Ask Dr. J. Archives


Dear Dr. J

I've been married for about two years. When I first met my in-laws, I really liked them. Joe's mother seemed really interested in me and supportive of me too! Three months ago, we had our son, Brian. It's been pure hell since the baby was born. My mother lives in another state, so I asked Joe's mother if she would like to come and stay to help me with the baby. She came and just took over! Every time I tried to bathe Brian or feed him (thank god I breast fed and she couldn't take over on that too!), she told me how to do it and how I was doing everything wrong!

I tried to talk to Joe about it, but he loves his mom and always defends her when I try to tell him how I feel. At the end of one week after the baby was born, she left, but I just can't stand her now! She calls all the time and wonders about the baby, but she's still butting her nose in and trying to be the authority on MY baby! We have always had Joe's parents and my parents up for a week each in the summer time. I do not want Joe's parents to visit this year! I just dread having my mother-in-law here criticizing me all the time. Joe says he understands, but has put his foot down about not having his parents visit. He wants me to accept things as they are and not make a big deal about it. I will be a nervous wreck having to bite my tongue all the time.

Joe doesn't know this, but I've started to screen phone calls. When it's his mother, I just don't answer. Help!


Dear Mary

This is a pretty common problem, but a painful one. It is very important for you to get a handle on this conflict with your mother-in-law asap! You say you liked your mother-in-law before and that you felt her attention to you was supportive and positive. This is good because, under this conflict, you have good feelings about your in-laws. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this. It’s not that you don’t want to have contact with them, you just don’t want your mother-in-law trying to be the mother. Sometimes it seems easier to be rather black and white about something like this, but the answer is slightly more grey than that. It will require ongoing boundary setting with your mother-in-law around her role as a grandmother. And, for that, you must get your husband on board.

Sit down with Joe at a time when you are not upset. You can use my response as an opener if you like. The main point is that you and Joe need to be on the same page with this. Otherwise, he will feel caught in the middle between you and his mother….not good! You will end up feeling alone and you may get more and more angry and agitated and try to set rigid and punitive boundaries with your in-laws. This would be a big mistake because your son can only benefit from contact with his grandparents. He needs these relationships with extended family. So, you must put his needs before your own on this. And, if you don’t get this resolved, it will also have a negative impact on your marriage.

The goal in the talk with Joe is to develop a plan where BOTH of you talk to his mother. In fact, it might be better for Joe to take the lead since it is his mother. He needs to support you on this, but he also needs to consider the feelings of his parents. Just be sure you and Joe talk it out and know what your agenda is and then talk to his parents, maybe when they come to visit. My suggestion is to wait and see how they interact when they arrive. Sometimes grandparents can be overbearing when a new baby has arrived, and tend to back off later.

If it’s still a problem, be sure to tell them how much you enjoy having them in Brian’s life and what good grandparents they are. Then ask for the changes you would like. It might sound something like this, “We realize you and dad have a lot more parenting experience than we do, and we would like to be able to ask you for advice. But would it be okay with you if we take the lead with Brian? We have thought a lot about how we want to raise him, and we have our own ideas about parenting. If we need to, can we then ask you for advice? We may want to do some things differently than you did, and most things will probably be the same. But if you wait for us to ask, we won’t feel that you are trying to tell us what to do.” Use your own words, but be direct and make sure they understand your boundaries.

Dr. J


Dear Dr. J.

This is another meddling mother in law question. I've been married for two years and have a nine month old baby. Before the baby was born I had no problems with my in-laws. My father in law was a great man, but he died two months before my baby was born. My mother in law is alone now. My husband is very attached to his mother. I had no problem with this before. But since the baby was born, she insists on putting her nose into everything and demanding I go over several times a week for her to see the baby.

Lately, she is demanding that I leave the baby with her alone. I have a problem with this, she is a Diabetic and also has Hepatitis C. She's already gone into a Diabetic Coma when my father in law was alive; He was with her. She is now alone. I fear that she might go into a Diabetic Coma when the baby's alone with her or that she may have a cut (which go unnoticed by her at times) and my son has eczema and has an open sore on his arm.

My husband recently told me that he was taking my son out to the store and secretly left the baby with her. I was furious and told him about my fears. He thinks I'm overly paranoid. I don't think I'd be so scared if there was someone else in the house with a car in case something did happen, but there isn't. It's just her alone. One more thing she is very careless with checking her blood sugar. Again if I thought she was more responsible and careful, maybe I'd feel more comfortable. Please help. Thanks!


Dear Molly

Your husband withholding information that he took the baby to stay with his mother is a very strong sign that something is seriously wrong and is probably going to get worse. This situation is likely to create a wedge in your marriage that sets you up as a contender against his mother. I’ve said this before. This is not where you want to be!

It is important that you and your husband sit down and hash this out. If you need to see a therapist for a couple of sessions to help with this, please do so. Obviously, he feels that you are being rigid and unapproachable on the subject or you two would have worked this out and he would not go behind your back. I’m not excusing his behavior. He was wrong to lie to you about leaving the baby with his mother. What you two need to do is accept and try to understand the other’s position. You both have legitimate needs in this regard. Your need is to feel the baby is safe, and his need is to have the baby spend time with grandma. You don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to talk the other out of his/her position, including trying to convince the other that they are wrong, and why. You want to reach a compromise and find a solution that considers both of your needs.

I can think of several compromises right off the top of my head, but it is up to you and your husband to find solutions that work for you. The main thing I want to emphasize is that you need to shift from a defensive position to a problem solving position. Try to respond to each other with empathy instead of anger and work together to find a solution. Problems with in-laws regarding their role as grandparents is a very important issue that can create a terrible conflict between parents that may never be resolved. Don’t wait for it to go away, the resentments are already starting to build up. Nip this one in the bud.

Dr. J

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