I received a hilarious but serious text from my friend (let’s call her Clara) that read,
“Hi dear. Would love to see you and have a little happy hour. Also, I did a mother-in-law f*ck up and will need some coaching on this. xo”
I chuckled and then wondered what had gone down. You see, Clara has three adult children, one is married and has a new baby, and I knew Clara was returning from a recent visit with her new grandchild.
We met up and before I could ask what happened with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandbaby, Clara told me we would be needing a whole bottle of wine, maybe more.
During Clara’s visit, she offered to watch the baby, so the new parents could have some alone time. (Nice. So far no faux pas.) The daughter-in-law is nursing the baby and has a very set schedule on when the baby should be fed. Clara nursed her kids on demand and really didn’t understand the need for the scheduled feedings, so she said she would try to comply.
The new parents wanted the baby to be put down for a nap at a certain time. Clara did not try to meet this “demand”. She was enjoying the baby, playing with him, rolling on the floor, and being in full grandmother mode.
When the parents returned home, Clara had an “oh shit” moment. She was concerned the couple would be upset the baby wasn’t napping, but they completely overlooked that. The couple wanted to know why the baby was so bubbly, giggly, and completely enamored with Clara.
Clara’s response, “Well, I was actually playing and interacting with him.” (Oh wow, Clara, you said WHAT?)
The new parents were immedidately upset and started to tell Clara all the playful things they were doing with their new baby. The new mother, Clara’s daughter-in-law, had the most to say since she’s at home with the baby full-time.
Clara’s response, “That’s momentary play. When I observe you all, the baby is on a blanket with toys while you all are on the computer or doing something else. That’s not playing or interacting.”
When I heard that last line, my face must have gone all wick wacky because Clara looked directly at me and said, “By your reaction, I can tell I really f*cked up, huh?”
Me, “Yes you did, but this not as bad as you think, this time.”
I tried to explain the delicate nature of in-law-hood and how that dynamic can become positively stronger or painfully weaker once grandchildren enter the picture. Gen Xers are an interesting crew as they are the most educated (sometimes overly) generation of our current history. For Gen Xers, sometimes parenthood is approached as a way to get things “right” since the 70s, when most gen Gen Xers were born, were pretty much chaotic, experimental, and just nutty. Many Gen Xers intellectualize parenting and feel they can reason their way in and out of daily parenting duties. Gen Xers typically do not want to be martyr parents and often have clear lines on when they are parents and when they are just themselves. When they are devoting one-on-one play time with their kids – that should count for a lot and Gen Xers want their credit.
Clara kept sipping on her wine as I talked.
She said, “Your generation sounds way too complicated. But what should I do?”
Yes, she is right. Gen Xers are complicated and we don’t plan on making any shifts in the near future. I told her the question, from her son and daughter-in-law, was loaded and she should have kept her response simple. I asked her to think back to when she was a new mother and if she was sensitive-to-overly sensitive about comments made about her as a new mom or her parenting skills. Then I told her to imagine being in the same position with all the news, internet, message board, etc. – that also make comments about new parents.
She said, “You’re right, it is complicated and I should have kept my mouth shut.”
I told her mother-in-law’s and grandmothers are great resources for new parents. My mother-in-law was amazingly supportive of me when both my kids were born; and of course with her living with us – she continues to be a great and supportive resource.
I told Clara to remember the follow items so she does not find herself in the hot seat again – or in the near future:
- Keep it short and simple.
- Ask clarifying questions before responding to potentially loaded or controversial questions.
- Stay in your own business.
- Don’t compare (Well when I was a new mother, I would…).
- Remember your own relationship with your mother-in-law (positive and negative aspects). Then put yourself in the position of your daughter-in-law when you interact.
- When you screw up, say you’re sorry, and try better next time.
- Forgive yourself and each other.