You are parents now, and things have changed with your mother in law.
As a psychologist who specialises in working with new parents, I often hear stories about fractured relationships with mothers in law once a baby comes along. Here are some of the reasons why.
I feel constantly criticised by my mother in law. She often says "when MY kids were little...
You can finish that sentence with any number of things her children did perfectly (compared to mine).
My mother in law makes snide remarks about how uptight we are as parents. It seems that anything we do with our baby - that differs to what she did - is about us being anxious parents.
I'm exhausted, and doing my best to manage the house, parenting and work. But somehow, I always fall short in my mother in law's eyes. In her recollection, her house was perfectly organised, and her children were perfectly behaved at all times.
My mother in law runs a commentary about me through my children. "Oh, no, look mummy has made you cry again". She buys their affection by undermining me. It's infuriating. All I'm doing is setting boundaries for my children, and their grandmother tries to collude with them against me.
My mother in law tells me I'm pandering to my son, and that he's going to grow up being a weakling. My partner and I are parenting consciously. We are aware that our son has a sensitive temperament, and we are showing him that we understand his difficulties, while empowering him to try new things. My mother in law thinks we should push him more. She says things to him like "come on, don't be a cry baby".
We are a same sex couple. My mother in law constantly comments on how much our child looks like her daughter (the biological mother), and how lucky our daughter is to have her family's genes. I find this insensitive and cruel.
The thing that drives me crazy about my mother in law is that she thinks she's the expert on feeding, sleep and safety. With no knowledge of current practices, she harps on about how things were done in her day. My wife and I pride ourselves on being informed about these things, and of course, we want what's best for our child.
My mother in law competes with my mother. It's at the point that I have to hide and lie about some of the things I do with my mum. It started with my mother in law wanting to be in the birth. We said "no". Since then she has demonised me and blamed me for leaving her out of things. My own mother was not at the birth. She now calls my husband at work to complain about how little time she gets to see her grandchild.
The difficulties I'm having with my mother in law are causing problems in my relationship.
These are just some of the example of what people say.
Can you relate?
Part of my role as a psychologist is to help new parents to do three main things:
1. Differentiate your sense of worth from the comments or judgements made by your mothers in law.
2. Understand what your mother in law is saying about herself through her comments, rather than personalising her comments to mean something about you.
This can be hard when you're a sleep deprived parent who is trying your best to manage the demands of a new baby, and determine how you want to parent. When there is a mother in law offering gratuitous advice, you may feel disempowered, feel like avoiding her, or quite frankly, enraged.
Even if your mother in law is overtly critical of what you are doing as a mum, REMEMBER THIS:
Take a deep breath. It's your turn to parent now. You get to choose how you want to raise your child/children. To do this, it's important to be clear on your values as a parents, and for you and your partner to be on the same page.
3. Learn how to communicate assertively with your mother in law. This means respecting her view (recognising where it may be coming from). Then, confidently thanking her for her advice, while stating how you and your partner are choosing to parent. This may be different from her 'pearls of wisdom', but it's your child, your family. Also, be sure to thank her and let her know when her advice is helpful, bearing in mind that she does have experience as a mother, and we as parents, will never stop learning.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist
Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
The Perinatal Loss Centre
Posted by Dr Renée Miller