Relationships with the In-Laws
"Let’s all agree that unilaterally, parents typically mean well and truly have your best interests at heart. That being said, after having a baby, chances are that your parents fit into one of two categories: there is the “I love you…you are amazing…I could not have done it without you” (we will call that category A), and then there is the “I love you, but you are making me crazy, and if you don’t get out of my face and give me some space I am going to scream” (category B). "
The old saying: “You can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em” must have been referring to parents/in-laws. Nothing challenges your relationship with your parents more than joining the ranks and becoming parents! Yikes! I am one of them.
Having a child often shines a spotlight on both the positive and negative experiences and feelings that you have towards your own parents. Becoming a parent can serve as catalyst for bonding with your parents in a new way, or it can serve as a direct reminder of the ways that mom and dad may have neglected to be the parent you were wanting.
The postpartum period, however, is not a good time to remind mom and dad about all the ways they may have failed you and how you are going to do better with your child. So if you are noticing some of those feelings come to the surface, pregnancy is a wonderful time to explore and work through those experiences before your baby arrives.
Let’s all agree that unilaterally, parents typically mean well and truly have your best interests at heart. That being said, after having a baby, chances are that your parents fit into one of two categories: there is the “I love you…you are amazing…I could not have done it without you” (we will call that category A), and then there is the “I love you, but you are making me crazy, and if you don’t get out of my face and give me some space I am going to scream” (category B).
The problem is that oftentimes you will not know which category your parents belong to until after your baby is born. Then it might be too late – you already committed yourself to having your mom move in with you, sleep on the couch, and be there 24/7 for the first 6 weeks of your baby’s life. (Insert scream here).
When you find yourself with category A parents – you are in luck. Embrace them and revel in the support they can offer you as you adjust to motherhood. Remember that there is nothing wrong with accepting help. In my opinion, it is the strong women that can utilize help from others, recognize that they are a part of a village, and do not have to do it all alone. There is not a special award given out to women who feel a need to prove that one day post delivery they can be superwoman. It doesn’t exist, so relax and enjoy the helping hands around you.
There are usually clues along the way that you may have a category B parent on your hands. I want you to remember that right after you have a baby, you are feeling vulnerable and emotional. You will likely not be feeling your best or in the mood to entertain any high maintenance, not self-sufficient guests. You will probably be looking to surround yourself with safe people who won’t take your mood changes, pointed comments, or emotional moments personally and will be empathic of your need to recover from birth and appreciate the emotional magnitude of your journey to parenthood.
So, if your parents are typically high maintenance, needy people who like to be catered to, chances are they are going to fall in the latter category and might not be an optimal choice to play a major role on your postpartum care team. Situations tend to get more stressful after having a baby, not less. So, if under the best of situations, an evening out with the folks usually results in you needing a stiff drink and an ice pack, then….you guessed it – great contenders for category B and an awful contender for a long-term post birth houseguest.
That doesn’t mean that mom and dad don’t have a role in the process. It simply means you want to think about the situation more strategically and please, I am begging you, don’t have them sleep on your couch or in a second bedroom in your house. There are wonderful hotels/motels or awesome friends that would be happy to host your parents so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds: quiet time alone as well as nice visits with mom and dad.
They may, however, make great people to run errands, do the food shopping, pick up dry cleaning, and other valuable contributions to your postpartum experience in a less hands-on way. As you envision your postpartum experience, it is advisable to think about everyone’s strengths and how they will be most helpful to you during this special time. Yup, you guessed it; this time is all about you and what you need in the moment to ensure that you have the best possible start to motherhood.
If one parent has a particular skill in cooking, assign them to cooking duty. If another parent enjoys shopping, they get shopping duty and everyone can pick straws for cleaning duty. Sit down with your partner while you are still pregnant and jot down a list of daily activities/errands that have to get done as well as some of your favorite recipes. You can disseminate the various tasks to different people or leave the list on the refrigerator. And in the absence of parents or in-laws, there are other wonderful people: doulas, nurses and professional services, drop off and delivery services, and cleaning services around you that will be happy to be a part of your village and postpartum team.
One last note: if during the pregnancy, you already have strong thoughts regarding what you may or may not want from your parents or what role you may or may not want them to play, I strongly recommend you share it with them before the baby’s birth. This will alleviate a lot of stress on you after the birth and will likely give them a better chance to honor your requests.
Dr. Alyssa Berlin is a clinical psychologist specializing in pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting. She offers private counseling for women individually and with their partners. Dr. Berlin is the creator of The AfterBirth Plan™, a program that prepares couples for what to expect after a baby is born. The workshop teaches couples how to prepare for a healthy postpartum transition for the baby, for each partner, and for the evolving relationship. She combines her psychological background and her doula training to help women and their partners feel empowered and comfortable in the labor and delivery process, both on a physical and emotional level. Dr. Berlin has specific expertise addressing fear and anxiety that may arise before, during, or after birth.
Dr. Berlin is on the Board of Advisors for the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) and is a faculty member of Maternal Mental Health NOW Training Institute. She conducts live pregnancy and parenting workshops throughout Southern California and online. You can read Dr. Alyssa’s blogs on the Huffington Post where she contributes to PBS’s ‘This Emotional Life” project. Dr. Berlin received her doctorate degree at Argosy University in Atlanta, GA and went on to become a certified Gottman educator. She is a member of the American Psychological Association. She and her husband, prenatal chiropractor Dr. Elliot Berlin, live in Los Angeles and are the proud parents of four amazing children.