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Relationship Repair: Tips for Moms

Teething rings, pacifiers, Mylicon drops: When your baby is difficult and cranky, there are plenty of tools at your disposal to set things right. But what can you do when the grown-ups in your life act like uncooperative, whiny children? No matter how hard you look, you won't find a paci big enough to hush your difficult mother-in-law or cranky hubby.

These repair jobs require tools of a different kind: communication and diplomacy. Here are three simple steps to better relationships with the people in your life who need a little fix-it job. Get these folks working with you instead of against you, and then you can focus your attention on the person who needs it most: your baby.

Hands-off hubby

The problem He intentionally avoids doing his share of the babycare and acts totally clueless ("I just can't make that Diaper Genie work!") in an apparent effort to force you to do everything.

The fix:
1. Consider that he genuinely may be clueless about baby stuff. New dads often are, says Carolyn Pirak, a social worker who runs the national Bringing Baby Home program at the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle. Plus, dads can have different standards than moms. While you're itching to change the baby's spitup-splotched T-shirt, Dad may be thinking, "It's just milk!"

2. Spell out the baby's needs  -- and yours. First individually, then together, list every babycare job you can think of. "Once both partners have a copy of the joint list, it's pretty hard for him to say he didn't know you had to do it," Pirak says. Divvy up the list, making sure you each get some stuff you enjoy (stroller rides, birthday-party planning) along with the scut work.

3. Stay positive. If you compliment him on a job well done, he's more likely to do it again.

Family-unfriendly boss

The problem She sets inflexible hours and/or provides no place to pump milk (or, heaven forbid, to nap).

The fix:
1. Bring out your inner saleswoman, says Neil J. Lavender, Ph.D., a psychologist in Toms River, New Jersey, who cowrote Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job. Tell your boss why giving you what you want is good for her and the business  -- not just for you. For example, suggest making flextime a reward for top performers and therefore an incentive for everyone to do better work.

2. Don't give up after round one. Keep coming back to your boss (though not in a nagging way) with ever-more enticing arguments and offers. Mine the Internet for studies that reinforce your case, such as those on catalyst.org that show how family-friendly policies can create a much better workplace.

3 If your boss still refuses to budge from her position, try other routes: the human resources department, sympathetic folks in high places (be careful not to bash your boss, though), or even websites that let people air workplace grievances via anonymous e-mails, such as anonymousemployee.com

Babytalk contributing editor Melissa Balmain is a writer and mother of two in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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