Carolyn Hax: A new baby, a stressed mother and a grandmother’s tantrum

Carolyn Hax
Columnist February 25

Dear Carolyn:

My wife and I welcomed our first child in January. Before our daughter was born, my wife told our family members that we didn’t want overnight visitors while I took time off work, which was two weeks. Her mom lost it and told her she “felt no joy anymore” about the birth and “never had any rules put on me before.”

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Our daughter is three weeks old now, and my wife’s mother has neither met her nor shown any interest in supporting my wife after a pretty difficult C-section. I believe she has irreparably damaged relationships and shown extreme disrespect to our family and new daughter. What should I do in an attempt to remedy this situation?

Confused & Angry

Very little, at least with your wife’s mother.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Certainly there’s room for disagreement on the wisdom of your no-overnights request — I for one applaud it as a way for you two to gain confidence as parents — but there are a couple of things that don’t leave much room for quibbling:

1. New parents get to make calls like this. Your baby, your comfort zone, your home, your rules.

2. Her refusing to see the baby means this has nothing to do with your mother-in-law’s “joy” or desire to be close to her daughter or the baby. If it did, then she would have registered her disappointment about the overnights and shown up anyway, on your terms, even grudgingly if that’s what her ego needed. Instead, your mother-in-law has revealed with her boycott that it’s about her need for primacy, attention, control.

3. Anyone who welcomes a new grandchild into the world by calling attention to herself and creating stress for the new parents has bigger problems than whatever the specific issue might be. Had you and your wife welcomed overnights, your mother-in-law would have picked some other boundary fight. Count on many more.

Thus the “very little” on that particular to-do list.

Your wife, on the other hand, needs you right now. She’s got wacky postpartum hormones; a body that’s been through the wringer; and a plain view of some ugliness in her mother’s character that may or may not have been so fully exposed before.

That’s a lot to carry around.

Your wife needs to hear from you that you have her back. That you’re sorry her mom is pulling this stunt now. That her mom will either come around or miss out on these irreplaceable days, but either way it’s her mom’s problem. Your little family need not — and if it’s up to you, will not — divert attention away from each other to coddle a grown woman who ought to know better.

I suggest a simple plan: Don’t confront the mother or attempt to negotiate with her. Instead just leave voice mails (or e-) as if she had taken your decision like a grownup: “If you’d like to stop by tomorrow noonish, let us know,” [click]. “Good news from the pediatrician today, all’s well,” [click]. Such insistent warmth will either offer her a face-saving return or force her to keep renewing her choice to fume.

Last thing: sleep. Your wife needs it. You, too, but you’ve had only one emotional earthquake and she’s had two. Congrats on the first one, at least.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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