Whoever came up the old saying “you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them” must have been referring to their parents or in-laws. Nothing challenges your relationship with your parents more than joining their ranks and becoming parents yourselves.
Having your own child often stirs up feelings about both the positive and negative experiences you’ve shared with your parents. Becoming a parent can serve as a catalyst for bonding with your own parents in a new way, but it can also serve as a pointed reminder of the ways mom and dad may not always have been the parents you wanted or needed.
The postpartum period is not a good time to remind mom and dad about all the ways they may have failed you and how you are going to do better with your child. If you are noticing some of those feelings coming to the surface, pregnancy is a wonderful time to explore and work through these emotions and experiences with a therapist or someone you trust before your baby arrives.
Let’s all agree that almost all parents mean well and have your best interests at heart. (If you sadly have a truly toxic parent or in-law, I recommend pre- and post-natal therapy even more.) I’ve observed that after the initial excitement of a newborn grandchild, most parents and in-laws fit into one of two categories – let’s call them category A and category B. Category A parents are the ones that inspire you to say “I love you, you are amazing, and I could never have done this without you.” Then there’s category B – “I love you, honestly, but you are making me crazy and if you don’t give me some space and respect how I choose to raise my child I’m going to scream.”
The problem is that often you won’t know which category your parents belong to until after the baby is born. Then it might be too late – perhaps you’ve already invited your mother to move in for six weeks after bringing baby home, just to realize you’ve made a huge mistake (insert scream here!)
If you find yourself with category A parents – you are in luck. Embrace them and revel in the support they can offer you as you adjust to motherhood. Remember there is nothing wrong with accepting help as a new mom, or at any stage in your life. In my opinion, the strongest new mothers are the ones that are not afraid to ask for help from others, recognize that they are a part of a village, and know they do not have to do it all alone. There is no special award for “superwomen” who feel they have to prove they can do it all by themselves from day one. Feelings of isolation and even depression are often the end result of “going it alone.” So relax – and enjoy the support of your helpful parents!
But what if your parents or in-laws are type B? There are usually clues that you may have a category B parent (or parents) on your hands. If your parents are typically high maintenance, needy people who like to be catered for at all times, chances are you don’t want them as part of your postpartum team. Life in general tends to become more stressful after a baby arrives, so if an evening out with your folks usually results in you needing a stiff drink or an icepack, there’s a good chance they’re category B and an awful choice for long-term post-birth house guests. Another tip is to ask any of your or your partner’s siblings who already have children how their (your!) parents reacted after their children were born.
This doesn’t mean category B parents need to be shut out, or don’t have a role in the process. It simply means you have to think about the situation strategically. After birth, you will probably be looking to surround yourself with safe people who won’t take your mood changes, pointed comments, or emotional moments personally, and will appreciate the emotional magnitude of your journey to parenthood and understand your need to recover during the post-partum period. Most women feel emotional and vulnerable (hooray, hormones!) in the weeks and even months after birth. You will likely not be feeling your best, and definitely not in the mood to entertain any high-maintenance guests.
If you have category B parents, PLEASE don’t let them “room in” at your house. Look for a nearby hotel or motel or ask a friend to host them, so you can enjoy the best of both worlds – fun visits with the excited new grandparents, as well as quiet time alone with you, your partner and your baby.
That said, don’t write off your category B parents completely – they may be helpful by running errands, doing the grocery shopping, cooking meals, picking up your dry cleaning and running your laundry – this way they can make a valuable contribution to your postpartum experience in a less hands-on way. It’s a good idea to sit down with your partner while you’re still pregnant and make a list of all the errands and tasks that keep your household running, and assign someone to each of those tasks. If you don’t have any parents or in-laws near you, consider hiring a post-partum doula, signing up for a meal delivery service, or hiring a weekly or fortnightly cleaning service to take some of the pressure off you.
One last note: if during your pregnancy you already have strong thoughts regarding what you may or may not want from your parents or in-laws, I strongly recommend you share those thoughts with them before the birth. If you want a few hours (or even days!) of peaceful skin-to-skin contact with your baby before you allow visitors, let them know! Hopefully then you won’t have twenty people in the waiting room desperate to meet your newborn the minute he/she arrives. And stick to your guns if a parent criticizes how you’re raising your baby – your parents may have done things differently (for example, “back to sleep” is a relatively new idea, and most grandparents won’t be familiar with it) but remember, this is YOUR child, not theirs. It’s also a good idea to discuss early on what name to give your child’s grandparents – who’s going to be nana, grandma, grandpa or grandad?
Managing expectations will alleviate a lot of stress on you after the birth and will hopefully give your parents a clear idea of how best to help you in the post-partum period.
Stay tuned for the last blog in the series as we explore the impact of having a baby on your relationships with friends.
For more of Dr. Alyssa Berlin’s, PsyD, Key Principles of Happy Parents and Effective Parenting, check out her local parenting classes in the Los Angeles area, www.doctorberlin.com. Or visit the Berlin Wellness Village. Or follow them on Facebook. Dr. Berlin is also an official PAM advisor.