Q&A: Meddling grandmother
My mom-in-law must be the world’s best parenting expert – or that’s what you’d believe when you hear her speak. She interferes with the way my hubby and I parent our six-month-old constantly – we don’t dress him properly, I don’t breastfeed right, we pick him up too much, the list goes on. The worst is that when she’s around my hubby agrees with her wholeheartedly, but when we’re alone he complains about her meddling. How can I get him to be on my side when she starts meddling? After all, we’re his priority now, right? And I fear this problem will only get worse if we don’t address it straight away, so how do I go about it?

Steven Kaplan (clinical psychologist) answers:

This is a fairly common problem, exceeded perhaps only by, “My daughter-in-law doesn’t know what she’s doing with her new baby and as much as I hate to interfere, I can’t stand by and watch as if it’s all okay”, or “My wife and my mother are always putting me in the middle, especially around
differences of opinion about our baby.” (Get it?)

So the speed with which this issue is resolved depends upon whether or not you are willing to give all parties the benefi t of the doubt. This means that part of your job here is to assume that your mother-in-law means well, even if you feel attacked. You haven’t said how you respond to her “advice”, so I’m going to assume that you have yet to confront her directly. Do not attempt this alone if you do.

Having said that, it is equally clear that lines need to be drawn here. Clearly your husband has an issue dealing with confl ict, as he apparently avoids it with both of you. So therefore, do not begin with, “When are you going to finally stand up to your mother who clearly hates me and thinks I’m an incompetent moron?”. It’s clear you think he needs to man up here, so make sure you don’t make this a conversation about how his mother always thought he could do better than you. Rather approach it as follows:

What you need to do, if you haven’t already, is tell him quite simply how it makes you feel when he agrees with her to her face but moans about her behind her back. Explain to him that this confuses you enormously and makes you feel helpless to stand your ground in front of her. Acknowledge that he probably feels as helpless and does not wish to get caught between the two of you but that you
expect his fi rst priority to be you, not his mother. His mother is welcome to give all the infuriating, well-meaning advice that she desires, but you do not have to validate it, and in fact, neither does he. You would like to validate him, he’s your husband, but you don’t know what you’ll be validating if you do, nor will you until he takes a stand. Don’t be scared to point out the contradiction and its effect on you. At the moment he’s lying either to you or her or both of you (even if it is unintentionally). He’s doing it, no doubt, to pacify everybody, but his behaviour is having the opposite effect.

He may, in fact, actually agree with her most of the time, but you’ll never know it unless he’s prepared to be honest and say what he feels. That you can deal with, ambiguity you cannot.

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