Tell Me About It: Grandma boycotts the new baby
Question: My wife and I welcomed our first child in January. Before our daughter was born, my wife told family members that we didn't want overnight visitors while I took time off work, which was two weeks. Her mom lost it and told her she "felt no joy anymore" about the birth and "never had any rules put on me before."
Our daughter is three weeks old now and my wife's mother has neither met her nor shown any interest in supporting my wife after a pretty difficult C-section. I believe she has irreparably damaged relationships and shown extreme disrespect to our family and new daughter. What should I do in an attempt to remedy this?
Answer: Very little, at least with your wife's mother.
There's room for disagreement on the wisdom of your no-overnights request - I for one applaud it as a way for you two to gain confidence as parents - but there are a couple of things that don't leave much room for quibbling:
(1) New parents get to make calls like this. Your baby, your comfort zone, your home, your rules.
(2) Her refusing to see the baby means this has nothing to do with your mother-in-law's "joy" or desire to be close to daughter or baby. Your mother-in-law has revealed that it's about her need for primacy, attention, control.
(3) Anyone who welcomes a grandchild into the world by calling attention to herself and creating stress for the new parents has bigger problems than whatever the specific issue might be. Had you and your wife welcomed overnights, your mother-in-law would have picked some other boundary fight. Count on more.
Your wife, on the other hand, needs you right now. She's got wacky postpartum hormones; a body that's been through the wringer; and a view of ugliness in her mother's character that may or may not have been fully exposed before.
Your wife needs to hear from you that you have her back. That you're sorry her mom is pulling this stunt. That her mom will either come around or miss out on irreplaceable days, but either way it's her mom's problem.
A simple plan: Don't confront your wife's mother or attempt to negotiate. Just leave voice mails (or e-mails) as if she had taken your decision like a grown-up: "If you'd like to stop by tomorrow noonish, let us know" (click). "Good news from the pediatrician today, all's well" (click). Such insistent warmth will either offer her a face-saving return or force her to keep renewing her choice to fume.
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by Carolyn Hax is available at www.inquirer.com/lifestyle.
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