Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Hello there Mama with a mother in law /aunt/ mother/ step mother/ grandmother/second cousin etc etc who feels they know much better than you about what's right for your baby. Welcome to parenting! This little undocumented added extra that is the 'Knows Better Than You Old Mother' is a very common immovable aspect slapped onto this parenting package. The good news is- you're in good company, lots of women experience this and lots of women have survived and even found a way to move forward.
So- maybe she's your mother in law, step mom, highly involved aunt or maybe she's even your mom- but the point is; she's someone whose inextricably linked to you and your family and needs to be accommodated because you see her often. She makes comments, gives suggestions, points out things and has a never ending list of sentences that start with "well when my babies were small I......" and "I never would have...." and even more that end in the phase " ...... and my children all turned out fine." You feel annoyed, insulted and judged whenever she's around and maybe your partners starting to feel it too- or worse; waning to her whispers and being 'inceptioned' into agreeing with some of her ideas.
Maybe you're getting defensive now, starting to act out a bit- have you started exercising some controls?
limiting the times she's 'allowed' to visit?
Not allowing her to be alone with baby?
Alternating between her visits on the weekend and other peoples?
Emphasizing 'baby's schedule' loudly when she's around and placing print out schedules on the fridge when she visits or looks after baby?
All of this is behavior that supports an insecurity in you that her behavior has triggered. External emotional support and understanding offered to us by our immediate people supports self confidence and a belief in ones self efficacy in a new mom- a lack of support, judgement and criticism do equally well to undermine a new mothers self confidence and efficacy, and the natural defensive response to this is an emotional 'wall building' that supports attempts to distance and 'protect' one's self emotionally from such 'attacks' on her self esteem.
So 'rules' and 'schedules' and 'times' become little brick tools for building up those defensive walls.
The problem here is that none of this actually does any good in the long run and in the bigger picture and makes for more anxiety, work, tension and insecurity. These are the cracks that don't go away- the cracks that undermine the relationships we have with our loved ones (yours or your partners') and creep into every aspect of our future lives together.
So what's this really all about?
Sometimes I find that really getting to understand the basis of a problem can prevent you from letting it snowball out of control, and although each relationship is uniquely formed and practiced, I like to look at this general issue in the following way - I think that the intensely personal nature of mothering and parenting (and at this particularity difficult and emotional stage- of parenting a baby) makes these kinds of things even more likely to occur as so much of ourselves are invested in the time we spend parenting and much of that time is spent doing what we think is best, without any concrete proof or ground map for how or what to do, and with so much emotion and attention paid to it. Parenting is all encompassing and it is personal- but who says it gets less personal or less important or less attention-focused as our children age? You may be the one with the baby- right now, but she was that too once and right now she's still a mother- one that still loves, cares, worries and prays that her child will be Ok. And that's still personal. Now, hold up- Im not trying to justify what's going on- Im just building up to something - Im putting some groundwork in first.
The thing Im trying to convey here is that no matter how far away or ahead a mother moves from being a mother to a baby- nothing diminishes the feelings she had at that time. A mother will always feel like she can mother. Mother a baby?- sure! Thats how she feels.
So what we have then is another (much older) mother feeling like she's still got some miles left in her- feeling like she can still be as useful as she was when it was her tiny baby and feeling like she could definitely still make the line up- but she's been benched.
Now- what she's not realizing about her being benched is that it's her fault she's there.
By not supporting, encouraging and celebrating you in your efforts and choices (especially the hard ones that have you hardly sleeping and hardly able to function) she's chipped away at your sense of security and caused you to feel the need to build up your defenses. The day she implied your milk wasn't 'fulling up his tummy' was one instance, the family lunch when she commented that your not eating enough potatoes was why baby wasn't sleeping well at night, was another. The time your partner approached you with the 'idea' that you need some time away from the baby because baby was 'sensing your anxiety' after they met up for a coffee date- that was the clincher. The less you do to accommodate and include her, the more she does to speak up and be heard.
So now you're left in a situation that has you building defenses, her feeling excluded and so- upping her efforts to point out that your general decision making is not intact (hence she can justify that your choice to 'exclude/ignore' her is just another in your bad decision making spree) It's not an unusual situation but it is one that is not going to do any good.
But here's another way to look at it.
She is a mother, as are you. She was a mother who, at one point in her life also looked down at the face a newborn and vowed to do whatever she could to protect that baby she so instantly and so massively loved- like you. And so there is still some common ground here- its just been a bit covered up, chipped away and damaged. I think that no matter how far down the road this rift has gone or how much 'dislike' has been created and fueled- its not too much to still assume that you can imagine that she too was once in a situation not dissimilar to yours- that she too felt as much overwhelming, mountain moving, mind shattering, heart exploding LOVE for her baby as you do. And that she too did try to do everything that she believed and was told was definitely BEST for that baby.
The difference now really is in the information as to what was deemed and believed to be BEST! Right? Unfortunately- as we see more and more of daily, mothering practices are highly and most actively influenced by the assumptions and socio-cultural practices on the times. I say 'unfortunately' because- yes; if you live in an socio-cultural environment that roots its teachings and assumptions of how to parent newborns and babies in research, psychology, health and wellbeing then: yes, its great that the general practices used would be centered around establishing physical and psychologically healthy development for both children and parents. But- if you are in a socio-cultural time that basis practices on unsubstantiated assumptions or unsound theories of development and infant behavior then you are likely to be influenced to behave and inact practices that support these assumptions. And when it comes to child rearing theories, infant care practices and parenting 'gurus' - yes the generational differences are HUGE.
(ex: not even 30 years ago there were parts of America that had standard hospital practices involving 100% caesarian sections followed by the immediate distribution of pills to 'dry up' mothers milk -so babies never received a single breastfeed. Standard practice! The belief was that mothers 'do better' when not 'troubled' by breastfeeding and medically controlled c-sections limited the risks of unplanned complications.)
In one generation you can have so many changes that have occurred in the medical, psychological ,research, neonatal, lactation and health worlds that can completely alter the practices of the generation that follows- and thus; the information regarding 'whats BEST for baby' changes entirely too. Our grandmothers may have been told to make sure their babies slept on their stomachs in a crib in another room so's not to allow baby to disturb them too much, while nurses encouraged our mothers to sleep babies on their side while in hearing distance of them. And, today women are ordered to make sure babies only ever sleep on their backs- and the mounting evidence for co-sleeping- encourages them to keep baby nearby and respond throughout the night.
Things have just changed.
My point is this: We all do as we are told is best, and although the information we are given has changed- we all still have that in common.
You have to concede that - if given the same information you were given, as the same time, in the same situation- she would be doing what you're doing. Doing what you believe is best.
She did what she believed was best, it is different to what you're doing sure, but its what she knows and what she did and she believes it to be best- that part doesn't change.
Hopefully coming to this understanding can help you open up to the idea that what's really needed here is a change in information- a sharing - an open conversation. An explanation that you have been told and educated about what is 'best' for baby, based on what's available today that wasn't available 30years ago- and you're going to follow it.
Its not the easiest route or the fastest and you often feel nervous and unsure but you are going to do what's difficult because it is best. You're going to feed on demand, sleep baby where you want, carry, hold, nurse and care as you want because you have the information that you need to help you feel confident in your decisions and what you really need is for her to understand that 'doing what's best' is exactly what you're doing. From there she can either be your cheerleader or- nope, not or- that's it, that's the only position available - cheerleader.
And cheerleaders get perks. They're invited to everything, get sent tons of videos and pictures, get asked to hold and look after babies and have lots of afternoon sit on the porch, drink our tea and talk about 'how much we love being moms' dates.
So please Mama- take her off the bench. She's not done- she just needs some gentle training up. Women need each other and especially mothers. Jumping in and repairing this relationship before it gets any worse is a really worthwhile endeavor that you'll be grateful you undertook. Don't discount her- allow her her stories and memories and always remind yourself- the practices between you are different, but the love and the intensions are always the same.