I don’t like the way my in-laws care for our kids – but we can’t cope without them

18 Mar 2024

 "I don’t like the way my wife’s family are bringing up our children and feel I get little say in it because they’re also our childminders while we both work almost-full time (my wife has Fridays off).

My wife’s parents live a mile away, while my family lives abroad. We’ve considered paying for nursery but it would mean our daughters, aged three and one, wouldn’t get to play together – and one of our salaries would completely disappear to cover costs.

My wife thinks she turned out perfectly well from her ‘happy’ childhood, though I’m not sure it was all sweetness and light. We’re both 31, we’ve been together for 11 years – and before having children I had a great relationship with her parents (my wife kept them more at arm’s length).



Ah, the in-laws. I wonder if the heart of your problem is really their parenting methods and your wife’s upbringing, or if this might be secondary. Perhaps the bigger issue is that you feel as if your family is being taken over by them now they’re no longer at arm’s length.


Firstly, carve out time with your wife to talk about bringing up your children. Many couples become parents before having conversations about how they’ll navigate sleep (or lack of), meals, behaviour – and work. Then, with the all-hands-on-deck nature of small children, it becomes harder to have those foundational chats.

I’ve worked with men who’ve found themselves in parenting classes, asking an outside authority how to bring up children, still without having discussed it with their partner. Sitting down and chatting about how you wish to be as a family is an important first step and will hopefully start to heal the disconnect you may be feeling.

As part of this conversation, you and your wife can address your in-laws’ role. Rather than questioning your wife’s childhood, which might feel like an attack that leads her to be defensive, ask her how she feels life has changed from when you were a connected, childfree couple. Also, ask if she feels her parents are taking over. Explain how important it is to you that your love for each other is the foundation from which you raise your children.


I’d also recommend that you ask for her take on your childhood: no one can see themselves from the outside and it might be an eye-opener. Importantly, consider together what you’d like to change from your childhoods when raising your children, so your parenting is deliberate.

In many families, mothers and their extended family have more influence on children’s upbringing, frequently because fathers work longer hours (we’re making small steps, rather than giant steps, towards equality). Some dads feel helpless, or even superfluous, once children’s needs take over. As a family with two working parents, ask yourself whether there’s an imbalance in how much you both parent; ask your wife, too, what more you could do. A spirit of collaboration, rather than conflict, is helpful and if you feel tensions rising, remind your wife that you want parenting to start with your shared love.


Secondly, have a conversation with your wife’s parents. Make it clear it’s not an us-and-them situation, but that you and your wife have been talking about all the support they give. Outline what’s working well using descriptive praise, not vague gratitude. Be honest that it’s taken until now for you and your wife to have a conversation with each other about how you wish to raise your children. Let them know you want to give them clarity, not only sharing the structure of the day you want your children to experience, from snacks, meals, television and naps, but also the loving attitude, language and boundaries you hope they’ll keep in place.

It might be that you can’t afford to turn down the generosity of your in-laws, but together you can all talk about values – and the differences between the way that you and your partner were raised – to open up the conversation about your children’s upbringing. This might be an opportunity to ask your in-laws how they were brought up: old-fashioned parenting often used shame or withdrawal, which can remain traumatic in adulthood.


If you’re concerned about second-guessing and passive aggression, be explicit and say how important it is to you that children learn to tell their truth, rather than guessing or decoding – and give an example of this at home, for example, everyone saying if they like or don’t like dinner, rather than pretending. Explain why it’s important to you: for example, you don’t want children to feel responsible for the emotions of adults they love, or that you understand your children’s sensitivities and don’t want them learning to navigate – or blaming themselves for – tension or resentment. Your in-laws may appreciate the open communication: give them a chance to surprise you rather than expecting them to disappoint.

It can be incredibly hard to find time and energy to stop and communicate effectively when you’re in the frenzy of responding to young children’s immediate needs – and feeling panicked gratitude about extended family help. But I’d encourage you to make the time to talk to both your wife and your in-laws now; it will help all of you build a solid, conscious foundation for bringing up children, focused on what’s best for them.

While conversations might feel sensitive, keep reminding yourself – and those you love – that you want to work together. I hope you might find that, with your shared love for two small children at the forefront of all your minds, differences in you and your partner’s upbringing start feeling less important.