05.20.11: Helping Grandma find her place
Amy’s expecting her first baby this fall and has definite plans for how she wants her first few days as a mother to go. She wants to spend some time alone with just her husband and new baby, getting to know what “just the three of us” feels like. She wants time to figure out what her new family dynamic is and to settle in to her new role as a mother. Unfortunately, Amy’s mother has a different plan.
Grandma wants to fly to Amy’s bedside as soon as labor starts and park herself there indefinitely. She wants to stay at Amy’s little house so she can share baby’s first night at home, first bath and all the little firsts that come with bringing a beloved baby home. This isn’t her first grandbaby and she knows how sweet these first days are. Who wouldn’t want to get in on all that sugar?
Amy says her mom will be helpful, but she’ll also hog the baby. She doesn’t want to hurt her mom’s feelings, but doesn’t want to compete for her newborn’s attention and doesn’t want to share the intimacy of this brand new experience with anyone other than her husband. She tried to explain her complicated feelings to her mom, but Grandma “lost it,” accusing Amy of being selfish and hurtful. That means, no matter what Amy does next, “just the three of us” has morphed into “just the four of us,” with Grandma’s resentment as an unwelcome sidekick. That is, unless Amy can get Grandma to understand, accept and back off a little.
The hardest part about parenting is the incremental “letting go,” that happens from the minute we give birth. Maybe that’s why labor is so difficult. We have to let our child have a life of her own, independent of us, though still completely a part of us. They may not technically inhabit our body anymore (though until we’re finished with breastfeeding, carrying, clinging, diapering and sleeping with them; that’s debatable), but they remain imbedded in our hearts and minds, even when they’re full-grown adults. For most of us, that fierce need to protect and serve our children diminishes as they become capable to doing things themselves. Some parents, however, have a harder time than others prying their identities away from their children’s.
I really get where Amy’s mom is coming from. She adores her daughter and is delighted and fascinated with her. She’s been there for all her daughter’s firsts and being Amy’s mother is always going to be on the top of her list of defining characteristics and accomplishments. Once a mother, always a mother, but the job requirements have to evolve or you’ll smother your child. Parenting is a weird job. If you do it right, you get demoted. Not fired, really, but no longer in the honored position of entitlement to your child’s “firsts.” Some women want their mothers with them while they become mothers themselves, but many want to take these first steps independently or with only their partner.
I also get where Amy’s coming from. Amy knows, in her eagerness to be helpful, Grandma might try to step into Dad’s rightful spot at Amy’s bedside during labor and first few nights at home. Amy knows her mother might steal her thunder and make the arrival of her baby be more about Grandma than it should be. This is the start of Amy’s family, however, not first and foremost, an extension of her mother’s family.
So, what should Amy do about the conflict this has created with her mother? First of all, Amy, try to understand her. She loves you, wants to be there for you, and wants to share your joy. Her heart is in the right place, mostly. Second, explain your feelings to her again as kindly as possible. Tell her you want to include her. Be clear about when you want her to visit and how long she can stay. Be generous. She is Grandma after all and you’re going to need some help. You may even need a little mothering yourself. She’s just the right woman for the job.
Then, let go and accept that you’ve done what you can. You can’t force your mom to understand your position. Given time, she’ll probably adjust on her own. If she can’t come around to understand your needs; then you were right on target to set boundaries in the first place. You have to do what’s best for you, your baby and your family, but remember, Amy this is her grandbaby, she is your mother and she’ll never completely let you go. You just have to help her learn what it means to be Amy’s mother now.
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