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INLAW OUTLAWS: When Your Spouse’s Parents Criticize Your Parenting Style

QUESTION:

How should I handle situations where my in-laws are very critical of the way we’ve chosen to parent our children and my husband (their son) doesn’t come to my defense?

ANSWER:

Disagreements with your spouse’s parents – – or feeling criticized by them for choices that may be different than the ones they made – – can cause major rifts between partners and parents so I’m glad you posed this question.

 

4 Important Questions to Ask About the Relationship with Your In-Laws

 

First, saying that “my husband doesn’t come to my defense” makes it sound like his parents levy most or all of their criticism at you and not at him. If this is true and you are the one with the bull’s eye on your back, ask yourself: Why do they feel they can divide you and your husband this way and what might they hope to achieve from this strategy?

>  Was there bad blood between you before you married or had children?

>  Were there disagreements about other things that could have raised their hackles and given them a reason to target you?

>  Are you aware of any grudges that they may be holding against you?

If the answer is “yes” to any of the above, it may be time for a sincere and direct heart-to-heart talk with your in-laws about your desire to clear the air, reiterate your non-negotiables, and move forward.

 

Second, look at how they treat others.  Do other sons- or daughters-in-law with children feel the same or get the same treatment?  If so, it’s probably not a problem with you but related to the right they feel to intervene in your parenting decisions.

If you have a good relationship with your partner’s siblings and their spouses, reach out to them to get some good intel, including whether their perceptions match yours and what strategies they’ve used to deflect or minimize the attacks.

 

If you and your spouse would like to explore more options when it comes to
extended family and boundaries
check out our blog:
Walking on Fire: Parents and In-Laws

 

Third, do they only criticize or fight you over one issue?  (And beware that this “fight” can be aggressive or passive-aggressive).

I have a friend whose in-laws completely ignore the instructions she provides about what her children should eat and not eat when they are in their grandparents’ care.  She leaves a healthy meal for everyone to eat, only to return to find that they took the kids to Sonic for shakes instead.

While this kind of focused and deliberate disregard for something important to you can be extremely difficult to deal with, it’s better than your in-laws displaying a negative or controlling spirit about everything you do.  It also provides clues – – both about what their motivating force is as well as how to deal with it.

For example, if your in-laws ignore your request to avoid bringing the kids more toys and drive up with a mountain of new games and stuffed animals, bag most of them up during their visit and take them to Goodwill.  Say, “I know you had great intentions and want the kids to have fun, but as you know, we don’t allow them to have more than one new toy a month and it doesn’t make sense of all of these great items to go to waste.  They should be given to kids who don’t have anything to play with.” 

You may find this abrupt and cruel, but drastic times call for drastic measures.  Showing them that you are willing to follow through and stick to your boundaries should nip this behavior in the bud completely.

 

Fourth, are you and your husband completely in sync about how to handle these situations BEFORE they happen?  The fact that you don’t feel his support either means that a) he actually agrees with his parents but hasn’t told you; or b) he agrees with you but doesn’t want to stand up to them for some reason.  After all, this situation puts him in a sticky and uncomfortable situation where he may feel the need to choose between his parents and his wife.

Either of the two options above presents a problem that needs to be resolved, so set aside some time to speak to him when things are calm and good between you, share your observations in a respectful way, and ask him to clarify his stance.

The best and most effective way to deal with this—hands down—will be for you to get on the same page about how you’re going to support each other when criticism arises so that you can maintain a united front and both push back on the issues that matter most.

 

And this last point – knowing what matters most – is key.  As the saying goes, “Choose your battles wisely”.  Don’t fall into the trap of allowing your in-laws to cause you to become unsettled or unglued.

Be firm and clear on the things that are truly important to you and choose to let the rest go.  As long as they aren’t putting your children in imminent danger, most things are negotiable and won’t cause permanent damage (and didn’t our grandparents spoil us all)?

Accepting that many things and most people—like your in-laws—are completely out of your control will allow you to focus on what you CAN control, including your peace of mind.  Don’t let them steal your joy!

 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also appreciate this one:
Making Peace With Your In-Laws

 

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