Having a kid changes a lot of things at home, including not just your marriage but your relationship with the grandmas (i.e. your mother and mother-in-law).
This is especially so in the case of your first child or the first grandchild in the family. Excitement and happiness on the birth gradually gives way to friction with the seniors over unsolicited advice, over-involvement (unannounced visits even?) and differences in parenting styles. What makes the situation many times worse is the crazy post-pregnancy hormones, sleep deprivation and perhaps breastfeeding stress.
Personally I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with both sides of the family and given my take-no-BS personality, my in-laws have learned the fine art of side-stepping certain landmines around me. But when it comes to my own mother, we don’t bother playing nice. I distinctly remember one terrible episode where my fuse ran so short cos I deemed my mum was severely disrupting the bedtime routine for my firstborn – he was particularly fussy that evening. I ended up slamming my front door in her face (terrible I know) and we did not speak for weeks.
My defensive mode was up for a long time but I was worried about my mum too, so I called up my uncle and tearfully recounted the incident. Initially I had only asked for him to speak to my mother on my behalf but he ended up giving me really important advice that would stick to me for life.
To anyone in a pickle about what to do about over-zealous grandparents, here are some questions to go over in your head before you go ballistic.
- Are you being too rigid?
While relating the incident, I said to my uncle “my house, my rules, right?”, and he called me out on my rigidity at once. By sticking to “your rules”, you inevitably end up creating negative energy in the household and could possibly sour relations in the long run. This is in no way beneficial for your child. Let’s imagine a more emotionally controlled scenario which I should have played out earlier. Perhaps the child is fussing more than usual. Naturally most grandparents want to respond to the first sign of distress. If they are just occasional visitors, let them have at it. However, if they come by pretty frequently, refer to the next point.
- Are you the best person to address the problem?
I’m a PR consultant by profession but when it comes to family matters, my long-suffering husband becomes my diplomatic spokesperson. He has this crazy ability to hit it off with old folks (or at least seem like a really good guy in their eyes) and then suggest an alternative way of doing things. Another person who really helped sometimes was our confinement nanny. Since she was just going to be here for a couple of months, she was a straight shooter and called everyone out for mistakes and highlighted things at home that might be bad for the baby.
- Are you really clear-headed?
If you have to handle tough confrontations yourself, start with the end in mind. What outcome do you want to get out of the conversation? Check your ego and refrain from saying things like “I’m the parent, I call the shots” even if it’s so damn tempting. Focus on the benefits that you hope to bring for the child within your “script”. If you wish to bring in your mental well-being, broach it in a gentle, reasonable way. (“I really appreciate your help with the baby, but I’m hoping for more quiet afternoons to bond sometimes.”). If things come to a standstill, don’t force it. “My way or the highway” is never going to work unless you are dying for a lifetime for awkward family dinners. Plus let’s face it, you are going to need the grandparents’ help with your baby every now and then. #keepingitreal
- Can you leave the house?
When the grandparents come over, you can take the opportunity to do a solo supermarket run (#freedom) or even grab lunch with friends. You know the baby is in safe hands – grandmas are the most meticulous caregivers I know. If they tend to overstay their welcome, eating out is a great way for everyone to get some fresh air. You can drive them to the train station or their home right after!
Last but not least, be patient! Just as you are rooted in your beliefs, whoever you are disagreeing with are set in their ways. It takes time for them (and you) to come to a happy middle ground.
Got more tips? Feel free to share in the comments section!