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Relationship with in-laws causing family stress

Community Member


I've been with my partner for 12 years, and during that time I've managed to cope with my in-laws extremely rigid view of the world. However, lately I've begun to feel overwhelmed by their behaviours and attitudes (particularly in relation to visiting and, very rarely, caring for my two young children). I'm concerned of the impact this will have, both on my relationship with them, but more particularly, my relationship with my husband. I'm conscious of the impact this stress is having on my own health, too, as I have a history of anxiety and depression.

We are very respectful of my in-laws right to set boundaries in relation to helping us, particularly with our two children. We have never expected them to care for our children on a regular basis, and only very occasionally (a handful of times per year!) ask them to help when we have an appointment or something similar. They generally agree to do this, provided we give them lots of notice.

My anxiety is triggered when we occasionally ask them to assist (sometimes at 'short' notice - ie a few days!) and we are met by a clearly resentful response. They generally agree to assist, but are clearly not happy about it, particularly if the request is outside of the 'routine' visiting time that seems to fit their rigid schedule (a schedule which doesn't seem to allow much time for family flexibility, in my opinion. They don't work, and have few regular social commitments through the week. Nonetheless, they like to visit on a set weekday, in the afternoon, because it suits them).

I feel quite stressed and resent their reluctance to help, even though it is asked of them so very rarely. I feel that we have very little, if any, support (and I don't consider their mid-week routine visit 'support'). My husband can see my point of view, but has learnt to live with his parents' rigidly routine nature and this doesn't stress him out. I'm not sure how to manage this situation, and it's impacting upon my own health.

Any advice would be appreciated.

4 Replies 4

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Hi MargaretC, welcome to BB

My mother-in-law used to give my son sweets before we picked him up from a visit. He was always hyper after a visit to grandma's house. It's what she saw as a right for grandmothers to spoil their grandchildren and she let me know that there was nothing I could say or do that would get her to change her mind. So from that day forward (until she changed her tune, which wasn't long mind you) I fed my son chocolate cake, ice-cream and candy before dropping him off at her house for the day. And she had to deal with him being overly hyper and not settling down for a nap. 🙂 🙂 🙂

It's a sad fact, but sometimes some people need to feel a little pain before they are willing to change. I dare say that your in-laws (like mine once was) are likely part of that "some people" group. For your situation, the saying that comes to mind is: What's good for the Goose, is good for the Gander.

The first rule to helping someone realize that which seems reasonable to them is actually unreasonable, is to give them a taste of their own medicine. We do this by accepting their rules, and then applying those very same rules upon them.

Caring -- let them know that if they cannot care for their grandchildren, then they don't need to see them either.

Visiting -- be as rigid with your visiting hours (for them) as they are for you. If weekday afternoons are inconvenient for you, they such hours are not available for them to visit. Tell them weekends are better. Or that you're not available on that weekday anymore. And, if they insist, just don't be home when they come by.

Also, join a babysitting club. That way you can still have your nights out with your partner, and not have to bother with asking the in-laws. In fact, in a way, they can become, irrelevant (or at least until they come to the party and are willing to participate in their grandchildren's lives in a mutually acceptable and beneficial manner).

but then again, maybe I don't have enough information about your situation, and none of the above will work.

Best wishes,

Hi Margaretc, welcome

I personally have a firm view of grandparents roles having had (had meaning I no longer have contact)my mother that interfered in the upbringing of her grandchildren.

Grandparent have an important role and a valuable one. But it should also be a supportive and living one.

Some grandparents cant see the invisible line of where their input becomes interference or annoyance or their pride means they want more recognition.

Yes they have "been there done that" in raising kids but it is no longer their role as a supporter. There are two parents...no need for 4 or 6.

If grandparents cant toe this line and know their boundaries then it will climax to conflict. Your husband needs to stand by you on this but often in these situations the blood relative doesnt see the effect his parents have on you. Its common.

Sb has some firm ideas on how to bring it all back to a better balance. If this abrasiveness doesnt lapse then you'll have little chouce but to display some authority on when your child can see them.

You have rights and you are the parent. Grandparents should value contact with their grandchdren and if not working be supportive and flexible in helping out.

They should not dictate terms to be difficult. My view.

Sb issued a proviso that we might not know all the details. This often occurs with just one post. So its possible they are carrying some sort of grudge?

Tony WK

Hi SB,
Thank you for your thoughts and ideas. I found them very helpful.
I have tried applying my own rules for my in-laws’ visiting time. After many suggestions from me that they visit instead on a weekend, they do this occasionally (and grudgingly). So I will continue to stipulate that we need to negotiate times for when they visit.
I am certainly going to investigate the babysitting option. I think this would resolve some of the tension in this situation, between me and my husband, and also with his parents. (Sadly, I think they’ll be quite happy with this scenario, but you never know – maybe they’ll ask questions as to why we aren’t asking them to help any more).

Thanks so much,


Hi Tony WK,
Thank you for your thoughts, I’ve really appreciated receiving them. I concur that grandparents should be supportive, and unfortunately, I don’t feel that support.
However, I am grateful that they are not overbearing in their grand-parenting style. I am not constantly explaining or defending my parenting choices. However, they are almost at the polar opposite, in taking the belief that grandchildren (and family in general) will fit into their lives, if and when it suits them. If it doesn’t suit, well so be it. I find this sad, but it’s their decision. And I am not going to allow them to dictate terms to us. If they want to see their grandchildren, they can be flexible, as we need to be too.
There is certainly some underlying feelings determining their decision to be at arms-length as grandparents. It’s not a grudge, as such, but an underlying suspicion (and downright fear) that if they agree to look after the children on one or more occasion, it’s going to become regular and they will be taken advantage of. Despite evidence to the contrary (we rarely ask!), and that my husband and I are not of the character to take advantage of them, they certainly fear this. What makes this a difficult issue to approach is that, though I am quite willing to have an honest conversation with them about our expectations (and their fears), I don’t believe they would receive it well. My MIL, in particular, has great difficulty in listening to advice or considering the way she approaches things. She foreshadows the most unlikely of scenarios and consequences for every situation. I could say something to her five times, in a calm and rational manner, and it’s as though I haven’t spoken.
Thanks again,