“Leave the grandparents alone. They deserve to develop their own relationships with their grandchildren. If they are not daily caregivers, it doesn’t matter if they have different parenting practices than we do. Most of the time they know better, anyway.” ~ Janet Lansbury
When my first daughter was born, I would spend my sleep-deprived days wandering from the toilet, where I rinsed out diapers, to the washing machine with the wringer on the back of it, to the backyard clothesline, where I would hang them out to dry.
In between, I would lay on the living room floor and cry.
I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or how to do it. I felt completely overwhelmed and I was depressed.
That was usually when my mother-in-law would call.
“Did the baby have a poop last night?” she’d ask in her nurse voice (except she called it a “BM,” the way nurses used to do).
“Did you put Karo syrup in the formula like I told you?”
She used her nurse voice because she was a nurse and because she knew everything about babies—especially her son’s baby—and it was obvious, even to me, that I knew nothing.
According to my mother-in-law, it was lucky for me that I got sick and couldn’t nurse the baby because she didn’t approve of nursing. I was using the wrong formula anyway—it didn’t matter what the pediatrician said. I wasn’t keeping the baby on a strict four-hour routine, and an on-demand schedule was simply crazy. I didn’t know how to fold diapers—no wonder she got a diaper rash. I let her suck her thumb and I didn’t keep her out of the way when my husband came home from a hard day’s work.
When I got pregnant the second time, only three months after my first daughter was born, my mother-in-law actually asked why (since I wasn’t going to go to work to help pay for “all these babies”) I hadn’t slept in the other room to avoid tempting her son.
We were worlds apart and, sadly, even after 30 years of being married to her son, our worlds never came together.
By the time I had three children, I had gotten so resentful, quiet, and bitter that I actually broke out in a rash whenever we went to my mother-in-law’s house for a visit.
What did I know about how to handle it though?
I was in my early 20s. I’d gotten married the year after I graduated from high school.
In the end, I kept my three daughters away from my mother-in-law as much as possible and pretty much stopped talking to her.
I’m not proud of that. I would have preferred things to go another way, but, in the beginning, I just didn’t know any other way and, by the time it was over, I hadn’t learned.
That’s why, when I recently read a young mother’s post on Facebook asking for ways in which she could respond to her in-laws’ criticisms of her, that time in my life came flooding back to me, along with a realization of how, over the course of 50 years, I have learned different ways that I could have responded to my mother-in-law.
Instead of taking her comments as criticisms—or even instructions—I could have seen them as simple statements of the way she did things that worked for her.
When she did offer advice, I could have reflected it back to her. “It sounds like you used Karo syrup to help soothe your babies. How does it work?” Or, “It sounds like you used regular poops as a way to determine that your baby was healthy. Can you tell me more about that?”
I wouldn’t have tried to get her to see things my way at all. I didn’t have the time or the energy anyway, and it wasn’t necessary to get into an argument with her. Ultimately, my babies were mine to raise as I saw fit. I could have just listened to her and then gone ahead and done things my way.
I could have understood that, in some way, just like me, she was seeking validation.
I could have also seen her criticisms as a poor way of revealing underlying truths about herself—that she missed raising her own children; that she wished she could have a replay; that she might have felt lonely, or ignored, or as though she didn’t matter in anyone’s life anymore—the options were unlimited.
If I could have done any of that, several things might have happened that did not happen.
First, I would have probably learned something from her. Second, I would have improved the communication between us. And third, I would have loosened the tight grip I had on my heart.
I also wouldn’t have modeled resentment—or my own form of criticism—to my children. Instead, I would have modeled acceptance. I would have taught them that sometimes, when we are in a relationship with someone, we have to meet that person where they are.
Above all, I might have learned what I now believe to be a most important truth: Just keep the channels of communication open—everything else will take care of itself.
As a grandma now, here are six hints I can offer mothers (and the young mother on Facebook in particular), today:
>> Don’t get defensive.
>> To help you understand, try to find out what’s underneath the criticism.
>> Admit that your mother-in-law parented differently, not wrongly.
>> Accept that you might have something to learn from her.
>> Model to your children that you value relationships, even with people who you disagree with.
>> Keep the channels of communication open, everything else will take care of itself.
“Your child will have many critics, but only one set of parents who know what is best. Eventually, your child will become the living proof that what you have done is right. As your critics see your child blossom, they will realize that your heart did indeed lead you to the right way of parenting that child.” ~ Dr. Sears
Author: Carmelene Melanie Siani
Image: Sebastian Hamel/ Unsplash
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren