Bethan O'Riordan

I find my mother-in-law overbearing. What can I do?

You don’t need to parent the way your mother-in-law expects in order to be a great mum.

Doesn’t everyone have an opinion on how someone ‘should’ parent? I remember when I had my third baby, we told very few people for all the reasons you can imagine! I needed time to figure out what being a mum of three meant, how it would look logistically and how I would be in myself. And, because of the changing nature of life, I am still working some of it out almost a decade on.

Can your partner hear your viewpoint about your mother-in-law? If so, can he advocate for you? An important thing to remember is that no one (and I put myself at the front of this queue) does well with ambiguity, so the more precise and direct we can be with how we’d like to be treated, the better. I know this doesn’t mean that the other person will necessarily immediately take your wishes on board, but this is the best place to start.

I love the idea of open, honest conversations where all parties hear what’s being said without being personally offended, but often the reality is different. Sometimes people think they are being helpful, and it can be an upsetting reality to realise that their opinions and guidance aren’t welcomed. So often, they are operating from their internal memories of how being a mother was for them. They are performing from their wounds and feelings of loss.

But you are not them. You are you, and your child needs you to work out what this means so that you can tune into yourself and your child.

Do you know the specific parts of the relationship with your mother-in-law that you find overbearing? If not, try and break it down – is it logistically or emotionally that you’re finding difficult? Then grab pen and paper/phone/however you write and keep breaking down what’s hard for you into a sentence with as few words as possible.

The next part is to figure out how you’d like to communicate this. Remember that you will not be able to control how your mother-in-law feels, and you don’t have to manage this. Try to create phrases which let other people know how you’d like to be treated. Would you like her help at all? People do very well with clear guidance, so is it possible to let her know with clear, simple language in what way and how you’d like her to help out?

Start by clarifying what you need and how you’d like additional support to look. So often, people want to help, but it can be smothering and suffocating and leave parents feeling trapped. You have a voice. It’s about finding the words and communicating what you want and need, which I know can be difficult. Being a mum can be a vulnerable feeling in so many ways.

People often want to save others from falling apart, but I want you to know that you’re allowed for things not to look perfect – the washing can be piled high, dinners can be out of the freezer, the house can be upside down and you not want anyone to come and fix it. We find who we are from the depths of hardship, not when others keep trying to rescue us from reaching the bottom of the mud. Remember that a lotus flower only reaches its beautiful potential from the earth from which it grows. We are a bit the same too. And maybe that is uncomfortable for your mother-in-law.

If anything in this blog resonates with you and you’d like support to create change, you’re welcome to book a free call with Bethan here to explore your support options. Make sure you download your free 5 Steps to Calmer Parenting to help develop new skills for coping with what’s hard and if you’re looking for immediate parenting support, you can start your free 7 day trial in the Calm Parenting Club.

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