October 6, 2013

Motherlode: Grandparents cause stress, telling you how to parent

By KJ Dell-Antonia

(Continued from page 1)

Grandparents or even unrelated others often want to relive the intimacy and tender memories of their own early parenting and their own vanished babies, and the most obvious motivation is being around current new parents. They want to help, they want to share their own hard-earned expertise, and they want to participate. In the case of grandparents, they will (hopefully) be in their grandchildren's lives, and the parents', on a permanent basis.

And for young parents who suspect that something other than good intentions underlies the advice (like Lillith, whose mother-in-law encouraged her to let her new daughter "cry it out," only to sneak into the nursery and rock the child to sleep), some version of the same applies: Try to recognize that your parents' or in-laws' negative words probably aren't about you at all, and then find a way to listen, or a way to remove yourself from the conversation when it gets too hard. That's easier said than done, but sometimes keeping in mind that it's not about you, and it's fine to take care of yourself, is enough to make a difficult situation more bearable.

In describing how her mother made her "nutty" after her babies were born, CJ offered a reminder that we'll look back on that unsolicited advice from a very different perspective one day:

I would snap at her often in frustration, and my 3-year-old old son said to her once, "Grandma, you make mom cwazy!" which made us both feel awful. Looking back, she meant well, and I could've taken the advice and nodded until she left to go back home instead of feeling inferior or insecure as a new mother.

She gave complete unconditional love to my kids, and showered them with time, reading, trips, movies and their favorite foods. One boy loved Chinese food and the other loved pizza, so she got takeout at the two places to make each one happy for dinner.

She died 15 years ago, and is sorely missed. Like the Joni Mitchell song, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

But after all the advice and hopes about how new parents can take a breath and let the advice pass, I'd like to end with a gentle suggestion for the grandparents among us, from karendavidson61:

Hold your tongue. Write your idea down and keep it for a while. Appreciate how well they do things as new parents. Hold that tongue again.

Even as new parents try to hear the love underneath the advice, many would love it if their older generation would think twice about offering it, and consider replacing even the most well-intentioned suggestion with just some ordinary loving words instead.

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

 

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