I’d like a few tips over setting boundaries with the way my in-laws take over my children. I feel a bit excluded when we’re all together and my parenting methods and decisions fall on deaf ears. I don’t want to talk about it with them because they are wonderful grandparents who live close by, and I trust them totally with the children. My children adore them. It’s more that I feel a spare part. I’d like some nonverbal (nonviolent) strategies. Husband doesn’t see any fault in his parents at all and thinks I’m a neurotic old brush.

Take any two people parenting children together, and you have two completely different experiences of family, never mind what it means to be parented. That’s a hard enough road to navigate. Bring in-laws into the mix, and suddenly you’re in the midst of a whole other level of emotions, values, styles and opinions. Little wonder you’re on high alert to your parenting ideas being ignored. And, equally, no surprise that what your husband sees is for him the very vision of normality.

It sounds as if, in the main, you’re in a good position with your in-laws. Like you say, they’re great with the children, and the grandparent-child relationship is one of mutual adoration, which is always the ideal. You don’t want to bring up your irks because, no matter how annoying, they are stylistic. This sounds wise: trying to explain to them could blow the situation up into something much bigger than you wish.

With this as the psychological landscape, then, your main strategy will have to be about managing how you feel, rather than anyone else. You know your children are happy. Your husband is oblivious to the fist-clenching triggers you experience. And the in-laws sound blissfully unaware. Everyone is fine – except you. What can you do to make yourself feel better?

First, in very practical terms, do you always have to be a witness? You say you feel like a spare part. Surely it’s the perfect opportunity to manoeuvre that spare part out of the equation sometimes? If your in-laws look after the children by themselves, they can have that mutual adoration space, and you can have – space. Why spend energy trying to encroach (with unhappy results) when you and your husband could be out spending the day together? Letting the grandparents know how much you appreciate them gifting you and their son quality time could also be positive for your own relationship with them. People like to feel that they’re helping. (Equally, you could take off by yourself, and drink wine with friends…)

Of course, this is just one strategic method, as you can’t always absent yourself from the situation. The big question is how you can navigate your parenting ideals being ignored when you’re with them. One way is to tell yourself that when they’re with your children, it’s grandparent territory. This might seem counterintuitive, but actually, it’s a way of setting boundaries in your own mind.

There are any number of permutations that will drive you mad about their approach – but putting the psychological boundaries in place for yourself means you’ll be more protected from getting riled up

Imagine it as one of those play-pens, if you will: rather than all of you tripping over each other in that psychological space – with the generational differences, personality clashes, opinions and ideas coming from multiple experiences – you can, in effect, pen them in to an area that is temporarily designated “theirs”. That way, you’ll be less inclined to see the in-laws stamping indiscriminately over your space. Rather, for a brief time, you’re permitting them to operate in a designated part of your territory.

Another psychological tool is to remember that your in-laws are with the children much less than you, so if they do things differently, it isn’t going to be habit-forming. If your children ask for something their grandparents allow them to do but you don’t, you can tell them that’s the Grandparent Way, not yours.

That’s the way to think about it when the in-laws are around, too. OK, they might give them more chocolate than you permit (or less), maybe they don’t insist on manners (or insist more than you think necessary); there are any number of permutations that will drive you mad about their approach – but putting the psychological boundaries in place for yourself means you’ll be more protected from getting riled up.

Of course, some of their actions may still make you grit your teeth, but hopefully you will feel more in control, with this adjustment of the landscape. The issues will come for you when you forget this, and feel as if you have to safe-guard your territory. Remember, you’re permitting them a certain amount of space. All you have to safe-guard is that realisation when they’re around.

Have a dilemma? Get in touch. hello@motherland.net

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