Setting Healthy Boundaries with Your Parents and In-laws

How to enjoy the blessing of loving family members, while carving out space for your loved ones at home.

A new baby in the family isn’t just a gift to the parents (that’d be you!), they’re a sweet, snuggly  little gift to extended family members, too. And topping that list of adoring fans is probably your own parents and your parents-in-law. After all, they just watched their (now grown) babies have a baby—their hearts are overflowing! 

That kind of love is special, and the support—both emotional and practical—that in-laws and others can give you and your child is invaluable. While it might sound counterintuitive, the best way for you to harness that love and support is to set healthy boundaries. Establishing guidelines and expectations around visits, routines, discipline and more now will help make sure you, your partner and your little one (or two, or three, or more) get the close family time you need, as you develop and practice your own parenting style. 

Establish Visitation Guidelines 

Some new parents have an open door policy for close family and friends. Others prefer to schedule visits from anyone in advance. And sometimes, the rules change depending on who is visiting. There is no wrong way to accept visits from loved ones—but it is important to let people know in advance what you’d prefer. Only say things like, “Stop by any time!” if you truly mean it. Otherwise, have some replies at the ready:

  • “Please call before coming over, I want to make sure we’re all rested and fed for your visit.”
  • “Weekend mornings are family-only time. But we’d love to see you later in the day.”
  • “Let me let you know what day works for next week. Right now I can’t commit to anything.”

Outline Your Parenting Style

The earlier you can set your house rules, the better. Some parents feel uncomfortable letting anyone hold their newborns in the first few weeks. If this is you, let everyone know as soon as possible, so that feelings don’t get hurt. No screens till they’re at least two years old? Let in-laws and other family members know now. Share your parenting plans regarding feeding, sleep schedules, play time, and any other “rules” you and your partner have agreed on. Doing so ensures your wishes will be respected, and it eliminates the possibility of a family member unwittingly disrupting your parenting style. 

Be Honest in the Moment 

It can sometimes feel nearly impossible to correct someone in the moment—especially if that someone is an in-law, rather than your own parents or siblings. That said, when it comes to you and your child, you’re entitled to let people know when they’re doing something you don’t approve of. If an in-law is swinging the baby overhead in a fun “game” and you’re uncomfortable, ask them to please stop. If they’re burping your baby in a way that seems aggressive to you, interrupt and show them how you prefer to do it. 

Present a United Front

You and your partner are in this together. Have a conversation early on about your parenting style, then promise each other you’ll uphold these preferences and expectations with family members. If your partner ends up needing to correct an in-law who wants to wake the baby from a nap once they arrive, it’s your job to back them up. And of course, you should expect them to do the same. While it sometimes feels easier in the moment to let one partner be the “bad guy”, in the long run a united front strengthens your relationship and ensures your wishes are followed. 

Express Your Appreciation 

It’s a gift when people want to be part of your life and your baby’s life—be sure to let in-laws and everyone else who expresses interest in you and your family know how much you appreciate their love and support and attention. Sharing your positive feelings openly will help soften any blow they feel when you redirect their “parenting” of your child, or ask for space while you enjoy private time with your partner and little one/s. 

Welcome Ideas for New Traditions 

A new baby is an excellent excuse to start new family traditions. You may have some in mind already, but definitely ask your in-laws if they have any ideas, too. The brainstorming can be a fun way to bond! Looking for ideas? Try one of these:

  • Ask your in-laws to select and read books to your baby that they read to their own child at that age
  •  Have your in-laws to record and share favorite lullabies or nursery songs so your baby can hear them even when they’re not visiting
  • Suggest a weekly neighborhood walk with the baby. They can start now while baby is in the stroller, and eventually transition to a wagon, a tricycle, and eventually walking. 
  • Designate a “mornings with the grandparents” ritual. Once a month (or more or less frequently, depending on schedules), let your in-laws spend time with your baby at their house. Over time, it will become a treasured ritual both your child and your in-laws look forward to.