Dear Neil: I am living with my boyfriend, and we just had our first baby six months ago. I am happy with my boyfriend in the sense that he is very financially responsible, but there’s a problem with his parents. His father is an alcoholic and his mother is controlling, pushy and overly critical. She constantly crosses our boundaries, didn’t give me alone time with my daughter when I first brought her home from the hospital, she gets in sudden rages, criticizes everything I do and says I don’t know anything. My partner is terrified of hurting her feelings, but we are constantly getting into fights because of his mom. His mother has come over uninvited, has snatched my daughter from my arms, and has changed her diaper and her clothes without consulting me. She has been taking my daughter to other people’s homes and restaurants without mentioning it to me, doesn’t use the car seat connector and actively violates what I say I want my daughter to do. It feels like she is manipulating my daughter and trying to make her the way she wants. She believes in hitting babies, has told me she hates spoiling children and has said that I seem like the type that spoils. I am afraid of them and I am afraid for my daughter, but I can’t convince my partner to stop letting our daughter stay alone with them. My grandparents died when I was very young, so I don’t know what the normal procedure is as to how many times my daughter should visit with them. I am stuck in an office all week and look forward to spending the weekend with my daughter
Bullied in Chicago
Dear Bullied: Grandparent’s rights aside, your daughter’s grandmother does NOT have the right to violate your wishes about where to take the baby, whether she should use child safely seat devices when the child is in her car, how the baby should be disciplined or how your daughter should be reared, unless she has your explicit permission, agreement and approval.
The problem is that your boyfriend is afraid of his mother’s anger and disapproval, and therefore the two of you clearly do not present a united front with his parents. You must first stand up to your boyfriend and let him know your feelings, wishes, requirements and boundaries, and the two of you together must then tell his mother in no uncertain terms what is expected and required of her, in order for her to see your daughter on unsupervised visits. Then you must put appropriate limits on the times, places and under which circumstances she can see the baby—and the two of you MUST enforce these boundaries with her.
If your boyfriend won’t agree with your rules, then you’re going to have to enforce these boundaries with your mother-in-law without him. You are going to have to develop the backbone to require her to honor your wishes if she desires alone time with your baby, and if she violates your wishes, you’re going to have to revoke her unsupervised visits and require her to be in your presence when she is with your child.
Contact your county social services department and ask for their help. They can help, and they can intervene to set up firm rules for your whole family to follow, and they have the authority to enforce their rules. Although it normally benefits children to have a close relationship with their grandparents, the grandparents must be appropriate and healthy, and not undermine the parents or go against the parent’s wishes, especially if the grandparents are trying to enforce an opposing set of child rearing and disciplinary practices.
Your mother-in-law’s behavior is unhealthy, immature and imbalanced. She appears to be in competition with you for the position of who the baby is most going to love, listen to and be loyal to. Refuse her access to the baby if she won’t respect your rules and childrearing requirements. This your baby, not hers.