Home for the Holidays: Being Mom in Your Mom’s House

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Nigel Bronson is an inquisitive and enthusiastic 2-year-old who likes to run and explore. His mom thinks that’s just fine; if he falls, he learns to slow down.

“With a child, it’s better they learn through experience,” explained Courtney Bronson of Charlotte. “I can say, ‘No, Nigel. Stop Nigel, don’t do that,’ but Nigel is going to do it until he learns there are consequences to it. I’d rather he learn that than to continually holler and go after him.”

But when the Bronsons visit family, the grandparents aren’t as keen on the “let him learn for himself” approach to childrearing. Both grandmothers try to stop Nigel, saying to Courtney, “Do you see what he’s doing? Stop him. He’s going to get hurt!”

How to handle questioning of a parenting practice or even unwanted advice coming from a mother or mother-in-law is a quandary many women will face as they take their kids home or visit in-laws over this holiday season.

Bronson recommends picking your battles. “If you’re already having a stressful week, or a stressful day, let them take over,” she said. “Let them do it, and that way it will save you an argument.”

Another option to placating the opinionated grandparent is to play the pediatrician card. Bronson says it doesn’t always work for her, but the idea of backing up your approach to raising your child with research studies and doctor input is suggested by many area childbirth educators.

“The more we study, the more we know,” agreed Melissa Troutman, a certified childbirth educator with Carolinas Medical Center. Bolstering your approach to parenting with the latest available information can make a big difference, explained
Troutman, a mother of one with another baby on the way. She recommends you not “slap them in the face” with the newest research, but present it as the justification for your choices.
When presented with informed opinions connecting a baby sleeping on its stomach to SIDS, for instance, what grandparent is not going to come around?

Troutman also suggests heading off conflict by regularly informing grandparents of decisions made with regard to the grandchild, providing a rationale, and giving the grandparents a chance to be involved in any way that they can. She said, “What I usually tell parents and grandparents to do, is sit down and talk about all of the changes and their new roles because they are both now going to be parents.”

Understand that while you want the leeway to make your own choices (and perhaps mistakes), the grandparents meanwhile are often worried about whether or not they will be involved enough in the baby’s life. Many grandparents worry they can’t bond with the baby if they are not holding, diapering, feeding or changing the infant.

Troutman teaches in her grandparenting class at CMC that being a constant presence, and demanding a hands-on contribution to the grandchild’s care, isn’t always the answer.

Andrea Miller, a childbirth educator with Presbyterian Hospital, encourages the moms she teaches to speak up, telling grandparents in a non-confrontational way, “This is what we’re trying now.” She encourages grandparents in her class to remember their responsibility is to reinforce confidence in their kids that they are doing a good job as parents.

When differences of opinion do arise, Miller, a mother of four, suggests, “Just take a breath.” Acknowledge there are generational differences at play. The key is to respectfully say, “That worked for you but they’ve found this might work better.” You’re going to get a lot further with that approach than if you were to say “Well, what you did was wrong because now the new research came out, and it was a horrible thing to have done.”

Don’t do anything unsafe, but always try to be honest and conciliatory, Troutman said. If it’s just a minor thing, it can pay off to take the path of least resistance. “Don’t get excited about a one-time thing, especially if they’re (or you’re) just visiting.”

Of course there is added pressure when visiting the in-laws. Troutman advises it is best to have each parent manage issues with his or her own parents: “Daddy take care of your mom, Mommy take care of your mom.”

Miller proposes sending a little praise their way as you politely turn down the latest proposal on feeding, disciplining or putting to bed your beloved baby. For instance, you might try saying, “I respect how you raised my husband, he’s wonderful . . . I hope we can do as great a job with our child.”

Also, when a helpful recommendation does come your way from Grandma (and it will), be appreciative. Miller observed that saying: “Wow, that’s a great idea,” can go a long way.

Remember, the suggestions from your mom or mother-in-law aren’t necessarily meant as criticism (even if they sound that way). It’s all part of the age-old conflict between mother and daughter as the child tries to become an autonomous adult. For the daughter, this can take on added weight, and the comments cut sharper, when they relate to the baby and parenting skills, said New York City-based pediatrician Perri Klass.

In managing the tension, draw on the greater understanding and sympathy you might gain after giving birth to your own child, said Klass, who co-authored “Every Mother is a Daughter” with her own mother. “One of the things you should learn when you have your own child is how hard a job your mother had to do.”
What’s a good way to answer the comment: “Well, we did it this way? when you were a baby and you turned out OK”? Klass proposed: “If you can say it, and you mean it, [say] ‘I think you did a wonderful job, but I don’t think it’s because of any one decision you made.’”

Listen positively, don’t interrupt, and take the time to think about any advice before getting insulted or discarding it out of hand, Klass said. “The thing about child rearing is it’s this huge job that lasts for years and years, and there’s not one specific thing you do, or habit you take up, that’s going to affect the outcome.”

Ultimately, the final piece of advice Miller offers in her classes should come in handy. She reminds both parents and grandparents, “We’re all going to make mistakes as parents. We all have, and we all will. Those are things we have to learn from, too. That’s part of becoming a confident parent.”

Jenn Q. Goddu is a freelance writer in Charlotte and is expecting her first child in February.