Dealing with Difficult In-Laws (3)

In Dealing with Difficult In-Laws (1) we met Claire who had a three-week-old daughter, sleeping problems, difficulties breast feeding, and a highly intrusive mother. Claire was also showing signs of developing post-natal depression, including frequent bouts of anxiety, feelings that things were getting on top of her, and difficulty coping with her new baby.

But for Claire, her biggest problem was her mother. Claire’s mother, Julie, had always exercised a lot of control over Claire’s life. She had influenced many of Claire’s life choices, including the city she lived in, the college she had attended, and even the suburb she was currently living in. Now that the new baby was born, Julie dropped in without warning at any time of the day, often when Claire was trying to catch a nap after an exhausting night, or get some much-overdue housework done.

When Claire heard the tell-tale click-clack of her mother’s high-heeled shoes in the driveway, she felt anxious. Her mother dismissed Claire’s subtle hints about phoning before visiting. Even Claire’s father had tried to advise his wife that this was Claire’s baby and that they should ring first, in case Claire was busy. Julie took no notice. In fact, she stated that she had a right to see her granddaughter anytime she liked.

As the weeks passed, Claire was coping less and less with the demands of the baby. One particular afternoon, she was so exhausted from lack of sleep and crying that her husband suggested she have a sleep. Fifteen minutes later, the doorbell went. It was Mother! Despite the obvious distress of his wife and the unrelenting intrusions of Claire’s mother, Claire’s husband let her in. Julie bustled into the house and took over the baby, waking her from her sleep. Claire was furious but too tired to deal with her mother.

After Julie left, what little energy Claire had left was directed at her husband for allowing his mother-in-law to once again come into the house, even though Claire was clearly in need of some well-earned rest. After another fortnight of this treatment, Claire was admitted to a clinic suffering from post-natal depression. Only after extensive counseling, did Claire learn that her depression was caused by two factors: Claire’s failure to assert herself against the overwhelming demands of her mother, and Claire’s anger at her husband for not drawing a firm line against his mother-in-law when Claire was not in a position to do so herself.

Claire’s husband was required to enter into counseling, as he did not have a clear understanding of his role as husband, nor did he have a firm set of “boundaries” in place. Clear boundaries are essential to good mental health. Neither Claire nor her husband was able to act as a united front against Claire’s mother. Once this couple understood the importance of healthy boundaries, and strategies were set in place to deal with Claire’s mother, things began to change. Over a period of months, Claire’s depression lifted, but most importantly, the couple drew together as a team and began to actually enjoy the fun of parenthood.

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