QUESTION: I am a first-time mom who is preparing
to go back into the workforce. My son is five months old. We are fortunate
enough to be able to have the baby's paternal grandmother watch our
baby until space opens up at our chosen day care (in around six months).
Unfortunately, however, our childrearing ideas differ greatly. For example,
I believe that my baby's cries should be answered immediately; she feels
that if he isn't wet, or hungry (just fussy), he needs to "cry it out."
Jordan doesn't cry often, but this still concerns me. We sleep with
our son and my mother-in-law argues that I'm psychologically damaging
him. I understand my son's need for independent growth and encourage
it while present in the same room, and don't feel that I'm spoiling
him. How can I convince her to follow our chosen practices?
ANSWER: You may be about to enter a quagmire.
Your mother in law is an authority on rearing her own children. But
you and your husband are the parenting authorities for your child. The
stakes are high here. There is potential for conflict and competition
between the two of you that could spell trouble.
Motherhood is charged with primal feelings. It is
possible that your mother in law will feel that you are criticizing
the job she did with her own children. And you may also be vulnerable
to hurt feelings if she does not support and show respect for your
point of view.
It may be helpful to thoroughly explore your expectations
with your husband to determine whether or not it is a realistic endeavor
to use your mother in law as your primary childcare provider in the
first place. Alot may also depend on the nature of your current relationship
with your husband's mother. Do you feel the two of you have worked
out differences in the past? Is there room for varying opinions in
your interactions about other things than children?
The good news is that this is a time limited situation
from the start. Grandma knows that her place is to fill the stop gap
until Jordan's place opens up at his childcare center. As a "temporary
fill in"and she may be less likely to take offense if you ask her
to change. She may also welcome the opportunity to get to know her
grandson and be available to adjust to your needs, even if she would
not have raised her own children in the same style.
The key questions to answer in order to determine
the probability for success in this endeavor are: 1) Will your mother
in law be open to respecting your authority? and 2) Given your differences,
is she likely to be able to change enough to meet your expectations
even if you do work it out? If after talking with your husband you
both feel that your mother in law respects your authority as parents
and can defer to your parenting requirements even though she may have
a differing opinion, by all means talk with her. But do not do it
Approach her as a parental team. Her bond with her
son predates your relationship with her. She will be better able to
hear your needs and requests if they are coming through her son as
well as from you. If you have already begun this caretaking arrangement,
it is definitely your job to have this discussion as soon as possible.
Express your concerns in a respectfully gentle but firm manner.
Ask your husband to let his mother know that the
two of you very much appreciate her loving care of your son and that
you want to go over the parenting strategies and styles that you have
developed together. Establish that your goal is a consistent and smooth
transition for your child. Make this goal a shared one between the
three of you. Speak in a cooperative tone and ask for her suggestions
and feedback along the lines of your stated goal. If the discussion
begins to develop conflictual overtones simply acknowledge differences
in child rearing and bring the topic back to the main purpose of making
it the "smoothest transition" possible for your son.
During this discussion, be sure to admire the ways
she is good with your son and any "special" qualities that exist in
their relationship. She must love him to want to give of herself in
this way. Express appreciation for her generosity of spirit, but do
not shy away from giving her guidelines to follow regarding his care.
It is likely that she will respond to him and mold herself to meet
his needs in the way he has been accustomed to in your parent-child
Explain the ways your son is used to being cared
for. Do not avoid the conflicts that you know exist between how she
parented her children and your own parenting style, but do not dwell
on them. Simply accept that these are different times and different
choices. Do not invalidate her views, but do clarify your child's
needs as you see them to be true.
It is your place and your responsibility as a parent
to communicate in the best interests of your child. Do not fall short
of giving her clear directives about his care. Bring her the "tools
" she will need to help her provide the kind of care to which your
baby is accustomed. For example, if you carry your baby in a sling
or baby carrier, help her try it on and get used to it, so she can
use it if she finds it necessary.
She may be more open than you think to doing things
differently for your baby as she may quickly recognize that this is
an easier choice than attempting to change his ingrained expectations.
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