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Pushy and Touchy Grandparents-to-Be

Dealing with Pushy, Touchy Grandparents-to-Be

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’ve recently started reading your advice column and would really appreciate some of your straight talking advice.

I have a great relationship with my mother-in-law and the rest of my husband’s family. They all live very close together and are very close and involved in each others live. This took a bit of getting used to as, even though I have a lovely supportive family, we are generally very private people. This has not caused a problem before but now I am pregnant (20 weeks) and I’m starting to feel a little bit overwhelmed.

Now I don’t want to seem ungrateful or rude but I am getting a bit tired of feeling like public property.

I have had to deal with my mother-in-law pretty much begging to be in the delivery room when I give birth. I only want my husband there and if I was to have another person surely my own mother would be the first choice. There is also the tummy touching every time I see her without her asking first. I don’t particularly like being touched which is a separate issue but one that I can usually deal with as it didn’t used to happen often. I wouldn’t mind so much if she asked first but I get no warning at all.

The most recent issue is the sex of the baby. I’ve still not decided if I want to find out and if we do find out, I don’t know if I want to tell everyone. But my mother-in-law TOLD us this weekend that we would find out and would tell her straight away.

I have mentioned these things to my husband but he has said that bringing anything up will just upset her and he won’t say anything unless I feel that her behavior is really upsetting me.

Do I just put up with this behavior for the sake of a good mother-in-law relationship? Or do I get my husband to have a word and risk causing upset? So far I have just been biting my tongue and ignoring comments about her being in the delivery room as that is not up for debate. But I really don’t know if pregnancy hormones will let me bite my tongue, especially about the bump touching much longer.

Yours hopefully,
Trying to be a good daughter-in-law

“I have mentioned these things to my husband but he has said that bringing anything up will just upset her and he won’t say anything unless I feel that her behavior is really upsetting me.”

Soooooo….I may be projecting here, but I think once an issue has escalated to “writing to an online advice column for help,” it’s PRETTY SAFE to assume that her behavior IS really upsetting you. Ergo, tell your husband to (lovingly, nicely, respectfully) tell his mother to back the eff up.

Look, we all have different boundaries. You don’t need to rank or rate YOUR personal boundaries against anyone else’s. You don’t need some neutral third party to tell you whether you’re being unreasonable…though for the record, you got exactly that, because you’re not being unreasonable. Your MIL does not get to invite herself into the delivery room or make demands about personal pregnancy decisions. And no one has the right to put their hands on your body if you don’t want their hands on your body.

So maybe we can give your MIL the benefit of the doubt on that one — perhaps she simply doesn’t know or realize that you’re uncomfortable with people touching you in general, and that her unexpected/continued intrusion of your personal space is a Thing.

You’d be perfectly within your rights to say, next time, “Hey, I’m really sorry I didn’t say something earlier but I’d really, really prefer if you didn’t touch my belly without asking me first. I have a thing about being touched when I’m not expecting it and I guess being pregnant has made it worse. Thanks.”

You’d also be perfectly within your rights to make your husband have that conversation with her in private, however, to spare you any and all uncomfy-ness. Tell him to think of this as Supportive Pregnancy Partner Job #1: Deal with his mother’s overstepping so you don’t have to.

As for the delivery room and sex reveal thing, well, WHATEVER. He needs to shut that talk down now. Both are decisions that only you and your husband get to make. Full stop. The end. Back off.

It’s important to remember, though, during these crazy-making moments, to take a deep breath and recognize that all this stuff IS coming from a loving, excited place. It’s just that her way of expressing said love and excitement is…well. Yeah. Not really your jam. AND THAT’S OKAY.

********

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Lindsay

    Ok, so just to say on your behalf….RAWR. Pushy in-laws drive me nuts. I feel for you. Hang in there.

    I have not experienced being pregnant (TTC but no such luck yet), but my in-laws sound very similar to yours. Close  knit, all live close together, very INVOLVED. And I have a fantastic relationship with my mother-in-law 99% of the time. Our biggest argument came when I decided that I did not want a bridal party at my wedding. MIL was INSISTENT that I NEEDED a bridal party. She even went so far as to argue that we had to have a bridal party in order to make it legal (no idea where she got that from). I attempted to get H to intervene on my behalf and back off. I tried to be subtle and redirect her. I tried to be logical with her. Nothing worked. Until one day I kind of lost my temper and told her that under no uncertain terms was I going to have a bridal party and that was that. Things were awkward for a while. For a few weeks she was not nearly as chatty or friendly. But you know what? She got over it, my wedding occurred exactly as I wanted it, and now we have far fewer power struggles because she knows when I say no, I mean it.

    So I guess my advice from that experience is that yes, you should always take a deep breath and try to be nice and maintain a friendly relationship. HOWEVER, when you’re dealing with such a close knit family, sometimes the best way to deal with this stuff is to be upfront. The brief period of awkwardness was SO worth it because we have not since had a repeat incident. 

    Good luck <3

    • Kate

      I think the Best Man and the Maid of Honor are frequently the two witnesses who sign the certificate (in places that require witnesses) which may be where she got that from. 

  • S

    Move. It gets so much worse.

    • K

      +1.

      • Another K

        (That +1 is from me- second initial-holder to the scene. 😉 )

  • K

    Ha! S is funny (and a little bit right). Agree with Amalah – have your husband deal with it how he thinks best (gentle conversation over the phone, email, whatever, as long as it gets dealt with). But I also wanted to say this: we did not plan our pregnancy and though our families were both happy for us no one was eager to touch my belly or anything like that. So, I say on things like that maybe give it a bit of a pass. She’s excited, sounds kind and supportive (mostly) so maybe choose your battles. Take a stand on the delivery room but let the tummy run go – you’ll have a lot more things to set boundaries about once baby arrives. Nice to get off on a mostly good foot, ya know?

  • Coco

    Devil’s advocate here. My MIL was one pushy broad who didn’t know the concept of boundaries. At all. She drove me up the wall all the time! Sometimes I had my husband run interference which he always did as a dutiful partner should. My MIL died unexpectedly a year ago and now I deeply miss all the irritating habits she had as well as many of the times I had my Hubs run interference (he does as well but we’ve luckily had counseling to work through that). I would encourage you to ask yourself if you’d be sad if she died tomorrow and you didn’t let her have that little joy. Not the labor room thing because that’s just ridiculous but for the gender reveal, would you be regret it if she died tomorrow and you hadn’t let her know the gender even though she knew? I encourage you to reserve the Husband’s interference for times (such as the labor room) when her boundary pushing is REALLY upsetting or if she ever does anything that could ever be harmful to the babes. The rest is all really just little stuff. If it makes her happy, them it is one joy you will thankful for when the day comes that she is no longer around.

  • Lisa

    I agree with K – delivery room und sex is one thing where you should speak up, the touching maybe another. Perhaps, in order to avoid confrontatin, you can just drop an anecdote about how a colleague told you everybody wanted to touch her belly all the time when she was pregnant and that this freaks you out since you are rather a non-touchy person? If she’s at all sensitive, she’ll get the message without being offended (hopefully). And congrats on your pregnancy btw!

    • Lindsay

      So… passive aggressive her MIL into submission? Hehe. I think I’m just projecting my own MIL into this situation, and perhaps hers is different. But my boundary defying MIL doesn’t take hints. Boy it would be nice though! My family is of the hint-taking variety, but after 14 years dealing with MIL I’m STILL not good at being direct. Bah!

  • Jean

    I so do not get people telling you what they want as part of your birth. Simply insane. No, she does not get to be in the delivery room and the sex of the baby is your decision. Jeesh! This is not pregnancy hormones talking from you…it’s “dealing with waaaayyyy to pushy people”. ((((HUGS)))) to you and remember this is your birth and you get to choose how you do it.

    • Caroline

      I know! Where I live, it is absolutely not the norm to have anyone other than your partner with you at a birth. It’s just… not… yikes? Imagine? But whatever, it’s not up for discussion. ”We’re going to do this, this and that”. If you want to be clever, just don’t tell anyone when you go into labour and announce the birth a few hours later. I know someone who did that. Let it be known her due date was the 5th when it was in fact that 1st and then told her waaayyy overbearing in-laws when baby had arrived and she was ready to have them descend.

  • I too have a kind, generous, loving MIL who was JUST SO EXCITED to be a grandma. What I came to realize with her was that… she’s a boundary-respecting person, but her expectations about where the boundaries are is just different than where I’ve set them. And that’s not her fault, because how is she going to know if no one tells her? (In our case it was piles and piles of unsolicited advice for the last months of pregnancy and the first couple of months of my son’s life. Including how to snap the baby’s pajamas. Seriously. She settled down eventually.)

    But whether she will respect boundaries once you’ve set them, or whether she isn’t a boundary-respecting person, it is still on you AND your husband to start getting practice with boundary-setting now. Because there will always be disagreements- what the kid eats, when they nap, school stuff, teenage stuff, whatever. You’re the parents, so you’re going to have to learn to set these boundaries not only for your MIL, but because you’re going to have to set them for your kid. No time like the present to practice.

  • Lindsay

    I’m not sure why a few comments here suggest you drop the not wanting her to touch your stomach thing. I think perhaps they just don’t get it. But as a fellow “I don’t like it when people touch me” lady, I say don’t feel like you need to let that slide. Yes, she is doing it out of excitement. But no one has the right to touch you if you don’t want them to. So tell her not to. Nicely and politely, of course. But there is no reason you should put up with someone treating you in a way you do not wish to be treated. If anyone other than my husband had ever touched my stomach without asking my permission while I was pregnant, I would have FREAKED THE HELL OUT.

    • Tara

      Could not agree with this more. I barely wanted my husband touching my belly when I was pregnant. My MIL consistently did it, even when I tried to avoid it by having things in front of my stomach (pillows, large bags, etc) she would shove them out of the way in order to access my belly to touch it and baby talk it. Drove me nuts. 

  • claire

    I have to chime in… I also have A Thing about being touched. It’s not a boundary, it’s more like, I don’t know, a phobia? I feel sick and panicky when touched by people other than a select few, or without warning by anyone (including my husband, excepting my baby). Eventually, my husband had to tell his family that I couldn’t be touched because of a past trauma. Your comfort and feeling of safety are a priority, too.

    I’d be more inclined to give in on the sex of the baby that the touching, but that’s me. I’d rather use the airport imagers than risk a pat-down. IDGAF who sees me naked, but I can’t have strangers touching me. Maybe there’s a compromise there… tell her after your shower? First, after the baby is born? I don’t know. But you really don’t have to give in on touching. Really.  

  • Stef

    I’m also firmly in the “don’t touch me ever” catagory. I tolerated it from my own mother because, since I was adopted, she had never actually been pregnant and was totally facinated. She knew I didn’t like it and kept it to as much of a minimum as she could.

    I once slapped my Aunt when she touched my belly. It was a total accident. She didn’t even say hello, just reached out and caressed my belly and my reflexes kicked in and I slapped her hand away. She looked totally offended and all I could say was “oh wow, that wasn’t planned, sorry for slapping you. Please don’t touch me without asking. Also it would be polite for you to say hello to me or something before to attempt to fondle my belly”. Needless to say she never did it again

    • Caroline

      So funny! I did that reflexively too. A very sweet woman at my son’s nursery school got my tummy with both hands and said ”oooh…” and I didn’t smack her hand but crossed my hands over my stomach and said ” NO TOUCHING PLEASE” very loudly. She looked shocked, I just said ”I don’t like being touched by those I don’t know well” and resisted the urge to apologise. After all, who the HELL touches another person on their body without saying anything or warning??? It’s weird!

  • MR

    Why is it so hard to just nicely say, “MIL, I appreciate that you are excited about the baby, but, I am uncomfortable with people touching my stomach without asking first. You know I’m a person who likes my personal space, and I know that you are coming from a place of goodwill and love. I’m not saying you can never touch my stomach to feel the baby move, but please ask first.”?

    When I had some issues with my MIL, my husband wasn’t too keen on talking to her about it either. I just looked at him and told him simply, “It is important to me that I be able to have a good relationship with your mother, and I think it is important to you that we be able to have a good relationship too. If this is unaddressed, it will eat away at our relationship. You need to talk to her, because this isn’t something I can say to her without hurting her feelings or our relationship. As her son, you can.” That worked. I think he just figured it either wasn’t a big deal, or that I could just do it myself. But, the sad reality is that the MIL/daughter-in-law relationship is sometimes touchy, and thus, otherwise simple things are hard to say.
    Hang in there!

    • liz

      Ooh! What a great script! I love this. 

      And tell your husband that you folks need to gently, lovingly set boundaries now. It’s really good practice for when the baby comes.

      • SarahB

        Very, very good language for explaining this to your husband.

        And, this conversation needs to happen now, well before the baby is born.  Emotions are high now, but they’ll be higher later, and meanwhile the resentment will have built.  Burst the bubble now.

        Finally, talk with DH about how you want to handle visitors.  Do you even want people waiting at the hospital?  You might ask that everybody just *wait* until you call after the birth and tell folks you are ready for visitors.  And talk with DH about having visits be short so you and he can focus on the baby and getting you some rest.  

        I’m a little worried for you.  Any MIL who assumes/begs to be in the delivery room is in a special category of not realizing her place or letting you and DH take the lead in figuring out what you want at an important time.  She has already shown you her number one priority is herself, so be cautious and practice standing up for yourself. “DH and I can handle that.” “We’ll make that decision with our pediatrician.” “Please ask before you pick up the baby.” “No, you can’t feed her formula.” “I’m exhausted. I love you all, but it’s time for you to go home.  We’ll see you later.” etc.

  • Martha

    All of these concerns are BIG concerns. If your husband won’t talk to his mom about your concerns, you need to. It can be difficult (my husband wasn’t super comfortable talking to his mom, so I did in a similar situation), but you really do have to set boundaries now. Not only was my MIL super overly involved with my first pregnancy, but my family was too. Setting boundaries can be hard, but it gets easier with practice. 

  • Caroline

    I have a question; when does it count as a ”big enough concern”? It is a big concern. The main concern from what I can see is that what you want, your thoughts and feelings, are… ignored. They are openly ignored by your m-I-l and covertly ignored or at best minimised by your husband. But I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you haven’t really made a big thing of it to him, so for the last time, sit him down, take his hand, look him in the eye and explain what you want him to do in simple, clear terms. This shit must stop. Now. Today. You are being stepped on and he’s just… letting it happen… to make nice and be sweet. No. No, sorry. It will be so, so much harder later. You need some boundaries, quite definite ones, so that your relationship can always be good, so that you can feel heard, so that resentment and fury doesn’t fester… and believe me, it will if these wrinkles are ironed out now. You are delivering a baby, you get final say on who is there and who is not. The end. You will – when you are good and ready – decide whether to find out your baby’s sex. Then, if YOU FEEL LIKE IT you will share this information. The key here is to say ”we’ll let you know when WE make a decision about OUR baby”. Smile, be pleasant. Same for the touching ”please don’t, I really actually don’t like it, thanks so much for understanding!” There will be pouting and manipulation, but if she is a nice person – and she sounds as though she is – she will soon realise that you have what she wants ; her grandchild and will soon get on board. Be strong, chin up, get that husband on side!

  • susan miller

    Not to give you something else to worry about, but figure out your possible boundaries re: breastfeeding. I also had a MIL with funky boundaries and once when I looked up from my nursing newborn I saw her fully staring at me from about 3 feet away. Freaked me the eff out and I kinda yelled at her.

    I wasn’t trying to hide breastfeeding, but I also didn’t expect to be stared at.

  • Annie

    I feel your pain. I had a tummy-rubbing COWORKER. I just backed away from her hand, covered my belly and said “Loiuse, I’m not comfortable having my belly touched.” She looked shocked, like she had never even considered the possibility that belly rubbing would make a pregnant person uncomfortable. But she kept her hands to herself, and remained kind and friendly. I AM a pretty touchy-feely person but not in a professional setting!

  • E

    A lot of great comments have been made already. As a slightly different perspective, we are a family similar to your husbands. My SIL came in, charmed us all, and was quickly just one of us. And then she got pregnant. It was like she became a different person. She knew we all wanted to be a part of the baby’s life and she was suddenly asserting herself left and right and making all kinds of demands. It’s not a bad thing to assert yourself, it was just the major shift in personality that was a big surprise. I hope you are able to address your concerns in a way that doesn’t make them feel how we all did. They clearly love you and are all so excited. That’s important too, as are your feelings.

    • SarahB

      Ultimately, though, for everyone’s sake, it’s best that your SIL made her feelings known–and that the OP makes her feelings known.  Imagine if she didn’t?  Imagine if she just kept quiet until everything blew up one Thanksgiving or whenever and the relationships were all damaged irreparably and the OP barely saw her ILs anymore because the situation was so bad.

      Everyone is responsible for some level of self-awareness as to how their feelings might affect others.  Assuming closeness, whether that be touching bellies or thinking someone will happily come every week for Sunday dinner or what have you, can very easily be a selfish behavior if the person doing the assuming doesn’t take an honest moment to think about the other person.

      Saying “oh, she’s one of us”….really?  My ILs were so concerned at the beginning that I know and learn and appreciate their traditions that they didn’t bother to try to learn about me.  It was off-putting and hurtful.  

      Frankly, it sounds like your SIL should have spoken up about who she is sooner, if the family dynamic bothered her so much that her speaking up when pregnant came as a big shock to everyone.

      • Another K

        “Saying “oh, she’s one of us”….really?  My ILs were so concerned at the beginning that I know and learn and appreciate their traditions that they didn’t bother to try to learn about me.  It was off-putting and hurtful.”

        I can relate to this. It wasn’t intentional in my case, just this blind assumption that everything would be done their way. I think that happens a lot with families like that, with a strong group identity- IL relationships are basically a one way street. It was always somewhat stressful to be the only ‘outsider’, but I could pretty much roll with it when it was just us. When I had a kid it became an issue, because it’s not like I became any less invisible/relevant; I always had the feeling that they’d just as soon bypass me altogether, and knew they would not give me, of their own accord, the respect I needed as this child’s mother. So yes, things change. I certainly did. 

  • kimm

    About the touching, I agree with everybody. Just say something really matter of fact, to the point. You could even say that your tummy is super sensitive and it really hurts to be touched or something.

  • Claire

    Thank you for this! I’m struggling with my MIL as well. My husband and I only married recently, and I am now expecting our honeymoon baby. We are super excited, as is my MIL. But she doesn’t understand that I’m not the type of person who is going to bubble wrap myself for the next six months.

    We also told our families that we were expecting a baby right at 12 weeks, but waited a bit to tell everyone (extended family stuff, others trying to conceive and failing, I felt awkward revealing our news after another relative’s recent difficulty). I explained this to MIL, who waited about three days before texting me “Can we tell people now? No pressure.” She also told her DECORATOR before we said it was okay (“Don’t worry, they are like doctors, they won’t say anything.”). I’m a bit concerned about the future, I’m sure this is only the start of many battles to come. I know she is excited, but I can’t help thinking that I’m growing this person, don’t I get to make my own decisions? Thank you for giving me a place to rant. 🙂

  • Katharine

    I too have a MIL that struggles with boundaries. One thing I would heavily emphasize to your labor and delivery staff is that NOBODY is welcome in the delivery room before, during or after the birth of your baby. My MIL showed up in the room, uninvited, minutes after the doc had finished stitching me up and was holding my son, badgering about his name before I had the chance to eat something. I still have no freaking clue how the labor and delivery staff didn’t field that for me but this time around we will be making it abundantly clear that visitors are not welcome in the labor and delivery room at any point in the process!

  • Grammy

    A lot of good advice already given here.

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone (including the expectant mother’s own mother) thinks they should invite themselves into the delivery room. It’s for you, your partner, and whoever is delivering the baby. If you want anyone else, it’s completely up to you. Don’t give in or feel you need to apologize on that one.

    As for the touching, try one of the suggestions other commenters have given, including fibbing that you’re just super-sensitive to touch right now blah blah blah.

    But I have a perspective on the gender thing that might make you feel a little less irritated at your MIL’s desire to know right away: a lot of grandmas make or buy special gifts for their grandchildren that are very gender specific. I made a quilt for my expected grandson, and I was able to design the exact quilt I wanted for a little boy because my daughter knew ahead of time and gleefully announced to everyone she was having a son. If I hadn’t known early, I’d have waited till after he was born to make a quilt, but it was nice to know ahead of time and think about him as I crafted each panel. If you choose not to know, or to know and keep it to yourself, that’s fine, and the grandmother will be just fine with that, too. Really. She just might be pressing for the information because she’d like to surprise you with something special for your little girl or boy.

    Congratulations on your expected baby!

  • s

    My mil is just the same. I totally didn’t like getting touched without warning. She also has no boundaries or filter. Think of this as a warm up for setting limits for your child. My mother in law threw a crying fit after my emergency c section because she couldn’t hold the baby. Luckily, I was on meds. I put in my birth plan that they were to give me 24 hours after birth before visiting. This was essential because of the surgeries and the kids were having trouble feeding. Setting limits is essential because new things come up. My mother in law wants the kids to sleep over and is relentless. My husband put his foot down because my son is allergic to their dogs and has asthma attacks. She threw a fit. Her dogs also bite, so we meet at neutral locations. The shoe will be on the other foot. My mil was rehospitized and complained about the pain and boredom. We did FaceTime and wished her well, no kids at hospitals with crazy virus around. We went to counseling so my husband could learn to gently say no and set limits. Your birth is yours, with your dr. You will need to concentrate on you when the time comes. Especially at 3 am or 6 am.
    Good luck!

  • MARY

    I honestly think that MIL that are super excited about grandchildren go a little NUTSO during the months waiting for the little bundle. My MIL literally said that she would like to choose the middle name for my baby and somehow I just laughed and said you already had your chance to name 2 children, my turn! But she was dead serious. She is a lovely person and a great grandma but good grief. NUTSO I tell ya.

  • Beryl

        For some reason, in this country, we are always trying to tell women to compromise wit their husbands and inlaws when we get pregnant and give birth. 
         For once I would like to see people tell the husbands that whenever their wives are patients, that they do not get to tell her who she can or cannot have in the room when she is exposed and giving birth. It is not the husband’s call. Imagine the wife telling the husband who to have in his patient room as he gets his genitals checked. How would it be if someone told the husband to compromise and allow his wife to have a say about who sees his genitals while they are exposed. 
         As for mothers in law, we should stop telling these young wives to change their desires and wishes for privacy and autonomy, just because her husband’s mother is excited. 
        Sorry about the rant. 2/26/15

  • Kitten

    Stand up for yourself and of hubby cannot defend you, the you need to tell in laws that you want to be comfortable and not stressed and that your desire is to have autonomy and peace and quiet for at least nine months.