In-Laws Out To Get Me!

Dear Mamas,

We’re about to take a trip to visit my in-laws. I am totally stressed out about it because I know they will start yammering on about when we are planning to have the “next” baby (we have a two-year-old). Before we had our first they used to tease us about it all the time. They would say things like “Anything cooking?” and look meaningfully at my stomach. I know it was in fun but it really felt like a major intrusion and I thought it was rude but I didn’t know what to say. My husband laughed it all off and made me feel like I was overreacting but I think it is our business and I resent the pressure. We will be with them for a whole week and I am dreading it. I don’t even know if I want another baby. HELP!

Mary Beth

Hey Mary Beth,

Think about it this way: you are now a full-fledged mother and grown-up and have every right to expect a relationship with your in-laws that is (minimally) cordial and respectful of your space and personal business. But it’s up to you and your husband to create and enforce the boundaries that will allow that to happen.

It’s an art but there are rules of engagement for this issue in particular and I will lay them out for you.

1. The first and most important step is to have a long talk with your husband about how you are feeling. He needs to know that you have been uncomfortable about the way things have gone in the past and that it is affecting your feelings about getting together with his parents.

The two of you must decide together which subjects are open for discussion with the family-at-large and which ones are to remain private. This varies from couple to couple, so it’s not a given that you will automatically see eye-to-eye on it. But basically, the bottom line should be that if one of you feels strongly about keeping it (whatever that may be) just between the two of you, then it goes on the private list.

2. You also have to talk about how you are going to handle it, if the subject comes up. The most important thing to realize is that if you want to be taken seriously by your parents as a couple (rather than just two individual people) you have to present a united front. This will be good practice for dealing with your child once he is old enough to try the divide and conquer strategy that is an all-time kiddie favorite.

It has to be made clear to your parents that you guys are a unit that sings the same song and and that they can’t get their way by swaying, manipulating or cajoling one of you when the other one isn’t looking. You can actually write a script for yourself to practice with so that you will have something coherent to say when put on the spot.

For example, when mother-in-law starts asking about having another baby, you could simply say:

“Oh gee, Dorothy. We’re still getting used to life with Matt. We’re not even thinking about that yet, but I’ll let you know when it’s on the radar.” And then change the subject.

Or, if you want to be more direct you could say, “Well Dorothy, I don’t know. It’s a tough question and we haven’t decided exactly when or if we’re going to go for a second. We feel really great about things as they are.” And then … change the subject!

Or, if she is relentless, you could be really blunt and say something like, “Dorothy, I know you don’t mean to be nosy but to me that’s a really personal question and at this point, I’m not comfortable talking about it. But it’s great to know that if I need to, I can come to you. Thanks.” And then, once again, change the subject.

Your husband, on the other hand, can be a little tougher and take a more active role in getting his parents to back off (as you can with your parents). When asked, he can just lay it out (but with a non-hostile tone of voice) like this:

“You know Mom, that’s a really personal question and we’re not comfortable discussing it with anybody, so let’s not go there, okay?”

Or, “Mom and Dad, I know you’re excited about having grandchildren but this is an issue between MaryBeth and me and we really don’t want to talk about it.”

3. Once you and your hubby have your strategy down pat and you are sure that he will have your back, you’ll be able to relax. Just remember, you are entitled to keep your private business to yourself and it is perfectly fine (healthy, in fact) to gently but clearly get that message across to your in-laws and your own parents, too.

Good luck!

P.S. For more on establishing boundaries with your moms and dads check out this post.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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