby arrives. If it doesn’t end with the first one, most likely you have given up trying to enforce boundaries with them. Most daughters and sons-in-law grow fond of the parents of their spouse. However, it’s more likely that if in-laws keep healthy boundaries, their children and their child’s spouse will seek them out for additional parenting advice and emotional support.
I have heard numerous stories of parents actually telling their grown children that they are terrible parents, and sending food packages home with their grandchild due to the lack of “good” homemade meals. Most couples with small children or teens would love to get home cooked meals from mom and dad, but it’s the message sent with the meals that hurt the couple. The message is, “You are an inadequate parent.” Let’s face it, parenting is tough and no one has a manual, but most couples have clear ideas of how they want their child to be raised, and neither in-law has a right to interfere with that.
If you find yourself being called on the carpet or getting an F from your in-laws regarding your parenting skills, there are things you can do. It will mean confronting the issue head on with your spouse first, but facing mom and dad as a united team will help reinforce appropriate parenting boundaries. If the conflict is between you and your hubby’s mother and he is reluctant to get involved then it is better if you approach your mother-in- privately. Women can work things out better when there is little drama and matter of fact results expected.
1. Tell them directly that you love having them as grandparents, and that you want to parent your children without their judgments or lectures. Remind them that these are your children to raise and not their responsibility.
2. Expect some defensiveness on their part, so remain calm and don’t attack back. Keep it simple and don’t go into lengthy reasons. If you want to give one or two examples to help them understand, that may be helpful, but don’t spend time on needless detail.
3. Leave your in-laws feeling respected, but also claim your right to parent your children. The objective is to embrace them as grandparents, because your children need their grandparents, but they also need you and your spouse to parent them.
Our parents grew up in another generation and they may be concerned with the influence of technology and social media on their grandchildren. When in-laws follow the parent’s rules for their grandchildren they help reinforce boundaries, and this works better than when in-laws try to take over and demand their kids parent the way they did. Gently reminding your in-laws that they had their turn and did a great job with your spouse (if they did) will go much further in helping them let go of trying to re-parent the grandchildren.
– Mary Jo Rapini