To be perfectly honest, my relationship with my mother-in-law isn't awesome. It never has been. From the moment we met she had it in for me. Then, when my husband and I got married and I got pregnant, our relationship took a turn for the worst. There's something about having grandchildren that makes mothers-in-law do and say the most passive aggressive, rude, judgmental things. Over the years I've learned how to deal with toxic family members, though, and there are so many things this mom with a difficult mother-in-law wants pregnant women to know.
Sometimes I really do think (and hope) my mother-in-law means well. After all, she wants what's best for her child and grandchildren. For the most part, she probably thinks she is being helpful when she tells me how I should raise my children. Unfortunately, sometimes what my mother-in-law thinks is best and what I know is best are two entirely different things. And to make matters worse, my mother-in-law makes comments about how long she breastfed, how her "natural birth" is better, how easy parenting was back in her day, and how lazy moms are today. She came to visit me in the hospital, at home, and while I was trying to recover from childbirth at the most inopportune and surprising times, always with a subtly shaming comment about my housekeeping or cooking. It really sucked, and I knew my spouse felt stuck in the middle.
In the end, it is often up to you, as the mother, to set boundaries, say no, and even cut off contact if your mother-in-law gets too difficult. Above all, remember that you can't control what other people do and say, and that don't have to let a toxic person push you around, even if you're related to them through marriage.
You Are The Mom
I hate unsolicited parenting advice from anyone, but I especially hate it when it comes from my mother-in-law. It always comes across as lowkey shaming or judgment. She got to be a mom already. And she did a great job, too, because her son is pretty awesome. I mean, that's why I married him. Now, though? Well, now I'm the parent, and if I want advice I will ask for it.
Pick Your Battles
Sometimes, the things your difficult mother-in-law says and does will hurt, I'm not going to lie. It's important to remember, though, that not everything is worth the energy you would have to invest in order to respond, even if that respond is appropriate and necessary.
Besides, toxic people generally love drama and playing the victim. If you don't engage, they will stop. It's like magic.
It's Important To Set Boundaries
One difficult thing about mothers-in-law is that they are used to having a personal relationship with their child — one that might have included changing their diapers, rocking them to sleep, and hearing them complain about their girlfriends. As a result they may want to have that kind of relationship with you, too. Which means they may walk into your house, without knocking, seeing you half naked (totally happened to me) or expect to be in the delivery room when your baby is born.
While it may seem obvious to you that these things are inappropriate, you have to set and communicate boundaries in order for your mother-in-law to get it.
It's Your Body
It's your body, and that undeniable fact doesn't change when you get pregnant. That means you don't have to be touched or viewed by people, or be expected to do something with your body, that you don't want to do. Seriously. So when it comes to your pregnancy, your birth choices, your postpartum recovery, and how to feed your baby, you can go ahead and tell your mother-in-law to back up. Your bodily autonomy is not up for discussion or debate.
You Don't Have To Do Things Her Way
While it might be fun to hear stories about what your partner was like as a baby, or the way they were raised, you don't have to do things your mother-in-law's way. Besides, there are a ton of things that moms did in the '80s that are unsafe, outdated, or just plain bizarre. Remember, it's your baby, so it's up to you and your partner to make parenting choices together.
It's OK To Limit Contact With Problematic People
So, yeah, you might think this is a bit extreme, and I am not necessarily talking about completely cutting your mother-in-law off because she's slightly annoying or a little possessive (unless that's something you and your spouse decide to do).
However, the natural consequence of treating you like crap is to see her child and her grandchildren less. You have to decide if and when you want to see someone who makes you feel like garbage. And if your mother-in-law is that person, and she doesn't respect you or your parenting choices, it's OK to limit contact or decide to leave on a girls' weekend when she comes to town.
Ask Your Spouse To Back You Up
At some point, when dealing with a difficult mother-in-law, you will probably fight with your spouse. She's their mother, after all, and it can be hard to feel like you are in the middle of your partner and their parent. But your partner is your spouse and you are their person, so it should be up to them to limit contact with their parent, or ask for space, or defend your parenting choices. If there's an issue, your partner should be stepping up to speak with their parent on your behalf.
"No" Is A Complete Sentence
No. It's a magical word, and the meaning behind at magical word is crystal clear. But, as women, we are taught that we need to explain or justify our decisions or choices or add qualifiers that make our decisions easier to digest by those around us. As a result of this overwhelming social pressure to be agreeable at all times, so much of our lives, as women, become topics for debates or end up completely out of our control.
I have learned that "no" is a complete sentence on its own, and it's way more effective (not to mention drama-free) to simply tell your mother-in-law "no" if you don't want to do what she's asking. Try it. It totally works.
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