Relationships with grandparents and in-laws


Grandmother with grandchildren on computerThe problem with relationships with in-laws  is that they're an imposed intimacy with people you haven't either combed the world to select as a life partner or grown up learning to tolerate.

And even your own parents in their role as grandparents can also seem like critical, intrusive, sweet-wielding fiends.

But there are lots of ways you can smooth your relationships with grandparents and in-laws:

  • Allow for cultural and generation differences in childrearing practices
  • Let the advice to put whisky on the dummy flow over you
  • Practise making polite noises when your mother-in-law quotes from the Daily Mail
  • Distinguish between that which seems daft and that which is dangerous (no carseat = dangerous. Chocolate buttons = not dangerous to non-allergic child old enough to eat them)
  • Remember that someone ineptly trying to be helpful may sound as if she is being critical
  • Relax a bit

However overbearing your inlaws might seem, ultimately you are in control of your child until she or he is old enough to be in control of her or himself. And sometimes an initial overbearingness is just too much excitement. And a form of love in a slightly gruesome disguise.

Be clear about what you want your parents and in-laws to do

There are many Mumsnet Talk threads where people complain about mothers-in-law who clean their kitchens and launder their sanitary towels. There are other threads where people complain their mothers-in-law sits around hogging the baby and waiting for a cup of tea.

Some parents-in-law must feel like they are dancing on broken glass trying to figure out what their daughters-in-law find acceptable in terms of visits, childcare and who goes where for Christmas.

So tell them. In a nice way. Accept there may be fights.

"I can't wait to buy my grandchildren plastic tat. And I hope their other grandparents are wooden toy enthusiasts and then I will be the favourite grandparent. It will be a lovely thing, I think." ScummyMummy

It's grandparents' prerogative to buy their grandchildren too many gifts. And sweets and unhealthy cereals you don't allow at home. Unless grandparents provide full-time childcare, it really doesn't matter if they push a bit of sugar.

And if they fill your house with a Sylvanian family universe, you can always discreetly eBay the excess. As Mumsnetter Caligula wisely points out: "Life is too short to be so precious as to reject unwanted gifts. Of course, we can all hurt our mothers-in-laws' feelings if we choose..."

You need to figure out which boundaries are rational and which are ridiculous. Paternal grandparents should not be made to feel like second-class citizens. But you don't have to have your mother-in-law holding your hand while you get your perineum stitched either.

A lot of the stuff that first-time parents fuss about is just piffle, as this Mumsnetter illustrates: "Someone I know was outraged recently because when her mother-in-law was babysitting, she had used the wrong terminology for potty-training. She said she 'had a quiet word' with her mother-in-law as she was leaving. I bet that was a lovely thank you for a day spent dealing with poo free of charge."

Grandparents and childcare

Grandparents are not obliged to provide any childcare (although it can be lovely, and economical, if they do). But they may be ancient and incapable. They may be young and busy. They may not feel like it.

If you are hoping they might do a spot of babysitting, don't sit around brooding about why they haven't offered. Just ask them whether they would be willing. Be gracious about a refusal. 

And if do they do provide childcare, don't micromanage it.

Last but not least, foster even mediocre grandparental relationships, because we are all rubbish at times. As Mumsnetter pagwatch puts it: "This is one of those areas where we put our children's needs ahead of our own. Unless there is good reason to suspect the child will be treated badly, then she should enjoy the experience of her grandparents wishing to be with her when it is offered."

If you need to vent about your in-laws, do it on Mumsnet Talk. But fair's fair - make sure they know about Gransnet

Last updated: over 5 years ago