How to handle well-meaning parents and in-laws
Four years ago when my daughter was a newborn, I never let her cry, remembers New York writer Katherine Stewart. 'My mother-in-law viewed my hypervigilance as ridiculous and would say, Let her cry its good for her lungs. Then shed shrug her shoulders, as if to add, Not that my opinion counts. When a new baby enters the picture, generational struggles are all too common. You know that the sometimes-intrusive opinions of your parents and in-laws are well-intentioned, but how can you tune them out respectfully? First, understand that how you respond to their opinions is very important. The last thing you want to do is be reactive,' says Gayle Peterson, Ph.D., M.S.S.W., L.C.S.W., a family therapist in Oakland, Calif., author and a Fit Pregnancy advisory board member. 'If you act like a child, parents may treat you like one. Here's some expert advice on how to handle five common gaps in parenting styles. ((Problem)) My in-laws are not the most, um, modern people, and theyre flabbergasted that I breastfeed my baby in public. The one time I did it when we were at a restaurant together, they were extremely uncomfortable. solution Since you are probably not about to stop your breastfeeding style because of their squeamishness, you need to find a way to deal with it tactfully. It is simply a difference of opinion about modesty, says Kira Stein, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and mother of a 3-year-old girl and a 14-month-old boy. Do what makes you comfortable when your in-laws are not around, she says, but for the sake of a positive relationship with them'which is important for you, your spouse and your children defer to your in-laws when you're with them and breastfeed privately. ((Problem)) When my husband and I ask my mother not to sit our 1-year-old in front of the television when she's with him, she retorts, 'It didn't hurt you and your siblings.' (As far as I can tell, she's right: I'm hardly what youd call a TV junkie.) solution As a mother, you need to make certain your children are cared for in a way you are comfortable with. As a daughter, you need to show your mother the respect she deserves for having done the best she could in raising you. 'Sit down with your mom and let her know that now that you are a mother yourself, you appreciate' more than ever'how hard she worked to make you happy,' Stein suggests. 'Explain that it is now your turn to parent in the way that you feel is best, and that it would mean so much to you if she could work with you, even if she thinks you're being excessively cautious at times.' Also, let your mom know that you want your baby to learn how to interact with people; that it's important for the baby to get to know her grandmother and that the relationship will grow to be much more meaningful if the television is not a distraction. And if your request is not taken seriously? Hire a babysitter, and invite your mom for visits with you and the baby while the TV is off, Stein says. ((Problem)) My husband and I would like our baby in bed with us for at least six months, but my mother-in-law insists that our daughter won't ever be able to sleep on her own. solution 'Be firm and let her know you're not going to back down, Peterson says. Explain the theory of attachment parenting: The more securely your child is bonded with you now, the more independent she will be later. 'Say that while it may be different from her philosophy, its well thought out, Peterson says. ((Problem)) My vociferous father-in-law is not a guy who keeps his opinions to himself. He thinks it's wrong that Im returning to my job three months after giving birth, but we really do need two incomes right now.
solution Explain to your father-in-law that its a financial necessity, emphasizing that this was a difficult decision reached only after careful consideration. The United States is behind most developed countries in paid maternity leave, forcing mothers to separate from their babies sooner than what is generally considered optimal for breastfeeding and bonding, Stein says. Of course, you could dare him to put his money where his mouth is so you would not have to return to work but thats probably not going to help build a better rapport with him! ((Problem)) Both my parents and my in-laws constantly offer to babysit our 5-month-old son, who is the first grandchild on both sides of the family. Right now, my husband and I want to be with our baby and dont want to leave him with anyone else for long stretches. How can we get them to take no for an answer? solution its obvious that they are excited about being grandparents, so be patient, Peterson says. Explain to your family members that this is simply a timing issue and that you are in no way trying to exclude them. 'You just aren't ready,' Peterson adds. 'This is not an unusual conflict and will resolve in time.' In the meantime: >Have your husband take the lead in dealing with your in-laws, while you speak with your folks. >Expect to repeat your message often, letting them know that when your son is a little older, you'll be thrilled to take a night off and will by all means welcome their offers to babysit. >Find other ways to involve the grandparents. Invite them to your house on weekends to be with you as a family, or ask them to join you on family outings to the park or beach.