Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
Columnist

Helping the helpers actually be helpful

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of “relationship cartoonist” Nick Galifianakis. She is the author of “Tell Me About It” (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon.

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(Nick Galifianakis)

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I have a baby on the way and a set of unhelpful in-laws who have offered to help when the baby comes. We have not accepted this offer but instead suggested they visit a few weeks after the baby is born and stay in a nearby hotel for a few days.

Their tone indicates they are not thrilled, but they aren’t fighting it. I also think we need to indicate that we’ll have daily visits with them (one or two a day), but they won’t be at our house for most of their waking hours. My husband said that he’s mentioned there are restaurants and theaters in walking distance from their hotel, and this should be indication enough. I disagree and would like him to be direct with them BEFORE the baby comes. Thoughts?

Parameters

How, exactly, is their help unhelpful? A baby is a big deal and you are in charge, but a baby is also a big deal with grandparents. The more compassion you can bring to your limits, and the more you can arrange things to draw out their strengths, the better this whole relationship will go.

Re: Visit:

If they are offering to come help, how is that being “unhelpful”?

Anonymous

I could fill several columns with ways helpers can be unhelpful; for your amusement, I’ll fill one tomorrow. One story a reader sent to me recently: The in-laws came to “help” after their grandchild was born, then proceeded to dote on their son and either ignore or give orders to their still-recovering daughter-in-law. Totally credible story, too, sadly.

Carolyn:

To answer your question: They are unhelpful because they have health problems, mobility issues and one is very impatient around kids. Neither cooks. Helping to them would be holding the baby, not helping around the house or running errands.

Parameters again

Got it. That does leave a few chances for helping out, though. Holding the baby, for one, is lovely for them and the baby and gives you a chance to take a hot bath. They can do laundry if the units are on the ground floor and fold it if they aren’t. They can plan, order and clean up after delivery meals, or they can reheat and clean up after meals you or others have prepared ahead of time. They can take pictures. If they have decent computer literacy, and if you aren’t set up for this already, they can check out and set up a photo-sharing system that allows them to watch their grandchild’s progress when they aren’t able to visit.

It’s not much, but each one of these gives you a break and gives them a way to matter.

Carolyn:

Thanks. Those are good suggestions. Do you think we need to be direct about not being at the house all day, every day of their visit?

Parameters again

It’s pretty off-putting, I think, to spell that out in advance — unless your spouse has the diplomacy (and spine) to say, “We are also going to want some alone time with the baby, so I’m happy to find some things you can do during those stretches, if you’d like. Sound good?”

Tomorrow: With helpers like these, who needs obstacles.

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

 
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