She says: His mother is too involved in our parenting

Steve and Bridget Patton

I love my mother-in-law, but ever since we had a baby, she’s driving me crazy. She is constantly telling me how often he should be fed, how long he should sleep and how long I should let him cry before picking him up. Matt just tells me to ignore her, but he is not the one dealing with the daily drop-in visits and nagging. And I’m afraid it’s going to get worse as our son gets older. I want him to tell her to back off.

He says: Mom just wants to help

I know Jenny is having a difficult time – but Mom just wants to help and be involved. I don’t understand why Jenny can’t let Mom’s comments roll off her back. I’m not comfortable telling my mother she shouldn’t give advice.

What do they do?

Matt needs to make it clear to his mom and Jenny that his primary allegiance is to his wife. God’s ancient command is unambiguous: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” (Gn 2:24)

Of course, “leaving” his mother and “clinging” to Jenny doesn’t mean Matt needs to be disloyal to his mom. It just means his concern for harmony and happiness within his new family must come before his concern for harmony and happiness with his mother. Here’s a way it can be achieved for everyone.

Matt’s mom may not know how Jenny is feeling, and so she might need a heads-up. Moreover, she needs to have clear limits set. Who should do it? Even if Matt doesn’t get it about Jenny’s feelings, it’s nevertheless his duty, both as her husband and as his mother’s son, to talk to his mom. Only if Matt either cannot or will not – in which case he and Jenny have even bigger problems – should Jenny initiate.

It could go something like this: “Mom, we appreciate your love and concern for our son, but for the sake of our family we need you to make some changes.

“First, please, no more uninvited drop-ins. We’ll definitely schedule get-togethers with you, like walks with the baby, coffee and so forth. But we need the freedom to set limits to these visits.

“Second, you’re a good mom, but Jenny’s also a good mom, and so we need you to give her and us the deference and the space we need to take care of our son as we see fit. We will welcome your parenting input, but only when we ask for it.” (Note the repeated use of the words “we” and “us.”)

Once you’ve laid these boundaries down, you don’t need to justify or explain them. It could help to come up with a couple of polite phrases to deploy, repeatedly if necessary, like "Thanks, Mom, but we’re doing it differently." If she persists, politely end the conversation. She may initially huff and puff, but she’s likely to eventually figure it out and comply, much to everyone’s greater happiness, including hers.