Q. My parents, who live several states away, have spent one weekend a month with us ever since our daughter was born a year ago. We encourage and enjoy these visits, but my mother wants to do things her way, no matter what we say.
She takes my daughter for a walk when we want to lay her down for her regular nap; she gives her several bottles of fruit juice each day -- even though she has her regular intake of food and formula -- and last summer she dressed her in pajamas for sleeping when it was 80 degrees.
When we object, my mother gets extremely insulted and defensive, says that she raised four children of her own and that she knows what she's doing. I don't deny that, but we have different ideas.
The last time she came, she said that she won't make such frequent visits unless we abdicate total control of our daughter during her visits. We want her to come but we don't feel this is normal or natural. What do you think, and how do we resolve this dispute?
A. You've been remarkably generous so far, it seems.
No one has the right to tell you how to rear your child or to interfere in any way, not even your mother. And this is a grandmother talking. Unless your mother thinks your child is in danger, she must let you decide when your daughter sleeps, what she eats, what she wears and how she's disciplined. Even if your mother baby-sits for you, she should still take care of your child according to your wishes, not hers.
If you gave your mother total control, even for one weekend a month, you would be abdicating your responsibility as a parent. Your daughter is counting on you and her dad to care for her and protect her and anything less would undercut the fabric of the family.
Remember, you and your husband know your daughter better than anyone else. This gives you the right -- and the duty -- to do what you think is best for her, 365 days a year.
You'll surely make mistakes -- all parents do -- and you may make more mistakes than your mother did when she was young. That doesn't matter. This is your turn on the merry-go-round.
And now to get your mother to understand. It's the only way you can continue to encourage her visits.
You probably can't change your mom if you draw a line in the dust, but you may be able to move her if you realize that grandparenthood isn't easy for all grandparents. Some take to it naturally, but others get the job before they're ready for it and some -- like your mother -- just don't know how to shift gears.
You want to try to figure out why. She may be reliving all the anxieties she felt with her first baby; she may feel like the world is passing her by; or maybe she's just trying to find her niche in your world -- a new place where she can belong.
You need to say no to her the way you'll say no to your daughter when she's a teen-ager: "I really wish I could let you." "You may be right but ... " "I'd like to say yes but I'd worry too much."
When that doesn't work, you say, "The pediatrician doesn't want the baby to change her nap schedule or to drink more than 2 ounces of juice a day or to wear pajamas in hot weather." Your mother won't agree, of course, but if you blame the problem on the doctor, she can fuss about him and still save face.
These arguments are face-saving techniques for you too, until you're ready to talk with her, quietly and gently, and tell her how you really feel. She needs to know that you think she's been a good mother, but that you want the joy of learning how to be a good mother too.
You and your husband can learn your job by watching, by reading and by listening, but basically you learn by doing, by trying and occasionally by failing. This is the way you figure out how to rear your child in your own style, so she will suit you, and you'll all grow up to suit each other.
This should be the primary goal of every parent -- a landmark to be reached, over and over again, at every stage -- even when the child is grown and her mother is growing old.
A powerful new book, "When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends" by Victoria Secunda (Delacorte, $24.95), will teach you how to set limits with your mother without offending her; how to explain yourself without accusing her; and how to bring out the best in your relationship, so you can ignore the rest.
When you reach that point, your mother may not need to break your rules and schedules so much, and you won't be so bothered when she does. That's the way it is when we really suit each other. Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.