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Mother-in-law Boundaries Around a New Baby

QUESTION: My husband's mother drives me crazy! She is controlling, demanding, and overbearing. She drives my husband crazy too, but she is his mother. His parents are in town visiting for an entire week. They stay in our tiny home and take it over, she has rummaged through my personal things and re-arranged my furniture while I was at work. Well, I am expecting our first child (the first grandchild) and I don't know how I am going to handle her demands. I am not a confrontational person and it terrifies me that I am going to finally have to put my foot down on some things when the baby is born. For example, I think she will want to come stay with us when the baby is born, and not for just a weekend but for a week or two. This will drive me crazy. Am I way off base here or should I welcome her in my home as long as she wants? My real concern is that she will relieve my husband of his responsibilities in the home when the baby comes home, and he will not be able to fully bond with her there. What do I do?

ANSWER: The successful formation of a new couples bond includes establishing rules in your own household. Because the two of you have not taken appropriate action to protect the boundaries of your relationship, you are right to be concerned about your mother in law's continued invasiveness when your baby is born. But do not despair, as there is no better time than the present to address your very realistic concerns for the future!

Giving birth and becoming a mother for the first time is a profoundly life-changing experience. It is one you have never done before and you will need all of your energies focused on yourself. It is not in your best interests or your child's to compromise resources needed to adjust to this transformative event.

You are intuitively aware of the need for precious family bonding between your husband and child, yourself and your new baby and your couples' relatedness . It is clear that you are significantly uncomfortable with your mother-in-law's presence in normal periods, so why would you allow her to stay in your home during this period of great vulnerability? You are the mother. You will need undivided attention for adjusting to new motherhood. Put your needs first.

Talk with your husband about the boundaries needed to protect your couples relationship. It is his job to set limits with his mother. Without his leading the way, your attempts to set limits will likely cause you to be seen through a negative lens. It is essential that your husband step up to the plate and deal with his mother and father directly. Once he paves the way, you will easily be able to reinforce the boundaries without being "scapegoated" as the outsider.

Your husband will probably fare best with his mother if he takes charge of talking with her about "our" needs to have private time after the baby is born. It is critical that your spouse use "we" to represent your family needs during this period rather than using you as the "reason" she is not invited to stay in your home after the birth. By doing so, he is establishing the couples' boundary that has been lacking in your marriage so far.

It would benefit your relationship for your spouse to consider his father's contribution to your present dilemma as well. Clearly, your mother-in-law has not had the advantage of a spouse who would call her on her damaging behaviors. By not setting limits himself, it is likely that your father-in-law has contributed to enabling her in her "craziness". It is likely that your husband is following his father's role model by not challenging your mother about her inappropriate behaviors.

"Standing up" to his mother is pivotal if your husband is to take his place by your side. The stress on your marriage resulting from not standing his ground are increasing each day. Discuss together what kind of family role models you want to embrace. And remember that without interruption, family legacies repeat themselves!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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