We recently had a visit from Multidaddy’s parents – one set of grandparents. And although my in-laws and I have clashed over the babies, things have got better, and I survived their most recent four-day visit. So it seems a good time to consider how new parents can deal with their new roles vis-a-vis the grandparents.
1. Decide on your parenting philosophy (as far as you can) before baby arrives. This is difficult, but even small decisions can help. For example, when I was a baby the medical advice was to put babies to sleep on their tummies. Multidaddy and I decided that we were going to follow the most recent advice which advocates putting babies to sleep on their backs and we actually discussed this with both sets of grandparents before the birth. For things that emerge after baby comes (and there will be many) discuss them when you and your partner are alone, and then present a united front to anyone who challenges you.
2. Start claiming ownership of your baby before s/he arrives. One way of doing this is discussing your parenting philosophy with the grandparents – the subtext is, ‘We may respect your opinions, but this is how we’re going to do it’. Another way is taking charge of your pregnancy – if you don’t want to follow your mother’s advice to eschew certain foods, say so, it sets the tone. Don’t go along with things just to keep the peace – once baby comes you’re much less likely to be willing to do that.
3. Get your partner on board. Whether it’s your parents or your in-laws, you will need the backing of your partner, and it’s a good idea to discuss how this will play out before baby arrives. The general rule is that you each talk to your own parents – arguing with the in-laws directly is likely to paint you in a bad light, and set you up as ‘the bad guy’. You may be certain that it’s all going to be ok, but discuss it anyway, those hormones might make you feel differently.
4. Set the rules. Baby has arrived. Mum is shattered, emotional and vulnerable. This is when daddy has to step up. Does mum want an audience while breastfeeding? If not, it’s time for dad to gently but firmly show overly-interested grandparents into another room / the door. Is grandma making mum feel inadequate by suggesting a million reasons for a baby’s cries? Time for dad to take baby back to mummy and allow her to do the soothing.
5. Insist on respect. You are now a new mum / dad. As much as you love your parents, now really is the time that they have to let you go. They have to respect what you and your partner want to do with your baby. And unless you’re putting baby at risk, if they don’t agree with your decisions that is, unfortunately, just too bad. I lost my temper when the babies where about six weeks old and my mother-in-law put an extra blanket on BabyGirl despite me saying two minutes earlier that she was fine (which she was). I believe my exact words to Multidaddy were ‘I don’t care what your mother thinks, if I say BabyGirl is not cold, then she’s not cold’.
6. Give grandparents tasks. Of course, many grandparents are well-meaning souls who just want to help. It’s just unfortunate that their help can sometimes cause new parents to feel useless, or take away some of the bonding time they need. So have a list of tasks that grandparents can do – whether it’s hanging out a load of laundry or putting dinner on. It’s even better if you can allocate some ‘baby tasks’ to grandparents – whether that’s changing the crib sheets or sterilizing bottles – it makes them feel more involved even if they are not directly holding baby.
7. Set visiting times. No, I’m not suggesting that you put on a sign on your door that says visitors only welcome between the hours of 1pm and 3pm, but do insist that grandparents call before turning up on the doorstep. Some grandparents might find this too formal, but it really really helps. If you’re having a nightmare day or are trying to snatch a nap, the last thing you need is unannounced guests. If you don’t always say no, and can actually sound pleased on occasion, they’ll soon realise that calling ahead is more of a courtesy rather than you being mean.
8. If the grandparents are very wearing, insist your partner is with you to back you up. 11 months on and I still insist that Multidaddy is present when his parents visit. I tried without him and was a wreck. This way everyone is happier, I’m more relaxed, and if there are any issues he can raise them with his parents directly.
9. Plan things as a new family. Although it can be nice to have extra pairs of hands around, the new family unit will need some time alone. Plan things, whether it’s a walk round the park or a visit to a favourite museum, where it’s just new parents and new baby(ies). This gives you a real reason to slot grandparent visits into times which are convenient for you.
Grandparents can be wonderful (and my own mother in particular is a fabulous grandmummy). But there may be teething problems in even the most amicable grandparent-parent relationships, particularly if you have first-time grandparents. It’s all about redefining roles, and that can be tricky…