Having a new baby changes your world on every level. One level that might not get as much attention is your relationships with extended family. You are now a parent who has to think about what’s best for your children and this new family you’ve created. This is a shift because you, and your extended family, are used to you being the “kid” of your parents or in-laws.
This can be a challenging transition for you and your partner, as well as your family members. So let’s talk about how you can manage it in a healthy way.
Prepare people in your life for how relationships might change
You spent time considering the ways your life would change when you were preparing for your baby; you had to think about how your finances would be impacted, your career, your housing needs, etc. It’s OK to prepare your relationships for the changes as well.
You don’t have to know how things will change because there’s really no way to know exactly how things will change. It depends on a lot of factors that you can’t always predict! But just communicating in advance that changes may be coming will help prepare everyone so it doesn’t come out of the blue.
Some things you may want to consider are:
- Whether people stay in your house vs not when they visit
- If you will have an open door, stop by anytime policy or want to it to be more structured and establish “best times” to visit
- How long is a nice visit
How you handle these situations may not change once you have a baby, but they might; so it’s best to be prepared, give family a head’s up and start to establish boundaries before the baby even arrives.
“All families come with their own unique dynamics, struggles, and traditions, but as a new parent, your job is to do what’s best for you, your baby, and your partner.” (Popsugar.com | How to Set Boundaries With Your Extended Family Once You Have Your Own | Katie Stahl, February 19, 2020, https://www.popsugar.com/family/How-Set-Boundaries-Family-After-Baby-42985522)
You can start to work it into conversations casually before the baby comes and closer to the due date, make sure those closest to you know how you feel.
Ask for what you need
Preparing people in advance for changes can also prepare you for being able to really flex your muscles at asking for what you need. Do you need people to bring food for lunch when they visit? Ask them. You need help putting away toys, folding laundry, etc.? Let them know you would really appreciate some help with that when they stop by. People in your life want to support you, but sometimes they just don’t know what you really need, so tell them exactly how they can help. Remember they might really love to help you.
The things you need help with may seem obvious to you but remember, people can’t read your mind. The things that would be a huge relief to be taken off of your plate may be small things that family members don’t even realize are a challenge for you to do.
It’s common to think about new parents having to limit visits from family members but maybe you want people to come around more. Sometimes being home alone with the baby can get lonely. So it works both ways, if you need less visits or more visits, being honest and communicating what you need to the people in your life is key.
Be a United Front
First and foremost you need to make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
“To set strong boundaries, the first step is being clear with yourself and your partner about what those boundaries are, and why. Make sure you are both on the same page before you attempt taking on his family.” (parents.com | As A New Parent, How Do I Set Baby Boundaries With Extended Family? | Emily Edlynn, Ph.D, April 29, 2022, https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/advice/ask-your-mom/how-do-i-set-baby-boundaries/)
When you decide what your boundaries will be you can go ahead and talk about how you will explain them to family members. Then you are both prepared and don’t get caught off guard wondering what to say if you are put on the spot and have to enforce that boundary with your family or their family.
Reaching an agreement about boundaries will hopefully help you avoid situations where one of you allows something that’s not OK with the other, or having a disagreement in front of your families. You want to feel supported by your partner when you say no to something, and it’s important to support them as well.
It’s helpful for you, and your family members, if you are both super clear about your boundaries so no one is left guessing what is and what is not okay.
Pick your battles
You don’t want your family to feel like they are walking on eggshells all the time, you want them to enjoy time with the new baby because it’s a very exciting time and it’s important for your child to bond with grandparents and other family members.
“It’s unrealistic to expect the grandparents to behave like paid babysitters following a checklist. They’ll need some free rein to create their own dynamic with your kids. If it’s important that they respect your toddler’s nap time, hold that line. But ease up on less essential rules.” (Happiestbaby.com | How to Set Boundaries with Grandparents, https://www.happiestbaby.com/blogs/parents/grandparent-boundaries)
So make sure your boundaries don’t turn into just a lot of rules that make visits hard for everyone.
Just like in life, everything in your life as a new family can not be 100% controlled and you can stress yourself out if you put too much pressure on yourself to make everything perfect. As new parents you will have instincts about what is best and it’s up to you to decide how your new family engages with others; you will know which battles are worth fighting and when you can let your guard down a little.