Disabled children and interfering in-laws

When you’re the parent of a disabled child, there’s a lot of information to absorb. Some of this can be useful but, like all parents, you may also find yourselves on the receiving end of unsolicited tips, advice, and wisdom. When it comes from your in-laws, it can be hard to know where to draw the line.

In-laws can be a be a valuable source of emotional, financial, and practical support [1]. Depending on where they live, they can be a useful source of childcare, and play a valuable part in helping your children develop new skills [2]. Many can represent a calming influence during new and stressful situations that they already know their way around.

As a parent of a disabled child, the issue becomes more complex. There are medical, social, and educational factors to consider that your and your partner’s parents may never have had to deal with before. Even if their parenting expertise hasn’t gone out of date, it may not be relevant to your child’s specific needs.

However difficult your in-laws might be, it’s worth remembering that they have raised children too – they even raised someone that you fell in love with! But that doesn’t mean they’re always right. If their attempts to offer support just lead to arguments, the support itself may not be worth the emotional price you pay for it [3].

As the parent, it’s up to you to accept or reject offers of support. While your in-laws may have some useful nuggets, you and your partner are the ones who have access to the full picture as to what’s best for your child.

Annoying in-laws

If your in-laws are constantly texting bits of unhelpful advice, or if they come to the house and criticise a routine that you’ve been working hard to establish with the support of your child’s care team, then you need to find a way to respond.

While the most obvious and possibly most satisfying response is to tackle them directly, this could lead to unnecessary arguments. Even when you know you are right, you still run the risk of turning your in-laws against you and upsetting your partner. The most effective way to deal with interfering in-laws is to talk to your partner first [4].

Speak openly to your partner about how you feel and why you’re concerned. As with any difficult conversation, start by talking about your own feelings, stick to the issue at hand, and give your partner a chance to digest what you’ve said. Don’t criticise or attack your in-laws – your partner has had to deal with them a lot longer than you have, and you don’t want to provoke a defensive reaction!

Differences of opinion

When you become parents, your priorities shift and your relationships change. This can include a rise in conflict with your in-laws. If you get on very well with them, this might just mean a few tiffs but, if you’re already prone to rowing, things could turn very stormy [5]. This makes sense as there’s more at stake than before – the little things you used to be able to ignore now need to be addressed head-on.

Like you, your parents-in-law want the best for your child. Unlike you, they’re not around every day to make fully informed decisions about what’s actually best. If they start getting more involved than you want them to, it can feel intrusive and controlling. This can lead to problems between you and your partner, as you battle to strike the right balance [5].

Creating an effective boundary can be difficult. You and your partner will have to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not. You might want to agree a strategy in advance – for example, any time your parents or in-laws offer tips, thank them, and let them know you’ll consider their advice. You and your partner can then discuss the advice in private and make an appropriate decision.

Sharing information

It can be very helpful to update your in-laws on any information you learn about your disabled child. This could include medical information, or any strategies you’ve learned from your paediatrician, speech and language therapist, or other trusted provider like a charity or the NHS.

If you have this information written down or printed out, show it to them, or ask your partner to. Discuss the information to help them understand what you’re trying to achieve with your child. It may also help them understand that you and your partner are in touch with the authoritative experts so they do not need to worry constantly that you may be doing the wrong thing!

Getting to know your in-laws better

Being on good terms with your in-laws can have unexpected positive side effects. One study found that couples who have closer ties to their in-laws tend to be happier and more satisfied with their own relationships [6]. So, rather than shutting them out, ask yourself it it’s possible to get to know your in-laws a little better.

Take the opportunity to learn more about your partner’s background; encourage your in-laws to talk about the family history and customs. These conversations can help you form a bond, and may even have a positive impact on your relationship with your partner [7].

If you continue to struggle with your in-laws, take some comfort from the possibility that things can improve over time. Even the most vocal in-laws are capable of changing and coming around to accept your way of doing things.

References

[1] Goetting, A. (1990). Patterns of Support Among In-Laws in the United States A Review of Research. Journal of Family Issues, 11(1), 67–90.

[2] Enyart, S. (2012). The transition to extended family: Examining the links between turbulence and children-in-laws’ goals, topic avoidance, and relational outcomes. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

[3] Schober, P. S. (2013). Gender Equality and Outsourcing of Domestic Work, Childbearing, and Relationship Stability Among British Couples. Journal of Family Issues, 34(1), 25–52.

[4] Rittenour, E. C., and Kellas, K. J. (2015). Making Sense of Hurtful Mother-in-law Messages: Applying Attribution Theory to the In-Law Triad. Communication Quarterly, 63(1), 62–68.

[5] Bryant, C.M., Conger., R.D., and Meehan., J.M. (2001). The Influence of In-Laws on Change in Marital Success. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 614-626.

[6] [Timmer, S.G., and Veroff, J. (2000). Family Ties and the Discontinuity of Divorce in Black and White Newlywed Couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(2), 349-361.  

[7] Serewicz, M.C.M., Hosmer, R., Ballard, R.L., and Griffin, R. A. (2008). Disclosure from In-laws and the Quality of In-law and Marital Relationships. Communication Quarterly, 56(4), 427–444.

Comments 0
Got something to say?

Share your story, or ask the community.

Create a post