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Letting the in-laws interfere a bit

Tags: parents, parenting, in-laws, grandparents, relationships

Though it might hurt at first, letting your in-laws interfere a little with your parenting may have a positive effect on you, your relationship, and your children.

In-laws are often portrayed in a negative light. We all know the comedic stereotype of the nagging, interfering mother-in-law who keeps telling you how to raise your child, and the useless father-in-law who falls asleep in front of your television. But we probably also recognise that our children’s Granny and Grandad (or Nan and Grandpa, or Mimi and Pops [1], or whatever you call them) might just as well be loving, sharing people, who only want the best for you and your family.

In fact, research has shown that the members of your wider family, like uncles, aunts, and grandparents, can be a valuable source of emotional, financial, and practical support when you make the transition to parenthood. [2]

When you have a child, it’s likely that your social network will shift and change as you adjust to your new lifestyle. Many parents find that the group of people they actively spend time with gets smaller, but those who remain in their lives become closer. [3] The friends and family members that you spend the most time with may therefore be more important to you than ever.

Like it or not, this may include your in-laws. Grandparents can be a really useful source of practical support, in terms of the time they are willing and able to give up for you, but they also play an important role in helping your children develop new skills, and coaching you through the most difficult times. [4]

As a new parent, you may well find yourself on the receiving end of a lot of unwanted advice, but it’s always worth remembering that your child’s grandparents have raised children too. And, whatever you think of your in-laws, they did at least succeed in raising someone that you fell in love with, so they must have done something right. Of course, it’s important to feel like you can accept or reject offers of advice and support, but do at least try to be open to your parents and in-laws, as they may have some useful nuggets for you as you learn your new parental role.

We’ve said before that relationship satisfaction can decline when you become a parent (though it doesn’t always have to), and this can be even more pronounced in families who don’t receive the level of support they expected. Men in particular can feel a steeper level of decline in the way they feel about their relationship when they get less help than they thought they would [5]. If you have a male partner, be open to the idea that external support might be really important to him. It could even make you both happier in the long run.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to let your in-laws walk all over you. Sometimes family support can be unwanted and if this leads to further conflict, it may outweigh the benefits of the support on offer. [6] Try to strike a balance that meets your needs without anyone stepping on your toes. After all, as the parent, you are the baby’s first line of defence. You have a right to set boundaries with other members of your family about what is and isn’t acceptable to you.

If you have been struggling with your in-laws, you might take some comfort from the possibility that things can improve over time. Research carried out with the wider families of same-sex parents showed that even those family members who disapproved of them becoming parents in the first place tended to soften once the child had arrived. [7]

This may not match your situation exactly, but it does suggest that even the most vociferous of in-laws are capable of changing and coming around to accept your model of the world.

 

[1] Yes, this is actually how my parents are known by their granddaughter.

[2] Goetting, A. (1990). Patterns of Support Among In-Laws in the United States A Review of Research. Journal of Family Issues, 11(1), 67–90. http://doi.org/10.1177/019251390011001005

[3] Bost, K. K., Cox, M. J., Burchinal, M. R., & Payne, C. (2002). Structural and Supportive Changes in Couples’ Family and Friendship Networks Across the Transition to Parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(2), 517–531. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2002.00517.x

[4] Enyart, S. (2012). The transition to extended family: Examining the links between turbulence and children-in-laws’ goals, topic avoidance, and relational outcomes. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/34268

[5] Lawrence, E., Nylen, K., & Cobb, R. J. (2007). Prenatal expectations and marital satisfaction over the transition to parenthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(2), 155–164. http://doi.org/10.1037/0893-3200.21.2.155

[6] Schober, P. S. (2013). Gender Equality and Outsourcing of Domestic Work, Childbearing, and Relationship Stability Among British Couples. Journal of Family Issues, 34(1), 25–52. http://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X11433691

[7] Johnson, S., & O’Connor, E. (2002). The Gay Baby Boom. New York: NYU Press. Retrieved from http://nyupress.org/books/9780814742617/

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