Woe Is Me! “My In‑Laws Undermine My Parenting, Career. What Should I Do?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“My in-laws have never considered me their family. And now that I have shifted to their home with my child, they are making life difficult for me. My mother-in-law expects me to do all the work in the house in addition to looking after my baby. My in-laws also try to make all the decisions to do with my child. They don’t respect my privacy either, and expect me to come out of my room to meet guests even when I am breastfeeding. They treat my child like a toy, but do not help look after him if he’s crying or not sleeping. My husband has been supportive of me, but he can’t be around all the time, and I feel guilty that he has to fight with his family because of me. I’ve always put my foot down when it comes to my child’s well-being, but I’m tired of confronting them, and just want to focus on my career and my baby. What should I do?”
— Overstepping boundaries
AB: In our society, this kind of situation is distressingly normal. You have no reason to feel guilty over your husband fighting with his parents over their mistake. He’s married to you and his main priority, now, is you and your child — not his parents. You’re already managing work and childrearing, on top of domestic work; let your husband do his job as your partner and the father of your child by standing up for you every time the situation calls for it.
Trust me, as someone who has been in your child’s position, and witnessed the same happen with my mother, these feelings linger long after and will likely be a topic of stress and conflict between your husband and yourself in the future. I’m still experiencing the ramifications of this to this day, even though my immediate family no longer live in India, and I’m estranged from my paternal grandparents for the most part.
Either start making plans to move out, as your in-laws role in actual child rearing (the reason you moved into their home in the first place, I’m assuming) is obsolete and, in fact, counter-productive, or tell your husband that this is not something you can just “deal with” and that changes need to be made. This is not just your battle — you are in a partnership, and you have every right to dignity and respect, especially from your in-laws.
DR: Do not — under any circumstance, here — feel guilty about asking your husband to step up. First, it’s his duty. Second, they’re 100% overstepping boundaries and invading your privacy — disrespecting you, in the process. Just refuse to comply with their demands — when they want to knock the door down to force you to interact with guests, don’t respond; let them know the chores you are going to help with, refuse to do anything else, and go shut yourself in the room with your baby, if need be.
I think it’s also time to throw some ultimatums their way, but the question is: can you afford to do so — financially or otherwise? For instance, can you threaten to move out if they refuse to mend their ways? Or, perhaps, you can up and move to your parents’ place — or another family member’s or friend’s place — for a few days to show them that keeping this behavior up is going to cost them access to their grandchild. I don’t know what your circumstances are, and therefore, don’t want to be assuming too much. But, in a nutshell, my advice is to immediately lay down some hard rules and make it as clear to them as possible that this is not going to fly!
RN: Here’s the thing — I think your husband should fight with his family even more. It’s a marriage and it involves both of you equally. His family is more likely to take him seriously when he draws boundaries and sets expectations — especially when you’re both living with his parents. Get your husband to do the work your in-laws expect. When the time comes, insist on moving out and finding a place of your own for your own family — not your husband’s, too. Alternatively, both of you can temporarily move to your own parents’ house under the guise of giving your child more time with the other grandparents. In any case, it looks like your husband needs to pull his weight a little more in this situation — he’s in a much better position to do so. Please don’t feel guilty about it, demand it as an expectation for how an equal partnership works.
AS: I think the best course of action here — for you, your child, and your relationship with your husband — would be to move out. I understand that’s not the easiest decision to make, and that it may not solely rest upon you to take this call. But if you don’t feel respected in this house, it might help to put some distance between you and the family. Continuing to remain in a distressing environment will only lead to these relationships fraying further, placing undue pressure on you to keep the peace while standing up for what you know is best for your child. If that’s not possible, you’ll need to lay down some boundaries with your in-laws, whether they like it or not. I’m glad your husband is supportive in this matter, but if he’s speaking up for you, that shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Just as he has a responsibility towards his parents, he also has a responsibility towards you and your child. Keep addressing this with him — don’t be guilted into silence.