I see it far too often in mom groups – a young mother asking how to deal with her in-laws, usually her mother-in-law. There are shocking stories about a MIL piercing ears, giving first haircuts, feeding very young infants candy, cookies, and ice cream, and just being plain rude and disrespectful of parenting choices. I’ve even heard of very unfortunate situations in which a MIL fed her grandchild food he was allergic to because she thought the parents were fabricating the allergy or being overdramatic.
I am very fortunate to have a great MIL who is not only very loving toward my children, but also respectful of my husband’s and my parenting choices. I often think about what I would do if things were different. If we set rules and boundaries that were blatantly ignored? Although I am a quiet introvert around most people, I do have an assertiveness that took years to develop. When my oldest daughter was just a baby, I knew I had to speak up for her when she couldn’t. For example, relatives always wanted hugs and kisses and to hold this cute baby girl. I often had to repeat that she was uncomfortable with other people holding her and instead of a hug and a kiss, she would give high-fives.
There’s usually a polite way to enforce boundaries. However, it is difficult when it’s a trusted adult who is being disrespectful while you’re away. You trust her to keep your children safe and follow your rules. I understand grandmothers want to spoil their grandchildren and I think special treats are great. I have no problem with my preschool daughter getting sweets and gifts from her grandparents. It crosses the line, though, when your child’s health and safety are disregarded. I would be extremely upset if a grandparent ignored my wishes to keep my daughter rear-facing in her car seat or if they pierced her ears without permission.
I think it’s important for children to spend time with all of their family, especially grandparents. But if that time is stressful for you or your children, it becomes less of a priority. And if rules are broken time and again, the privilege of spending unsupervised time with my children would definitely be taken away.
So what do you do if you are being treated rudely or your parenting choices are being criticized? This is something both you and your spouse would need to approach. When you get married, you start your own family and form a bond that is supposed to be unbreakable. Husband, wife, and children are now the inner circle and come first, and the family you grew up with are now second. There are a number of things that can make this bond falter, and one is poor communication. When my husband and I were first engaged, we took a Pre-Marriage Prep class – read more about that here. This helped us tackle future communication issues and brought up the issue of rude or critical in-laws. Nothing will get resolved it you don’t fully communicate to your spouse how you feel when his family member does or says certain things to you.
Be very specific with the situation, your feelings, and your expectations. What would you like him to do when this happens next? If your MIL is critical of what you feed your kids, your husband can chime in and say, “It’s so difficult to get kids to eat anything, but they always eat her cooking and I really like it, too.” Or if you’re left out of planning an activity, maybe your husband can announce how great you are at crafting and you could make some cute place cards. Have a plan and follow through. Be assertive, but also try to be patient with everyone involved.
About Jen Armstrong
Jen is a working mom to two beautiful girls and wife to a brilliant engineer. An Army Brat originally from California, she loves Disneyland, traveling, and lives for Autumn. You can find her most days avoiding laundry and eating chocolate while running her blog, A Strong Home.
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