She’s both incredibly helpful and a complete pain in the backside. Navigating the mother/daughter-in-law relationship after there’s a grandchild involved requires diplomatic skills geopolitical giants only dream of, writes Catherine Neilan.
When she offers her parenting “suggestions”, you try to respond like a grown up… but sometimes you’re just too damn tired...
Stage One Annoyance
The first fortnight is done and your husband is heading back to work. You’re sleep deprived and a bit emotional still, but feeling like you’ve got this. Then the mother-in-law mutters something about you looking “overwhelmed”, and points how much older you are than she was and how it must be harder at your age...
Mature response: Smile and agree that you’re feeling tired but that you wouldn’t have it any other way. Change the subject by asking her how it feels to be a grandmother at last.
Actual response: Mumble something about feminism and the career, before asking how it feels to be a grandmother at long last.
Stage Two Annoyance
You’ve had a rough morning and have finally got him to sleep in the sling, allowing you to slump in front of Come Dine With Me. Mother-in-law pops over “just to see how you’re getting on”. She warns you that you’re making a rod for your own back and insists on you putting him down in the Moses basket. Five minutes later he’s crying uncontrollably - and you’re not far off doing the same.
Mature response: Thank MiL for coming over, but politely suggest she call ahead next time. Explain the principles of the fourth trimester theory and tell her you’re happy to accept the consequences of your parenting style. Put baby back in sling and start shush-patting all over again.
Actual response: Stage whisper “What did I say!??” as you put baby back in sling and start shush-patting so loudly she can’t respond. Ignore dull back ache that has come on in the last five minutes. Make note to keep curtains shut, at least until after lunch time.
Stage Three Annoyance
You’ve already explained why you won’t be relocating the crib/weaning him at two months but she just won’t drop it. Your husband agrees to talk to her about boundaries but just comes back convinced that she’s got the right idea.
Mature response: Grit your teeth, smile and remind them both that times have changed and your decision is based on independent research and government recommendations. Email over links to the NHS website in case she is interested. Gently remind husband that you are the baby’s parents and should be the ones to make the decisions about how to raise him.
Actual response: Hiss “we don’t feed babies Findus Crispy Pancakes anymore” while pouring an above-allowance glass of wine (which you end up leaving anyway, because: guilt). Email over links to the NHS website, knowing full well she won’t read it. Gently remind your husband that he wanted a sibling for the baby at some point. Check what everyone else is doing on your baby forum in case she’s actually right.
Stage Four Annoyance
That growth spurt doesn't seem to be stopping and you've just had your fourth night without sleep. With impeccable timing, MiL sends you an email with an eight-point plan of how to be a better mother/wife/person, including tips on exercise (“time to get out of those maternity trousers!”) and chores (“try to do at least one a day - it'll make you feel better when you're sitting around at home”).
Mature response: There is no mature response to this.
Actual response: Forward email to your bezzies to begin total character assassination while drinking an above-allowance glass of wine (you've thought ahead and got some expressed milk in the fridge). Write a series of expletive-ridden posts about MiL on the baby forum. Re-read email and make mental notes to do more exercise/at least one chore a day. It does make you feel better when you’re sitting around at home.