While pregnancy is one of the happiest seasons of life for a couple, welcoming a new little one can also usher in some family conflict along the way. Because when there are so many excited people, someone is bound to get disappointed, right? Navigating all the decisions and nuances of your pregnancy can feel especially tough when it comes to dealing with your in-laws while pregnant.
Whether you have an amazing, healthy relationship with your in-laws or it’s the tense, civil-at-best variety, some awkward moments may pop up during your pregnancy. For example, some MILs and FILs can be controlling or not very involved in planning a baby shower, or maybe they expect to be in the delivery room (even though you haven’t invited them). Even if your in-laws aren’t overly assertive with their opinions about pregnancy, like where or how you should give birth or the baby’s name, maybe they make occasional comments that still bother you.
Romper spoke with two psychologists for their best advice on dealing with in-laws during pregnancy, including how to set boundaries and still keep the peace.
Be proactive in planning and communicating with your in-laws during pregnancy.
Who do you want to attend your birth? When you get home with your new baby, do you want a few days of privacy, or for everyone to come over right away? Planning out the scenarios that will involve your family members ahead of time — and then talking to them about it upfront — can help prevent bigger issues.
“Particularly in the pregnancy period with lots of changes and stressors going on, it’s helpful to get a sense of where some of the hot-button issues might be, like in-laws and gift giving, for example,” says Julia “Jill” B. Garrett, PsyD, psychologist at Baptist Health, in an interview with Romper. “Have a chance for you and your partner to have a plan around what your values are and how you want things to go. One thing that can be helpful is having a postpartum plan. There’s one I really like from Baby-chick.”
If something your in-laws have said or done already is bothering you, be proactive in communicating about it before it happens again.
“Have that communication over time and don’t wait for resentments or frustrations to build,” says Jessy Levin, PhD, MPH, psychologist at Northwell Health, in an interview with Romper. “If there’s one remark, it may not need a response necessarily, but if there’s something bothering you, have that conversation even if it’s uncomfortable. Waiting until you’re really overwhelmed or frustrated is going to lead to a more emotional, less productive one.”
Acknowledge your in-laws’ point of view.
Speaking of those off-hand remarks, if there’s something your mother- or father-in-law keeps mentioning that you find hurtful, Levin has the perfect strategy to make it stop.
“Start these conversations with saying, ‘I understand why this happened or why you think it’s important we do this, but here’s where I stand.’”
If your MIL is just dying to be in the room when baby is born but you’re hoping for a more intimate moment, here’s how that convo could go:
“Again, start this conversation with, ‘I understand why you want to be there. I hope you know you’ll be involved with our child, but for — whatever reason is important to you, whether it’s privacy or having that moment together — we’d prefer it just be us,’” says Levin. “Come from a place of joining together instead of battle.”
Chats like this should happen in a calm environment, these experts say, if you want the best outcome.
“Take some time to sit down when things aren’t super stressful and talk through these hot-button issues with respect and empathy, so you can understand their perspective,” Garrett says. “Listen without feeling like you have to respond. When people are heard, oftentimes it can help with creating plans that involve compromise.”
Ask for help from your partner.
Obviously when it comes to managing relations with your in-laws, your partner should be your No. 1 ally.
“Have some communication between the partners as a team, and take a team approach,” says Garrett. “Consider your partner your teammate and work to determine the team’s goals. Everyone has different dynamics and the team can determine what makes the most sense; you just want to come at it from a united front.”
Whether or not you sit down together with your partner’s parents, or send them to have the hard conversation solo, depends on your situation. “Sometimes it’s best to do it with your partner and in-laws all sitting down together. Other times you want to make sure they don’t feel ganged up on,” Levin says.
Remember why setting your boundaries with in-laws during pregnancy matters.
Levin recommends doing the things you love during pregnancy to remind yourself of who you are and the values you hold. For example, if you love being with friends and head to lunch with the gals, use that time to focus on anything other than the push and pull (or full-on drama) with your in-laws. Garrett agrees.
“Have a chance to reflect on what you want and desire in whatever scenario, and then be able to assertively communicate that to people. If a person doesn’t follow through with your boundary, you still hold firm and explain that you’re going to need to either step away or do whatever it is that will allow you to continue to live consistently with your values.”
Julia “Jill” B. Garrett, PsyD, psychologist at Baptist Health
Jessy Levin, PhD, MPH, psychologist at Northwell Health