Dear Mr. Dad,
My fiancé and I recently had a baby. I'm thrilled with everything, but I can't help but feel like I'm taking a backseat to her parents. It's almost as if their opinions matter more than mine. Is there anything I can do or say?
Much as you may not want to hear this, in the minds of your fiancé's parents, their opinion DOES matter more than yours. Their daughter just gave birth to their grandchild, and they consider themselves to be the best authority on all things related not only to their new grandchild, but to their daughter as well. That's a tough dynamic to change, but you can do it.
The big kicker is that your fiancé has to be on board with you in order to make that change. First of all, you and she will need to have some serious discussions about what, exactly, your role is going to be and what "involved father" means to each of you. It is not uncommon for the man and woman to have very different expectations. Be very specific with each other about who'll be doing what. Who gets up for those three AM feedings? Who's responsible for the diapers -- both changing and buying? When will you introduce solid foods and what will that food be? Will you use a playpen or not? Should your baby sleep in the same bed as you and your fiancé? Are you going to teach your baby sign language? A lot of couples avoid dealing with these issues because they're afraid they'll lead to conflict. But dealing with them now will make life easier for both of you in the long run.
Once you hammer out your roles, your fiancé will have to be the one to break the news to her parents. They won't hear it from you. She'll need to tell them, respectfully, that you and she have decided to raise your child in such and such a way. While you both appreciate their opinions and are very grateful that they're around to help out, you and she will be parenting the way the two of you have agreed. Yes, her parents did a wonderful job of raising their daughter, but times have changed. She should be sure to tell them what wonderful grandparents they already are, and how, as grandparents, they get to have all the fun of parenting with a lot less of the dirty work.
With any luck, that talk will have the desired effect. If not, your fiancé may have to take it up a notch or two by telling her parents that if they can't go along with the parenting program as you've outlined it and respect the two of you as parents, they simply won't be able to spend as much time with their grandchild as they'd like to. Hopefully, it won't come to that.
-- "Mr. Dad"
A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-To-Be, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years, Throwaway Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men from Being the Fathers They Want to Be, and The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting Without a Partner (New Father Series). He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts "Positive Parenting," a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California.