Critical in-laws

Hi Dr. Dan,

I am a mother to an infant daughter who is the joy of my life.

A particularly challenging part about parenting is realizing that not everyone finds wonder in children as I do. My in-laws in particular praise babies for how they sleep, eat, and stay quiet. I find joy in how she hides under a blanket to initiate peek-a-boo and likes to dance with me when I come home from work

I’m learning that expressing my excitement is not met with the same joy but rather they are concerned about the clothes she is wearing or whether she has the latest toy. Why aren’t people just amazed to see these magnificent little lives come into being?

 The most trying comments for me is when they verbalize that a baby is "good" when it is quiet and playing alone.

My child is sensitive and joyous and I don’t think that is a bad thing or even something I could change. I’m grateful for having granparents who nurtured my sensitivity and praised me for my awareness. I want my daughter to have a relationship with her grandparents, but around them I feel like I have to apologize for this  "sensitivity" –hers or mine,

Marta, a happy new mother

Dear Marta, 

Congratulations on having this wonderful new love in your life.

This business of worrying about what other people think of you (or your child) is pretty complicated. To a certain extent we must care about what other people think of us as we are social animals and want to be part of the herd. Not only that, people who don't care what others think of them are often narcissists or sociopaths.

Most of us regular humans go to the other extreme and we worry too much about what other people are thinking of us. This underlying anxiety is really about shame. Or more accurately, fear of shame. So in order to avoid this anxiety, our instinct is to conform or comply. Well, in your case, as in the case of many new parents, the babies health and happiness trumps your anxiety. So now what I am hearing is an understandable conflict. You don't want to face your in-laws rejection but you also don't want to comply with their expectations.

First we could take a look at your anxiety and learn some ways to be able to manage it.

And then there is the concern about what if impact their criticism will have on the baby. That is easier to address. Children will be affected if the people who raise them don't like them, but not distant relatives.

My grandmother didn't like me very much and she lived with us. And although I have my fair share of neurosis, I don't think my grandmother had any impact whatsoever!

Being part of the pack involves being accepted for who you are, not apologizing for it. You and and the baby will probably both be much happier if you are comfortable being the people you are and trust that things will work out pretty well.

Dear readers,
this new mother will be joining us live on Tuesday at noon to discuss the many issues raised in her letter.  Issues that all of us live with; concern about what others think of us, insecurity about childbearing and new parents trying to establish their own identity.