It’s Not Your Baby: Setting Boundaries with Loved Ones

Dear Mother, Sister, Friend, In-law or other well meaning person in our lives,

We love you. We know you love our children and we are thankful for that. We want you to be close to them. We want you to have a good relationship with our child(ren). But we need to talk about boundaries. It is a difficult subject because it is unlikely that you mean any harm, though some of you undoubtedly do, and we do not want to come across as ungrateful, whiny brats. We are our children’s mother. We suffered with the morning sickness, the difficult labor, the C-section, the adoption fees, the breastfeeding issues, the sleepless nights. We did. Not you. Sure, you may be related to our children, but you are not their mother, and it’s time we cleared the air. We’ve compiled a list of things that are boundary breakers for many of us, and we would like you to consider them, and consider us as new, fragile mothers just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

We want you to know that these words are hard to write, even harder to say, as you mean so much to us. But at times certain words or actions hinder our relationship, cause us to pull back and potentially damage the relationship you have with our children. While not every situation is a boundary breaker for every mom, it would be wise, when dealing with new parents, please consider the following things:

My child is not “your baby.” My husband may be your baby; hell, I may even be your baby, but that little bundle of joy is not. I know you know that. To you, calling him/her your baby is a term of endearment, but it causes mothers around the world to clench their teeth. I went through so much to have that child, and the right to call him mine is mine. It may be petty, but the privilege of calling the baby “mine” should be reserved for the parents.

Please refrain from intervening when I am disciplining my child. You may not approve of my methods. You may think I’m too stern or not stern enough, but this is not for you to decide. You do not see the whole picture. You may think I am overreacting by not giving in to my daughter’s tantrum for more candy, but you do not have to live with the repercussions. You will not have to put her to bed tonight. You are not the one who will be up later tonight trying to sooth her upset stomach. So if you don’t mind, I will handle the discipline myself.

While we are talking about candy, please do not offer them candy then say, “If it’s okay with Mommy.” While I appreciate the consideration, it turns me into the bad guy if I have to say no. Do us all a favor and ask me first. Most often, it will be fine, but since you may not be aware that he had a giant cookie from Starbucks just before we arrived, a quick “Hey, can I offer them him some candy?” will be much appreciated.

You may think my child has an illness, a delay or any other medical issue, but please do not attempt to diagnose my child. This is not to say if there is something clearly going  on that you should remain silent, but be mindful of your words. No mother should hear, “There’s something wrong with that child” from a loved one. If you feel you have legitimate concerns, bring them to the parents, away from the child, and voice them – gently. Suggest we bring it up at our next doctor appointment, but do not label or suggest medications unless you are a qualified professional and we sought your opinion. Attempting to diagnose a child will only lead to frustration and perhaps resentment, even if you are correct.

Unless we ask, please do not attempt to be a lactation consultant. Breastfeeding can be challenging, and it may involve literal blood, sweat and tears. It is also extremely private for some new mothers, and not something everyone would like to do on display. Thank you for your concern, but anything more than “How’s breastfeeding going?” will get you into the boundary-crossing zone very quickly.

Talk to us about birthdays and holidays. We do not need to know or approve of your plans or gifts, but we would like to be sure they do not interfere with ours. Giving our child the same “big” gift we planned to give, and giving it a few days before the actual celebration – that is over the line. Attempting to plan an outing for my child on his birthday, especially one that doesn’t include me, is another example of boundary breaking.

If any of the above describe your words or actions toward the new (or even seasoned) mother in your life, you may be guilty of breaking boundaries. You might think, “Oh, if it bothered her, she would just tell me.” But that is so difficult because we do not want to hurt your feelings. We know in almost all cases you mean well, but that doesn’t stop it from offending us, or causing us to become defensive and even withdrawn.

Sincerely,

Mothers Everywhere

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Myndee is a 35ish year old New Orleans area native. She's an author, speaker and self-love advocate. As an introverted extrovert, Myndee loves being part of the generation where most of her friends live in her computer. She and her husband, Luis, live just outside the city with their three kids.

148 COMMENTS

  1. Recently the Lord has given my husband and I our first child, she is the most wonderful thing in our lives. She’s the first grandbaby on my side and his as well; and because of this is extremely blessed with love from her grandparents and everyone.

    I thought I was being ridiculous when I googled my frustrations on a whim as a new mom and came across this ‘letter’. I want to say, I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the wisdom my own mother and mother-in-law have. Our mothers are wise in ‘mothering’ because they’ve raised us and learned from their mothers as well. However, times are different than when they were raised, and they were different when they raised us. In recent years, the world has changed exponentially in all kinds of ways for the newer generations being born; from technology, medicine and health, society, religion and to family values. I appreciate that someone commented on the ‘Mothers Everywhere’ signature, and that this could be lumping many new moms into a category they don’t agree with; but depending on where you’re from and how you were raised this article still could and likely does ‘hit the nail in the head’ for plenty of new moms. I am one of those new moms that this really does sum up many of my frustrations.

    Despite being a ‘millennial’ myself (which, by the way, those of us who are have no control over when we were born or how we were raised initially which has shaped us into who we are) I was raised to work hard and earn everything I had. I didn’t have things handed to me. It was frequent for my parents to teach us that despite the world being quite different than when they were young, life would never just hand you things. Growing up and living today are not easy, and though some people do get things handed to them throughout their lives, it is not a norm for many. I was taught to work hard, be independent and earn my way. I was taught as a girl in this day and age you need to be tough, smart, able to stand your ground, and able to stand on your own two feet without outright relying on anyone to do it for you. In today’s world, in plenty of places, though maybe not all, I think the newest generation of moms have it a lot easier and harder than our mothers did, or their mothers did. We do have the internet as a resource for us to learn from as we encounter ‘mom or baby issues’. It’s a blessing and a curse because new moms have a huge well of knowledge these days we can go to with our questions through the internet. Our mothers didn’t have that; it was standard practice for our mothers to ask their own mothers what to do when new challenges with being a mom came up. Thus, when some of us new moms have questions and don’t go to our mothers for advice it likely bothers them. Maybe many new ‘grandmothers’ have been looking forward to stepping into the kind of role their own mothers were for them. I understand this, but it conflicts to how I was raised to be independent.

    Outside of the resources the internet puts at our disposal these days, many new moms do put an awful lot of faith in the internet and maybe not in the new intuition of being a mom, or knowing their baby better than anyone else should. Our mothers and theirs developed this motherly-intuition much more organically than many of us new moms are because the level of interaction with their babies may have been more frequent and, again, different than nowadays. These days many new fathers take a more active role in caring for their child. Also, while we’re not the first generation to deal with the cold limits of maternity leave (if we’re lucky enough to have it), many who do have it, have to get back to a demanding job/career in order to support our new little ones and family. This cuts down on our own time with our new babies, which probably makes us more sensitive (I know it does for me). On that note, this is where my mother and mother-in-law come in…and they are a godsend for watching my baby when my husband and I can’t, which is pretty much all week 8-5pm. These days it’s harder to find trustworthy individuals who will sincerely care for your child in the same kind of ways we as new moms likely do. This is why having our own mothers nearby, which i know is not the case for many, is such a blessing…and a frustration for some of us.

    The letter above does say something like: ‘we carried our baby, dealt with the morning sickness, and stress of delivery…this is our baby’…whether you’re a new mom who agrees with this post or not, this is a true statement. Our babies are ours. My baby is mine (and my husband’s of course)…but my little one is not my mother’s or mother-in-law’s baby…even if that baby is adopted, the new mom (and or dad) are the ones that went through the trials of being given that baby as a gift from God or however. For many new moms who were raised to be independent and earn their way by our own wise parents and grandparents, this likely does grate on our nerves when anyone else calls our baby theirs. Here’s why, for me at least…no one else other than my baby’s dad did anything to create my child or ensure they were born in as healthy and safe a way as I did. I don’t think anyone other than myself has a right to call my baby theirs. I think if grandmothers or other family members try to see this fact from this perspective or maybe remember how they felt when they first had us, they’d understand why this particular item bothers some of us new moms so much. In my life though, I love my mother and mother-in-law so much and don’t want to hurt their feelings… especially when they’re helping as much as they do, that I don’t point this out as frequently as they do call my baby theirs. Where does it get me? Feeling generally hurt anytime I hear it because I’ve mentioned how it bothers me and they continue to do it…while I hold my own tongue as to not hurt their feelings more often than not. Feels unfair to me, but what can I do? I may be a rare mom that feels this way though, who knows?

    The letter above mentions birthdays and big gifts, and I think should also apply to holidays as well. Our mothers and grandmothers got to be the ‘Mom’ with us or our parents. I feel like it’s a new mom’s turn. Her turn to plan birthdays and holidays for their baby. Her turn to do
    it her way since those before us got that chance. I understand some new moms may not want to do things differently or even on their own at all; but some of us do. My mother and mother-in-law were able to do things their way with us as we grew up. I want that chance, without having to feel guilty that I’m doing things wrong, or that I’m hurting their feelings if I don’t do things their way. Again, this time I’m the mom snd I would like the chance to do the same kind of things they did for us once upon a time.

    My baby just had her first birthday; and I was looking forward to making her cake from scratch according to a healthy no-sugar smash cake recipe I found and tried. (I did and it was delicious; and you couldn’t even tell there was no sugar.) On a general note here, as my husband and i both work full-time we’d discussed beforehand how we would celebrate her birthday the weekend after; since the few people who we were okay with being there (coronavirus after all) weren’t able to come during the week… also because we are working parents that have to get up very early. This didn’t mean we hadn’t planned to sing to her and give her a healthy treat with her favorite foods for dinner on her actual birthday. Also, when you’re a full-time working mom, I’m sure a lot of mothers in general and of any generation, can relate to the time that goes into preparing all your own baby food when you want your child to be as healthy as possible…in this way, when I planned to make her cake myself it was an additional time commitment I wanted for my baby to have a yummy dessert that wouldn’t be bad for her. (Another note here, I don’t understand how any grandmother would be argumentative or patronising to a new mom
    who wants her baby to have all homemade food. When we were kids they found out some premade baby food had glass in them; and honestly even if they’ve come a long way, there is nothing better than homemade if you’re using good ingredients.) Back on point, my mother-in-law ordered a regular full-of-sugar cake for my baby’s first birthday without asking me and wanted her to eat some the night of her birthday when my husband and I had to get up before 5am. (A) As her mom, I feel like she undermined my privilege and delight as a new mom to provide a cake to my baby at all. She didn’t ask, or even tell me she was doing it, until my little one was finishing her dinner. I should’ve, at the very least, been informed as her mom. (B) It bothered me even more when she did put me on the spot when she wanted my baby to eat some of that cake; when she knew how I don’t want to be giving my baby processed sugar at all until she’s a bit older. I suppose there are plenty of moms out there that will find my concern here ridiculous; but my mother and mother-in-law got their time to shine with their own babies as we all grew up. Is it not our time to do the same in our own way for our new little ones? Also, I would think grandmothers would appreciate the moms of their grandbabies doing all they can to provide a healthy start for the next generation, especially when a lot of our wiser elders have diabetes and other health concerns. Now, that weekend I did make a cake for my baby girl which she could get messy with and eat, without worrying she would overflow her infant system with something bad for her. She enjoyed it, and so did several guests who tried it too. This was not a situation where I didn’t respect or appreciate the love of my baby’s grandparents; it was a moment that naturally should’ve been a mom’s (and dad’s too) honor. I won’t get that moment back; and in the future I know it will sour some of the relationship I have with my in-laws. It could’ve been avoided if, in my opinion they came to me first. I had a plan for that evening and they didn’t even think that I as a new mom was excited to do something for my baby for her first birthday.

    Gifts, I’m less rigid about gifts. I do appreciate all the things provided to us for our little one. Then again, I do agree with the statement in the letter above; big gifts should be discussed with both parents when regarding our babies. We may have already gotten something for them; or decided not to get other things for them at all depending on our parenting styles. Especially if you’re as independent as me and my husband were raised to be.

    Times are different than years ago. Women are under lot of literal and figurative pressure to be strong, smart, healthy, attractive, and still be or want to be good homemakers too. For a lot of new mothers, this is already a challenge before having a baby. Once we have our first, suddenly we have to (lovingly or not regardless) redirect our focus on the new little life we adore. I know my grandmothers didn’t have to work, it wasn’t as common then as it is now…so my mother and mother-in-law learned from stay at home mothers how to be moms. My mother was worker, while my mother-in-law was also a stay at home mom…though they mothered differently; they still had to rely mostly on their mothers to coach them when necessary in motherhood. Today many of us don’t have to rely singularly on our mothers for coaching or direction. We have so many more resources at our fingertips for advice and direction; not just the internet…but technology has expanded who we can get advice from easily. Maybe some of the new moms out there want to be a different kind of mom, or better than how they grew up. It is hard to change amd do this if the only people you may go to for advice are your own kin. Let’s face it, not every childhood is picture perfect; a lot people want to be better than their past. In today’s world we can do that; but need to remember to respect our elders and their wisdom (if we’re not already)…but it shouldn’t be so hard for our own parents and kin to respect our chance as new moms to make mistakes along the way, do things our way for our babies, and learn from the experiences.

    If there is mutual respect between the previous generations and the new ones raising our futures; it would make boundaries a lot easier and less cold.

    I noticed someone called new moms that may think along these lines ‘millennials’; well, I suppose you’re right for some. There are plenty of new moms that likely don’t have respect or proper appreciation for the knowledge their own mothers or mother-in-laws have. The

  2. I wish this article was here 18 years ago. My family counter parented behind my back to a point were my kids were too afraid to say grandma or uncle called us and disciplined us. As a single parent i was always looked at as if i was a bad parent. 2 weeks back they called my kids, said they going on holiday and made all arrangements. Not 1 adult asked me, what my thoughts were, did my kids deserve to go, were they busy with school work and most of all – the risks involved in taking them to the other side of the country which cud increase their risk of getting covid. I just left it because if i had said no it would then i would have been the monster. I never gave up fighting the boundaries i set , i have been a single mom for 18years , kids always told “f”your mother, she is crazy. I worked 3 jobs at a time while my family who obviously never had struggles financially were like father Christmas to my kids. Today after all my sacrifices im sitting with emotionally damaged adult kids because of family who refused my Boundaries do count whether you like it or not.

  3. I am 30 wks and increasingly starting to stress about my MIL and her unwillingness to realize boundaries are needed. I am 43 yrs old and had my first child at 17. She is now 25 with 3 children of her own so I am actually able to have a fair perspective on both sides. After I had her I found out I have a unicorniate uterus which caused years of infertility. My husband and I hve been together almost 20 years and in 2018 I miraculously became pregnant and sadly our son was born stillborn at 36wks . I briefly but intensely witnessed the fact that my Mil has no regard for boundaries then. She literally posted his sonogram picture on FB minutes after I said I was still not telling people among many other irritating things. Always claiming she is just so excited! As if my husband and I weren’t more excited or that it makes it ok to disrespect my wishes. Then after losing him so traumatically I became pregnant 6 months later and absolutely didn’t want to tell anyone before even making sure it was a viable pregnancy and of course she told everyone so when I had a miscarriage at 7 wks I then had to tell everyone about that. So I’ve been very strict and quiet this pregnancy if it was just me I would not even of told her until later but I understand my husband wanting to, but it’s been constant criticism for not “allowing “ her to post anything on social media, her telling everyone how F***ing rude I am because I didn’t want a picture taken and posted when I was obviously showing and had not even told half of my own family I’m pregnant. And just recently she made the comment to me in a joking manner but I know she wasn’t joking stating when our son is born for “mama to move over because she is taking over” like I don’t even know how to begin to try and set boundaries with a woman like this and that I know will play the victim and make me out to be the mean DIL . I love my grandkids! They live a mile down the road I see them 2-4 times a week and miss them if I don’t . BUT I absolutely respect my daughter as their mother. I’m out spoken so I always give my opinion but leave it at that sometimes she takes my advice sometimes she doesn’t and I’m ok with that. I always let her know I am here if she needs me but let her be self reliant and independent and never want to smother her and her husband and their household. I would love my child to be close with my MIL , both my parents passed away and not here and my husbands family is very close and we all live within miles of each other . But I also know the more she pushes the more I’ll pull back and I just absolutely fear what my future holds for all dynamics of the family. Does being excited and over joyed give anyone the right to think they love our babies more than we do? And does it leave me obligated to be more “understanding “ . She has 2 daughters with other grandchildren that she 100% helped raise and take care of on the daily and neither of her son in laws ever put boundaries down and simply just goes with the flow. I know she envisions the same daily up in my business at my home thinking she is in charge relationship when my and my husband baby is born. But I cannot live like that and refuse to. I just don’t know how to try and stop it before it starts to happen and hopefully, wishfully avoid the tensions and dramatics and have a healthy family relationship where we’re all happy and comfortable.
    Thank y’all for reading or even if no one reads it it’s been helpful getting out a lot of what’s been unspoken and stressful.

  4. To the author of this article:
    I guess you are entitled to feel this way and I respect that. I have always felt it was an extra blessing when my sisters-in-laws, brothers-in-law, my siblings etc. refer to our, my children and grandchildren as their babies. I guess it’s because I feel that in order to refer to them that way, they have to feel a special bond, a special love for them. Just my opinion, everyone has their own feelings and opinions. It is probably a sign of the times. When my siblings and I were growing up, our family was not just limited to blood relations but our closest neighbors. We saw them as family and there was respect and special love. We were raised by the village. When I refer to a baby, child, as my little princess or my little man it is NEVER said in a way to disrespect the mother or father. Just a manifestation of a special bond with the child. Good grief, now I wonder how many mothers of my formers first graders (10 years worth) felt offended because from day one, all, yes all of my students were “My Children” for the entire school year. (Or at least that’s how I felt, and I would defend them tooth and nail) Anyone who knows you and meets your children KNOW that they are yours and would never expect to strip you of that title. I have to be honest, I didn’t read the article all the way through. As I said at the beginning, times change, there is no longer the innocence most of us baby boomers grew up knowing. Today’s parents have to be more protective, yet I still believe that if someone refers to your child as theirs they have to be someone close to you and someone that sincerely cares for your and therefore they care about your child, maybe even to the point of caring for them as their own.

    It sounds to me as if you might have trust issues, maybe an inferiority complex or something. I am glad that our three daughters-in-law are confident, trusting and loving ladies because you sound like a daughter-in-law from somewhere I wouldn’t like to have a daughter-in-law from. For those of you complaining about your mothers-in-law, step back and try and understand, all MIL have been daughters-in-law at one time or other. Try and be patient and just sit down and talk to them. Don’t appear all lovey dovey in front of your husbands and then bad mouth her as soon as she walks out the door. You too shall be a MIL one day, (if you are lucky enough to be blessed) Just my opinion, I love my 3 DIL and I miss my MIL dearly as I do my mother.

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