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How to Deal With a Meddling Abuela

Photograph by Twenty20

Abuelas snuggle with our kids, spoil them and give them lollipops. Or maybe they are strict in ways we would never imagine. Either way, they are the cornerstone of Latino families.

I love my own abuela like a mother. When my parents divorced, and my sister and I ended up with my dad, she stepped in. My abuelita was the one who changed the sheets at night if we threw up or wet the bed. She would take us to the doctor. She woke up at the crack of dawn to make us breakfast. She taught us how to knit, sew and crochet. Later on, as I grew older, she dealt with my shenanigans and all the shady boyfriends my dad would not even shake hands with.

Without my abuela, I would not be the woman I am today.

That said, my own children do have a mom who has always been there for them. So any extra care given to them by their extended family is well, extra. Now that my girls are teens and tweens, I revel in the fact that their paternal abuela, from Argentina, talks to them about art, makes them listen to classical music and teaches them how to enjoy being quiet in the house. I like that she practices good manners with them and shares about her own parents and grandparents, so that my girls know more about their heritage. When they come back after a weekend stay, I enjoy listening to my kids chatting about what a great time they had with their abuelita.

But it wasn't always that way. When I was pregnant, my mother-in-law questioned everything about my pregnancy, to the point that I stopped taking her calls. When I had my baby, the doctors asked me whether I would like to stay at the hospital another night (it was Spain) and I said: “Yes!”

Going home meant facing her opinion and her way of doing things, as she'd come to visit for the birth. I needed one more day to prepare myself mentally and emotionally.

From the moment I walked through the door with my firstborn, her abuela questioned whether I had enough milk to feed the baby. This made me so anxious that I almost dried up, and eventually got my milk supply back in one breast only. I breastfed my daughter exclusively for more than nine months. And her abuela still asked whether I had enough milk, right up until I weaned her. Later on, I found that she had been unable to breastfeed her own children.

At prenatal classes, they taught us to lay our baby on her side (it's now recommended that babies sleep on their backs). Abuela prefered to lay her on her tummy, because that's how she'd always done it, “and doctors are always changing their mind, and don't know what they're doing.”

It took me some time to realize that abuelas are probably not trying to defy you. They genuinely believe they are doing the right thing. But that doesn't mean you have to put up with it.

One night after going out for dinner with my husband, I came back to find my baby face down in the crib, and I lost it. I told my husband to PLEASE tell his mother to follow my instructions or I would never let her babysit again. I was furious.

I know I'm not alone in this. A friend of mine told me the story of how her mother-in-law told her not to bathe her newborn until the belly button stump fell off. But guess what. When my friend returned from running an errand by herself, she found her mother-in-law had bathed the baby on her own! Imagine! The first bath! She was livid. And I get her.

So, what to do in these cases? It took me some time to realize that abuelas are probably not trying to defy you. They genuinely believe they are doing the right thing. But that doesn't mean you have to put up with it. It also doesn't mean you have to battle with her until the end of your days.

Here are some tips—that are easier said than done—to deal with a meddling abuela without losing your mind:

1. Put yourself in her shoes.

Try to imagine what she is feeling, and why she does certain things. Ask her how she feels about having a grandchild.

2. Avoid sticky situations.

If you don't trust that she will follow your instructions and you feel that could endanger the baby (like laying her face down or covering her with blankets), don't let her babysit. You don't need to have a conversation about it, just avoid it until your baby is older.

3. Chat openly and honestly with your partner.

Explain to them how you prefer that their mother follows your instructions when it comes to taking care of baby. But don't make them solely responsible for dealing with her. She will know it's really coming from you. Maybe you can have the conversation directly. Try not to be defensive.

4. Pick your battles.

I realized at some point that it just wasn't healthy for me to bicker about every single difference with my daughters' abuela. So when the girls went to her place or she came over, if they ate a bit too much candy, or she let them stay up late, I'd let it slide. Unless my kids were in danger, I would not make a fuss.

5. Find ways to relax.

It's easy to lose your cool and blow things out of proportion when you're bone-tired and sleep-deprived. Practicing a sport, yoga, or getting a massage all helped me feel more even-keeled.

And remember, one day your baby will grow up and will have her own special relationship with their abuela. None of the bickering you engage in today will matter then.

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