Surviving the In-Laws After You Have a Baby

Surviving the In-Laws After You Have a Baby

Surviving the In-Laws After You Have a Baby

“Isn’t she eating solids yet?”

“I never put anything out of reach. I just smacked mine and they soon learnt not to touch!”

“Jelly beans won’t hurt – goodness, you can buy them in the chemist, they must be o.k.”

It is easy to take offence when you are confronted about your parenting choices, especially when criticism comes from family members. But could you be over-reacting or perhaps just a little oversensitive? Is your mother-in-law really going out of her way to needle you or could she actually be trying to impart some well-meant (although misguided) information?

Family Values

You may have heard a million jokes about mother-in-laws, but when it comes to dealing with your own, up close and personally – especially when you become a parent – it isn’t easy to see the funny side.

Unfortunately, we can’t choose our in-laws – they come as part of the package along with the person we fall in love with. And, here lies the root cause of most problems: the difference in upbringing between ourselves and our partners. Each family has its own values and traditions as well as ways of behaving as a family – some families talk to each other every day, while others go weeks between phone calls; one family might tell each other everything, while another may have clear boundaries about what issues are private, even between family members; some families will be outspoken and not at all backwards about offering advice while others may express disapproval in more subtle, but none-the-less intrusive ways.

Taking a Chill Pill

To deal more calmly with interference, it can help to try and see the other person’s perspective. If your mother-in-law seems all too ready to undermine you, it may be a sign that she needs to increase her own self-worth, albeit at your expense. After all, she brought up the partner you love and have a child with so she probably feels some credit is due. At some level, your mother-in-law may be feeling that she has to compete with you for her own child’s love and respect (that is, your partner); your different parenting style may be a threat to the way she brought up your partner (or you, if it is your own mother who is being critical).

On the other hand, Grandma may be genuinely trying to make things easier by sharing her hard-earned knowledge or she may simply want to be more involved with her grandchild.

Ultimately, the issue here is not who ‘wins’, but encouraging a positive relationship between your child and their grandparents. So when you disagree with in-laws (your parents or your partner’s), it is worth remembering the old adage, ‘you catch more flies with honey than vinegar’. Because your relationship with your child’s grandparents will be an ongoing one, it is important to try and find some common ground. Try asking for Grandma’s opinion on a fairly neutral topic or invite her to be more involved and give her positive feedback. For instance, ‘would you like to give him his bath?’ Or, ‘he loves it when you take him to feed the ducks?’

If you are confronted by unwanted advice, no matter how well-meaning, you can either tell her honestly, but politely, that you feel undermined by her advice or you can simply stay calm: take a deep breath and respond, ‘this works well for us,’ or (baby’s name) feels happy when we… (whatever you are doing that she is advising against). Another option is to thank Grandma for her tips and say, enthusiastically, ’I’ll remember that,’ then choose what information suits you and your little one and discard the rest.

You might also like to share some up to date information with your mother-in-law (or mother) by commenting enthusiastically about a new book you have discovered or perhaps some written information or research that reinforces what you are doing. It will work better to do this pro-actively before she bombards you with out of date information, so she isn’t put in a situation where she feels defensive.

If all else fails, you can deflect unwanted advice by bringing in the ‘big guns’: “Our Lactation Consultant/ Doctor/ Maternal Health Nurse says …”

A United Front

If your partner starts to side with his mother against you, it is only natural that you want to cut the apron strings between them – with a very sharp pair of scissors! But again, the best advice is to remain calm: enlist your partner’s support by telling him how you feel without becoming angry or putting him in a situation that makes him feel he must ‘choose’ between you and his mother. It is also important to tell your man how much you value his parenting efforts (“You are a great Dad! I love the way you…), then help him see how vulnerable this criticism makes you feel and how much you need his support so you can be a confident, competent mother.

It can be difficult to stand up to your parents, but if you and your partner can agree on what really matters and you can support each other, you are more likely to succeed in setting boundaries. Sit down together and make a list of what bothers you about each other’s families and decide which issues are worth standing firm on. What you feed your baby or how you choose to discipline your child may be priorities that you won’t compromise, for instance. But if your mother-in-law wants to iron your husband’s shirts ‘properly’ or complains about how you mow the lawns (or don’t), perhaps you could let this one go or share it as a mother-in-law joke. After all you, your partner and child(ren) are a family now, and it is time to establish your own values and traditions.

Last Updated: September 21, 2015


International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Parenting Editor, Author, Infant Massage Instructor & Mum of five


  1. helpful , but how can I make it work for my situation. My mother in law lives with us and speaks Spanish only and I speak English only. It’s definitely a tough situation

  2. Sure easy to say but what about crazy demands from the moment they’re born and undermining what you want. When s woman becomes a mother she needs support. For the first while it’s all about that bond. The mother in law can suck it up until the new family is ready to share more time with her. She’s had her kids and needs to respect the needs of her daughter in law.

  3. This article is very helpful. Thanks. But how can I deal with a MIL that lives in a different country and when she comes she stays for a month with us plus does not speaks English. I am learning her language but still there is lot of misunderstanding (Slovak) plus she is very possesive with the kids. I just had the third baby and I am dreading the visit…my husband wants her to come when I go back to work. She does not follows instructions with the breastmilk i pump…”the baby was not thirsty and I did not give it”, etc.. She even sent me email for taking good care of the kids because she is far…like if they were hers…She comes and wants to take over the house, the kids and even me like if I could not do things…

  4. My mother in law can’t speak English and my worry is that once I’m back to work my kids will not be able to learn English. Also my mother in law practises a different religion than me and she does share a little kan my kids when I am not too inclined for her to. How can we make this clear to her.

  5. This does seem helpful. my problem is that we live with my in-laws and his mom has never been a big fan of me. when we were dating, it was good and better when we got married. Once i had my daughter, it went all down hill. My in-laws are Filipino and always wanted my husband to marry the same race due to them always working in the medical field. I ended up not being one of those, I’m mexican and a preschool teacher, Since my daughter has been born and will be 1 in 2 months, my mother in law and I have been going down very quickly. She has even threatened to call child services and think I cant take care of my daughter. We are trying to leave but not fully financial stable yet. I tried to be the best daughter in law but I know now that it will be perfect.

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