Having a child is a transformative experience. The first few weeks at home with a newborn are full of joy, sure. Those days are also filled with worry, confusion and tears (and I dont just mean the baby's).
Often, our own mothers or mothers-in-law show up to help us. But the new baby means a transformation of that mother-daughter relationship, as well. Sometimes, things can get bumpy as the new mom finds her way and the experienced mom steps to the side.
Here's a guide for well-intentioned relatives about how to deal with a daughter/daughter-in-law in the first few months after the birth of a grandchild. Keep in mind—this isn't the daughter/daughter-in-law that you knew before pregnancy, before baby.
This is a much more sensitive, moody and exhausted version of who she once was. It's a delicate time, so tread carefully!
My mother said that I was always fiercely independent. Naturally, when I had my son I assumed that caring for him would be something I could also take on all by myself. Wow! I was SO WRONG. I cannot tell you how wrong I was.
It took me a long time to get there, and I appreciate being allowed time to get to a place where I understood that asking for help didn't make me a failure as a parent. On the other hand, a close friend told me she wished her mom had been more present and helpful in the days following the birth of her child.
It is such a delicate time and hormones are driving us crazy.
I encourage moms and mothers-in-law to have a discussion with your new grandbaby's mom before the child is born. Clarify what type of support they would like and ensure it lines up with the type of support you can provide.
2. Give advice only when asked
This is tricky, because grandparents clearly have the advantage of experience. In some instances, you probably do know best. But understand that the parents—the new mom specifically—can be very sensitive and vulnerable during this time. Your advice may not always go over well.
Many of us new moms have the sense that we have no idea what we're doing when dealing with a new baby. Still, don't assume that the new parents haven't researched every single thing they are doing. Allow them some trial and error.
In my case, even the bottles I used had been researched to death, along with the stroller system. We did some crazy things, like spoon-feed our newborn to avoid "nipple confusion" when it became apparent my child wasn't receiving enough breast milk. (At least that's what we thought it was. Don't ask!) Under many circumstances, you need to let new parents make their own mistakes and figure things out as they go along.
3. When giving advice, less is more
As referenced above, I was having extreme breastfeeding issues. When I asked my mother for advice on how to build supply, she decided it was a good time to tell me all about how she produced tons of milk and never even had this problem. I think she was trying to illustrate that every woman is different, but it just made me feel like even more of a failure. If you do give advice, take into account the sensitivities a new mother can have. It is such a delicate time and hormones are driving us crazy. Things that normally wouldn't have offended us, may offend us. Tread lightly.
[I]t is important that you remain sensitive to the fact that what you think are helpful thoughts could be hurtful opinions.
4. Careful with the birth stories
I had a C-section that most definitely was not a part of my birth plan. It might seem super silly, but it took me a long time to get over that. I blamed the C-section for my inability to breastfeed. I hated hearing stories about people who birthed with ease and how they didn't even care about taking classes and being prepared but everything turned out perfect. Yes, it seems irrational, but it was so important for me to deliver in what I felt would produce the best health outcomes for my child.
It was hard to heal from the C-section, and I felt like a bit of a failure. Just keep that in mind as you are recounting what might seem like innocent anecdotes to the new mom. Everyone is different. I would definitely place myself on the more sensitive side of the spectrum but best to err on the side of caution. There's so much change and chaos for new mothers it's best to just keep the most positive environment possible.
5. It's our baby, not yours. We make the decisions
Just don't do what you think is right—even if you think it's helpful—if it goes against what the new parents want. It's incredibly irritating. It's important to remember that your child's parenting decisions are not a repudiation of your own parenting decisions. We aren't saying, "Hey, you were a bad parent, so I'm going to do everything differently." We are saying that we will do things our own way, based on our shared values and circumstances. You will not always understand the decisions and, frankly, we didn't always understand your parenting decisions either. Particularly in the newborn stage, it is important that you remain sensitive to the fact that what you think are helpful thoughts could be hurtful opinions.
6. Always, always offer to watch the baby
If you are available, do this and make it as accommodating to the new parents as possible so they can take a nap, sleep through the night or just have a break. Come over, if you can. This is much easier for new parents who are just getting used to getting out and around with a baby. I used to avoid places just because I didn't want to deal with the stress of carrying my newborn and his gear all over the city.