Managing Intrusive In-Laws
We’ve all heard of helicopter parents — you know, the ones that hover over their children, micromanaging their every move. Well, what happens to those parents once their children grow up and have children of their own? You get helicopter grandparents.
As you prepare to become parents and adjusting to this new role, the last thing you want is that annoying buzzing in your ear—especially if that buzzing is from an in-law. Before you know it, you’re snapping at your partner, blaming him/her for your in-laws behavior, and there’s a palpable tension between all adult members of the family.
Here are a few tips to avoid undue aggravation dealing with intrusive in-laws:
- In-laws are people too: Unless you’ve hit the unluckiest jack-pot, more than likely, your in-laws mean well underneath it all. Remember that they are people too, with feelings, longings, and aspirations. They too have a bunch of stuff wrapped into becoming grandparents: maybe they look at it as an opportunity to redeem themselves, maybe they miss that close loving contact of holding a baby, maybe they are reminded of all that they failed to do as parents…. Just because they’ve been parents before does not mean they will be able to gracefully transition to grand-parenthood. All of you need a little time to adjust and settle into your new normal. Everyone could use a little grace and compassion.
- You don’t have to take to heart everything they say: In-laws being flawed humans like the rest of us will provide unsolicited advice — “We didn’t swaddle in our day, and look Jane turned out just fine” ; “Are you sure that baby formula is not going to stunt little Jonny’s brain growth? You should really stick with breastfeeding exclusively” ; “I read in a magazine that not letting your baby cry-it-out makes them co-dependent. You really need to just let her figure it out.” You get the picture! Remember, it’s just their opinion. They are entitled to their opinions as you are to yours. Most importantly, you do not have to acknowledge or implement everything they say. Make a mental note if it seems like something you’d like to revisit, otherwise just listen to your own instincts guide you. You and your spouse/partner have the final say.
- Find at least one thing your in-laws are good at: So your father in-law is not a natural when it comes to engaging with a baby. But… he’s quite fantastic at running to Buy-Buy-Baby every day. Your mother-in-law does not seem keen on helping out with meals or laundry, but hey! She loooovess holding the baby. Great! You get a little time off to rest or pump or stare blankly into space. Whatever! Find something your in-laws are good at and provide positive reinforcement around it. We all want to feel useful and of value, so there’s nothing like hearing we’re really exceptional at something to get us to do more of it (and thus, less of that thing that’s driving you crazy).
- Be clear about what really bothers you and set boundaries: When your in-laws are throwing around their opinions or infringing on personal space, there’s no doubt that you’ll be annoyed, upset, or irritated. Take a moment to identify what really bothers you about what they are or are not doing. What’s getting triggered? Are you hearing that you’re incompetent, a bad parent, that you are putting your child’s life at risk? Is their lack of doing something you need making you feel like you don’t matter? Once you can put your finger on what is really underneath your reactions, learn to set boundaries. Calmly and without accusation share “When I hear … I feel… I tell myself… It would be helpful if you….” Practice in your head or with your parented before you say it out loud to them.
- Don’t forget that your spouse/partner is in it with you: Remember, your partner is not the same person as your in-laws. Yes your in-laws created and raised this wonderful person you are proud to call your spouse/partner now, but he/she is also their own person with thoughts, feelings, and world-views. If your mother-in-law loves to talk about herself and the amazing job she did raising her son, that doesn’t mean your husband is also a self-absorbed narcissist. Remember that most of what drives you crazy also has or had an impact on your partner. When it comes to managing intrusive in-laws, it’s always best for the respective adult children to have those tough conversations directly with their own parents.
Navigating in-law relationships can be challenging, but everyone’s at their most sensitive and vulnerable during this crucial period of transition. Remembering everyone’s inherent value to the family dynamics, setting healthy boundaries conveyed in a kind way, and asking for support form your spouse/partner will help you in navigating other challenging moments that may come as your family grows.
Ebru Halper, LPC, NCC specializes in couples counseling, couples sex therapy and provides discernment counseling. For more information, go to https://www.westportcouplescounseling.com