I’ve recently had a baby boy and, of course, this has brought great joy into our lives. My problem is that my mother-in-law, who lives with us, has been interfering and suggesting that I’m not doing things properly when it comes to looking after the baby, and she’s often sarcastic. She’s always been domineering and I’ve always feared arguing with her. I’ve tried talking to my husband about it but he got very upset that I was being critical of her. How can I stand up to my mother-in-law without causing damage to my relationships? Becoming a new parent is a seminal point in anyone’s life and trying to establish and assert your independence as a family unit can sometimes prove more difficult than anticipated.

I fully understand your anxiety as you try to keep the peace, while feeling the need to maintain your autonomy over how you and your husband bring up your child. The good news is there are some approaches that can prove effective.

First, I suggest that you refrain from sharing any criticism of your mother-in-law with your husband as this naturally forces him into a situation where he has to take sides. And this, as you have experienced, causes conflict.
 It is far better to share any frustration with a trusted friend who is outside of the family dynamic. This way you can get things off your chest, without the fallout.

If you do find yourself in a situation where your mother-in-law is criticising you, nod and smile and seem accepting, but go ahead and do things your way.

The most important thing to remember is that you and your husband are responsible for your son and you should bring him up in the way you want.

Having said this, your mother-in-law does have years of experience and while the delivery of her message is unpalatable, in that she’s sarcastic, she may have some sound advice, if only you could separate it from the rather unpleasant manner in which it’s delivered.

My feeling is that she might be feeling a little sidelined, so you could ask her for advice on a specific issue relating to your son. This will give her the chance to get involved and feel valued.

You could even ask your husband to suggest that she babysit for a few hours while you and he go out. By doing this you will send out the message that you trust her parenting skills and maybe she will back off a little.

Finally, if she continues to belittle you, there really is only one thing left to do and that is assert yourself.

Practise what you might say beforehand to give yourself courage and always lead with a positive comment.