“But what’s the harm in taking some advice?”, my sister says to me after I bring up the subject of setting boundaries with in-laws. We share a look and she bursts out laughing. “They don’t give advice. They are just highly and inappropriately over-the-top and interfering.”
Overstepping in-laws isn’t something people want when getting married, but it sure is something too many of us have to deal with in our marital journey. And while we’re raised to be accommodating in our marriage, setting boundaries with in-laws should actually be the first step to take if you do not want to adjust and complain about having to adjust your entire life.
The process begins with drawing up a list of boundaries for the mother-in-law, father-in-law and other members of your spouse’s family, and then, holding your ground in enforcing them. When you marry a person, it’s a known saying (read: a universal truth) that you marry their entire family. But if your newly-wedded self doesn’t want to deal with the headache that interfering in-laws can be, then it’s vital that you set some boundaries as early on as possible.
How To Set Boundaries With In-laws
From an overbearing mother-in-law to a sister-in-law overstepping boundaries, from advice on what to eat to how to set the living room, the initial days of your married life can truly seem like a full-blown invasion of your personal space – both physical and mental. This is especially true if your in-laws aren’t big on the concept of privacy.
We are not going to tell you that a relationship with in-laws is easy or that it’s possible to treat your in-laws like your biological family. They don’t have the benefit of seeing you grow up, and in most cases, simply can’t replace the sentimental foundation of your childhood family. We do have boundaries in all our relationships, and in the bid to please your in-laws, you shouldn’t forget that you deserve your peace of mind with them as well.
Healthy boundaries with in-laws will not only keep your relationship with them friction-free but also not load you up with unrealistic expectations that you simply cannot manage. This is especially true after you’ve had a baby. Boundaries with in-laws after baby are even more important because though their guidance and love are welcome and cherished, their insistence on certain value systems that you don’t agree with is not.
If your in-laws are constantly making you feel at fault, they are not doing a great job of welcoming you into the family. To deal with an overbearing mother-in-law or father-in-law takes a toll on anyone who hates conflict and struggles with saying “no”. Sisters-in-law could be a fun, warm addition to your family but if you are dealing with someone who takes up more space than you can give or who disrespects you constantly, then you need to know how to set boundaries with sister-in-law too.
Related Reading: In-Laws Disrespect Me As I Am Not Earning
Setting boundaries with the in-laws not only gives you mental peace but also doesn’t make you throw the spatula at them, resulting in a mild stroke. Anyone who has ever been in a family of disrespectful, controlling in-laws and relatives will know how peaceful it is to give them a piece of your mind. That being said, a healthy marriage means communication. You might be a polite person who doesn’t want confrontations but you are an independent child of your parents and their controlling nature stops at your doorstep.
You know this and understand this all too well. But the “family is family” and “your in-laws are your family” conditioning often gets in the way of distancing yourself from in-laws in a healthy manner, and drawing a line between what’s acceptable and what’s not. Of course, a wedding brings families together and you have another extended family but that doesn’t mean giving them unbridled access to every aspect of your life.
What do you do when your father-in-law wants your spouse to quit his superb job in Boston to move back home to Kansas? Or when they need you to cut down on the meat because apparently going vegan is the new talk of the town? Or when they want to educate the grandkids (not even conceived yet) in a private boarding school?
Family is family, but there must be some regulations as to how much control they have in your life and household. That process begins with defining boundaries for interfering in-laws right from the beginning of your marriage. Suddenly asking the grandma to stop giving money to your 6-year-old son will cause tension and animosity. That’s why setting boundaries with in-laws after a baby is born is also equally vital, as the arrival of a child changes family dynamics all over again.
You can’t be accommodating of a controlling and manipulative in-law the whole day. Your head can only take so much nagging and advice from the in-laws. If you don’t want to spend much of your life hiding away in the washroom, it’s essential to know which aspects their participation is welcome in and the ones that are strictly personal. Lay the ground rules for who should have a say in raising your kid or on how to run your household.
Healthy relationship boundaries make life easy. Set boundaries and communicate them in the gentlest way possible. And most importantly, discuss them with your spouse. Make sure they’re on board to avoid the scenario of you setting boundaries with in-laws blowing up in your face.
Related Reading: Living With The In-Laws: What Works, What Doesn’t
8 No-Fail Tips For Setting Boundaries With Your In-Laws
Whether you’re working on setting boundaries with toxic in-laws or understanding and accommodating ones, the process is most effective when enforced from the get-go. You cannot spring a “first call, then visit” rule on them after spending 7 years of having them walk in and out of your house as they please, and expect that boundary to be respected immediately.
Yes, asserting yourself early on in the marriage can be intimidating because your connection with this newly acquired family is still fragile and you’re really just getting to know each other. How to talk to your mother-in-law about boundaries? How to tell your sister-in-law where to draw the line? How to say no to your father-in-law without coming across as disrespectful? These are all legitimate concerns. So, how to set boundaries with your mother-in-law or any of your in-laws?
The answer lies in being polite and firm. While setting boundaries with in-laws as early on as possible is ideal, it doesn’t mean that you cannot start defining or redefining the limits later in the marriage. Just because you couldn’t bring yourself to say ‘no’ as a newlywed, doesn’t mean you’re doomed to say ‘yes’ to whatever they ask of you for the rest of your life.
However, be mindful that when you begin the process of making a list of boundaries for a mother-in-law who is manipulative or a dominating father-in-law once the behavior patterns have been set, enforcing them will be harder. Also, stop wracking yourself with guilt. Don’t disregard your discomfort just because you feel guilty about needing healthy boundaries with in-laws. This is the only way to have a fulfilling relationship with them and maintain your mental health. You’re just trying to take care of yourself, after all.
There’s never anything rude about setting boundaries or reading up on how to deal with an overbearing mother-in-law or prioritizing your peace of mind now and then. Now that we’ve addressed the basics, let’s get down to the specifics of how to set boundaries with in-laws. Here are some tips and examples of boundaries with in-laws to help you get started:
1. Limit the time you spend together
The family you have gained along the way won’t let you go easy. That means a whole lot of picnics together, family dinners once a month, and spending a few days together during the holidays. If spending a hot summer afternoon with your sister-in-law and her teenage kids at their place is not something you want, compromise and plan an outing instead.
Or you could invite your family to such a get-together. That way, the tension gets divided and you have people to fall back on. Hang out with her as long as the interaction is pleasant for both of you. When trying to figure out how to set boundaries with your sister-in-law, it’s helps to be smart in your approach.
As soon as the overbearing comments and advice start to creep in, excuse yourself on some pretext and spend time with your spouse, kids or family instead. This way you can create a buffer to deal with sister-in-law overstepping boundaries without letting it get to you.
2. Tune your perspective
A lot of people get married knowing that their in-laws are going to be difficult. Well, that’s not always true. Sometimes, our own insecurities or mindset make us see things that aren’t really true. Like on your first anniversary, if your MIL tells you about setting a savings account for your future kids, it does not necessarily mean she thinks you are ill-equipped to deal with your children or plan for their future.
It only means she is trying to help, just in case something goes wrong. It’s harmful to the marriage if you keep finding ulterior motives and double meanings in everything your in-laws say just because you had a preconceived notion of a behemoth overbearing mother-in-law.
So, it’s really important to reflect whether you’re setting boundaries with toxic in-laws or because your prejudiced notions make them come across as toxic. That said, even if your in-laws are absolutely adorable people who dote on you and whom you adore wholeheartedly, having boundaries can help your relationship truly thrive and keep it healthy in the long run.
Related Reading: Why I Became Happier When I Stopped Trying To Please My In-Laws
3. Don’t be competitive
Parents can be protective of their children, even if your husband isn’t a mama’s boy. No matter how old the children get, parents will always want the best for them and put them before everything else. What you need to know is that the romantic love that your spouse has for you and the love they bear for their parents are two entirely different things.
Fighting over who your spouse gives more attention to will put you in an unhealthy competition with your in-laws that is going to end badly. Besides, it would leave your spouse feeling torn and conflicted. So, avoid that. Setting boundaries with in-laws also means setting some boundaries for yourself. And that includes not getting insecure or jealous if your spouse wants to spend some quality time with their parents or do something nice for them.
4. Don’t direct your anger at your spouse
Let’s say, something your sister-in-law said to you is getting on your nerves. But she is pregnant and you don’t want to upset her, so you let it slide. Now, you need to tame the temper and not lash out at your spouse. Your spouse isn’t at fault here.
In all probability, he wasn’t even privy to the conversation that has left you all riled up. Instead, communicate what got you so mad. Rant, if you must. But don’t be passive-aggressive toward your spouse because you do not like your in-laws. At the end of the day, the in-laws are a tiny part of your life and your marriage is a lot more important.
5. Stick to your schedule
If it was decided that everyone would gather at your place for Thanksgiving, don’t let your sister-in-law or brother-in-law change that plan just because “they really would love to host the dinner”. If you had planned to go attend your spouse’s second cousin’s wedding, honor that promise.
Likewise, explicitly but politely mention that unannounced visits aren’t something you or your spouse like if that’s something you feel strongly about. Don’t wait for years until you are fed up with the visits to tell them. Springing the truth on them after years will make them think you don’t like them anymore.
On the other hand, stating your expectations gently but clearly sends out the message that you do want them in your life but in a way that makes you comfortable and hence more receptive to them. Speak up to your in-laws – these small examples of boundaries with in-laws go a long way in driving home the point that you honor your side of the bargain and hold your own if others try to walk all over your plans.
6. Get to know them while maintaining your boundaries
Like really get to know them. Do they have a favorite movie that makes them cry or did they do wild stuff when they were young – stuff like that. Though these things might not be as useful for you as knowing the secret family recipe for Thanksgiving turkey or eggnog would be, getting to know them well will bring you guys closer together.
It is a sweet gesture of thoughtfulness and compassion and you will probably have a laugh about it. Bond with your MIL over a cup of coffee sometime. That’s bonding, without any hostility or passive-aggressiveness. Having a list of boundaries for the mother-in-law doesn’t mean cutting her out of your life.
7. Don’t try to control the children in front of them
Boundaries with in-laws after baby are hard to maintain. If you have children, your in-laws are going to shower them with love and spoil them silly, no matter how hard you work at setting boundaries with in-laws after the baby arrives. And by love and spoiling, we mean occasional gifts, chocolates, a little allowance or extra TV time.
As much as you would like to keep the kids under a tight schedule and not give too much of anything, they love their grandma and grandma and only get to see them every once in a while. Controlling your kids when the in-laws are present might backfire, so you need to learn how to deal with your in-laws in a better way. Otherwise, you might receive pushback not only from the in-laws but from the kids as well.
So, if grandpa wants to take them to the amusement park and the movies four days in a row, let him. The kids will grow fonder of the in-laws, and why shouldn’t they? Grandparents are the best people in the world for them and you don’t want to seem like the bad guy who doesn’t let them have fun, do you?
Related Reading: My Mother-In-Law Manipulates My Husband and He Has Become Aloof
8. Don’t take it personally
If your in-laws are condemning the behavior of your kids or your spouse, don’t take it personally. It is hard not to do so, especially when your mother-in-law has already remarked about your daughter’s small nose that she got from her mother (i.e. you) but try to keep an impersonal spin on things said and done.
Know it’s only temporary, and that you do not need to live your life according to their wishes. You just need to get through the afternoon, the weekend, or just a month. This is especially true for those who have decided to live separately from their in-laws. And no, you’re not selfish if you don’t want to live with your in-laws.
Not all in-laws are evil, toxic or domineering as widely popularized by the media. If you give them a chance, they might not be as overbearing as you think. If not, make boundaries for a healthy relationship with them. In some of the less amicable cases, distancing yourself from them is the only practical solution if your in-laws treat you like an outsider and your feelings are not taken seriously.
If you have an understanding spouse, then they will respect the way you choose to maintain your relationships, even if it is with their own family. Forcing people to get along never works anyway. If a little distance helps with decreasing animosities, so be it. We hope this piece helped you understand how to set boundaries with your mother-in-law and father-in-law. Let go of the guilt of setting boundaries, and assert yourself wherever you can. We’re rooting for you!