6 Ways to Prevent In-law Conflicts After the Baby Arrives

Your in-laws may have been lukewarm about your marriage. You might have struggled through rocky times and issues big and small with them. But when a grandchild arrives, it's a whole new ball game.

Fortunately, as the baby's parent, you have much more control than you may think. The boundaries you set and the understandings you reach with your in-laws now will help prevent unwanted in-law interference as your child grows. These boundaries will go a long way in benefiting everyone in the family. Even if you adore your in-laws and want to include them during this exciting time, you will also want to protect your personal space.

Here are six tips to stand up for yourself and keep the relationship with your in-laws positive:

Ask that your in-laws call first to get an "all clear." Often in-laws think that because "they are family" they can drop in unannounced. Be sure your in-laws understand that they can't stop by to visit without checking to make sure the time is good for you. Remind them that the baby may be sleeping or you're tired and need to rest. A gracious, "We want you to visit, but you have to call first" will stop most in-laws from barging in.

Emphasize how much you love them to visit and connect with their new grandchild. But remind them how chaotic it can be to have a newborn: The baby's sleep schedule is completely unpredictable; your sleep schedule is out of whack. In addition to explaining why it's important that you receive advance notice before a visit, you can add that you want time alone to bond with the baby and adjust as a new and separate family unit.

[See: How to Promote Safe Sleep for Your Infant.]

Be a firm diplomat to avoid a grandparent tug-of-war. It's unusual for both sets of grandparents to have equal access to the newest family member. At some point, one set of grandparents may believe the other set spends more time with you and the baby (whether or not it's true). The tensions can begin to feel like a competition.

To temper in-law jealousy, emphasize that any time they've spent with your baby has shown you what tremendous grandparents they will be. Ask for their advice (which you don't have to follow) and for stories about what kind of baby your spouse was to make them feel included. Set a concrete date for a visit, and let them know that you look forward to sharing the wonder of the baby as he grows up.

Stand by your parenting choices. Even if the critic means well, it's expected that you'll accept advice and suggestions about how to care for your baby. Comments can range from whether you should be breast- or bottle-feeding to the best way to get baby to sleep or how to dress your infant for the outdoors. A flood of advice can come across as a barrage of unwanted criticism.

Instead of automatically embracing an in-law's direction, ask yourself if you believe in the choices you've made. If so, hear an in-law out, but stick by your decisions. If you encounter a lengthy discussion, you might say, "Let's agree to disagree on what's best."

Know when to accept "the in-law way." Your in-laws care for the baby in ways you might not necessarily adopt yourself or even like. Perhaps your mother-in-law wants to hold the baby until she falls asleep. When guidance becomes particularly insistent and intrusive, remember that some differences are not worth arguing about. Make concessions whenever you can.

If what she's doing doesn't permanently disrupt the baby's routine (or yours), let it go. You can gain a few points by saying, "Thank you for taking care of this problem" or "Thank you for teaching me a different way to calm the baby." With all in-law issues, call up your sense of humor. And, when your way is decidedly not your in-law's, you can gently remind him or her that new developments in child-rearing have their merits.

[See: 10 Things No One Tells You About Breast-feeding.]

Steer in-laws in helpful directions. Most in-laws realize you need help and want to be useful. But when in-law assistance makes your life more cumbersome -- when they do a chore that's unnecessary or ends up creating more work for you -- it can be tough to confront the people who are going out of their way to assist you. You don't want to appear unappreciative.

You will feel more in control if you find the right way to speak up or point them in supportive directions. No one is a mind reader. Instead of being polite and agreeing to what they offer, take time to think of things they can do and that will make your life easier. Consider what your in-laws are good at and like to do. Assign jobs you can't find time for or are too exhausted to tackle, and which you feel comfortable delegating, such as doing a few loads of laundry, grocery shopping, preparing dinner, putting gas in the car or putting together new baby equipment. Having in-laws handle work you can't get to will reduce some of your stress.

Put your spouse in charge of really sticky situations. Some in-law situations call for a firm stance. Let's say that your in-laws were a godsend right after the baby was born. Their proposed short trip has morphed into a long-term visit. Some new parents love this, especially if they adore their in-laws or if in-laws are super helpful. But others find extended stays stifling and draining.

When in-laws begin to outstay their welcome, it's time to have your spouse explain that staying longer isn't working. Hearing it from you, they might think you are trying to keep them away from the baby. Your partner should also be the one who tells parents the good times to visit and how long the visit can be.

[See: What Only Your Partner Knows About Your Health.]

More than ever as new parents, you need to be a team, supporting each other in issues that involve either set of grandparents. A new baby in the family is an opportunity to start the in-law relationship over or to keep it on a peaceful trajectory if you are among the lucky ones who have admirable connections with their in-laws. Keeping your boundaries strong while still being inclusive establishes patterns that give you more say going forward.

Dr. Susan Newman, a social psychologist, specializes in parenting and family dynamics. She is the author of 15 books, including "The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide" and "Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day." She is a contributor to Psychology Today and a member of the American Psychological Association. She has appeared on many shows, including "The Today Show," "Good Morning America" and "CBS Sunday Morning," leading news broadcasts and in print discussing family relationships and trends.