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Carolyn Hax: Grandmother grandstands with a hissy fit about visitation rules

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 - 12:00 am

DEAR CAROLYN: We welcomed our first child in January. Before our daughter was born, my wife told our family members that we didn’t want overnight visitors while I took time off work, which was two weeks. Her mom lost it and told her she “felt no joy anymore” about the birth and “never had any rules put on me before.”

Our daughter is 3 weeks old now and my wife’s mother has neither met her nor shown any interest in supporting my wife after a pretty difficult C-section. I believe she has irreparably damaged relationships and shown extreme disrespect to our family and new daughter. What should I do in an attempt to remedy this situation?

– Confused & Angry

DEAR CONFUSED: Very little, at least with your wife’s mother.

Certainly there’s room for disagreement on the wisdom of your no-overnights request, but there are a couple of things that don’t leave much room for quibbling:

(1) New parents get to make calls like this. Your baby, your comfort zone, your home, your rules.

(2) Her refusing to see the baby means this has nothing to do with your mother-in-law’s “joy” or desire to be close to her daughter or the baby. If it did, then she would have registered her disappointment about the overnights and shown up anyway, on your terms, even grudgingly if that’s what her ego needed. Instead, your mother-in-law has revealed her need for primacy, attention, control.

(3) Anyone who welcomes a new grandchild into the world by calling attention to herself and creating stress for the new parents has bigger problems than whatever the specific issue might be. Had you and your wife welcomed overnights, your mother-in-law would have picked some other boundary fight. Count on many more.

Thus the “very little” on that particular to-do list.

Your wife, on the other hand, needs you right now. She’s got wacky postpartum hormones, a body that’s been through the wringer, and a plain view of some ugliness in her mother’s character that may or may not have been so fully exposed before.

That’s a lot to carry around.

Your wife needs to hear that you have her back. That you’re sorry her mom is pulling this stunt now. That her mom will either come around or miss out on these irreplaceable days, but either way it’s her mom’s problem.

I suggest a simple plan: Don’t confront your wife’s mother or attempt to negotiate with her. Instead just leave voice mails (or emails) as if she had taken your decision like a grownup: “If you’d like to stop by tomorrow noonish, let us know,” (click).

Last thing: sleep. Your wife needs it. You, too.


Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.



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