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New Baby:
When Mother-in-law gets Too Close for Comfort

Did you and your mother-in-law get along great until you gave birth to your first baby? Does it seem like she won't leave you and your family alone and that she is trying to take over your life? Life transitions can bring on new problems in old (once stable) relationships. How can you help to ease the conflict?

As a new mother, you are at the stage of development in the family life cycle in which it is essential that you and your partner create a boundary around your nuclear family. It is very important that you and your partner align loyalties.

You ARE the wife and mother in this family. It is important that your authority be recognized in the extended family. Instead of feeling trapped, find your voice as a mother. You and your husband set the guidelines in the family. Explain to your mother-in-law that you appreciate her as a grandmother. Ask her how she would like herself referred to. Would she like your child to call her grandma, nana, or some other appropriate endearment?

Let your partner know that you do not expect him to love his mother any less, but that you are now the center of his life and need his support. It is his job in the beginning to talk with his parents about boundaries you two have set. He must show his mother that he supports you in your parental authority and require that you be accepted as his wife and the mother of his child. Not saying anything for fear of his mother's reaction will only worsen the situation and can reinforces her fantasy that you are merely a "third wheel."

Visit your in-laws only as often as you are comfortable, and allow their participation in your baby's life at the level that feels right to you. With your partner's support, your mother-in-law will come to accept her natural place as a grandmother. And in time, you will feel increasingly secure in your position as a mother.

Remember, too, that your mother-in-law is adjusting to sharing her child with his new family. If she is living vicariously through you it may have much to do with her loneliness in her own marriage. You cannot change this for her.

Though there may be some reaction from your mother-in-law as she adjusts to grandmotherhood, she will most certainly get over any feelings of rejection if you continue to include her in your life. Send her cards, invite her to visit you and the baby even if, for a period of time, she falls silent. Consider her frailty, but do not take negative "cues" from her. Act with the maturity of your new identity as mother and treat your mother-in-law with patience until she comes around. You and your whole family will benefit!


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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