When you welcome a new baby into your life, you may also be welcoming a grandma or two into your guest room. With all your energy focused on the coming baby, it's easy to forget that the extended postpartum visit is in itself a rite of passage. For those new mothers who are close to their own mother and their partner's mother, the visits can be a godsend -- a time to soak up the older women's affection and experience and to take advantage of an extra set of hands.
But what if, like many of us, your relationship with the mothers in your life is more complicated? What if you don't communicate well or harbor old resentments? In other words, what if you suspect their presence is likely to add to the stress of those heady, early days rather than reduce it?
The good news is that with a little advance knowledge of the changes that both generations are going through and the likely hot spots -- which turn out to be surprisingly predictable -- you can take charge of the invitation process, set priorities, and orchestrate the visits so that they're fruitful for everyone.
I wish my husband and I had been so well prepared when we brought our first son home from the hospital and hosted, in turn, my mother and my mother-in-law. We had mixed feelings from the time we extended the invitations. On the one hand, it seemed the thing to do, and we knew we would need help. On the other hand, we weren't used to having them spend the night in our relatively small apartment and felt uneasy at the prospect of so much time together. As we feared, both women made us so uncomfortable, we felt like barricading the door when they left.
I picture my well-meaning but emotionally restrained mother sitting quietly on the sofa, trying so hard not to get in the way that she is, of course, always in the way. She makes herself useful by doing practical work such as changing diapers and washing dishes, which I do appreciate. But oh, how heartbroken I am to see that she's as passive and ill at ease as ever. I had so hoped that her first grandchild would magically break down the emotional barrier that's always been such a source of pain for me.
Exit my mother and enter my mother-in-law. She's cooking complicated gourmet meals and expertly calming our fitful son. She is clearly besotted with him. You might say she's perfect. I, however, would say she's insufferably smug. It's not that my opinion doesn't count, it's just that hers always counts a little more. Whenever I mention any current theory about colic or sleep, she grows dismissive, unwilling to acknowledge that her own methods were clearly rooted in the theories of her time.