Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Be direct with in-law when she criticizes your parenting style
D.C.: My mother-in-law is really annoying. One of the minor things she does is call me "Type A" as a criticism of my parenting. For instance, if I ask her NOT to allow my baby to chew on a pair of reading glasses, she laughs and acts like I am this crazy overprotective parent. It is really offensive, but I can never figure out a way to address it that doesn't sound defensive or petty.
I end up biting my tongue a lot when I really want to say something, and that makes me think I am putting my kids' health/safety second to my desire to avoid conflict. Help me, please, come up with a better way to address this behavior!
Carolyn: Actually, her calling you "Type A" isn't minor, but I'll get to that in a second.
First: It's quite possible you are being too tight about what you allow your mother-in-law to do when she's holding your baby — and note, I chose my words very carefully here. I didn't say you're maybe being too tight about what you allow your baby to do, since taking away reading glasses is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. However, when your mother-in-law is holding the baby — unless your baby is in serious danger — you might want to back off on the things she allows. Nitpicking the way she handles the baby is basically telling her you don't trust her, which is a really divisive way to approach Grandma.
Now: Your mother-in-law, instead of choosing a reassuring way to ask you to trust her with your child, is being just as divisive back at you when she labels you as rigid and uptight. As I said, that's not minor, that's a relationship-killer.
But I don't think you're going to make much progress unless you acknowledge that you have your dukes up, too. You find her annoying, and there's no way it doesn't show. But the one who loses out most in this battle of mismatched personalities is your child.
Please, instead of making your child the battle line between you, try really hard to find some common ground in your baby. You both love the child, presumably, and you both mean well, and want the best — and while you're going to have different ideas about the right ways to show your love and good intentions, it couldn't hurt to try letting some of those differences slide.
As for what you say when you're on the spot, where now you're just biting your tongue: Some honesty about your feelings and frailties might be disarming. "Maybe I am too protective — I will try to work on that. But I'm doing what feels right, and I'd appreciate a little leeway as I figure things out. When you call me 'Type A,' I just feel defensive when what I'd really like is your support."
If she scoffs at you then, you'll at least have solid footing for a decision to keep a civil distance. If she really does have your family's well-being in mind, though, she'll be receptive to both your vulnerability and your request for support.