I’m a new mother who relies on my mother in law for child care. My husband and I live one town away from his parents and I appreciate the help that she provides 3 days a week in helping us raise our daughter. The problem has been that she has very specific ideas about how things should be. Anything I disagree with brings on heaps of criticism. She means well, but I am actually starting to doubt myself as a mother and my ability to parent because I feel I’m constantly doing things wrong in her mind. I’m overwhelmed. I want to be able to make my own mistakes without grandmother watching over my shoulder all the time. How do I let her know without hurting her feelings?
-Unsure New Mother
Dear Unsure New Mother,
You’re grateful and appreciative about your mother-in-law. She has been a good mother to your husband and is a close and available grandmother to your daughter. The problem isn’t as much with those relationships, but her relationship with you, at least lately. Since you’ve had a child, she seems to be asserting more influence in your home. Perhaps she is just trying to be helpful but it’s making you feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed.
Your mother-in-law is a very important parent in your daughter’s life, but she is a grandparent. It will be important that she respects your boundaries as a parent, including giving you the leeway to make your own decisions and your own mistakes.
It will be important that she respects your boundaries as a parent, including giving you the leeway to make your own decisions and your own mistakes.
I would start with your husband. Your mother in law is his mother after all. Let him know how this is affecting you and see if he can run interference. If this doesn’t work, you will have to take things into your own hands.
Try to let her know that you appreciate her and her guidance, but that you have to do your own thing. When you need advice in the future, and you will, you can assure her that you won’t hesitate to approach her. If she starts piping up with unsolicited advice again, remind her about your agreement. She will always be one of your closest advisers, but you’ve got this under control.
Dear Unsure New Mother,
The internal conflict that you are experiencing is caused from her opinions on how you should parent, which is tough when you’re trying to navigate the newness of motherhood. Heaps of criticism is the last thing you need to be dealing with as a new mom, but it will only continue if you do not stand up for yourself.
I would discuss how you are feeling with your husband and develop a plan of boundaries. Set a time and speak honestly with your mother-in-law about how you are feeling and discuss parameters. This may upset her, but you’ve got to rip off the Band Aid at some point.
I think the main goal for you is to realize your mother-in-law’s good intentions while working to make space for you to develop your own parenting techniques. Failing is learning and it sounds like you’ve already identified that it is okay to make mistakes. Does your mother- in-law need to be there to witness this? Having her around as a child care support is a big help, but if the negative feedback is causing a mind spiral of self doubt, I would suggest allowing yourself room for growth. Respect, understanding, and good communication are at the core of healthy relationships. You deserve these as you grow in your role as a mother.