Setting Boundaries with In-Laws

While we all dream of having an open, loving, and friction-free relationship with our spouse’s parents, it just isn’t always the case. All too often, disputes arise, causing trouble between your partner, their parents, and your relationship with them both. More often than not, these difficulties begin to rear their ugly heads about the time that children enter the picture. Becoming a grandparent, especially for the first time, greatly changes someone’s perspective. The urge to share their wisdom and hard-earned experience may be accompanied by the best of intentions, but unsolicited advice, overbearing attitudes, and disagreements over parenting tactics can be impossible for a new parent to handle gracefully.

Communicate Your Feelings, but Be Prepared to Hear Theirs As Well

Announcing that you’ve hired a nanny and will not be calling upon the grandparents for childcare can come as a blow to your in-laws, especially if they were under the impression that they’d be pitching in regularly with childcare. To soften this blow, it’s essential that you communicate calmly and clearly to them that how you feel about them as people, as parents, and as grandparents has nothing to do with your decision. Explain your reasons for choosing to hire a nanny honestly but gently, avoiding any inflammatory or accusatory statements. Stand your ground on the issue, but be open to hearing what they have to say as well. Regardless of how much you may disagree on a particular issue, their feelings and concerns are valid and deserve to be heard.

One important aspect of communicating the rules and guidelines that govern your new family is to be direct and to say things that you feel need to be said yourself. It’s not fair to expect your spouse to step in and intervene with their own parents, especially if your spouse isn’t as committed to the issue. Take the bull by the proverbial horns and speak with your in-laws openly like the poised and graceful adult that you are.

Avoid Unnecessary Arguments

Once burned, bridges can be particularly difficult to rebuild. With this in mind, it’s important to make every effort to keep conversations with your in-laws about boundaries firm but respectful and kind. Avoid using incendiary statements or sweeping generalizations like “You always…” or “You never…” during the course of your conversation. It’s possible to stick to your guns without being inflexible and stubborn, though it’s a delicate balance to strike. Do your best to keep the conversation as positive and uplifting as possible, especially during discussions about parenting and childcare arrangement details that they disagree with. Remember that even in their most irritating moments, your in-laws are acting out of love for your children and a desire to help them grow up in a safe and loving environment.

Avoiding arguments with your in-laws will also help you avoid similar arguments with your spouse, which can very quickly turn ugly if he feels that you’re leveling a personal attack at his parents and family members. Even if your spouse agrees with you on each individual point that you make during the course of your discussions with him and his family in relation to your in-laws and the boundaries you wish to establish, he will not take kindly to any methods of expressing those feelings that leave his parents hurt or insulted. 

Address Issues with Your Spouse First

Before launching into a discussion about boundaries with your in-laws and demanding that they abide by a set of rules that you’ll be strictly enforcing, it’s wise to have a conversation with your spouse. This conversation is a chance for you to address concerns that you have and even to air grievances, provided that you do so respectfully and calmly. It’s perfectly acceptable to be frustrated at your in-laws when they’re behaving in a way that you feel is intrusive; it’s not okay to attack them, or your spouse, as a result of that frustration. By discussing the situation honestly with your spouse before approaching your in-laws, you’re giving him the chance to get on the same page so he can feel that you are part of one cohesive team, rather than two people with disparate aims.

There’s a very good chance that your spouse will not only agree with your decision, but also with your assertion that his parents are behaving in a way that is intrusive and disrespectful of your abilities to parent your own child. However, blindsiding him with that information in the middle of a confrontation with his parents isn’t likely to inspire his loyalty. It’s imperative that you have the support of your spouse when attempting to establish boundaries with his parents, so you should be respectful enough of his feelings that you speak to him first. You should also be prepared to take his side, should a similar situation arise with your own parents in the future. Boundaries must be established on both sides to maintain a healthy, functional extended family unit.

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