#352: How do I get my mom to chill out about my baby? (spoiler, you probably can’t)

Hi Captain Awkward,

Congratulations! It’s a girl! And a free pass for everyone to tell you what you’re doing wrong!
Thank you so much for your wonderful column.
My parents are very loving and I have a generally good relationship with them. I see them once a week or so, and I generally enjoy spending time with them. My mother and I have opposite ways of communicating, though: she simply can’t take criticism (I know that no one enjoys criticism), and will break down when any is given to her. She is passive aggressive, and in the past when I’ve talked to her about this kind of behaviour she defends it because she thinks that “being passive aggressive is kind because you don’t have to come right out and tell someone what they’re doing that’s bothering you”. She is also a fan of the silent treatment, although less frequently now because I no longer respond to it.
I have the opposite approach: I tell people how I’m feeling immediately, but I am known for being a bit blunt sometimes. These two approaches don’t really work well together.
She also deals with tremendous self-doubt and anxiety. I’ve encouraged her to go see a therapist, and she went for one session and then stopped because she found it too painful to talk about some of the issues that weigh on her.
While I’ve generally been able to reject her manipulative behaviour, it has taken me years to recognize how her anxiety has affected me. I find it very contagious, and have worked hard not to take it on, especially in her company. It was a behaviour I learned from her when I was growing up that I’ve had to dismantle as an adult.
My sister has just had a baby, and my mother’s anxiety has reached a new level. She is constantly worried that something is wrong with the baby because she’s too loud/quiet or moving too little/too much, and she yelps when the baby gets passed around because she’s terrified that her neck won’t be supported properly, etc. It’s a constant barrage of worries. It’s hard to be around, and it’s not useful for my sister and I to tell her that everything is fine. She just doesn’t hear us. 
I’m newly pregnant now, and I know my parents will be thrilled. My husband and I wanted to wait until after the first trimester to tell our parents (another two weeks from now), and I realize that part of this is because I have a medical condition that puts me into a ‘high risk pregnancy’ category and I just don’t want to take on the anxiety around the pregnancy that my mother will thrust onto me. I also don’t want the baby to have to take on her anxiety, especially as the child gets older. I can certainly refuse to take that energy on, but my child will be subjected to it and it’s very damaging.
My husband and I feel that having some sort of conversation with her before the baby is born will be important for us, but we’re just not sure how to navigate this territory. I suspect that she will either start sobbing and stop listening, deny/justify the behaviour or end the conversation. Is there a way for me to begin the conversation that can prevent her from feeling defensive? How do I talk through this with her? Any suggestions are deeply appreciated.
Sincerely and with thanks,
Trying to keep calm
Crying means you’ve failed and your baby is angry and stupid.

Hi there, Keeping Calm! Commander Logic, here.

First of all, congratulations! And allow me to pat you on the back for keeping quiet about your pregnancy; I just recently announced my own pregnancy, and yup, we waited for the all-clear 12-13 week finish line and ultrasound before telling family and friends. (WeeLogic: hitting the stands in March 2013!) And yup, my mom was a little put out that I didn’t tell her the instant the little peestick turned color/positive/whatever your own peestick did.

I didn’t tell my mom for the same reason(ish) that you didn’t tell your mom: I didn’t want to take her through the emotional roller coaster if this pregnancy didn’t “take” AND ALSO I didn’t want her to bathe me in her own anxiety, however well meaning and loving. I had plenty of my own anxiety, thanks!

So be reassured: you’re doing everything right. And if you’d done it differently? You would also have been doing it right. Because being pregnant is just like anything else in life: you are the expert on what is right for you, so do what feels natural and makes you happiest.

Now, where your mom is concerned, I need you to take a loooong step back with me. Let’s step back so far that we’re in the past! With your grandparents! Or Aunties. Or whoever was an older-than-mom person who took up grandparently duties. How much of an effect do you feel they had on forming your worldview? I’m going to guess less than your mom. A lot less. The lesson we’re going to take from this is that your mom will PROBABLY not pass on her issues to your child with remotely the same intensity that you experienced. I say “probably” because I can’t see the future, but I’m pretty confident that once-weekly visits or even daily baby-sitting in the early years won’t have as much of an effect as you fear.

How your mom thinks you’re bathing the baby.

Let’s step forward to the present and how mom’s acting with your niece. While her anxiety is super annoying to the adults right now, it’s really not having much of an effect on the baby. Babies don’t really give a shit. Toddlers either. UNLESS she is needlessly interrupting sleep, feeding, or other baby procedures. Then it’s MamaBear vs. GMaBear times, and until that is your personal child being prodded, you need to step away and out of that fight. It’s for your sister to have, and then vent to you about. You two are lucky to have each other to vent to!

But what you’re most concerned about is the conversation you feel percolating around your relationship between you, your mom, and your fetus, and to a certain extent your partner. But mostly the people connected by uteri, so I’m going to focus on that.

What this is really about at the core is loss of control. Your mom was once the boss of you, when you were a child. She is no longer the boss of you. You are the boss of you. And when you have your baby, you will be the boss of that baby until it can be its own boss. BUT LETTING GO IS SO HARD. For many reasons, including love and attachment, but also because you get comfortable in the role of Boss of Everyone and having a child become their own boss can feel like a diminishment of some kind to a parent. Plus, nothing says “I’m my own boss now” quite so strongly as having your own children. So your mom is consciously or subconsciously trying to assert her bosshood, and it’s not going well because hey! She did a great job raising her girls to be their own bosses. Too good a job, in her (subconscious?) opinion. Now you might not need her. THEN SHE WILL BE USELESS. Cue the passive aggressiveness, wailing, gnashing of teeth.

And I understand how much you want to – in turn – control your mom’s anxiety. SOMEONE has to control it, and if she won’t, then by golly her logical daughter ought to! Right? Wrong. You cannot be the boss of your mom. You can’t alleviate her anxiety, so I don’t think you should try. Do not carry that burden. I think you should try to let her anxious comments wash over you like a faintly acidic ocean breeze, then vent to your sister about OMG that last thing mom said, can you believe? Let her be the person she is, even if that person gets on your last nerve. That’s stuff for you to hash out, between yourself and the series of nerves between her and your last one. Practice the following sayings:
“Huh. Ok.”
“Everything is normal, but thank you.”
“This seems to make [baby] happy, so we’ll keep doing this.”
“I appreciate the offer, but we’re okay like this.”
“Oh, mom, I don’t want to worry you about that. It’s nothing.”

That doesn’t mean let her get away with things that are actively harmful, like poking sleeping babies, feeding them dubious “herbal” shakes, shaking them to “encourage vigor,” or my personal favorite, while babysitting scheduling surreptitious screenings for rare diseases. Do not allow that business by any means. But if she’s just hectoring people to pay more attention to the baby, that’s totally normal first-time grandma behavior.

“Mom, I KNOW not to seal the baby in Tupperware. Stop putting these stickers on everything.”

So let’s talk about what kind of prenatal talk you want to have with your mom. If you want her to be less anxious, I’m sorry to say that you will not get your wish (99.999% chance of fail). But what you both seem to need is some clarity about how she sees you and her own place in your growing family.  So DON’T bring your partner in on this. Have a lunch, just the two of you, where you frame it as “family history time.” Our moms are enigmas. They are so intimately intertwined with us, but so unknown, too. My mom has so much history that I both shared and know almost nothing about, since I was an infant or child at the time. I bet your mom is the same. Maybe she’s worried about someone dropping the baby because she dropped her cousin once. Or maybe she had a miscarriage that she never told anyone about. Maybe HER mom messed her up but good. I don’t know, maybe her mom wasn’t there for her at all, so she’s trying to make up for what she perceives as something she missed. But I am not a therapist! And neither are you (er, right?).

So instead of telling her to tone down her anxiety – which is the job of a professional – just settle in and start asking questions. This is not a conversation titled “Mom, be less anxious” it’s about “Being pregnant is weird and different for everyone, and I need your help to make it easier for me.” This conversation may not “work.” This conversation may just be the first of several on this theme. But the goal is to find out what you both need from each other. Prepare for evasions (“that’s so personal!” and “what do you think I felt?” do not be dissuaded) and prepare to listen. A LOT:
– What was it like for you when you first had [first born kid in your family]? Did you have a lot of support? What was that support like (i.e. did your mom drive you up a wall? how?)?
– Was it different when you had more than one kid? How?
– Did anyone ever make you feel like a bad mom or pregnant person? How? What did you do about it?
– You raised me and [sibling(s)] into such independent people! Does that make you proud? How did you do it?
– What was your biggest fear for me and [sibling(s)] growing up?
– Do you see anything of your personality in me? Good things? Bad things? (be prepared for this answer to shock the hell out of you – either in recognition or outright lunacy)
– (Here’s the doozy and your finale.) Do you think I’ll be a good mother?

If she says “no” to your final question, then that is actually on her for not seeing the amazing, thoughtful woman who wrote in here today. She may try to evade with “How could you ask me that?” but don’t let her turn it around on you. You don’t need her to know what you think (you’re 100% going to rock this mom thing), you need to know what SHE thinks. If she says “no” or “maybe” you are hereby allowed to discredit any mothering advice, hectoring, or insisting she bestows upon you. If she says “yes” then you have a bulletproof answer if she’s ever anxious about your baby. “Mom, you already raised a good mother, so I’m sure you know I’m raising my baby right.”

TO RECAP with your mantras:
1 – You are the expert on you and your fetus and baby, and ur doin it rite.
2 – Babies don’t really give a shit.
3 – “Thanks but this is working fine.”
4 – “You raised a good mother, so please let me do it my way.”

Keep calm, and carry on. You’re going to be a wonderful mother.

Commander Logic OUT.

76 thoughts on “#352: How do I get my mom to chill out about my baby? (spoiler, you probably can’t)

  1. Well….my ex-MIL was horrible when my daughter was born. She told me to my face, and everyone else far and wide, that I would never be a good mother, and that I did everything wrong, in spite of what the pediatrician told me.

    I cut her out of anything to do with my child. During the divorce, she tried to tell me that she was GOING to be raising my child. I said, “We’ll see,” documented everything she said, and managed to get any time that she might have had with my child severely limited.

    LW, this is a worst-case scenario. With your mother, you may end up doing what my DH (my second husband, and the actual DAD to my child, and that’s a situation we won’t touch right now, thanks) did, he told his mother rather bluntly to mind her own damn business, that we weren’t children, and that our parenting decisions were not up for discussion. She was upset, yes. She wailed to the rest of the family, yes. We did not care. Passive-aggressive commentary about how we were doing everything WRONG because we didn’t do it exactly like she did (uh, no thanks, that’s called child neglect, and we’re not doing that) was not going to be welcomed, and not going to be tolerated.

    Boundaries are your friend. Cultivate them. Use them without compunction at who they are directed towards. When Mom starts up, tell her, “If all you are going to do is be critical of our parenting decisions, we are leaving.” And leave. Begin this journey of parenthood as you mean to go on, which means, from your letter, you do not want to put up with this nonsense. Either your mother will get the hint that you will not tolerate her crap, or you will see her less, which is HER loss.

    1. I agree with this. Commander Logic is totally right and gives amazing advice, Katyisbutthurt also is totally right and gives amazing advice.

    2. Wow! Your ex-MIL was a piece of work, and bravo to you! While I think MILs are a whole other kettle of fish from one’s own mom, passive-aggression (and aggressive-aggression) is a universal language.

      1. Thanks, Commander! She’s a horrible, horrible person. She went from telling me that I got myself pregnant (I fail to understand how I managed to accomplish that, there was no Angel of the Lord involved, thanks) with some (insert horrible racist slur against black people here) baby that wasn’t HER son’s…..to telling me that I was not allowed to breastfeed, and that she was GOING to take my baby where she wanted to take her, and I had no say in the matter.

        Keep in mind, I was 18 and he was 26 when we got married, I was his second wife, and we were 19 and 27 when the baby was born.

        I flat out told her, and him, that no, they were not going to tell me I was not allowed to breastfeed, or that she was going to take my child somewhere without me and that I had no say in the matter. That I was the mother here, and my word was going to be law, and challenging me on this would lead to some serious consequences. Turns out, after divorcing the useless ass, and legally putting restrictions on his mother, they both lost interest, especially when the baby and I moved across the country with my then-new husband. Out of sight, out of mind for controlling, abusive people. They hadn’t been allowed to interfere with our new life, so they no longer had interest.

        On a surprising note, when we moved back here, when the baby was fifteen, the day after we arrived, the evil bitch showed up at my mother’s house, tried getting confrontational with me in order to provoke a physical assault from me (didn’t work), and tried to get my daughter to have a relationship with her. The baby looked that woman in the eye, and said, “I don’t think so. You trained my mother’s ex-husband to be the jerk that he is. You are a problem, you’ve never been nice to my mother, and you’ve never been nice to me without an ulterior motive that usually equates to using me to hurt her. I don’t want a relationship with you, not now, not ever, and you need to get off my Grandma’s property. Don’t try contacting me.”

        Evil Bitch was SHOCKED. She thought that she’d be able to con my daughter into having a relationship with her, so she could then take my daughter to visit her biological father, who had zero interest in her, had refused to have any sort of contact with her, let alone pay his paltry child support ($65 per MONTH), in nine years. Unfortunately for her, my daughter is smarter than she is.

    3. Wow, I’m amazed at how brave and on top of your shit you are/were!

      And I agree that maybe this is a good time for LW to not just ask questions but tell her mom to step off, if she feels that mom is being overbearing. New baby = family dynamics changing, whether or not grandma is being difficult. It will probably have to be time for adjusted expectations and new boundaries with everyone in the family, since they have to figure out how they all relate to the baby and baby-raising. A new boundary for LW and her mom could be that the LW has enough of her own anxiety being a new mom, and doesn’t want to be the sounding board for any of her own mother’s anxieties.

  2. LW, your mom and my mom could be one and the same! Except although my sister has a 6 month old, my uterus is (thankfully) unoccupied. I do a better job of ignoring my mom than my sister does, but that’s really all I’ve found that works. She won’t go to therapy and her anxiety is simply increasing as the years go by. It’s annoying, because I’m otherwise close to my mother, but I really have to work hard to make sure she doesn’t put her anxiety on me.

  3. My MIL is like this, too, so I can relate somewhat. Her son and I are still together, and luckily, he backs me up 100%, so I am lucky.

    The thing about being a mom is there will ALWAYS be someone who thinks you aren’t doing it right. My own mom is a lot more nervous and hovering and worried about pervs, and thinks I allow my son too much freedom (one time I let him go to the kid’s book section by himself in Barnes and Noble while I browsed another section). My stepmother, a retired teacher, thinks I don’t read enough to my son, should join the PTA, and disapproves of the pants with the holes in the knees that I let him wear. A breast-feeding co-sleeping friend of mine once thought my bottle feeding and separate sleeping was bad (let me know in a very round-about, passive way, but still). A neighbor, whose daughter has a lot of allergies and ailments, has made noises my way once about how much candy and soda my son might get to have. My Catholic grandmother is still aghast that I’ve never baptized my son.

    I don’t judge any of these people, though. They are different than I, but one thing I’ve learned is that barring abuse, whatever you do, most kids will turn out fine. However, depending on how vocal and negative they get, I decide how much time they get to spend with my son. Most of the time, we are able to agree to disagree, but if they get really toxic, I have the veto power.

  4. Congratulations on your pregnancy! And be happy about the fact that your child will be your mother’s SECOND grandchild, even if the first didn’t have a huge head start! I had my mom’s first, and it was hard: I got to be the one who broke her in to all the changes in child-rearing since she raised me and my siblings. I got questions like “when can I take her out of the car seat?” (The answer being, of course, “when the car pulls into the driveway and STOPS!”) My mom was of the generation that thought it was vital to “get the baby on a schedule” as soon as possible and found the whole breastfeed-on-demand thing horrifyingly unstructured/overindulgent/disturbing. Lord, I can’t remember all the things we did that she did not agree with! (The infant in question is now 16, so I’ve had some time to forget).

    Part of what was so hard about it was that when you’re a first-time parent your self-confidence is pretty fragile. I remember my panic when I realized the hospital intended to discharge me and my daughter that morning and I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO TAKE CARE OF A BABY!!!! (I never babysat much and didn’t grow up around a lot of younger kids). It seemed downright irresponsible to hand a helpless infant over to a couple of know-nothings like me and my husband! And the kid didn’t even even come with an instruction manual!! So having my mom come along and emphasize my know-nothingness as I was gradually feeling my way as a mom was not precisely helpful.

    To be honest, your mom sounds much worse, as new-grandmother hovering and fretting is being exacerbated by Anxiety. On the other hand, at least you have your sister to present a united front with. My siblings just drafted years later.

    The point is, EVERY new parent does a bunch of stuff that their parents think qualifies as Doing It All Wrong. What helps most is that as you gain experience and display increasing competence and confidence, her anticipation of imminent disaster should slack off somewhat, and as you gain confidence that you’re doing a good job the criticism starts to roll off.

    I would add to the questions Commander Logic has suggested to your pre-birth interview, to emphasize that parents all learn on the job:
    – How did you learn what to do? I assume it was mostly trial and error?
    – Is there anything you didn’t know when [her first child] was born that you think I need to know? Any big mistakes you can spare me, or pitfalls you can tell me about?

    To your list of mantras, I would add:
    – Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll keep that in mind.
    – Every child is different. We have to do what works best for [baby].
    – There are lots of right ways to do X. Just because we’re doing things a little differently from the way you did doesn’t mean we’re saying your way was wrong — just that this is what’s right for our family.
    – We’ve talked to our pediatrician about this, and he/she says we’re right on track.

    To your strategies:
    – Mom, I know you mean well but you’re stressing me/everybody out. Unless you see an imminent threat of death or life-altering injury, I need you to let it go.

    Ironically, my mom has been holding me and my family up to my siblings for years now as exemplars of how to do it right and the awesome results you get when you do. Which irritates us all a bit (me ’cause I remember what she was like when my first was wee, my siblings because it’s just annoying; they have to find what works for them, too). But in its way, that’s a happy ending, right?

    1. Great additional questions! I mostly just wanted to get the conversational ball rolling for LW (who should feel free to go off “script” and ask any questions along these lines that come naturally!), and these are extremely valuable.

      It IS a happy ending, and you’re not only a great parent, you’re a great daughter AND sibling. Rock on!

  5. My mom is extremely anxious, as a mother, as a grandmother, just as a person in general. And she does end up frequently questioning how I behave with my daughter — always out of honest concern rather than a desire to undermine me, but it is still annoying. What works for me is to calmly tell her, “I know what I’m doing,” because she would never say something as harsh as “No you don’t” in response, so she sort of has no choice but to back down.

    And it seems to be working, mostly. She’s commented on how I’m a much more relaxed parent than she was, and says that she thinks it’s a good thing I’m like that. The only area where we have a lot of conflict these days is around food, because my mom is obsessed with choking and thinks I always give my daughter dangerously big bits of food. I just do my best to stay calm and repeat, “It’s fine, she’s fine,” usually many times per meal. It does help that my dad backs me up in this.

    1. What works for me is to calmly tell her, “I know what I’m doing,”

      This is great because it’s not specific. People with anxiety can always find a problem with your solution, and then find a problem with your solution to that, and so on ad infinitum. (“Does she have a fever?” “Her forehead isn’t hot.” “Don’t you think you should take her temperature?” “OK, the thermometer says 98.6.” “That thermometer is old. What if it’s broken? What if they’re all broken? What if all our medication has expired? We should buy all new everything. What if all the medication at the drugstore has expired too?”)

      The spouse has an anxiety disorder, and he says when he’s in the grips of it, it’s a lot more comforting to hear, “I’m taking care of this so you don’t have to worry,” than to hear the details.

      Of course, what works better still is to say, “You know that’s just what the butterfly of anxiety happens to have landed on this morning, right?” — but that requires a certain level of self-knowledge on the part of the anxious person.

  6. Whatever else, remember that this is YOUR child, not your mother’s child. She may pull something about her grand baby — I have seen people get really possessive! But it’s your baby.

    I don’t have children, but my best friend does. I babysit every week. Sometime in the first child’s first year, I found myself being overly possessive and protective against the child’s father. He is a great dad! He just wasn’t ever around when I was taking care of the baby, and I also heard some gripes from the mother about him, as best friends do.

    I checked myself right quick, and apologized, and try really carefully not to do it anymore. I still feel it sometimes because I love those children so damn much! When I blow it, I try to make it a learning example for the older kid if I can.

    People who take care of babies get really strong attachments that are not sensible or appropriate sometimes. Not everyone will catch themselves, or believe that they are doing it.

    I suggest always provide a united front with your spouse and any other caregivers towards your mom. Don’t talk about that dumb but funny thing your partner did or complain about the nanny. You can have a single Story about YOUR baby. Then, you can invite her into the story, as long as she stays on the same page. If she won’t or can’t keep to what you have laid out, then supervised and short visits are the result.

  7. “Our moms are enigmas. They are so intimately intertwined with us, but so unknown, too.”

    CL, I got a lump in my throat reading this oh-so-deeply-true sentence. My mom is now my only surviving parent, and it’s startling to think about how much I do AND how much I don’t know about her — especially knowing that her childhood included a lot more domestic trauma than mine did, which, while she won’t entirely refuse to talk about it, we’ve never exactly delved deeply into (thankfully my grandma on a couple of occasions before she died was more willing to do so).

    Her anxiety in my direction — I’m an only child — can be overwhelming at times, and was especially so during a recent period where we went through a lot of family loss. But it actually feels very freeing to remember that some, even most, of it is based in things she experienced as a tiny kid, when I wasn’t even a twinkle in anybody’s eye. When I can make myself remember this, I can detach a little bit and respond with rationality. (Yeah, this also takes trial and error.)

    LW, seems to me that your awareness of how your mom is, and your practice in navigating it with calm and good humor, will be a powerful tool for you as you begin your own parental journey …

  8. Congrats LW & the Logics!

    My mother sounds a lot like yours. She’s extremely anxious and very prone to passive-aggressive nonsense and considers my tendency to actually say what my problem is to be “causing trouble” (because obviously the problem is that I am making a fuss, not that, for example, my father is using racist slurs about my husband).

    The thing I will say is that, yes, you can probably go far with Commander Logic’s suggestions — I wish I’d had them when pregnant the first time, because I’ve fumbled my way into using some of them on my own and they’ve helped a lot. They don’t solve everything with my mother (and I’ll be using the ones I haven’t tried out yet, believe you me), but they take a lot of the teeth out of her behavior.

    The times when they don’t work are the worst, though. I don’t know how your mother is, but at this point I have to be pretty extreme when mine crosses clearly-stated boundaries. Last time I was pregnant, my mom decided to bring up [disturbing as hell horrible terrible criminal act against babies]. When I asked her to stop talking about it, she told me that a) I brought it up (I didn’t) and b) she didn’t think *I* was going to do it. I asked her to stop anyway, and she didn’t. I took a deep breath and started to scream. Just…scream. Loudly, for about 10 seconds, wordlessly, into the phone. Then I hung up.

    I can’t say I recommend it, exactly, but she was remarkably fucking respectful the next time I asked her to drop a topic.

    1. Is it bad if the screaming bit made me laugh out loud? Or that (even without kids in the mix) I really want to try that sometime with my boundary-overstepping mother in law? :p

      1. In a lot of ways it was just doing out loud what I do a lot of the time in my head. 🙂

        Maturity and some years of therapy have helped me convert some of my aggressive boundary-policing into Using My Words, but sometimes life decides to remind me why my boundary-policing got so aggressive in the first place.

      1. It was the only thing I can think of at the time, and remarkably satisfying. Not without some fallout, of course, but more from my refusal to apologize for doing it than from doing it in the first place.

  9. When people really, really want to be treated passive-aggressively — when they actually think it’s kinder and behave accordingly — sometimes there can be reasonable ways to be, sort of, passive-assertive. “Passive-assertive” would be different to “passive-aggressive” in that you’d be trying to keep your own boundaries and decisions in a passive way, rather than trying to hurt or criticize another person in a passive way. A good example would be responding to unwanted advice by saying “thanks for your input” and then going off and doing your own thing. Another example is cutting a passive(-aggressive) person off before they can tell you what to do by politely getting your ideas in first and then letting them decide whether they’d like to disagree with you.

    When I do this sort of thing, I usually feel bad that I’m not confronting the other person directly. If somebody behaved “passive-assertively” to me all the time, I’d find it slightly annoying, at least until I got used to translating it, and I might be insulted that the other person didn’t see fit to tell me directly. But there really are some people who seem to go out of their way to avoid confrontation, to the point where I have to conclude that this sort of behavior is how they want to be treated. So I figure that’s on them and I go ahead and do it.

    1. Interesting way of looking at it, and I think you may be onto something. There’s kind of a range of ways of being kind and assertive, and some ways feel better or worse to different people.

  10. I have two kids, and my mother-in-law often felt I was doing everything wrong because she’d done everything differently: when my husband was born, babies slept on their stomachs and were fed pureed food from an amazingly young age (and cheap formula was made from tinned milk mixed with corn syrup or something). If possible, could your mother read the same baby-care books that you are? Especially if you’re going to do something that you know she’ll be anxious about (using a baby sling/carrier, breastfeeding, co-sleeping), prepare her beforehand by making sure she has good information (though if you and your sister will have different parenting styles, for example, she can’t breastfeed but you want to, it’s important to emphasize that *both* are correct).

    When my children were older, I tried to fill them in on background that they might not have understood (“Grandma said that eating ice cream was bad for you because she didn’t understand that you don’t eat it every day, that it was a special snack because we went out”).

  11. A small warning is in order, I feel. Like Commander Logic said, the once-weekly visits aren’t enough to infect the kid with gramma’s anxiety…but if you’re all living in the same house, it may take on a different dynamic. When I was nine, my grandmother moved in with us for about seven years and (as I came to realize later) was unhealthily fixated on my mother’s well being. When mom wasn’t around she’d feed us horror stories that, if me and my siblings didn’t behave, she’d have a nervous breakdown and be taken away to an institution. As the eldest, I was hit hard by this and in fits of panic tried to be a secondary (and very unwelcome) mother to my siblings to keep this from happening. When I finally told my mom this (after going into counseling in college) she was shocked and appalled at what her mother had done to me. So, if your mother is going to actually live with you and your kids and have these issues be really, REALLY sure you know what’s going on when you’re not around.

    1. Wow that’s unbelievably awful.

      The flipside is, of course, that the things that upset and annoy you may not annoy your child(ren). My mother and grandmother are very different personalities, so they clash sometimes. But I am incredibly close to my grandmother and literally cannot imagine having grown up without her. It was lucky my mother really allowed that to flourish from when I was little – and that she recognised my experiences with my grandparents were quite independent of hers in a lot of ways.

    2. Man, that sounds awful! I’m not saying that Grandmothers (or Aunties or whoever) have NO effect on their charges, just that it’s (USUALLY) not as fundamental as the effect moms have. It also sounds like your experience of gramma’s anxiety manifested differently from how your mom experienced it, so maybe she didn’t see the warning signs because she didn’t see the ones she expected. I’m glad you got help and that your mom knows now. It can’t change the past, but hopefully your relationship can recover. Also, ALL the jedi hugs for past you!

      1. Alas, my grandmother didn’t really own up to this. Managed to not let it taint her remaining time with us (she died about 8 years ago), but I wish that just once she could have seen what she was doing from another POV. Screwed up mother/daughter dynamics seem to go back 4 generations in my maternal line. Apparently when mom refused to follow the script, grandmother tried to rope the next generation into it. Think we’ve managed to break the chain now, thank God!

        1. Grandmas, man. My mom has her own issues, but her mom’s favorite tactic was poison-pen letters. When I was maybe 12, Grandma tried one on me, and sent me into a panicked, agonized tizzy of trying to organize my sibs to do A Thing that Grandma said only horrible children who didn’t respect or love their mothers didn’t do. (A Thing my mother had repeatedly said she did not want, which Grandma claimed was just modesty and self-sacrifice and how dare we not honor it by doing The Thing anyway.)

          Mom noticed my freakout and asked about it, and I tearfully confessed to her about Grandma’s letter. “oh hell no,” said mom, and picked up the phone. The following conversation with her mother featured a lot of “how dare you involve my children” and “don’t you ever do this again”, and then mom sat down all of my sibs and told us that sometimes Grandma wrote nasty notes to people, and if they got a nasty note from Grandma, even if it said not to tell Mom about it, tell her at once.

          My mom is a hardcore Don’t Make A Fuss type, and so this incident stands out for how amazingly clear and firm she was in her fuss-making. I don’t think I’ve seen it from her before or since; her mom trying to loop her children into the game must’ve struck a chord.

  12. “Our moms are enigmas. They are so intimately intertwined with us, but so unknown, too.” I lost my Mom in 2007, it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that we became truly close. I asked her to tell me the story of her life, but I thought I had time to learn more about how she grew up, the things that shaped her. I learned much of her life but I also know so little, in fact she left me a jewelry box and I’ve no idea what most of the pieces meant to her. It makes me sad that I will never know about many major aspects of my Mom’s life, I waited too long to talk about her past in any depth. I can say that any time I asked her about different life experiences it made us feel closer and I in turn would share something about me I’d never done before. It’s amazing how much alike we were when in my younger years we were so at odds and saw each other so differently.

    LW, you said your Mom couldn’t deal with therapy, I wonder if it’s because she perceives a stigma or is just unable to talk to a stranger and didn’t give it enough time to feel like the therapist was not a stranger. Maybe at this point in your life/age she can talk to you honestly and you to her? Can you ask her why does X bother you/make you anxious? Or what it was like growing up, what is her very first memory? What smell makes her feel best and why? What was the hardest parts? I don’t know, I asked my Mom to tell me her story and that did not work, it made her self conscious so we just did segments. Not sure this would help you or not.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss, love, and thank you for sharing about your Mom. There is never enough time to know someone fully, but it sounds like you had a beautiful relationship with her in the time you had.

  13. (Here’s the doozy and your finale.) Do you think I’ll be a good mother?

    If she says “no” to your final question, then that is actually on her for not seeing the amazing, thoughtful woman who wrote in here today.

    Depending on how the LW’s mother is constituted, this can be where the rubber hits the road.

    For example, my mother genuinely convinced herself–with the help of an evil and unprofessional “therapist”–that my sister was objectively a bad parent, and that it was therefore a moral imperative for her and my father to impose their will upon my sister through a pattern of manipulation and emotional abuse.

    It got so bad, that a few years ago it eventually led to total estrangement of my sister and her kids from my parents. To this day, they claim to be “concerned” for their grandchildren’s well-being because my sister is “sick” and “needs help”.

    In reality, my sister is a great mom, and her kids are happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. And my sister clearly made the correct decision that the only way to enforce a reasonable boundary was to completely sever relations with my parents.

    (Not at all saying that the LW’s mom is likely to be anywhere near this extreme, just that it can happen in some families.)

  14. You might gift your mom with a copy of “Mommy Knows Worst” by James Lileks – http://tinyurl.com/955kou8 , along with a more current mother’s advice tome.

    MKW is completely hilarious, while simultaneously being horrifying and making you wonder how any of us raised on this mix of old-wives-tales, mistaken medical research and downright myth survived.

    What it could lead to, though, is a frank discussion of “Mom, you were raised on this. Things are different now. I’m going to be a different mom than you were, but I will be a good mom, so try to relax and enjoy all the great things about being a grandparent.”

    You might also consider telling her you’ll need her help, but you’ll be very clear about asking *when* you need and for exactly *what* you need. Such as, “Mom, could you pick her up if she cries while I get the first shower I’ve had in three days?” Then if she starts on “don’t pick them up every time, or they’ll get spoiled” you can say, “Mom, you’re not HELPING.” It’s a great way to set your boundaries. (FWIW, I was a “pick them up every time they cry” mom, and a less spoiled child never existed. He’s a very secure adult now, too)

    My mother was actually really helpful when I had my son. She too told me I was more relaxed than she had been, and it was clearly better for my son. (I read my baby-book, it could have come straight out of Lileks!) Her worst fault was telling me every time he fussed that he was teething. And you know what? After about six months, she was right! 😉

  15. I have a wee one (14 months) at home and my mom lives downstairs. Just today she told me that she was talking to a woman she met on the beach who just happened to be a pediatric nurse who never heard in all of her educated years of a baby not transitioning to cow’s milk after formula and I should talk to a dietician and *not* listen to my pediatrician who told me that if I never put her on cow’s milk he’d be fine with that. Whew, THAT was a long sentence. This nurse then told my mother that maybe the reason my kid isn’t walking yet is that her muscles aren’t developing because she’s not getting enough fat because I don’t give her cow’s milk. Mmmm hmmm. This is because my mother can’t understand why I choose not to give my kid whole milk and instead feed her the fats she needs and give her almond milk and water to drink as per, you know, my kid’s doctor.

    This is not a tangental rant – this is just what it’s like for me to have a mom who wants some control she doesn’t have, needs and or wants to still be the boss of me (an adult), feels anxious that something outside of her field of knowledge is going on in my house, and exhibits passive aggressive (but I do it because I care! I love you!) tendencies. And you know what? I’ve made the space where that it is all OK because I filter what I tell her and what what she tells me. I know she means well and that she loves me.

    I wish you the best. She will likely not change her behavior but you can try and change your reactions to her.

  16. Being in the process of getting pregnant (there, I have finally said it in a public place), this is somewhat timely, and thank you for this answer and all the comments!

    I am so so amazingly glad that I’ll be the last of my siblings to procreate, if we manage it, and that my mother (for allll the other issues we have) has already said she’s sure I’ll be a good mother.

    Possibly amusingly relevant: http://survivingtheworld.net/Lesson1516.html

  17. Our local hospital offers baby CPR and safety classes. We asked my parents to take a class and I think this helped reduce some of their anxieties. I also loaned my mom the baby care books that I liked, it is amazing what has changed in 35 years. Getting them on the same page as us really helped.

    Finally if mom ( grandma) is getting really off the charts anxiety wise, you might suggest she skip the therapist and go directly to her doctor to discuss it. If she learns to treat it as a medical sypmtom that might feel better to her than a psychological issue.

    And I second seriously asking her if there’s any specific traumatised baby stories in her past. that might help everyone get a little perspective. Congratualtions, and good luck.

  18. Congrats Commander Logic and LW! Babies are wonderful!

    A few things that I’ve found useful since having my daughter last year:

    – Make a supportive community for yourself of other mothers. Start before you have your baby. They don’t have to be mothers who are doing everything exactly as you’re doing it (because needless to say you’ll never find them), but mothers who are respectful of your parenting decisions, who are there if you need someone to rant to on a bad day. Ones who live nearby are especially awesome, but the internet can be good too. I found there were different types of mum groups – there are ones with a kind of competitive vibe where it was all about whose baby was sleeping through the night first or whatever, where it’s easy to walk away feeling like crap (seriously, avoid those ones like the plague). But I’ve also had amazing experiences hanging out with mums who are honest and supportive, when I’ve walked away feeling empowered and happy about my parenting and my daughter and life in general. It might take a while to find the right people, but seriously, don’t give up until you find them. They’ll be out there. And they’ll provide an excellent place to go when your own mother is driving you crazy. (Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve met some awesomely witty feminist mamas through la leche league.)

    – Trust your instincts. Don’t let your mother, (or anyone else for that matter) make you feel like you’re doing it wrong. My favourite piece of parenting advice that anyone has ever given me is ‘if it’s not a problem for you, it’s not a problem.’

    – You don’t have to engage with paranoia. We hang out somewhere down the alternative/attachment/crunchy/whatever end of the parenting spectrum, and a lot of what we do is new to my mother in law. MIL is a notoriously anxious personality who has a need to voice every single worrying scenario that occurs to her. While she does her best to be supportive, we’ve still had a few conversations which have veered into OMG DEAD BABY! territory where I’ve ended up politely explaining the research behind home birth or co-sleeping or whatever only to end up hit by yet more waves of OMG DEAD BABY!, because that’s how MIL’s anxiety operates. No matter how reasonable the facts are, she’ll come up with more facts that support whatever scary scenario she’s obsessing over. And then I end up feeling resentful and grumpy because god knows I’ve spent enough of my life dealing my own anxiety without having to deal with hers too. Last week I finally realised that if I try to talk MIL down, I’m just feeding it. I’m far better to say, “Hey, that’s an upsetting and incredibly unlikely scenario, I don’t think it’s necessary to go there.” And then change the subject as fast as possible. (I haven’t had a chance to try this yet though, so I’ll have to get back to you on how it goes.)

    Have to go now, because my own baby has woken up. All the best!

    1. Thanks, badcrumble!

      And yup, if there’s one kernel to get out of this it’s “If it’s not a problem for us, it’s not a problem” and all it’s relative phrases. “We’re doing what works for us” “Every baby is different” etc.

      Also, WORD to having sympathetic moms (or non-moms who are cool!) to lean on. I’m very lucky to have a bunch of lady friends who will listen to me rant and provide advice in a “this is what I think, but who the hell knows” way.

      Say hi to WeeCrumble!

  19. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in my own relationships is that “You’re doing it wrong!” and “You’re not doing it my way!” are two completely and totally different things and should be acknowledged as such. I find that it’s helpful in dealing with my own mother (who is lovely, but has strong opinions on these things) to say “Mom, I know you didn’t handle things this way, but everyone is safe and happy and this works for us.” You can’t force someone to acknowledge the difference between wrong and not my way, but you can point it out.

    (You can also read this really wonderful article from McSweeney’s about unsolicited advice on child-rearing, which may not be applicable to your current situation, but should provide solace later.) http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/hello-stranger-on-the-street-could-you-please-tell-me-how-to-take-care-of-my-baby

    1. “You’re doing it wrong!” and “You’re not doing it my way!” are two completely and totally different things YES YES ALL OF THIS FOREVER.

      Holding the baby by its foot = wrong
      Holding the baby on your right side = fine

  20. Congratulations, LW and Commander!

    LW, every single ancestor of yours has survived babyhood. Not only that, but they went on to grow, to mate, and to raise children – and they did such a good job at that, their own children had children! And those ancestors spent a great deal of time under anxiety-inducing conditions, like fires, famines, wars, struggles, and very bad parenting decisions. While there were doubtless individuals who cracked under the strain, and doubtless very bad parents and unattractive babies along the way, your chain of mothers is unbroken, and it led to you, calm and logical.

    At best, we’re only two hundred years out from a time when American pioneer women knew that Good Mothering consisted of forcibly strapping their toddlers to boards for the entire day. If your grandparents had her after WWII, your mother probably grew up on frozen processed foods, because folks raised during the Depression believed that only poor people would feed their children filthy organic vegetables or identifiable meats. If she was raised in the 50’s-60’s, her parents thought it the height of good parenting to feed her canned food from lead-lined tins, and they actually thought Dr Spock was valuable. It might be interesting for you to learn about how your mother’s era informed her decisions and anxieties. When she was raising you, it was considered OMGWTFBBQDANGEROUS to EVER let a baby lay on its back – it was the HEIGHT of NEGLECT to let a baby lay on its back – but now we know that letting a baby lay on its front contributes to crib death, and babies are placed on their backs, to the consternation and fear of the previous generation. When she was pregnant with you, your mother probably ate liver to make you healthy – now you can’t eat liver, because it’ll make your baby sick.

    So you’ve got a fine, long family history of Knowing What To Do. Your family tradition? It is SUCCESS. Your legacy? MOTHERHOOD.

    And it cannot be stressed enough: Babies don’t give a shit.

    1. Yup, my own father, back in the 50s, was fed as an infant on sweetened condensed milk (the cooking kind!) mixed with vitamin drops because they had nothing else and my grandma couldn’t breastfeed. And he’s alive and pretty much has a gifted IQ, if not genius.

      Currently cousins of mine have multiple small babies and there’s some friction over all the stuff they fret about on Facebook sometimes ie THIS vs THAT. Now that my son is almost 8 I just want to shake these women sometimes and say that, for the most part, all this stuff they are so anxious about won’t really matter in a few years and ALL their kids are going to be happy and FINE, because even with their different methods they are all loving and GOOD moms. My own son’s infancy seems like just an exhausted blur and HE certainly doesn’t remember or care, and this gets more true the older he gets. And like elodieunderglass says, “common wisdom” on raising children seems to change every few years!

      Do what works for you and your family. If a piece of “common wisdom” doesn’t work for you or stresses you out, by all means change it up! People will sometimes judge no matter what you do, but at the end of the day you are the one who has to live in your family and raise your kids.

      1. Oh my god, sweetened condensed milk, that is both brilliant and a LITTLE frightening. Especially since the stuff is now regarded as basically radioactive, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen articles that claim it kills your brain cells, or something. And that was barely 60 years ago; we were almost on the moon. And he went on to have you.

        For even more perspective, I recommend “American Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines” by Gail Collins. Oh my god the stories. Like, sometimes a harried frontier mother would just straight-up put the baby on a leash and tie it to something heavy, because she was trying to gather/harvest/process/preserve/cook/serve food, collect/light/maintain fuel, perform ALL the manual labor, clean ALL of the things, care for ALL of the farm and make MOST of the income, so the baby would just have to play with a rusty nail and try not to kill itself.


          1. And sometimes, just sometimes……crating the baby seemed like an EXCELLENT way to keep her from hurting herself and giving me a sanity break.

            Granted, I never did it, but I’ll admit that I sure as hell thought about it from time to time!

          2. When my youngest Wicked Stepchild was in his long, drawn-out Wandering Stage, we used to build elaborate structures that we told him was a “fort” but which we referred to as The Baby Zoo. It was so nice to be able to sit down for 10 minutes altogether.

          3. Delurking to reming you people that a lot of those babies who got treated in various “best of their time” advice actually didn’t survive. So yeah, I agree that a lot of what we fuss over is minor stuff, but there is some gold among all the whatever rocks your boat too.

          4. Hi Koiane! I let your delurk through after sitting on it a bit, because I wasn’t sure it was on topic, and also criticized the mothering of the moms who came before us. In 30 years, some of the stuff we do now will be ridiculed. Let’s go with “every mom does her very best with the tools she has,” okay?

          5. Uh, I obviously wasn’t clear enough. I was not trying to ridicule mothers before our time, they had less knowledge than we do today and I’m sure future mothers will have more knowledge than we do today. What I was trying to get at is that all the people singing the praise of “how it was done before” a lot of the time forget that there was a much higher child mortality back then. We have good reasons to do as we are doing, one of them being a higher regard for safety. Maybe too high in some cases?

            As an example: It’s annoying to me when I want to put my child in a car seat to be met with “I survived just fine without one at all, and you were out of yours when you were five and that went just fine.” Yes, it went fine, but the thing is: I was lucky, and so were they. There were others who were not so lucky at all.

    2. It’s funny — my mom used to be really defensive about the whole organic foods thing, as if my husband’s and my decision to feed our kids organic foods as much as possible meant we thought she had been a bad mom for not having done so when she raised me and my siblings. We finally got past that when I pointed out that to a significant extent, she DID raise us on organic food — she just didn’t have to pay *extra* to do it, ’cause most of the pesticides, hormones, etc. in widespread use today hadn’t been invented yet!

      1. Wow, I think you actually touch on the cause of a lot of the strife here. When someone does something *so different* than we do raising kids, it can feel like a silent condemnation of our ways, even among friends. But especially if you go the polar opposite from the way you were raised.
        Of course, those feelings are their responsibility and doing something different doesn’t (usually) mean that you hate the way you were raised.

        1. Absolutely! If your parents were doing their best and thought of themselves as well-informed, conscientious parents, seeing you do things differently naturally strikes them not just as wrong, but as a rejection of their very best efforts in an area that was very important to them. I think it is particularly sensitive for mothers who dedicated decades of their lives almost exclusively to child-rearing and think of it as the most significant thing they have ever accomplished. Even the most unintentional, indirect suggestion that they were not top-notch feels like you’re invalidating their whole lives. (Though why that means they have to go out and *look* for such insults where they are not intended is a whole ‘nother question!)

          You need to remind them that just as they did things according to what was considered state-of-the-art at the time (rather than just aping whatever their parents had done), you want to live up to that legacy by doing what’s considered best practices now.

          Plus, of course, there are a range of issues where it’s not right choice vs. wrong choice, but right choice vs. other right choice vs. other right choice etc., and the only basis for deciding is personal style and the temperament/circumstances of this particular kid/these particular parents.

          You don’t have to highlight the whole mess of things you think they really *did* get wrong!

        2. I had several months of my mother competitive parenting with me, using my bro and I as her entries in the race. I talked before my son, my brother crawled earlier, all that stuff. And she once cut his hair while babysitting him (oh boy, the control it took to not ream her about that when I collected him).

          She only calmed down once it became clear that a) my son was just fine our way and b) my bro’s wife is really close to her mum, who used to be a midwife, so if she didn’t tone it down, she was barely going to know my nephew. Nephew is one of those kids who treats all but the favoured few to a suspicious stare. To be fair, so did my bro at the same age, but she’d never been on the wrong side of them.

          It really boiled down to her wanting to know that we trusted her parenting skills (she’d been the parent who was less popular when we were kids, and it’s still a touchy subject).

          On the plus side for the Logics, my mum is a far better and more patient grandma than she was a mum, and our relationship is much better as a result. It also helps that I had to chill too, since E picks up on my emotions like some sort of broadcast receiver. I learnt within a month or so that calm me=easy child. If I let anything, including him, stress me out, then we end up in cycle of doom.

          So I didn’t tell my mum off for cutting his hair. I asked her not to do that again, thank you.


      2. Food history is so interesting, especially when you see it as you describe, across a cultural/generational divide. When everybody ate clean “organic” food, it was just food, and they yearned for processed treats, with white bread/sugar/packaged snacks being these fantastic treats. The next generation thought they were living high with frozen meals, artificial colorings and processed foods. Now this generation wants to eat clean natural foods, even though we have to pay a premium for it, and our parents are like “why are you doing this, this is so weird, are you somehow judging my parenting.” It probably does look very strange to them, our happy scrabbling for lumpy, irregular carrots with greens and dirt still on them. And then we cheerfully pay twice the price, when there’s nice clean identical carrots in a plastic bag RIGHT NEXT TO THEM for BETTER VALUE!!

        Before the 1980’s, I am told, there was no federal enforcement on food labeling. The idea of reading the labels to ensure that you’re eating good food IS pretty weird, and it’s very odd that we live in a world where it’s necessary.

  21. Congratulations LW on your pregnancy and I think you have gotten some great advice! I want to nth the “We’re doing what works for us.” and “Every baby is different.” I’m lucky to have pretty good parents and ILs, but even they have moments where they are having a hard time letting go of being in charge of everyone. One good thing about having your first child is it gives you a great reason/excuse/etc. to set new limits with parents if necessary and it also gives you great incentive because it is one thing to put up with X yourself, it is another to have your child subjected to X. Like we set the limit of not going to my husband’s grandmother’s house where people are constantly smoking in the house while kids (including infants) and elderly folks with lung problems are there. Subjection my 20-30 year-old self to that wasn’t that big of a deal, but not my baby’s lungs and my husband brought it up with me before I even said a word, so that was great!

    Beyond setting limits like above, you can also set limits around your time. For example, it was expected that all of us kids would come home for Christmas, even though we were all adults living our lives, most of us married. Being invited is great, having this guilt-filled expectation was not. There were many other guilt-filled expectations around the holiday visits as well. Being the first to have a child, we’ve been paving the way of resetting expectations with a lot of “Well, you folks have fun dong X, we’ll be doing Y/staying here so baby can nap/not attending so we can have time at home/etc.” There have been some hurt feelings on all sides, but we are all in a much better place because of it. And I definitely lean on my siblings for support as we all know how Mom is.

    So bottom line, I totally agree with all the advice given, but I wanted to emphasize that setting and enforcing limits will be what you will do in the end when your Mom crosses the line. And it won’t be fun setting and enforcing those limits, but it is worth the short-term awkwardness for long-term peace. Not that you ever get to that perfect harmony, but you can get to a much better place!

    1. Not to mention, practice setting and enforcing limits/expectations in a calm, unemotional way (i.e., “that behavior is not ok” and (as needed) “and if you keep it up there *will* be a consequence” without a hint of “and you’re a bad person for trying it on”) will come in extremely handy raising your kids!

  22. Congrats to all the new parents! I love babies. I especially love them when I can give them back to their parents. 🙂

    My mom is very controlling and *knows everything.* At least, she thinks she does (and I have inherited a fair amount of this trait from her–it makes for some interesting interactions sometimes). She also has a raging case of the martyr complex. Lucky for me, she lives several hundred miles away and we only see her a few times a year, although we talk almost daily. Anyway, she has lots and lots of opinions about how I’m “doing it wrong” with respect to raising my kids. When she gets on that, I’ll let her go on for a while and then just flat out tell her that I know what I’m doing and if I need advice I’ll be sure to ask for it. Inevitably, she gets all bent out of shape that her daughter is so independent and stubborn and can think for myself. I just reply that my abilities to fend for myself and form my own opinions are a testament to how well she raised me and that it is her own fault that I’m like this. Shuts her right the hell up, until the next time.

  23. Congrats, LW and CL! Awesome news.

    I don’t have a child, but I’ve found that watching my mother interact with my nephews has brought up a lot of childhood baggage for both me and my sister. All of a sudden we’re faced with the ways she and my dad respond to kids, and it’s often unsettling, illuminating, and hilarious, all at the same time. Sometimes my sister’s and my responses to my parents is about our own childhoods and the hurt / pain / whatever, rather than how my parents’ behavior is going to affect these kids who don’t live with them.

    That being said, my mother is super-anxious about everything. Seriously, every milestone has brought her gnashing her teeth because they’re delayed! They need a specialist! These particular twins have been on the very late end of every. single. milestone. Every one. And their doctor thinks they’re fine. So my sister just shrugs and assumes they’ll get to it, and if they don’t within the timeframe her doctor outlined, THEN she’ll worry. She’s become a master of deflecting it, but I know how draining it can be to have to be holding boundaries while she’s also exhausted from the kids. All the sympathies for this!

  24. Another thing worth remembering is that assuming you got one of the basically good moms,* your mom once looked at you much the way you now are looking at your new baby. And then she spent all those years taking care of you: changing your diapers and wiping your runny nose, making you wear a coat when it was cold, coaxing you to eat something besides noodles, coping with tantrums and just-plain-fractiousness, teaching you pleases and thank yous and no whining, helping you with homework, consoling you when your friends were hurtful, loaning you money for your first apartment (or whatever), etc., etc., including giving you lots and lots of genuinely very necessary guidance along the way.

    You need to understand that she still holds all that in her heart, and you will *always* be her child, for whom she’d give a kidney or a lung (or her heart if you needed it and they’d take it). (And no, you can’t understand that feeling ’til you have your own kid — no matter how profound it is, love for friends and even spouses is *not* the same). It is hard for her to hear “I’m all grown up now, mom, I don’t need your advice.” Even if of course she’s proud that you’ve grown up into a capable young woman with a child of your own.

    As annoying as all that advice is, remember she means it as a gift (something she knows she has to offer that is of value, because look how you turned out)(even if she often gives the impression you haven’t turned out quite as she’d hoped!), as an expression of love for her grandchild, and as a way to feel relevant.

    You can satisfy a lot of the needs that are driving her behavior by actively bonding with her as a fellow mom, letting her know that you understand things about your relationship with her now that you never did before, and encouraging non-specific reminiscences (i.e., stories that are not about an issue before you) about child-raising. The funny ones, the touching ones, the traumatic ones. Having a new baby can actually bring you two closer.

    * (Unfortunately, we’ve read about all too many fucked-up mothers to just plain assume these things apply to all moms)

  25. Congratulations, LW – and congratulations to Commander Logic as well! This is awesome advice. My mom is an anxious person too…though she is both passive-aggressive and just plain aggressive/tactless/bossy. For me, the sarcastic/hostile approach has actually worked really well, because it helps me turn her anxiety into an inside joke that she and I can share.

    Here is the mantra that saved me, especially when my kids were babies:
    “Mom, how do you think we survive when you’re not there?”

    It helps to turn it into a joke, for example when your mom gives you really insultingly obvious advice, like “reminding” you to change the baby’s diaper while you’re carrying her to the changing table. Or calling you up to tell you that she’ll probably get MRSA from day care someday.

    “How do I survive without you? My gosh, at home I would just throw the baby out with the trash if she started smelling like that.”

    “How do I survive without your helpful pointers? I didn’t know I was supposed to seek prenatal care, I’ve just been taking the pills that our nice neighbor lady gives me. Looks like I’d better call a doctor!”

    “Thank you for your helpful advice about pregnancy nutrition. Up till now, I’ve been eating uncooked mice. I’m so glad I know better!”

    “Wow, Mom, thank you for reminding me about that flesh-eating disease just for babies. I’ve been bathing my baby in public toilets, but I won’t do that anymore!”

    “What? Babies need to sleep AND eat? You mean they’re not just little dolls that I can dress up in teeny outfits? Gee, thanks, Mom. How would we survive without you?”

    Luckily my mom does have a sense of humor, so this would usually deflect the situation and help her realize when she was being ridiculous.

  26. I wish I could have read this before my baby was born 4 years ago. I have a very similar Mom dynamic as LW and it is tough. It takes time and pushing back sometimes, and also learning very much to accept that I can’t control my mom’s behavior, but I can control how I receive it. I also know that my mom was raised in a very, very different environment than I was raised. She lacked a lot in her childhood emotionally and materially and only wanted the best for us, and now also my child. The longer you’re a mom, the more comfortable you will be and you can let more of your mom’s stuff roll off your back. I pick my battles. I have a therapist who I started seeing this past year, we mostly talk about parenting and family challenges and it has been awesome for me. Congrats to LW on becoming a mom and best of luck.

  27. I can’t offer any advice about the rearing of babies, but that bit about “she thinks being passive-aggressive is kind because you don’t have to come right out and say what’s bothering you” suggests that this may be partially an issue of what *she* was taught.

    (also, follow the link to the MetaFilter comment, and read the entire thread if you can)

    Not all passive-aggressive behavior is the result of cultural training, but if that’s a factor, it may have a bearing on how you want to treat the issue.

  28. Congrats to the LW and the Logics!

    Mostly I’m commenting to say that the image captions in this post made me laugh out loud. Which isn’t the most fun with a throbbing migraine, but is something I needed. Kudos to you, Commander!

  29. The new medication only exacerbated problems and I was having panic attacks all day every day. I would be carrying baby boss down the stairs and have to stop and take a deep breath just to get to the bottom. Now, keep in mind, I started medication years ago for moderate depression and a little anxiety. So, basically, these meds were making my challenges far worse than they’d ever been. Back to the doctor I went…totally desperate (This was Friday and baby boss was also very sick parallel to all of this). We decided I should go off medication and let all of it leave my system. A clean slate if you will. I was given a certain medication to only take as needed and, bonus, it helps me sleep.

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