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Please Don’t Grab The Baby

May11

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi Amy,

I have another grandparent-y kind of question for you. Both my parents mothers are still alive, and relatively young (for being great-grandmas.) I’m now 26, with a fiance and a 6-month-old son. I’ll start by saying I grew up in a big family, so I’m a pretty confident mom and experienced infant-caretaker.

Since my extended family is huge and close-knit, our family gatherings are frequent and noisy. My son is little and cute, so he gets passed from person to person for snuggles. He’s generally cool with it, but after awhile he burns out and needs a mama-break. Sometimes he gets overwhelmed or startled and starts with the pouty lip and crocodile tears. That face kills me. And I am a confident mom, but a new one, so I don’t have any tolerance yet for sad baby face. I try to take him ASAP for some quiet alone time in another room. But.

Both of my grandmothers (one is worse than the other) have started doing this thing that really actually scares me a bit.

My son will start crying. Grandma will bomb over to where he is and snatch him up. Even if I’m already holding him.

If they’re closer to the baby than I am, they’ll grab him from whoever he is with. If I’m holding him, they will try to physically remove him from my hands, cooing, “Ohhh let me see him! Let Grandma do iiiiit!” They’re grabby and persistent and loud. It freaks him out more, and as it escalates it seems like they get flustered and keep trying harder, so I’m trying to comfort and hold on to a squirming, crying infant AND having to wrestle him away from my own grandmother, who is ignoring my reassurance that NO REALLY I GOT THIS. What the HELL?

My grandmothers and I have never had the kind of relationship where I have ever had to lay anything on the line with them. Even just saying “No, I’m taking care of this,” feels strong because I’ve never ever needed to counter them. Now, it seems, they’ve lost their damn minds. I don’t know if they’re trying to be helpful, recapture a moment as a “mommy-who-is-needed” or if they really think I can’t handle it. Or that they can mother my son better than I can…? Anyway, I’m kind of pissed just thinking about it. I don’t know how to talk to them about this because all I can think is, “Stop snatching my baby!” And I think that bluntness might hurt some feelings. But…How would you handle this? Is this a common grandma/great-grandma thing that happens when the fourth generation comes along?

Thank you,
Meg

Ugh. I have never personally encountered anyone who tried to physically yank my child from my arms, while I physically resisted said yanking, but I’m picturing it right now and even in my imagination all kinds of panicked motherly instincts are kicking in because DO NOT SNATCH MY BABY AWAY FROM ME AM MAMA BEAR AND I WILL RIP OUT YOUR THROAT.

So. Ahem. Props for not growling that at your grabby but well-meaning grandmas.

My MIL is also incredibly well-meaning but also fairly…take-over-y? I guess is how to put it? She likes to be the First Responder to any and all baby cries, without ever stopping to consider that maybe it’s something Jason or I would prefer to handle. (Like, say, a semi-asleep cry that WE know doesn’t need an immediate swooping in and picking up, or just a cry that means I WANT MAMA AND NO ONE ELSE WILL DO.) If I’m already there and doing whatever it is I think needs done but the crying hasn’t instantly ceased, she’ll start with the “I can rock him! Does he need water? I can rock him! Is it his diaper? Etc. Etc.”

And I admit that I feel BAD that I actually find this kind of annoying and intrusive, because I KNOW she just desperately wants to help and be as hands-on as a grandma as possible, but…I don’t know. There are just times when — like you said — things really, REALLY need to be left up to us, the Mamas, to make decisions about what our babies need. Even if you completely disagree with how I’m handling the situation. Even if I’m still pacing the guest room with a crying baby 20 minutes later. If I need or want your help, I will ask for it.

So…you are completely within your rights, I believe, to firmly and politely tell your grandmothers that no, they cannot have your son right now, he’s a little upset, let me just go somewhere quiet and calm him down and I’ll have him back to you in a jiffy. Blame separation anxiety, announce that sorry, this is a Mama Job, stand up and WALK AWAY. RETREAT. You can always use fewer words in the moment and then try to explain nicely later: “Hey, here’s your happy boy again! Sorry about that…when I see That Face, trust me, I KNOW, there’s nothing and nobody but Mama that will make it better — he just gets more and more upset around all these people.” Sigh. Babies! Whattayagonnado.

You can even try to enlist their “help” as a strategy for when they tend to snatch him up before you can: “Next time you see That Face, if you could just bring him to me right away I would REALLY appreciate it. The sooner I can give him just a few minutes of Mama Time the easier it is to get him calmed down, instead of other people trying to do it.” They don’t need to know that technically, they ARE the “other people” you’re referring to, but instead are your allies in a crowd full of relatives who just aren’t as tuned in to your sweet baby’s moods and needs.

If that doesn’t work, well, you’re probably going to have to step up the level of directness with them. A sharp and direct NO THANKS, I’VE GOT THIS is really not out of line, though I’d suggest you keep your face and tone as calm and pleasant as possible — any indication of the stress and anxiety they’re causing you (BY PHYSICALLY TRYING TO REMOVE YOUR CHILD FROM YOUR RESISTING ARMS, OH MY GOD) will likely reflect badly *on you* and make them assume that oh, you’re upset and emotional and THAT’S why your baby is upset blah dee blah bloo blah. If THAT doesn’t work, and you see them making a beeline for you, I’d get up and leave the room preemptively. Maybe figure out ahead of time what rooms lock. (You know, for “nursing” or whatever.)

At some point — fairly soon, actually — your son will be too mobile and too VOCAL for them to get away with this sort of thing. He’ll be able to make his needs and preferences more specifically known, and probably won’t be spending all these get-togethers being passed from arm to arm. He’ll be off exploring on his own and you’ll definitely appreciate having Great-Grandmas around to keep an eye on him and intervene as needed.

You’ll also appreciate the fact that when they DO intervene, your son might take one look at them and and ask for MAMA instead. (Cackles evil-y.)

__________________________________________________________________
If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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15 Responses to “Please Don’t Grab The Baby”

  1. Jeannie May 11 at 11:19 am Reply Reply

    I know this! My MIL is a grabby grandma too — I think partly because she’s closer to her other set of grandkids, and they *would* willingly go to her, and partly because she has this great need to be the one who’s needed. But both my kids need “warm-up” time with people they don’t know and / or haven’t seen in a while. What did we do? Well, I got by with a few chirpy “Oh he’s feeling shy! Let’s just give him a moment!” when the baby clung to me as she reached. (Yeah, I hate calling my kid shy when he’s having a normal response, but you do what needs doing, right?) And a few “She’ll get more comfortable soon!” all the while *not* relinquishing my hold on said child.

    It helped though that she’s not *my* mom so I have less trouble saying no, and that my hubs backed me up, and has established good healthy boundaries with his parents so she backs off easily. 

    But I feel your pain. It’s hard. Stick to your guns. You know your kid best, and once he’s mobile and can talk it’ll all get easier — for one, you’ll be more comfortable letting him go, and for another, as Amalah says, HE’LL make his preferences loud and clear!

  2. Liz May 11 at 12:10 pm Reply Reply

    I get it. I totally get it. My MIL does the same thing. With my one year old. If she is holding her, and my daughter wants to come to me, she won’t let her. Even if I’m trying to take her out of grandma’s arms. It’s literally like a tug of war with the child. It made me so angry last time that I decided next time it happens, I’m just going to say, “No, if she wants me, she can come to me. Do not keep her from me.” Being direct will be the only thing that works. Good luck!

  3. Mama Bub May 11 at 12:37 pm Reply Reply

    We have a similar situation with my in-laws and I absolutely can not say anything because no matter how it is phrased, it will be taken wrong. In fact, someone left a family gathering in tears because my husband suggested that she just give my son, who was all of six months old, a few minutes to chill out without anyone messing with him. Now, I just take the baby in question and walk away. They will still try to take the child, but I WILL NOT LET THEM. I’ll say, “She’s okay!” Or “I’ve got this!” or, like I said, I will just leave the room.

  4. April May 11 at 1:34 pm Reply Reply

    We are not there yet, but waiting for the phone call for our first child through adoption. After so long of waiting, and knowing that a part of parental bonding with our baby is us (and no one else) meeting their needs especially when they are crying or upset, if this situation happened to us I would not be passive about it. We have learned in this process to be pro-active, don’t mince words because families or friends sometimes just don’t get subtlety, and set clear boundaries and rules with other people. If this situation happened to me or my husband, I know neither of us would hesitate to say “visit time is over now, it’s time for you/us to leave” and we would follow through with it. This is our baby, and we are darn well going to be possessive, slow to share, and assert our parent-authority no matter who dares to take over.

  5. JCF May 11 at 6:24 pm Reply Reply

    We’ve had a similar situation with our kids and my grandma. My kids are now 3.5, 2.5, and almost 1. When the older two were little babies, my grandma would try to take the babies just as you described. Now she’s not physically as able to hold them, due to an injury, but now she likes to over-step her boundaries by giving them things I have explicitly said they cannot have (i.e. popcorn for the 10 month old, or a huge pile of candy before breakfast for the older ones). She also likes to tell other people to take over in ways that aren’t appropriate (telling me that my daughter isn’t going to take a nap, and that my aunt is just going to take her outside to play instead).

    All that aside, I’ve found that the only way to deal with her is to be extremely direct, and then to watch her like a hawk and continue to be firm with her when she continues to try to go behind my back in dealing with the kids. “No Grandma. I said that she cannot have that. Please don’t try to give her popcorn again.” Or “No, she is going to take her nap now. She needs this time to rest, and she’ll be ready to play again in a little while.” I tried for a long time not to hurt her feelings or do anything that felt even a tiny bit disrespectful, but I quickly learned that it didn’t do any good. Unfortunately, it has ended up meaning that we don’t go to her house as often as we would if she would respect me as a parent, because the whole thing is so respectful. I’ve even conceded on a lot of things, but it is still a lot to handle on a regular basis.

  6. JCF May 11 at 6:25 pm Reply Reply

    We’ve had a similar situation with our kids and my grandma. My kids are now 3.5, 2.5, and almost 1. When the older two were little babies, my grandma would try to take the babies just as you described. Now she’s not physically as able to hold them, due to an injury, but now she likes to over-step her boundaries by giving them things I have explicitly said they cannot have (i.e. popcorn for the 10 month old, or a huge pile of candy before breakfast for the older ones). She also likes to tell other people to take over in ways that aren’t appropriate (telling me that my daughter isn’t going to take a nap, and that my aunt is just going to take her outside to play instead).

    All that aside, I’ve found that the only way to deal with her is to be extremely direct, and then to watch her like a hawk and continue to be firm with her when she continues to try to go behind my back in dealing with the kids. “No Grandma. I said that she cannot have that. Please don’t try to give her popcorn again.” Or “No, she is going to take her nap now. She needs this time to rest, and she’ll be ready to play again in a little while.” I tried for a long time not to hurt her feelings or do anything that felt even a tiny bit disrespectful, but I quickly learned that it didn’t do any good. Unfortunately, it has ended up meaning that we don’t go to her house as often as we would if she would respect me as a parent, because the whole thing is so stressful. I’ve even conceded on a lot of things, but it is still a lot to handle on a regular basis.

  7. Kaitlin May 12 at 9:38 am Reply Reply

    Yup – same story with my MIL. We had a family event where she would take (or try to take) my son or would REFUSE to give him to me if he was crying (“he’s hungry, I’ll take him upstairs and feed him” “No he’s not! He just wants to look at himself in the mirror” and baby is still wailing because even after looking at his sad, crying self in the mirror, HE WAS STILL HUNGRY! And yet she CONTINUED to argue about it, and would not willingly let me feed my son. Rinse, lather, repeat). I told my husband that that would NEVER happen again, and that NOBODY takes the baby from his mom and that if I want him, I get him no matter what. Sooooo, now at family functions, although she won’t try to take the baby from me, she literally leaves the room and HIDES with the baby if he starts to get upset so that I won’t be able to take him away from her. She really is a nice, sweet woman, and her intentions are good, but SERIOUSLY…. major boundary issues.

  8. Elizabeth May 12 at 3:39 pm Reply Reply

    OMG you guys, I have found my MIL-Has-Boundary-Issues-and-Must-Be-NEEDED people. I’ve been nodding like a fool at my computer screen the last 10 minutes. Can we start a support group?

  9. Lee May 12 at 4:21 pm Reply Reply

    Re-direct! Re-direct! RE-DIRECT! I’ve learned that the only thing that works with the Grabbies is the same thing that works with my 2 year old. Whenever they’re trying to do something I don’t want them to do, I try to momentarily distract them, by saying something like “Oh, let me grab Baby, but if you could grab that bottle/blankie/thing-a-majig [whatever] over there and bring it to me that would REALLY help”. It usually works long enough to draw their attention away, so I can back into another room and/or flee. THis is especially effective if the thing you are asking them to grab for you doesn’t actually exist.

  10. Amy May 13 at 12:50 am Reply Reply

    ugg, my MIL used to be the same way. everytime there was a holiday we would walk in and she would rip my (usually half asleep from the drive) baby out of my arms and be all like “give maw maw sugars” and in their face and they would scream and cry and then she would toss them back and go back to cooking and not talk to them the rest of the day. and she never could figure out why they didnt like her. my suggestion would be something like an ergo or moby that you can already have on so that when he gets fussy you can basically tie him to you and then they wont be able to grab him away. that or figure out how to give her a look that says back the eff off

  11. hodgepodge May 13 at 9:46 am Reply Reply

    I’m sorry, maybe I’ve just been incredibly lucky with my relatives, but I have never heard of such ridiculous behaviour in my life.

    If anyone – ANYONE – tried to physically take / keep my child from me, I wouldn’t be stopping long enough to worry about hurt feelings. I would be very direct. I wouldn’t hint, prevaricate, or anything else. As the other commenters have said, this kind of interfering doesn’t stop as the baby becomes a child… so better to nip it in the bud Right. Now., Forever.

    Good luck.

  12. Meg May 14 at 12:29 am Reply Reply

    I can’t believe I didn’t catch this when it posted! I wrote this, and I’m so glad I’m not alone. It’s freaky behavior and not something I ever saw coming. This last time, my son was bit on the hand by his 18-month-old cousin and apparently even injury isn’t enough for gma to respect our space. I havent been able to make myself go back there yet but y’all are right: nice or not, directness and physical evasion are going to be the gameplan. After all, my son’s sense of security and safety are more important than an adult’s over-sensitivity. Thanks ladies :-) and I’m down for the crazy family support group. Email me, for serious!

  13. Tracy May 17 at 9:39 am Reply Reply

    Those of you looking for a crazy family support group might appreciate http://www.motherinlawstories.com – it’s not just for MILs.

  14. stacy May 27 at 3:02 am Reply Reply

    COMPLETELY AGREE. my dad and step-mom were just here visiting and the minute my 6 week old started crying, my step-mom goes, “oh no sounds like she wants her nana!” and she went and grabbed her before I could even say anything, and she tried to soothe her but just did everything wrong. and even if I had picked her up and couldn’t get her to stop crying right away, at least I would know that I’m doing that things that usually soothe MY daughter — I’m not just stuffing a pacifer in her mouth and rocking her back and forth while she is screaming crying (like she did!). AND then she has the nerve to tell me “I’ll calm her down” when I go over to her (after cringing for a minute to let her “try) and she turns away from me with my baby. This is SO aggrevating. But on the other hand I feel guilty because they come to visit just to see her, but honeslty, why can’t they enjoy her when she isn’t crying – why does she have to want to take her when she is crying? next time I’m going to say something to her – or I’m thinking of even saying something BEFORE they come, about how important the bond between mother and baby are and that my breasts start to pulse (i’m breastfeeding) when she cries so I need to take her because she is MY daughter! I also only feel this way with certain people, so far it’s just with my step-mom! will see about MIL in a few weeks!

  15. Cass May 31 at 10:18 pm Reply Reply

    My MIL is a lot like this and very much a “need-to-be-needed” person. A few times, in the heat of the moment, I have not reacted as graciously as I would have liked. I think my best response ever, after she said something like, “No, you don’t need Mommy- you have Grandma!” (then she tried to sneak out of the room!) to my fussy 6 or 7 month old who was reaching for me, “That’s absolutely not ok. My child can need me whenever she likes.” I immediately took my child from her arms. She’s a sensitive lady, and that made her cry, but no regrets. She still struggles with boundaries, but I am increasingly able to say no and try to give her appropriate freedoms with my kiddo in other ways. My only other strategy is to pray her daughter gets a beau and has babies in the near future so she’ll back off!

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