Mother-in-law: Setting boundaries after baby's birth

This is my first pregnancy. My mother-in-law wants to come stay with us as soon as the baby is born. (She lives about 6 hours away.) We have a one bedroom apartment, and she wants to sleep on the couch. Do you think that a new, first time mom would want someone in the house to offer evaluations and advice? Am I just being petty and selfish? She has also asked to be in the delivery room, to which I said no. Do you have any advice?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

You seem to have answered your own question. Clearly you do not want your mother-in-law in your apartment immediately after your baby is born. Given your feeling that she would be there to evaluate rather than nurture you, telling her "no" seems like a good idea! You have a right to privacy, especially during this sensitive bonding period.

You have already said "no" to her request to be present in the delivery room, so it should not be too difficult to do so again. Simply explain to her that though you appreciate her offer to be so available to you, you value your privacy. She understood your request for her not to be present at the birth, so she will no doubt comprehend your boundaries in this situation.

You are not being selfish and neither is your mother-in-law. She may be trying to offer her help and does not realize the extent to which you are feeling "pressured" by her. Perhaps she was close to her mother (or mother-in-law) in this way and welcomed the assistance. She will need to learn about you and what level of sharing you are comfortable with in your relationship.

Do not shy away from relating honestly with her. And remember that honesty does not imply brutality or sarcasm. Accept her offer as a sign of wanting to be close and available to you and her new grandchild. Recognize her offer as well-meaning, but inappropriate to your own natural need to focus exclusively on your newborn. Your feelings are a natural and very common part of establishing your own motherhood.

Whether or not your mother-in-law was planning on evaluating you, it is not unusual for daughters-in-law to shy away from their husband's mother in the early days of motherhood. You feel best establishing your own patterns of mothering away from any possible scrutiny. That is enough of a reason to secure your privacy.

Once your confidence as a mother is firmly established, you may welcome her assistance. Perhaps you can tell her what would be supportive to you at that time. Bringing dinner when you are ready for her company might be enjoyable. But having her as a guest right after birth is not.

Maintain an open mind regarding the fact that down the line she may prove to be a source of support in her role as grandma. Let her know that you are definitely planning on including her in your lives, but that you do not know exactly when you will feel ready for guests. Assure her that you will be in close touch by phone and that you and the new Daddy will let her know when the family is ready for her visit.

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