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Having difficult conversations with in-laws

5-minute read

Key facts

  • You may need to have difficult conversations with your child's grandparents if you feel they are not supporting your parenting decisions.
  • Find a time when everyone is calm and not distracted, and focus on the specific issue that is bothering you.
  • Explain your point of view calmly and listen with an open mind to each person's perspective.
  • Try to find a solution that works for everyone, and give it a trial period.
  • Once you have agreed on the role of your child's grandparents, find ways to involve them in your child's life.

The role of grandparents

Your child's grandparents can be very important in your family's life, but sometimes things can get complicated. You might need to have difficult conversations with your or your partner's parents.

Most grandparents mean well when offering advice or help. However, sometimes boundaries for grandparents are not very clear. They may challenge your parenting style and decisions, or not offer you and your child the positive support you think they should.

How to have a difficult conversation

Difficult conversations may stir up a range of emotions for you, your partner and your child's grandparents. Here are some ideas of how to approach these issues and try to resolve them.

Pick the right time and be patient

If you need to have a tricky or difficult conversation, it can really help to put specific time aside to talk. If possible, choose a time when you won't be interrupted and you're all feeling as calm and relaxed as possible. Try to make a time when your child isn't there.

Explain calmly what the issues are from your point of view. It's important to be patient, honest and open. Listen to what each person says and try to respond calmly.

If things start to get too intense, it might be a good idea to stop and meet again when you are a bit calmer. It can help to have some time for everyone to think about what has been said.

Focus on the problem

It's important to stick to the specific problem you want to talk about and not get distracted by other issues. If you go off topic you may not end up resolving the issue you came to discuss.

If another problem comes up, make a different time to talk about it.

Try to compromise

Give everyone a chance to explain their point of view. Try to understand what's important to them.

It can also help to think about areas where you feel you can compromise, and what solutions might work for everyone. Think about what's really important to you, and what you can let go of.

Use 'I' statements

You might want to write down your thoughts before you meet and even practise what you want to say. Using 'I' statements, such as 'I feel upset when…' instead of blaming language, such as 'You are really selfish…', this can make things flow better.

Be fair

Make sure to focus on the present issue. Don't bring up conflicts or mistakes from the past.

Avoid labelling or insulting your or your partner's parents.

Try to avoid absolute statements such as 'You always…' or 'You never…'.

Try other methods of communication

Sometimes it can help to communicate by email, phone or letter if talking face-to-face is difficult.

If you're going to write a message, try this approach:

  1. It's a good idea to write it and then leave it for a while.
  2. Read it again another day when you're feeling calm.
  3. Is it still a good idea?
  4. Did you write it in a sensitive and clear way?
  5. If you think so, then send it.

Giving yourself a second look can save you doing something you'll regret later.

Respect differences

There might be some big differences between how you see things and how your child's grandparents see things.

It might be hard for grandparents to tell you they think you're doing a good job. They might have a different parenting style from you and they may have raised their own children differently.

Respecting your differences and being open to each other's way of doing things can help avoid conflict.

Understand that grandparents have their own lives

It is easy to forget that grandparents have their own lives, interests and schedules. Be sure to show them respect by acknowledging the way they live their lives and the things that are important to them.

Trial a solution and be flexible

Once you've decided on a solution that seems to work for everyone, be flexible about assessing how it's going.

For example, you might have a 3 week trial of grandparents caring for your child while you are at work. Some grandparents may struggle to juggle caring for their grandchildren with other commitments. Others might find it too tiring. Don't forget to check in after a couple of weeks to ask how they are managing. Be aware that as your child grows, their grandparents may find them more or less easy to manage, so a solution that was once a good idea may become less appropriate.

Remember you're on the same side

You all care about your child, so it can help to think of everyone being on the same team, working towards building a strong family together.

Encouraging grandparents to get involved

Once you've agreed what roles grandparents will have, involving them in your child's life can really strengthen your family relationships.

It can be helpful to give grandparents suggestions of how they can play a part. This might be:

  • helping with homework
  • picking your child up from school, or dropping them off in the morning
  • cooking or gardening together
  • setting aside time and space to play and have fun together

Resources and support

  • Call Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 for relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.
  • Call MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 for useful information or to access online counselling and support.
  • Check out Family Relationships Online or call the advice line on 1800 050 321 for counselling, mediation and dispute resolution.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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