As a brand-new mom, you could use some help around the house for a week or two. As brandnew grandmas, your mother and mother-inlaw can’t wait for a chance to come for a visit. It seems like a match made in Heaven, but is it?
Pairing their high expectations with your postpartum exhaustion and newmom insecurities could have its perils. Some pre-planning, plus a few discussions about what you can and can’t expect, could help keep hurt feelings at bay and make this time spent with mom or mom-in-law one of joy rather than extra stress.
A Timely Arrival
If mother or mother-in-law is traveling to visit you, a key consideration is timing. You and your partner should agree on whether you want her to be there for the birth, in the first days after, or later when you’ve had a chance to catch your breath. The hospital and early days at home are overwhelming, and the last thing you need is to have a mother or mother-in-law around who feels like a guest that you have to host. If your mother or mother-in-law lives in town, you and your partner can decide whether you want her to stay with you or just visit at scheduled times.
Being honest about what the relationship truly is, rather than what you might like it to be, will help you plan. “It’s got to be a case-by-case decision,” says psychologist Diana Lynn Barnes, co-author of The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters. “If you’re comfortable in the relationship with your mother or mother-in-law, then get them there as soon as possible because you need the help.”
Barnes started the Center for Postpartum Health in Los Angeles CA. She stresses that these are important conversations to have with your partner ahead of time so that you are both on the same team, and if problems arise, you are united in dealing with them. And she suggests that each partner speak with their own mother rather than having any decisions delivered by a daughter-in-law or son-in-law.
Mom Marci Barrett thought she had worked out a plan that she was comfortable with. Her mother-in-law would fly into town for the birth and stay at her house while she was at the hospital. Then, when Barrett and family returned home, her mother-in-law would stay in a hotel for a few days because she and her husband had agreed that they wanted private time in the beginning. However, when told the plan, her mother-in-law took offense and threatened to not come at all. “And I felt offended that she couldn’t respect our wishes and get past her own,” recalls Barrett. In the end, her motherin- law stayed with a friend during those days rather than at a hotel. “She was on good behavior during the visit, but she did make snide comments about it later,” Barrett says.
“I applaud that mother,” Barnes says of Barrett’s experience. “Yes, there may be guilt and hurt feelings, but she did the right thing by thinking about her own needs and not her mother-in-law’s. The hardest thing for new moms is setting boundaries, and this is a time when that’s essential.”
Barnes offers one more caveat: "Mom and mother-in-law together is a disaster waiting to happen, even if they get along. Stagger the visits."
A Schedule Of Support
It’s also a good strategy to have an idea ahead of time of what kind of support you’ll want. Then you can communicate that need without mother or mother-in-law having to guess. While some new moms are grateful for handson baby care, others might want help with the other kids or with household chores. “I would have liked my motherin- law to have changed diapers, but she wasn’t that comfortable,” says Barrett. “She was nervous around the baby. This was her first grandchild. But she helped with housework and with cooking and that was really appreciated.”
Barnes remembers her own mother’s postpartum visit. “She was happy to throw in a load of laundry for me,” she says. “It was wonderfully comforting to have her around. New mothers need to feel mothered, so who better to have around? If you have the right relationship. Otherwise, you might be better off with a friend.” Clear communication – not always easy when you’re exhausted – is the most important element to success.
Notions About Newborns
Another potential problem is when mother or mother-in-law has ideas about newborn care that don’t mesh with your own. You may need to remind her that baby care has changed a lot over the years. “Keep in mind that both you and your mother or mother-in-law have the best interests of your baby in mind,” says Pilar Stein, LCSW, who offers postpartum counseling in her Beverly Hills office. “And that she is likely coming from a place of feeling protective.” Stein suggests assuaging any ruffled feathers by remembering to compliment mother or mother-in-law on the things she is doing well and letting her know that you respect her opinion.
Trusting your own instincts and taking suggestions with a grain of salt can help you weather what may sound like criticism. “You’re going to get advice,” says Barnes, “and new moms are vulnerable to feeling like we are not doing a good job.”
If frustrations arise, it may be better to share them with your partner rather than instigate a confrontation. “Exhaustion can definitely exacerbate irritability,” says Stein. “This is not the time to discuss a major concern in depth. Perhaps your partner can help you set appropriate limits. If not, or if you are feeling too tired and overwhelmed to cope with the situation, take some time apart or ask them to give you some time alone with the baby.”
This can also be a time when ongoing issues rear their head. “Hopefully mom or mother-in-law will recognize and respect that the early postpartum period is not a time to stir up old conflicts,” Stein says. “If something does come up during the visit, it is important to set limits, possibly by simply explaining that you do not wish to discuss that particular issue or topic. Opening up a channel of communication now, and setting limits early on if need be, will be helpful as there will also be conflicts that you will not want to address in front of your child as they get older.”
Mothers and mothers-in-law can, of course, be mentors. They can be a voice of wisdom and the postpartum time together has the potential to be a beautiful and unforgettable time of bonding. “Even though what led up to it was stressful,” says Barrett, “I was glad she was there and part of it all.”