Coping with an Interfering Granny

It is a topic touched on with some regularity on Mumsnet, and I am sure on other parenting websites. Mothers, and in particular Mother-In-Laws. MILs.  Not a day goes by without a MIL bashing thread, some of them justified, many not.

A few years ago,  I visited a colleague who had just given birth to her first child – in Mumsnet speak a PFB – Precious First Born. She told the tale of the in-laws’ visit. How horrified she was when MIL suggested giving her grandson a drink of apple juice. How angry she was when MIL just “picked baby up and waltzed out into the garden with him”.

I gently reminded my colleague of the feelings that she had for her son. And told her than her MIL had, just over 30 years previously, felt the exact same way about HER son, now the colleague’s husband. And that her MIL now felt the same surge of love, the urge to protect, to nurture, to care for her grandson.

I always think that being a grandparent is love3


We often forget this, and that in our lifetime parenting advice has changed so much. When we were young, we were weaned as early as possible, put on potties as soon as we could sit, left to cry at night so as not to spoil us. ‘Never did you any harm’, we are told now by our parents as they try to use the same parenting methods on their grandchildren. No, most of the advice likely did not harm us, but some advice is now considered dangerous.

Not using a car seat – unthinkable. Putting a child to sleep on it’s tummy – a complete no no. Dipping the dummy in honey – absolutely not.

These are extreme examples. Often the mother ranting about her bloody MIL is complaining about little things. The 6 month old who was surreptitiously given a couple of Cadbury buttons. The MIL who suggested weaning at 3 months. The well-meant but out-dated advice that will not harm the child but annoys the mother.

Concentrate on the big issues. Don’t get mired down with discussions about when to wean, or how long you intend to breast feed. Or if you intend to breast feed at all. A breezy, “Oh yes, isn’t it funny how things have changed so much over the past couple of decades”, and move on. Don’t discuss, don’t justify and don’t get into an argument with your MIL (or your mother) about this. Make sure that you and your partner are in agreement, change the subject.

Do let your parents and in-laws hold, cuddle, change your baby’s nappy, and even feed if you are not breast feeding. I know it is hard, but the more the grandparents spend with your child, the more they will get accustomed to your ways. If they do something slightly different, keep calm and consider. Is this dangerous for my child? Will my child be permanently harmed or damaged if MIL gives him a bit of chocolate? Or kisses him while smelling of perfume.

If the answer is yes, then stick to your guns. If the answer is no, then take a deep breath and say to yourself, “She loves my child. She loves my child”.

The first time my parents came to visit after the birth of my daughter, they went out for a walk with my PFB. They were away no longer than 45 minutes (I was clock-watching) and I spent the whole time in floods of tears. When I first left my daughter with them for a couple of days, I had a word document printed out with details of her feeding schedule, sleeping schedule,  emergency numbers for paediatrician and A&E. It happens to us all. We all go a bit PFBish with our children. It is normal.

My parents have just left this week, after spending most of the summer with us. Three weeks in Scotland, and three weeks here in Geneva. We are reaping the rewards of the close relationship that we have allowed our children to develop with their grandparents. Despite the distance to our respective hometowns, our children have close ties to both sets of grandparents. Recently the children commented that they were very lucky to have all of their grandparents still alive (although my son slightly spoiled this sentiment by remarking that “Granny will be dead soon”)

Enjoy the time you have with your parents and in-laws without worrying about the little stuff. Your children will thank you for it.


  • Little Me

    Great post. I have some fundamental disagreements with my MIL on childcare (and on pretty much everything else) but once I have put my opinion across, and as long as she doesn’t do anything to harm my daughter, I really don’t let it get to me.

    I was unfortunate enough to be taken very very ill about a fortnight after my daughter was born and spent a couple of weeks in intensive care. For those weeks my mother in law took over the childcare. Then when I was released my mother came for a few weeks (I had surgery on my stomach so was unable to lift anything much. When my mother left my mother in law came for another three weeks.

    Both women drove me round the bend, internally, but the result is both of them have been far more involved in their granddaughter’s early days than they would have hoped for (they both live over 1000 km away).

    I needed their help, and they enjoyed helping. I was going to be the last person to pick a fight over insignificant details, and just put my foot down about the bigger things.

    I think mother and mother in law’s advice isn’t given to irritate us. They are genuinely trying to help, based on the years of successful experience they feel they had. It’s worth listening to, but a clear ‘No’ for certain things (I heard when I was in hospital that my MIL had given my 2.5 week daughter water with sugar diluted in it – sent my husband back with strict instructions to ensure she didn’t do it again) will generally end the discussion.

    • mmelindor

      Glad that you had both your MIL and your mother around to help you when you were ill. And that you get on well with them. You are right, we need to forget about the little things and concentrate on the big picture.

      • Little Me

        Now I never said I got along with either of them. In fact I don’t. But they are my daughter’s grandmothers and I have such a great relationship with my grandmother that I couldn’t bear for my daughter to miss out on that.

        • mmelindor

          Then good for you. So many people don’t put their children’s interests first, preferring to carry on their arguments through their kids.

  • mum of all trades

    I don’t know what I’d do without my mother in law, she is a fantatsic help to us. Of course at times I have to bite my tongue and remeind myself that my children are lucky to have grandparents that love them so much. A great post by the way!

  • Robyn

    My Mother in Law is totally non-interfering. I actually wish she was willing to do more.

    My mother, when she’s here, is a fantastic grandmother, down on the floor, babysitting, the whole 9 yards with our son.

    Excellent post, MmeL!

  • Rebecca Emin

    Great blog post, and I love your Mum’s response.

    The comment that sticks in my head from my MIL was ‘rub whiskey on their gums’ when mine were teething.

    We just laughed.

  • original mama k

    Just saw this post now. So many wise words, now we just have to put them into practice!

    So many practices have changed. My FiL refers to DD’s routine as a military regime because she goes to bed at 8pm each night. I laugh and use the same line “Yes, they did things differently thirty years ago, didn’t they, you could keep babies up all night no harm done”.

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