Dr. Alyssa Berlin is a prenatal and postpartum clinical psychologist. Dr. Berlin works specifically with women and their partners on issues such as anxiety and emotional fluctuations during pregnancy, postpartum blues and depression, and the complex issues that can arise between and around new and expectant parents.


Relationships With the In-Laws

By Alyssa Berlin | PsyD

The old saying: "You can’t live with 'em, you can’t live without 'em" must have been referring to parents/in-laws. Nothing challenges your relationship with your parents more than joining the ranks and becoming parents! Yikes! I am one of them.  


Having a child often times shines a spotlight on both the positive and negative experiences and feelings that you have towards your own parents. Becoming a parent can serve as catalyst for bonding with your parents in a new way, or it can serve as a direct reminder of the ways that mom and dad may have neglected to be the parent you were wanting.  


The postpartum period, however, is not a good time to remind mom and dad about all the ways that they may have failed you and how you are going to do better with your child. So if you are noticing some of those feelings come to the surface, pregnancy is a wonderful time to explore and work through those experiences before your baby arrives.      


Let’s all agree that unilaterally parents typically mean well. They truly have your best interests at heart. That being said, after having a baby, chances are that your parents fit into one of two categories: there is the “I love you…you are amazing…I could not have done it without you” (we will call that category A), and then there is the “I love you, but you are making me crazy, and if you don’t get out of my face and give me some space I am going to scream” (category B).  


The problem is that often times you will not know which category your parents belong to until after your baby is born. Then it might be too late – you already committed yourself to having your mom move in with you, sleep on the couch, and be there 24/7 for the first 6 weeks of your baby’s life. (Insert scream here).


When you find yourself with category A parents – you are in luck. Embrace them and revel in the support they can offer you as you adjust to motherhood. Remember that there is nothing wrong with accepting help. In my opinion, it is the strong women that can utilize help from others, recognize that they are a part of a village, and do not have to do it all alone. There is not a special award given out to women who feel a need to prove that one day post delivery they can be superwoman. It doesn’t exist, so relax and enjoy the helping hands around you.    


There are usually clues along the way that you may have a category B parent on your hands. I want you to remember that right after you have a baby, you are feeling vulnerable and emotional. You will likely not be feeling your best or in the mood to entertain any high maintenance, not self-sufficient guests. You will probably be looking to surround yourself with safe people who won’t take your mood changes, pointed comments, or emotional moments personally and will be empathic of your need to recover from birth and appreciate the emotional magnitude of your journey to parenthood.  


So, if your parents are typically high maintenance, needy people who like to be catered to, chances are they are going to fall in the latter category and might not an optimal choice to play a major role on your postpartum care team. Situations tend to get more stressful after having a baby, not less. So, if under the best of situations, an evening out with the folks usually results in you needing a stiff drink and an ice pack, then….you guessed it – great contenders for category B and an awful contender for a long-term post birth houseguest.  


That doesn’t mean that mom and dad don’t have a role in the process. It simply means you want to think about the situation more strategically and please, I am begging you, don’t have them sleep on your couch or in a second bedroom in your house. There are wonderful hotels/motels or awesome friends that would be happy to host your parents so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds: quiet time alone as well as nice visits with mom and dad.


They may, however, make great people to run errands, do the food shopping, pick up dry cleaning, and other valuable contributions to your postpartum experience in a less hands-on way. As you envision your postpartum experience, it is advisable to think about what are everyone’s strengths and how can they be most helpful to you during this special time.  Yup, you guessed it; this time is all about you and what you need in the moment to ensure that you have the best possible start into motherhood.  


If one parent has a particular skill in cooking, assign them to cooking duty. If another parent enjoys shopping, they get shopping duty and everyone can pick straws for cleaning duty. Sit down with your partner while you are still pregnant and jot down a list of daily activities/errands that have to get done as well as some of your favorite recipes. You can disseminate the various tasks to different people or leave the list on the refrigerator. And in the absence of parents or in-laws, there are other wonderful people: doulas, nurses and professional services, drop off and delivery services, and cleaning services around you that will be happy to be a part of your village and postpartum team.  


One last note: if during the pregnancy, you already have strong thoughts regarding what you may or may not want from your parents or what role you may or may not want them to play, I strongly recommend you share it with them before the baby’s birth. This will alleviate a lot of stress on you after the birth and will likely give them a better chance at being able to honor your requests. Check out the last blog in the series as we explore the impact of having a baby on your relationships with friends.