On the whole, I think I got lucky with the mother-in-law lottery. My mother-in-law and I have a pretty good relationship. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t live up the street, yet she still lives close enough to be here when we need her.
But that’s not to say we haven’t had our conflicts, like the time she showed up to watch our infant with a clear case of bronchitis or when my toddler, the narc, busted her on her use of the car seat saying, “Nana doesn’t make me use that strap.”
I’ve certainly learned it can be much more difficult to be diplomatic when it’s not your own mother you’re dealing with. You should know you’re not alone if you’re struggling with your in-laws, too.
Difficult in-law moments happen to us all, so we’ve rounded up some of the most common awkward mother-in-law conversations and how to deal with them.
Your mother-in-law wants to be in the delivery room
There was once a popular meme circulating the internet with a pregnant woman posing the question, “I’m pregnant, and my husband insists his mother be allowed in the delivery room, but I don’t want that. What do I do?” The internet responded with the best (and most hilarious) answers, including one along the lines of: “Ask your husband to strip naked in front of your parents and create a bowel movement.” We know things can get a bit, uh, messy when bringing a child into the world, and you need to be at your most comfortable when giving birth.
A friend of mine not only had her mother-in-law insisting to be in the delivery room but also, another close friend was pushing to be present. In the end, she let them both be part of the day and said once the pain of labor started, she wasn’t really worried about who was in the room. While she admitted it was nice so many people wanted to witness the birth and wrap her new baby in love, when it came time for her second child, she clearly stated that only her husband was allowed in the room.
Remember, this is about your body and your comfort level, so be clear about what you want. Be honest that you’re touched other people want to welcome your new baby into the world, but you and your partner would rather it be once you’re at least clothed in a hospital gown. Or if you’d rather avoid conflict altogether, say the hospital has certain restrictions you’re planning to adhere to.
Your mother-in-law wants to stay at your home immediately after the baby is born
Maybe you want your own mom home with you to help you get adjusted. Maybe you just want to avoid visitors while you and your partner get into a parenting rhythm. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable enough with your mother-in-law to breastfeed openly when your new baby demands it. Whatever your reasoning, it’s valid.
Try to agree on a scheduled time when she can visit that works best for your family and then stick to that. Being firm and blunt is something you’ll have to work on going forward in your parenting journey, and building a foundation for it now will only help you in the long run.
Who knows, you may find after the baby is born you want her—or anyone willing—to make you a meal or hold the baby while you shower or nap. Or maybe not. The point is, it’s your home. It’s up to you and your partner to wrangle the visitor schedule, even for close family (especially for close family).
Your mother-in-law has strong opinions on feeding the baby
I’m sure if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, someone—mother-in-law or stranger—has suggested giving the baby formula when they’re crying. Or if you bottle-feed, someone is offering you an unsolicited opinion about breastfeeding. A few friends of mine have even experienced their mothers-in-law buying and feeding fussy babies formula without asking them first (!!).
People, in general, seem to have a lot of opinions when it comes to feeding other people’s babies. Firmly state the feeding plans you and your partner have in place and ask others to respect your decision. You are the parents. This conversation gets much easier as you grow as a mother and gain more confidence in your parenting decisions. But even from day one, your choice in how you want to feed your baby is just that—yours.
Your mother-in-law has strong opinions on just about everything else (and loves to share them)
This is a common theme in my Facebook mom groups and among discussions with friends. Even with decades between our mothers-in-law and their child-rearing years, some moms love to share their thoughts about everything—what you’re doing wrong, what she did right, how your mom gets more time with the baby than her, or which new rules are too ridiculous to follow.
I remember my own mother once complained about the complication of today’s car seats and lamented that we were all fine with the plastic tubs that were the car safety standard at the time in the 80s. “But how do you know we were fine?” I once pressed her, “Did we ever get in a car accident?” No, we did not, so safe-to-say, it’s an untested theory.
Remember, on some level, your mother-in-law may be reliving motherhood through this new lens and trying to relate to your experience. But if the advice is taking a turn away from the helpful and toward the judge-y, try to be straightforward in your response.
And, if you want a little extra support, back up what you’re saying with research: “Well, we believe in following the latest safety/feeding/sleeping guidelines from our doctor, so that’s why we’re doing XYZ.” Sometimes, letting your doctor—or, you know, the law—be the one your mom or MIL is frustrated with is a bit easier on you.
Your mother-in-law won’t stick to the schedule
This can be especially tough if your mother-in-law is also a caretaker for your child. On one hand, you are so grateful for her free childcare. On the other, you want to set certain expectations as you would with any childcare provider.
Try leading with your feelings, and share how her behavior is contributing to more stress or struggle for you with the baby. For example, “I feel sad when he doesn’t have his normal nap because he’s ready for bed when I get home from work, and we don’t get to spend any time together.” Hopefully, she’ll respond to an emotional plea, mother-to-mother. If not, try your best to be firm and straightforward with your rules and boundaries and the reasons you have them in place. Repeat as necessary (forever?).
Your mother-in-law won’t stop buying the baby things you don’t want or need
I remember returning a vast quantity of baby clothes, excess blankets, toys, and other things that either wasn’t my style or were too oversized for our 900-square-foot house after my first baby was born. Even my father-in-law was part of the problem. He bought our newborn a tricycle and a play kitchen—an adorable gesture, but she was an infant!
Of course, you are grateful for the generosity, so thank them kindly. Save one outfit. Take a picture in it. Have the baby wear it when they come to visit. Return or donate the excess. Find a way to work what you really need into a conversation. My mother-in-law has now started a wonderful birthday and Christmas tradition of buying one small item for my kids to open, then contributing to their college fund. Our 529 plan has an option to add grandparents so they can contribute directly without having to notify us.
Your mother-in-law doesn’t have any opinion at all
On the other end of the spectrum is the mother-in-law who just doesn’t seem to care you’ve had a baby or doesn’t make any effort to see to the baby. Maybe your baby is the 19th grandchild, and the newness has worn off. Maybe she’s just not the grandmothering type. Maybe you don’t know the reason.
All you can do is make your intention known that you’d like your child to have a relationship with her. Encourage your partner to do the same. If you’re making the effort, it’s her who is choosing not to be involved and missing out on all of those new baby snuggles. This can be hurtful, but, it helps a bit to focus on all of the love that your little one has around them—you, of course, and possibly friends, neighbors, siblings, or other loving childcare providers.
If we learn anything from the process of parenting, it’s how to prioritize and pour into the relationships that give to us and work on letting other things gently roll off our backs. It’s not a foolproof process, but it is something we find our footing with in time.