If you read the poem “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost, you will come across a proverb that says, “Good fences make good neighbors”, and nothing could be truer. While it implies that minding your own business and respecting the privacy of others will create better relationships, the same can be said for boundaries in relationships with the in-laws.
In particular, when it comes to mothers-in-law, it seems as if specific boundaries may need to be set. Whether you are the daughter-in-law or the mother-in-law reading this, perhaps this could help you create a better relationship with your respective mother-in-law or daughter-in-law.
The below-mentioned boundaries can really help to ease a relationship between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law or son-in-law. While some might seem like bitter pills to swallow, they really are just precautions to keep in mind. Knowing that these boundaries would be appreciated will often help both parties to give and take a little more.
Take a look at these healthy boundaries all mothers-in-law should adopt in order to develop a healthy, thriving family relationship with their child and their spouse.
15 boundaries for mothers-in-law that create healthy family relationships:
1. Get on board with the parents’ parenting style and rules.
Everyone has their own parenting style, but it’s a commonly known fact that grandparents like to spoil the grandkids. This can often come across as being averse to the actual parent’s style of parenting. While it is probably just a sign of love and wanting to be a fun grandmother, avoid imposing your own parenting onto the children and make sure that you understand what the ground rules are before you interject, advise, or discipline the children.
2. When you visit or stay over, do things “our way”.
As a couple, your child and their spouse are developing their own way of doing things – much like you did when you first started out. Try to remember how it felt or would have felt if your in-laws interfered in your chosen way of life. If you are going to visit, remember that you are no longer in your own space, and now things are done a little differently. You will have a more enjoyable time if you accept that and follow suit.
3. Don’t drop in unannounced.
Visits are great, but nobody enjoys an unannounced visit these days. It could mean you arrive when the kids aren’t dressed, everyone is rushing to get ready to go out, or there’s a problem in the family being dealt with. There are various ways to plan a visit or advise of your intention to pop in, including text messages, phone calls, or even social media messages.
4. Avoid bringing up awkward topics.
Here’s the thing with awkward topics…bringing them up and making everyone uncomfortable is not going to change anything for the better or suddenly make people do things your way.
Keep in mind that some topics are taboo, and that’s just fine. For instance, you might think that breastfeeding is essential, but your daughter-in-law is bottle feeding. Don’t bring it up. You might notice that there’s tension between your child and their spouse. Don’t delve into it or bring it up. Simply avoid the awkward topics and make the most of your time together.
5. Spend time with the kids, but don’t let them break the rules in your company.
The grandkids are undoubtedly going to spend some time with you. And while you might want to be the fun or cool grandmother, there are ways to be that without defying the parents’ rules. Allowing the children to do things, eat things, and behave in a way that the parents wouldn’t normally allow will be overstepping a boundary and cause genuine upset in the family.
6. Include your daughter-in-law in plans; don’t simply make them without her.
It’s never a good idea to assume the role of decision-making and simply make plans without including your daughter-in-law. Be on a level with your daughter-in-law. Treat her as an equal and rather make plans with her that impact her, her spouse, and the family, instead of just telling her about them and expecting her to step in line.
7. Never speak about family issues and the parents in front of the grandkids.
This is a particularly important one. You might not see the harm in bringing up sensitive matters in front of the small children, but it’s best to keep these issues to strictly private conversations. Always check with your child and their spouse if the topic you wish to discuss is suitable for “little ears”.
8. Be accepting of different values and opinions.
If you are hardline about your values and opinions and they don’t align with your child’s values and that of their spouse, chances are that they are going to feel stifled or bullied. Instead of wanting to spend more time with you, they will just begin to distance themselves.
9. Be open to new ways of doing things.
If you are stuck in your ways, it might not seem like you are overstepping a boundary, but it potentially is. You don’t have to change who you are or acquire a new set of morals and values, but perhaps don’t be too outspoken or adamant about them.
If you are open to new ways of doing things, you will find that your child and their spouse will be open to learning about your way of doing things too. This can relate to anything from how to cook a meal to how to handle spiritual teachings and disciplining the kids.
10. Don’t get in the way of personal bonding rituals.
There are certain things in an immediate family unit that are considered special bonding moments. You may need to find out what these are so that you don’t inadvertently interfere in them. For instance, a father might find evening playtime with the kids his special bonding time with them. Or perhaps your daughter-in-law really values doing her daughter’s hair each morning. If you are aware of these things, merely take a back seat when these moments come around. It will mean a lot to them.
11. Visit regularly, but don’t overstay your welcome.
Knowing how long to visit and when to go home is quite important. There’s no doubt that your visits are enjoyed, but when visits become drawn out, they don’t just become inconvenient (there’s a lot to do); they might become strained.
Visits are best when they are short and sweet. Stay for a few hours and then announce your departure and give the family space. Alternatively, if you are coming from far away, don’t plan to stay for an extended period of time and try to arrange outings with other friends and family to ease the burden on your child and their spouse. Every couple needs a bit of time for just themselves.
12. Give your child and their spouse space.
Space is vitally important. As they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. You don’t have to do a disappearing act or get weird about your interactions, but only check in a few times a week and don’t expect to spend every weekend in their company. Your child is forming a new life, and while a relationship with you is important, it can’t particularly be an everyday all-in type of relationship.
13. Avoid getting involved in arguments between your child and their spouse.
Even if your child or their spouse consults you on the argument, politely say that you don’t want to get involved. Getting involved puts you in the awkward position of choosing sides, and once the dust settles and things go back to normal, your relationship with one of them will be tarnished. Unless it is a matter of life and death, avoid getting involved in arguments.
14. Don’t leave all the groundwork up to the daughter-in-law or son-in-law.
Many mothers-in-law believe that it is up to their son-in-law or daughter-in-law to create a good relationship with them. That’s just not the case. While a son-in-law or daughter-in-law should show respect and be open to a relationship, it’s not their “job”. The work has to come from both sides because you both love the same person (albeit in different ways).
15. Be flexible when it is needed.
When it comes to boundaries, being inflexible is one that crosses a massive one. Flexibility is what makes family relationships last and grow. Perhaps things don’t go strictly according to your plans this time, and perhaps next time, it’s your daughter-in-law who will be put out. That’s okay – give and take are important, along with flexibility and understanding. Go with the flow, and more things will go your way.
Nurturing family relationships requires healthy boundaries to be set in place and respected. For mothers-in-law, the above boundaries are reasonable and designed to allow growth, respect, and understanding between family members to develop. If you are trying to build a better relationship with your child and their spouse, or your mother-in-law, give these boundaries a try.