New Baby and Meddling Mother-in-Law

The following is a letter written to a clinical psychologist along with her response. Enjoy!

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, underneath 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 want no 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, and this is 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. Your son can only benefit from his 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 behavior changes you would like.

Avoid making accusatory and blaming statements. 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 we would like to 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

Jennifer J. Sowle, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Licensed Marriage and FamilyTherapist. She is also an AASECT Certified Sex Educator and Sex Therapist. Dr. Sowle has a private practice in Northern Michigan.

Dr. Sowle’s website,, explores psychological issues like: Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Eating Disorders. She also gives information on relationships, such as conflict resolution, managing family finances, communication techniques, divorce, parenting, and sexuality. She helps in talking to your children about sex and sexual abuse and also addresses stress, anger management, and gay and lesbian issues. Regular features are “Ask Dr. J” and “Can This Relationship Be Saved?”

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