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April 23, 2012

Monsters in Law

Blog-monster-in-lawI hear the conversation all the time: "I can’t believe she did that." "No, please tell me she didn’t!" The villain they're referring to? The Mother-in-law.

We all know how the in-law relationship is often strained. And it only gets worse when grandkids come into the picture. In-laws "swoop-in," give unsolicited parenting advice, comment on how over -- or under --protective you are. But they also babysit, buy the babies necessities, and love us unconditionally.

When I hear these conversations, often in the Care.com kitchen, I have to remind my staff that this is all done out of love. "And control" someone might say. True, it's really a control-tug-of-war, and you're on the other side.

But at least once a year we get the question: Should I have my mother-in-Law be my nanny? And here's what I say: If there's tension, any type of uncomfortable vibe that might make you less of an A-game parent, or might hurt your relationship with your partner, I have to suggest you look elsewhere.

It's just too complicated. Parents need to hire someone who they can direct and manage, not someone who will say "but when I changed your diapers, I did it this way" or "we always put blankets on you in the crib." When it comes to your baby, you are the boss. If an in-law doesn’t take direction well (ice cream for breakfast, no TV restrictions), you will either spend your days being angry – or have to fire your partner's parent.

And that's awkward.

Now, as a mom of two boys, and a future mother-in-law one day, I can’t promise you I won’t be some lovely young woman’s "Monster-in-law." But what I can promise you is that I won't be their nanny!

So tell me, what can you promise you won't do as a future in-law?

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Comments

safeguarding children

I personally have never had trouble with my mother in law but I know some poeople who have. In terms of my work, I deal with safeguarding children and find that mothers in law can often be those who first alert the authorities to anything untoward which is happening.

Traci Buxton

Having been in a similar situation in the past, I completely agree that parents are the ultimate authority over their children and it is their primary responsibility to ensure their proper care and welfare. It is essential to have an open and flexible relationship with your children's caregiver so that each party is comfortable exchanging information and suggestions for care improvement with one another. As a future in-law I hope that my primary job is to coddle and enjoy my grandchildren without judgement, blame, or guilt over my own child-rearing mistakes.

Dm

Well this is a very one sided view and a classic example of the flaw which plagues our society. I had both set of parents look after my baby for a couple of months and now have a very good nanny for past one year. While your point on being able to direct a care giver is correct , i can honestly say that no one can genuinely love the child much as the grandparents . So i would say that in laws can really provide the best care ( assuming your laws are responsible and sane individuals). I hope you will post this comment so others can see both sides of the story.

Rachel

This blog definitely speaks to me and my situation. But it's actually my own mom that I'm dealing with! I totally agree that it's a control issue that lies beneath all these little tug-of-war battles we have. My best friend and I have pledged to remind each other when our daughters are grown and have children that we won't repeat the same behavior. You have to respect a woman's right to direct the care of her baby and not impose your own will! It makes me sad that my mom doesn't respect my choices as a mother and I have told her before "it's my number one job to protect my little girl. If I ask you to do something a certain way or not do something, it's because I love her and want to keep her safe. I'm not saying that you weren't a good parent." Thanks for this close-to-home discussion.

Mama

I will take the time to know my son/daughter-in-law as a person before I make assumptions about "hidden meanings" behind what they say. I had to have a "keep it real" conversation with my mother-in-law. After she assumed I was being rude and dismissive when really I was exhausted and frustrated after a too-long day of driving around my two-year-old dressed in a complicated chicken costume on halloween. I assured her that I would NEVER intentionally be rude or disrespectful to her (not the way I was raised) and if she was EVER offended by something I said, she needed to say something in the moment so I may recognize the way I was speaking and appologize imediately with an explanation for my tone (9 times out of 10 that explanation being toddler frustration).

Ellen Aschenbrenner

I am the mother of twin 10 year old sons and two 30 something sons, the mother-in-law to two daughters-in-law and a grandmother to three granddaughters. Being the mother-in-law is the most difficult role I've played. It feels like walking a tightrope trying to find the boundaries; and my two daughters-in-law are wonderful women. I have a new mother-in-law now and treat her more like a friend and appreciate her for the person she is. I wish that I had been kinder and more appreciative of my older sons' grandmother. She helped us so much and I was too busy and stressed to give her credit for her immense contributions. I always questioned what she was intending with each word. I now appreciate all the people in my life who love my children and are family and my in-laws are incorporated as especially loved ones.

Penelope

This is sooo true and a very realistic description of my situation. I love the phrase monster in law! Thank you for sharing this view, as sometimes it felt like I was being the monster when really I was frustrated that my life and daughter were being taken away from me. I truly advise couples to steer clear of the idea of the mother in law as the nanny! I haven't spoken with my mother in law since I virtually fired her from the job. It's not worth the complications. Look elsewhere is the bottom line...and for those of you in the situation it's never too early or late to make a change. Good luck.

Proud Daughter In-Law

My mother in law is awesome...she has always been there for my husband and I. She is a great listener and help to our family as well as my other two sister-in-laws and their family. Yes, I would and have "hired" (with little pay) her to take care of my son who is now 18months old. She comes over every Monday AM before I leave for work and stay until Friday @ Noon when my husband gets off...great woman and I pray that everyone could experience a mother-in-LOVE (not law) Like I have been blessed to have.

Older Mom

I am an older mom. I have children at home and one son who is married with a child. Our children are very spread out in age. Since I am the mother-in- law, I try to respect their family and home. Which means I do not give advice unless asked. I am here to help if necessary, but they live out of state so it is when they come to visit and want to see friends that I care for my grandson. My parents and my in-laws do not undermine my family, and for that good example I am very appreciative. My father babysat when the children were little and after school, so I could work a couple of days a week in the pharmacy. He was patient, kind, and wonderful with the children. My children were very close to their grandfather, for this I am very thankful. My father passed away last year, and we all miss him. Always remember when you are the parent or in-law to support your child in their marriage and parenting. Think and ask permission before you do anything. Ask yourself if what you are about to do will undermine their authority in their home. They deserve your respect.

Stephanie

I completely disagree with "DM". In laws and even the parents do not necessarily always provide the BEST care. Yes I agree they love them more than other care givers from outside of the home. But just because they love them so much doesn't mean they are the best to be the nanny. My friends tell me so much how the in laws spoil their children because they love them so much!!!

Mine are no different. She lets my child stay up well past 11 pm (she is a 4 year old who goes to school at 8 am) and thinks it is strange that I enforce a bed time ritual that starts at 7:30 pm (bath, hair, books, cuddles, etc). She buys her all kind of junk food and ice cream, buys her fast food mc donalds. She buys her all these clothes, that my child doesn't need and end up just sitting in the closet with the tags on them because my daughter never wants to wear them. Dolls she never plays with (my daughter is not into dolls). She babies her and gives her her way when she cries and throws a tantrum (something we do not allow). I know it is all done out of love and she just wants to see her be happy. But that is not good parenting, children must learn rules and boundaries and how to behave appropriately. I try to tell her and she gets upset.

The last time the in laws were here, my child slept the entire day after they left. She was constipated with such painful hard stools we had to give her medicine. We have already "sold" the clothes she was given because they were pants and such and we live in a very hot place and have no need for those things. We had to reteach the concepts on "wants" and "needs".....arrrrgggg

KNL

I would NEVER hire my mother-in-law. I have a step-daughter now, and that woman questions both my man and my authority on everything, even going so far as to say I was being "unfair" and "mistreating" her grandchild... In front of literally a hundred people, at someone else's wedding where we were attendants, standing mere feet away from the bride, over a Dr. Pepper and a Jolly Rancher. (Truly the most mortified I have ever been!) I mean, I love my partner, I absolutely love his duaghter, and I make every effort to treat them both with love and respect. I made her a special quilt for her room at our house, make every effort to facilitate her realtionship with her dad, help out by driving the four hours to pick her up more often than not because my man can't make it on time, and show her how much I love and care for her at every opportunity. She's my favorite small person and she loves me very much too. But as far as my man's mother looking after my children? No. I've seen the way she disciplines my SD, I've heard the way she speaks about me to other people, I've seen the disrespect she shows her son, and she is, frankly, mean. I'm not leaving my children alone with her until they are old enough A) to defend themselves and B) understand that some people say hurtful things but that does not mean we have to get hurt. It's sad that she is allowed to watch my SD and SD's two half-sisters, but I've had to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I love my SD (and children in general) those girls are not mine to protect. It is only when SD is in our custody that I have any sort of say, and when she is with us I show her that people don't need to yell, or bring out the wooden spoon, or get angry or frustrated. Adults can be patient and loving, even when disciplining. Honestly, I think that is part of why she loves me so much. The first time she spilled a glass of water in front of me, she literally began to shake with fear and started to sob. I jumped in immediately with, "Whoa, whoa! Accidents happen, What do we do? We take a deep breath, we go get a towel, and we wipe it all up! The end! No need for tears, baby doll!" It broke my heart because she didn't even know how to react to that. (She has since spilled orange juice in my best purse and did not freak out about that except to say, "Oh no, your bag is ruined! I'm sorry. I have seven dollars... I'll get you a new one that's just as pretty, you'll see!" as she wiped off my wallet with a soaked napkin. How can you not just love that?! She's amazing and smart and loving and joyful and I just think she is the cutest!!!) It's really sad that I can't trust this woman to be kind to our kids when we have them because of the way she treats her son, the way she treats me, and the way she treats her current grandchild. After a particularly nasty incident involving a wooden spoon and a literal wound from it I actually had to have a discussion with my man about her, and explain to him that if she ever harmed one of my children that I would not only be extremely tempted to fight back on their behalf, but that I would see to it that she was never, and I mean never, alone in a room with them again. So far she has shown no signs of changing, working on our relationship, or, well, anything. It's really too bad. Lucky for us, though, my mom is a really loving, kind, and respectful person. She is wonderful with children (SD asks about me first and my mother second when my partner picks her up) and, thanks to SD, now has her own chant. I would not hesitate to ask her to watch my children, indeed she has watched SD before, but I would not do it on a regular basis because I wouldn't want to strain the relationship. I am sure she and I will differ in opinions, and the last thing I want is for she and my man to argue about something and have it affect their relationship. It's tough to keep it impersonal when the subject is something both of you care about to the point of unconditional love and regard. It's not worth messing up a good relationship over hurt feelings, and with my mother-in-law, it is most certainly not worth it to leave my children with her only to have her take out her disdain for myself and her frustration with my parenting boundaries on the children. That's bad for everyone. I hope this helps any moms/step-moms out there who struggle with MIL issues. Keep setting boundaries and keep lowering your expectations so you don't get hurt. I hope someday that our relationship, though I am confident we will never be friends, can evolve to one of mutual respect and understanding... But I'm not going to hold my breath. As for the relationship between my man and my parents, I will continue to foster that in any way I can, and if that means having and enforcing boundaries with my parents about SD and my children, then that is what that means. Good luck, and stay healthy. I've found that if I am going to be there for my man and SD I have to be healthy too. :-)

Betty Bowers

I really feel sorry for you girls who seem to have a bad relationship with your mother-in-law and I applaud those of you who appreciate yours! I have two sons and a daughter who are married with 11 grandchildren total. I understand the concerns about your children getting to bed at the proper time, etc. However, I can't wait until you are a mother-in-law. It is not an easy role to fill! However, I am so blessed. My sons and daughters-in-law live very close (their choice)and we see the kids OFTEN! My daughters-in-law are wonderful Christians and we are friends first! I love them so much. Along with my daughter, we are a close family! Love one another!

Jess Stevens

My mother in law has been a friend before the baby, and an absolute blessing afterwards. Both she and my father in law love having our daughter over, and request her every other weekend. That gives us a bit of quiet time, and she comes back full of smiles and usually some kind of adorable outfit. I know we got lucky.

Jess Stevens

ALso forgot to add that while I would never expect my MIL to be our nanny, I know that she follows what we say to the letter. She writes down each nap and feeding, and tells us everything that happened at each stay!

As a future in law, I know I would do my best to respect the wishes of my children and spouses regarding child care, because I know how important it has been to me!

Rebecca

I think hiring a MIL depends upon the relationship but certainly doing business with any famiy member (whether it is buying insurance or something else) has potential issues given the personal relationships. It is stressful to politely but firmly enforce boundaries and family rules. For instance, car seats, schedules, privacy when nursing, etc. given I had the first grandchildren on my husband's side of the family was a learning curve for my inlaws.

Jenny Schermerhorn

I look forward to being a mother-in-law. I want to be sure my sons-in-law feel like a real part of our family!

LHC

What a great blog post! I consider my mother-in-law and I to have a fairly solid relationship, but we definitely butt heads once in awhile. And I would never "hire" her as our nanny...despite the fact that I love, respect and appreciate her. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive - you can be a close family and love your in-laws without wanting them to be your child's nanny/caregiver(s).

In-laws are not necessarily the best, or most-equipped people to look after your children, no matter how much they may love them.

Case in point: My mother-in-law could not understand why we needed a car seat before our daughter was born...she suggested (in all seriousness) that we just bring her home in a bassinet in the backseat, like they had with my husband 30 years ago, saying that we wouldn't need to leave the house much in the first few months after she was born anyway and it would be a waste of money. They, too, do not understand why we don't let our daughter stay up late when they visit ("we hardly get to see her!"). I could go on...

A professional will almost always have more current information on childcare and safety, not to mention likely having CPR certification and possibly medical training/experience, which most mothers-in-law do not (Dr Spock, anyone?). It is also far easier to manage someone who is not a relative - particularly if your mother-in-law is used to getting her way or takes things personally. If you know it could be an issue, why risk damaging that already-sensitive relationship by hiring her as a nanny?

I don't think the original post was intended to imply that in-laws should never provide childcare for their grandchildren...just that if you realize there could be issues, it's best not to rock the boat.

If you're one of the lucky ones for whom it's not an issue - congratulations, you hit the jackpot!

Speaking for the rest of us, I'll steer clear of those landmines and hire a pro, thank you very much. And if/when I'm someone's mother-in-law myself, I will not offer to be their nanny. I will make every effort to keep my parenting comments/suggestions to myself unless specifically asked for advice. I will honor their parenting style(s) and not try to pull one over on the parents (sneaking ice cream, treats, late nights, etc). Most of all, I will try to focus on how grateful I am that my children are allowing me to be part of this exciting time of their lives, so I can share their joy...rather than criticizing their decisions. I may not be perfect at it, but I will try my best.

Rebecca

I'm jealous of those with a mother in law that wants to help. My mil offered to supervise the nanny! Ha! She has never offered to help, bought anything for the kids, and barely interacts with them. Not even on their birthday. I feel sorry for her she obviously is missing maternal instincts. She is a lovely lady who does not have a mean bone in her body. She is just very preoccupied with herself. Her mother in law and nannies raised her children. Her husband is very embarrassed bh it and my husband is mad, but I guess I should be thankful...I would rather have an indifferent mil than an overbearing one.

Maria

Here is my 2 cents. I actually prefer my mother in law to watch my son over my own mother. I don't even get along with my mother in law....but one thing that I value her for is her childcare skills and unconditional love of my child. My mother puts other priorities before my child and I have had to stop her being alone with him....her unintentional neglect puts my child in danger. I don't have to give my mother in law any details on my child's care now that he is 5. But she did follow most of my requests when he was a baby. I also have a sitter that has tons of experience with children an she is even more energetic and resourceful with children than I. Sometimes we need to choose our battles wisely and love people for what they can do , not pick on the things that they can't. Otherwise stay at home and raise your child yourself.

Frances

If I am a mother-in-law (there is no guarantee my son will marry so I HOPE to become one!)I will be very sensitive to the new mom's feelings. She is the boss 100%! Once the child is older, or siblings come along things relax but for a first time new mom she is like a mama bear and needs to feel that no one is challenging her protection of her baby.
I had that problem myself. My M-I-L refused to let me know if she wanted to take my baby in a car somewhere - as I requested. Obviously, she was offended and felt that as the grandmother she shouldn't have to get the okay from me to drive my baby anywhere. But I couldn't stand the thought of not knowing where my child was at all times! It was an issue that never resolved and distrust remains.
Part of the problem is that my husband's family recognizes my m-i-l as the matriarch and seems to grant her a position of power in the family. This is a cultural issue that I'm not accustomed to. In my family everyone is just as important as the next and we always treat each other with an equal amount of respect - there is no "matriarch" or "patriarch" that deserves more respect. I didn't really see this cultural difference until a couple years after my baby was born. My husband seems oblivious to it.
So - I agree that using a grandparent for childcare is a bad idea unless the mom is willing to share control of the care of the child (hey - you're getting it for free, what do you expect?) otherwise, get together with grandma so she can see her grandchild (I let my husband lead in this regard) but leave the caretaking to the professionals.

Courtney

Honestly, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle for me. My mother-in-law is a very generous person and loves my kids very much. She has been super-helpful with the kids and (for the most part) honors our requests with how to take care of our kids. My mother (aka my husband's mother-in-law) is pretty much the same way. That being said, my husband and I also try to remind ourselves that we cannot control every single thing about our kids lives (particularly if we want a night out once in awhile). We try not to make a huge deal if the kids are allowed to stay up too late, eat too much junk or get spoiled with gifts (even if it totally grates on my nerves sometimes). There really isn't any point in ruining the fun for the kids or the grandparents over everything. However, we have had some issues that we absolutely DO NOT compromise on. These include things like bike helmets, seat belts, carseats, and medications. Both grandmas get in "party mode" when they have the grandkids over and have been known to "forget" the nightly nebulizer treatments for my asthmatic chidren (and then they "forget" to tell me until I call them about my kid wheezing...hmmmm). Both grandmas can get a bit stubborn about things too, but I find that because we don't really make a huge deal about the small stuff (sugary foods and bedtimes) they seem to take it a bit better when we have to put our foot down about some things. I do think that dynamic would be worse if my mother-in-law was my long-term nanny though. As much as she loves my kids, I don't think I could handle the lackadaisical attitude toward some safety precautions--or the fact that her solution to dehydration is a can of grape soda!

Courtney

One more thing...my sister just had her second baby. She has an almost two-year-old at home so she definitely has her hands full. Her mother-in-law is the sweetest woman and really wants to help but she is the QUEEN of unsolicited advice! She is very concerned that my sister does not put Desitin on her kids bottoms. My sister can't stand the smell of desitin so she doesn't use it. Her toddler has had one diaper rash and she just used a different ointment--it cleared up right away. Despite the fact that she's told her mother-in-law this, and her mother-in-law nodded and smiled and verbalized understanding, she keeps sneaking Desitin into various places in my sister's house! She's found it in the kids' bedroom, in her bathroom, and in her diaper bag! I can totally see why my sister's annoyed (I would be too) but it's still quite funny from the outside.

Julie Huey

I don't have any issues with my inlaws. My mother-in-law rules the nest at her house and has set up boundaries for herself. My mother-in-law stated up front that she's getting old (true) and doesn't have the energy to watch the kids as much as she'd like. I imagine I will be the same way when I'm old. Another rule she goes by is to never upset the son-in-laws or daughter-in-laws by remaining silent when there is a disagreement between anyone in the room...even the entire time she visits if she has to. I will try to pass down this immensely difficult rule, but I can definitely see how well it's worked for her.

tiredmom

Yes, my monster in law does various rude and controlling things... When she kept our first son she NEVER gave him the scheduled nap and would drop him off full of junk food and sugar after i had worked a twelve hour shift. She is a compulsive shopper so always arrives with a five dollar plastic trinket, the amount of money she spends on this crap could much better be used on shoes or even food for our kids. Then there are the gifts for me.... always size XXL, or latest was a size 16 dress. I have told her, my husband has told her, it is obvious that I am a medium size 8-10. Passive aggressive, controlling and downright crazy. With our second child I have never let her babysit. I'd rather pay more money than I can actually afford to get quality directable childcare and peace of mind than deal with her craziness.

Sarah

I think there are two sides to the coin when it comes to arguing. I believe anyone can stop arguing with their mother in law if they take some time to understand her views and where she is coming from.

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