Moms Share Ways They Have Set Boundaries With Parents & In-Laws

Moms Share Ways They Have Set Boundaries With Parents & In-Laws
Image: iStock

Moms Share Ways They Have Set Boundaries With Parents And In-Laws

We're so grateful for in-laws when they're, well, helping. And sometimes, some of them really are wonderful at that. We've had friends whose mother-in-laws dropped by after the baby was born with a few genuinely delicious casseroles, kissed the baby, did some dishes, and vamoosed. We think that's absolutely glorious, and a real winner of a mother-in-law. But let's be real, that does not describe everyone's relationship with their in-laws, and that's just a fact. As much as we'd love to have a tension-free time with our in-laws, it's not always how things start off -- sometimes, being a partner to someone with a parent means figuring out how to help everyone get along, and figuring out ways to have a happy family and keep our own rules and routines intact. While grandparents love to spoil and influence their grandbabies, it's OK for us to have our own rules as parents, too.  

We taken a look at other issues that moms tend to sweep under the rug -- even though we should be talking them through. Tales of celebrity postpartum depression battles can be inspiring -- postpartum depression is an incredibly common issue, and one we need to talk about more. Another touchy family matter is when a mom decides to come out to her children, which is especially fitting as we've just wrapped up Pride Month. And then, moms have all sorts of stuff they go through when pregnant, which is so relatable. 

These are the kinds of issues that plenty of moms deal with, but moms rarely talk about. We want to pretend that everything is just perfect in our lives and in our relationships with our in-laws, and that keeps us from learning from one another and growing. So we rounded up 20 ways different women across the US. have managed to keep their in-laws in check while still being healthy and polite, and growing as a family together. 

  • Control the Narrative From the Beginning 

    Control The Narrative From The Beginning

    "When my husband's parents moved to town from out of state, I knew that I had to come up with a system that worked for me and my family before they did. I don't mean to sound callous. I'm glad my kids get to know their grandparents better, but I also know that if I hadn't instituted some routines from the beginning -- like explaining that after-school pick-up was a special father-son bonding ritual for my husband (which it kind of... wasn't, not until they arrived) -- I would have had way more work to do down the line." -- Hannah L., Long Beach, California

  • Give a Little & Let Them Know What's Happening

    Give A Little -- And Let Them Know What's Happening

    "I try to be relaxed with what I let them do. We have always been regimented with sleep, for example. We have a fairly regimented naptime and bedtime, and routines for both of those. But when our son was a baby, both grandmothers loved snuggling him to sleep -- which wasn't part of our routine. Even though it was important to us to have good sleep hygiene, I didn't take that snuggling-to-sleep time away from the grandmothers. If they'd been watching him regularly, I would have probably instituted a boundary, but since it wasn't that often, I let them enjoy that time ... but I made sure they knew this was a concession. Same with foods -- we were very strict about them giving kids cookies, but now we're conceding a little. Trying to strike that balance of letting them do that little bit of spoiling they want to do as grandparents and wanting to make sure our kids get into good, healthy routines." --Taylor M., Chandler, Arizona

  • Avoid Making the Same Mistake Twice

    Avoid Making The Same Mistake Twice

    "The last time my husband’s mom came, she stayed for over a month. The premise was that she’d assist with child care, but she’s older and a bit immobile -- and our toddler is very active -- and so rather than being a helping hand, it was like having a house guest. For an entire month, when I'd just had a baby. I’m currently pregnant with our second, and my husband and I agreed she’s not coming here when the baby is born. Instead, we’ll introduce the new one to the family three months later, at my brother-in-law's." -- Fatima A., Chula Vista, California

  • Creating Expectations With the Spouse

    Creating Expectations With A Spouse Can Create A Unified Front

    "We operate on a rule of 'If it’s your family of origin, it’s your thing to handle.' So when my mom does something bizarre, I deal with it. If his mom does something, he handles it. But we always put each others’ feelings first and our kids’ next, then the rest of the family, and we back that up from a faith standpoint. We are Christian, so we do remind our mothers that we are called to 'leave our mother and father, and cleave to our spouse' (in Genesis), so our priorities are to each other and our kids. Always, every time. It’s particularly useful when we teach our kids 'progressive' (their words) ideas that an older generation might not understand." -- Isis T., Memphis, Tennessee

  • Hold a Scheduled Get-Together

    Create A Standardized Get-Together

    "When my partner's parents started overwhelming us, we instituted specific times to get together. Now we host an open-house potluck Sunday brunch every other Sunday. My in-laws and friends know they can drop by and hang out from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on those days." -- Jenny M., Virginia Beach, Virginia

  • Have an Open Conversation With a Point

    Have An Open And Honest Conversation With A Point

    "My mother-in-law lives in the same townhouse complex as we do (and my mother as well...), and we can see each other's parking spots and cars. I get asked all the time why I'm not home ("cuz I'm out shopping!") or why my husband got home late ("none of your beeswax" is what I want to say, but I don't). So eventually, I had a no-blame, emotionally honest conversation, using I-statements. I said something along the lines of, 'I know that you have only good intentions, but when you ask me where I am because you see my car isn't there, it makes me feel very scrutinized and like I'm not trusted. This makes me feel upset and sad. Would you please give my growing family space to develop on its own some more? What I specifically want is for you to stop monitoring whether or not my car has moved.' Letting her know what activities in particular were hurtful, and then letting her know what she could do to make it better, really helped -- I think she could hear me and see it from my side." -- Kayla C., Glendale, Arizona

  • Encourage Directness

    Listen But Don't Apologize For Doing Nothing Wrong

    "My husband took the lead in lovingly telling his mom that if they wanted to spend solo time with the baby, but they don’t tell us that, we have no way of knowing that’s what they’re hoping for. This came about after a long trip over the holidays, when he got an annoyed call about it (two weeks later). He did a great job saying, 'Hey, good to know, but if you didn’t say it out loud in the moment, of course we have no way of knowing! Don’t be upset with us over something we did not know was a problem.' When they next visited, I prepped bottles, and we skedaddled for the day so they could have a whole day with their grandson." --Destiny S., Chattanooga, Tennessee

  • Stick to Rules, Even When It's Awkward

    Stick To Rules -- Even When It's Awkward

    "You set a rule clearly and you stick to it. My in-laws know that certain topics, like breastfeeding, are off-limits. If these topics come up, we leave. Always have an out, whether it is staying at a hotel or having the car keys handy." --Jessica P., Tyler, Texas

  • Consider Maintaining Some Literal Space 

    Consider Maintaining Some Literal Space

    "We have, for years, talked about moving back to our hometown. But in the meantime, just not seeing them that often really lets any differences become things we can put up with for short visits. I find myself thinking about how we'd actually have to resolve, or at least address, more differences if we all lived in the same town and saw each other more often." --Hailey A., Springfield, Missouri

  • If It's an Option, Choose to Stay Elsewhere

    If It's An Option, Choose To Stay Elsewhere

    "Recently, we've chosen to rent a place to stay as opposed to staying with my in-laws at the holidays (we did this at Thanksgiving). I know we're fortunate to have this choice, but it has really made a difference for me. I no longer feel pressure to live by 'their rules because we're in their house.' I can do whatever makes sense for me and my family." --Gabrielle Y., Evansville, Indiana

  • It's OK to Create Boundaries Around the Home

    It's OK To Create Boundaries Around The Home, Too

    "We exaggerate how small our apartment is, but it gets the message across that we don't have room for a lot of toys or stuff like that. We even received a large gift for my daughter's first birthday that wouldn't fit in our car, so it's still at my in-laws' home. We don't want it, and neither do the kids, honestly." --Lauren C., Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  • Send Out a Note in Advance

    Send Out A Note In Advance

    "My last visit to my father-in-law's, I felt some tension that wasn't usually there before baby. It felt like I wasn't being consulted as the mom and primary caregiver of the child. Plans were being made without anyone talking to me (there was no consideration of baby's naps or meals, for example), and she was put in front of a TV, which I don't usually do. So I did have to push back a little and it was quite uncomfortable for me. Now, ahead of our next visit, I'm trying to send friendly 'FYI's' to them on things like our daughter's bedtime and nap schedule so that they at least have some sense of what to expect." -- Emily N., Elkhart, Indiana

  • Put a Foot Down About Texting

    Put A Foot Down About Over-Texting

    "My mother-in-law used to text me daily and it really stressed me out. At one point, I told her I was taking a break from texting in general -- she kept doing it, so I blocked her temporarily. Somehow over time the daily texts have ceased, for now. If it starts up again, I know I'm going to have to have a real conversation with her about it. " --Alexis T., Joliet, Illinois

  • Tell It to Them Straight

    Tell It To Them Straight

    "When I used to drop my kid off at her grandparents' place -- when she was 2 or 3 -- and they wouldn't feed her anything but chocolate and strawberries all day. They were grandparents and wanted to spoil their grandkid, and I get that, but it wasn't OK. She had had too much sugar and no nap, and she looked really unhappy and wired. So I said, 'If this happens again, I will not bring her and drop her off, I'll bring her and stay and make sure she gets nutritious food.' Her grandparents fed her a real meal the next time." -- Taylor I., Cincinnati, Ohio

  • Information Doesn't Have To Be Shared

    Information Doesn't Always Have To Be Shared Just Because They Want It

    "Something I'm still learning is to not give information if I don't have to, if I don't want feedback on it. For example, when pregnant, I might mention I'd have a doctor appointment coming up, and my mother-in-law would be texting me repeatedly to know how it went, before I was even home. Or mulling over plans I'm thinking through -- they should be kept to myself until I'm sure of my decision before I let them know, because if they see they can sway me they'll try. I am still working on that." -- Annie T., Brookline, Massachusetts

  • Stick at It After It's Challenged

    Stick At It After It's Challenged

    "My mother-in-law wanted her son with her at every Christmas. That was fine when he was single, but once we were married, it was a strain, and after we had kids, no way. Some years, we want to be with my family, and some years, we just want to be by ourselves with our kids. She pushed and pushed about this, and we had to stay firm -- we'll definitely be there for some Christmases, but it's important to us that we spend the holidays together (and all our families deserve love, too)." -- Cecily S., Portsmouth, New Hampshire

  • Reaffirm Who the Parent Is

    Reaffirm Who The Parent Is

    "My mother-in-law had her nose in absolutely everything. She kept sending me articles about why breastfeeding was best, even though she knew I had made the decision not to breastfeed, and whenever we saw each other, she'd scoop my kid up and talk like she was an absolute expert. I had to gently but firmly re-explain that I'm the parent of my kid, and I'll choose to parent him how I choose to. I don't know how many times I'll have to do this, but I hope it goes away sometime." -- Tina H., Norwalk, Connecticut

  • Avoid One-on-One Time With the Problem Parent

    Avoid Spending One-on-One Time With The Parent Who Causes Problems

    "My father-in-law has certain ideas about how to raise boys that go against what my husband and I believe. Specifically, we're not into 'toughening him up' and we're cool with letting the kid cry, play with dolls, or whatever else he's drawn to. Grandpa and I have gotten into it a few times about this, and I've found that we're both better with a buffer -- so now I just avoid being alone in a room with him." --Corey R., Marietta, Georgia

  • Avoid Accepting a Loan

    Avoid Accepting A Loan

    "We borrowed money from my in-laws after our first was born. It was a really hard time for us financially, and it made sense, but in retrospect, I would never have done it -- and I won't do it again. It made them think they had a right to have an input over how our kid was being raised in very minute detail, and that was totally not OK with me." -- Toni N., Ruxton, Maryland

  • Decide on a Compromise

    Decide On A Compromise

    "My husband is a runner and a really healthy eater. I'm kind of an in-between person when it comes to health, and my parents are just... heavy cream is a very regular part of their diet. So for us, when our kids are staying with my parents, they're allowed one major treat a day that they wouldn't normally get at home. This is the result of my husband being super upset about how my parents were feeding the kids initially ... we ended up with a compromise, and everybody's happy." -- Tanya N., Daphne, Alabama

More Slideshows