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The Postpartum Visitor Guilt Trip

By Amalah

I am 32 weeks along with my first baby. My husband and I are from the Midwest; he is in the military and we are currently stationed in the Southwest, about 1,400 miles away from family and friends, which sucks but we are doing the best we can with it.

My mom and in-laws were talking about coming to visit us a little after our daughter was born but we ran into a few problems: my mom is terrified of flying, and a couple months ago told us she may not be able to come because her fear of flying was so strong (which I told her I completely understand). It turns out my MIL has the same extreme fear and would not want to fly unless FIL was with her. He’s not able to make it because he has too much traveling for work.

My husband and I talked about it and decided it would maybe be a better idea if we had no one come visit us. To clear this part up – my daughter will be born the end of December, my husband is getting out of the military, so we will be home for good by the end of May. We thought it would be a little easier on everyone else if we just waited till we came home for everyone to have an equal opportunity to see her at the same time. There are other reasons too: we do not have the room for people to come stay with us, my family cannot afford a hotel room, it will still be the holiday season when they visit and plane tix will be expensive. There were a couple of friends we’ve already told this to and they completely understand our reasons.

My mom, however, is extremely upset and is taking this decision as “I don’t want her around” which couldn’t be furthest from the truth. I tried explaining all this to her and she says she just doesn’t understand and is devastated that I “don’t want her here.” I don’t want her to be upset and to understand and respect my decision. I was wanting a little advice on how to better explain things to her. And my question is: Is this right for me to say/do? Am I truly being cruel to my mom?

Sad

Holy guilt trip, Batman.

Let me get this straight: Your mom already told you that hey, that hypothetical visit we were talking about? Probably won’t happen, because of a fear of flying. So you know, heads up that you probably can’t count on her 100% for postpartum support/help. You graciously explain that you understand, it’s okay.

So then you and your husband talk things over and come up with an alternate plan that works for you and your current living situation, AND a plan that doesn’t put any guilt or pressure on people who don’t want to fly. And your mom freaks out over a trip that she already told you might not happen and is now twisting your words and intentions for maximum Bad Daughter Guilt.

You know what? Whatever. This is my least favorite Mom (or MIL) Move and I am fresh out of patience for it. I sense you could explain and explain until you’re blue in the face and it won’t make a bit of difference, because your mother has gone Full Drama Queen. You are not being cruel; she’s being more than a tad ridiculous.

Sure, it’s understandable that she’s disappointed that she’ll need to wait a few months to see the baby in person. It’s a bummer, but it doesn’t really make sense for her to go so overboard when the trip was already kind of iffy. And her disappointment doesn’t make it okay for her to make you feel like crap. Sure, I completely understand that some folks are deathly afraid of flying, but…what did she expect you to do? Buy her a ticket and then just sort of hope she’ll get on the plane? (Or even better, hope that she doesn’t spend the rest of your pregnancy making you feel guilty about the plane trip and the anxiety and the stress of it all.)

I also can tell you from years of Advice Column Experience that there are a ton of daughters out there who would straight up FREAK OUT over their moms using a fear of flying as an excuse not to come see them after giving birth, and would insist/beg that their moms find some way to conquer their fear (therapy, Xanax, etc.) for the sake of the baby. You gave your mom a pass on that and, after further reflection, decided it was probably for the best. I see nothing wrong with this.

Maybe this isn’t the first time her fear of flying has caused her to miss out on something momentous, and rather than realize that “hey, this is an irrational level of fear that needs to be dealt with somehow,” she’s deflecting blame onto you. Maybe she’s got a victim/martyr complex and thinks you’re “punishing” her for something she “can’t help,” but…you’re not. That I feel like I know for sure. Your reasons for no postpartum visitors are sane, sound and perfectly reasonable. I assume you guys are used to bridging the temporary distance with frequent phone calls, photos, Facebook, Skype, etc. This really isn’t the end of the world. This isn’t because you “don’t want her there,” it’s just the way things are right now. Cramped, far-flung, and soon to be in a massive state of flux. The same no-visiting rules apply to everyone, and no, that doesn’t mean your mom isn’t still super special and won’t be missed. But this is you being the grown-up, making grown-up decisions about how you and your new family would like to spend the first few months together.

What’s important is that YOU feel good about this decision, independent of how ANYBODY else feels or what they think. You no longer need to defend it to anyone. Stick to your guns. Stop trying to re-explain things. Change the subject when she starts guilt-tripping you with “I don’t understaaaaand” and such. Maybe one last, “Mom, this isn’t about us not wanting you there and you know it. Stop making me feel guilty about this decision, because it’s final. Moving on.”

And then file this little tantrum away for future reference, once you’re all moved back home and in regular, closer proximity to her. I’m guessing this pattern of behavior will repeat, as will your need to recognize it, stand strong and not let it get to you.

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

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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Comments

  • Beth

    I get this feeling that maybe Sad’s mom is hoping that she will spontaneously suggest that SHE get on on the plane with the newborn and husband to visit them instead. Hoping I’m wrong!

    I was in your shoes, Sad. My husband and I were both in the military stationed far away from my family. It’s hard right now because I’m sure apart from your husband, your family has probably been the most important part of your life. The first baby will make you have to reevaluate everything. You’ll have to start putting the needs of your little family over others who are used to being at the top of your list. That’s a hard moment to face for you and your parents, but hopefully your husband will help you get through it!

    Your daughter will be 5 months when you move and you’ll really need your family’s support, then. My son was 6 months when we made our big military separation/settling down near family move. Grandma and Grandpa got to meet him for the first time and it was great because he was more alert and, well, interesting.

    The big picture is that it is 5 months of your daughter’s life. There’s so much more ahead of her for Grandma to be a part of. She’ll get over it. Just be firm and stand tall and confident in your decision! Good luck and congratulations!

    • Melinda

      I thought the same thing! Which would be the most ridiculous idea of all because newborn + plane + husband who can’t just take time off like a normal job + new first time mom + winter illnesses + winter weather + all the other reasons = NO WAY. 

      Grandma needs to calm it down. Be direct. Kind, but firm. Shut down ANY conversations where you begin to feel guilted. It’s the ONLY way! Been there, done that.

    • Caroline

      Yes, this exactly. She wants to force her daughter to fly with the newborn because really this is about HER fears and HER as the central character here… do not cave. Just very simply ask her what she visualised and if she had her own way and a magic wand, what would she do, given the circumstances? Force her to spell out her selfish and totally unreasonable little manipulation. And Amalah is totally correct; watch this space for the future. How you react right now will determine a lot going forward, so stay calm and reasonable, make decisions and stick with them and she will get over herself soon enough. I don’t dismiss the fear of flying at all, phobias are awful, but what she’s doing to you is mean and must be stopped immediately!

  • Sarah

    I’m getting the same feeling that she’s hoping they will decide to get on a plane with the newborn. 

    I agree with Amy, she will get over it. Stick to your guns. You have been more than accommodating.

  • MR

    Yes, I got the same feeling, that mom was hoping you would come to her – which is INSANE. But seriously, she already told you that her fear was most likely going to keep her from coming, so her throwing a fit over you being ok with that is absolutely ridiculous. She can try to make you feel guilty, but you don’t have to buy into it, and you shouldn’t. This is HER problem. Don’t make it yours.

  • z

    Yeah, I don’t get what she wants.  She didn’t want to fly.  So she wants you to fly?  Or she wants to drive or take the Amtrak or something, even though it is far?  Or maybe she wanted to heroically overcome her fear of flying, after much pleading from you about how you just can’t possibly have a baby without her?  

    I smell passive-aggressive drama.  You are right to shut it down.  

  • Ally

    And if the LW’s mom’s goal was to have everyone get on a plane with the newborn and come visit her, LW has one of the best excuses available: My pediatrician doesn’t want my infant on a plane at the height of cold and flu season.

    • Kate

      I know right! You’re not even supposed to take them out “in public” for at least 6 weeks let alone get on a plane!

  • Kerry

    I’m a little more on the side of trying to talk to your mom. Future grandmas are people too, and it might be worth finding out what her insecurities are and trying to reassure her if you can. I had something similar come up with my mom….turns out it wasn’t really about me and was very much about someone else she’s close to getting suddenly and abruptly cut out of their grandchildren’s lives. The whole grandparent role is a complicated one and it can be a source of incredible happiness AND sadness for people and its understandable if she’s freaking out a little. 

    Also, I can’t tell from your email if you came up with the no visits rule in order to avoid people stressing you out with tenuous visiting plans, or in order to make it “equal” with both grandmas meeting the baby at the same time. The first makes sense to me, but the second seems like you’re just volunteering to make everyone equally unhappy, including yourself. It’s true that neither of them is likely to be able to come, but there’s a psychological difference between not being able to come and not being invited.

  • SarahB

    On the one hand, I see the drama, but on the other hand, I see a soon-to-be grandma who wants you to be sad she’s not coming if she can’t overcome her fears and make the trip.

    You might offer them a bit of an out: “You know we’d love to have you meet the baby.  We didn’t mean to sound like we’re canceling any visits.  It just seemed that you weren’t able to make it due to your fears of flying.  You’re still more than welcome to come if you think you can handle it.  Just be in touch with DH and me about possible dates.”

    It might result in the very same outcome, but doing something to make sure the grandmas still know they’re wanted might help.  I rather wonder whether the first photo of the new baby might send both of them scrambling to buy plane tickets.

    • Karen

      I’m with Kelly and SarahB. Babies are new for everyone and require everyone to really up their game when it comes to communication, even when however it was before totally worked. And congratulations! 

  • Michelle B

    Yep, my MIL has irrational fears. When she says she can’t do such-and-such because of said fear, what she really wants is for you to accommodate her. I mean, she really is afraid and fearful, but still wants what she wants to occur, which means it’s your problem to make it happen. When I read this, I immediately sniffed this behavior in your Mom. She wants your butt on a plane shortly after giving birth so she can see her grandchild without having to fly. Nope nope nope!!

  • liz

    What others said, I have the same feeling that mom wants you to go to her. NOPE.

    If you’re in an area with Amtrak or Grayhound and she wants to visit, send her a ticket on one of those (if you can afford it). MIL, too. In fact, have them travel together.

    If there’s a hotel nearby, and you can afford it, have them share a room there.

    If you really would prefer no visit, that’s one thing. But if it’s about the flying, that can be solved without you and the baby getting on a plane instead of grannies one and two.

  • Sam M.

    I have a mother that might be similar to yours. We’re really used to being away from each other (I’ve lived away from home for almost 15 years) and she finds traveling really stressful. She did actually make it by car to see the baby about a month after the birth and came to my PhD graduation in the summer, but these two events were so stressful that I was amazed we didn’t have a meltdown of epic proportions (your mother might not be this stressful but I empathize).  
    I think she’ll eventually calm down about the not wanting visitors if you turn to planning the actual moment when she will meet the baby and actually set a date. So instead of stressing about not seeing you before that, it gives her some place to turn her attention and a focus. In addition, I disagree with other commentators that say have her and your MIL visit together or travel together. I think something that might soothe your mother would be to make it clear that she won’t have to share the time with her grandchild with the other grandparent the first time. Go to her house, let her spoil the baby, and make it about you guys- not about all the grandparents meeting the baby at once. That way she sees that you are valuing her as a grandparent and parent and that you really want her to have a relationship with the baby. I know this is a lot of accommodation to make for someone who is being stubborn and making you stressed out at a delicate time, but it is better to soothe now then to have to move back and have it be even more stressful later. 

  • Melinda

    I just wanted to add that we weirdly have the same life right now! I’m due with first baby 12/31, boyfriend is military, we’re living very far from any family or friends, and he’s getting out in March at which point we’ll be moving back. 

    Ha, imagine that! 

    Now, I know your hubs is going to need to be back at work in 10 days (including hospital time), so if there is ANYONE who can come stay with you to help with housework/food/etc during that time it will really help. Hopefully you’re lucky enough to have made friends where you’re stationed who will actually help instead of wanting you to play hostess. 

    If not, maybe a close friend from back home can come & just keep the visit under the radar so you don’t have to deal with more mama drama? Only suggesting because you really, really will want some help with day-to-day life. 

    Unfortunately, military life is not very conducive to the “it takes a village” fact. 

    • Myriam

      Maybe a pospartum doula would be an option to consider? Or even a babysitter to come over for a couple of hours during the day while mama showers and naps. Hired help would soften the blow to the family. Depending on how the birth goes, and how the OP is feeling, it might not even be necessary. After my 2nd was born, we sent the husband back to work after a week, to save his paternity leave (ye Québec!) for when the baby got bigger. I was able to take care of the older one (get her ready for daycare and get her there and back) and of the baby by myself, no issues. Sure, I was a more confident mom, and I also knew to let it go. I know it’s not always like that, but I also don’t want to scare the OP that if she”s by herself, the world will stop turning. 

      • Melinda

        True, even just hiring a housekeeper once or twice a week would probably help a lot. 

        It also depends on how the birth goes, your personality, and if you’re breast feeding. 

        Childbirth! Such an unpredictable time! 

  • LaurenBE

    I am so glad that other people thought exactly what I was thinking…your mom is ABSOLUTELY waiting for you to offer to fly out to her with the baby. She’s stressing her fear, blah blah blah and her hurt feelings so that you will feel guilty enough to say then you’ll come to her instead. Not to mention putting additional stress on you so late in your pregnancy totally sucks. SEL-FISH. I’m with Amy, don’t give in. Put your foot down right now that your priority is to do what’s best for your family (and that means you, your husband and child). Because if you don’t, wait till after the baby is born…it’s only going to get worse. Good luck and try not to let this overshadow your excitement about your impending little one!

  • Shan

    I totally support the decision to wait until they move to see fam. BUT! Is it really the worst idea to consider flying down with the newborn (assuming OP wants to & could afford it)? Newborns are so easy on a plane at that age! You just nurse them & they sleep. It’s much harder to fly with older infants & toddlers. If OP is home alone a lot due to her husband’s travels, she might enjoy visiting family for a bit.

    • Kate

      It’s not safe for the baby who would be all but completely unvaccinated and flying at the height of communicable disease season. As I stated above you’re not even supposed to take newborns out “In public” for the first 6 weeks; let alone fly on a plane. 

      • leslie

        While I understand why people would be hesitant to have her take the baby on a plane during the winter (overkill IMHO, but ok), telling expectant mothers they can’t take their baby out in public for SIX WEEKS is just crazy. What are they supposed to do, hide inside for six weeks? As if being a new mom isn’t isolating enough. No, just no. Moms…take your kids out. It’s ok! They will be ok. If you’re really scared about germs, make sure people wash their hands before touching the baby, but please, please don’t feel like you have to stay out of public for six weeks.

  • Elle

    OP’s husband isn’t gone frequently traveling, that is OP’s FIL. I think it’s a horrible, terrible idea for OP to leave her husband and fly up to the midwest in the middle of winter (hello flu and whooping cough that baby is definitely not vaccinated for and freezing cold) by herself with a newborn.

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  • BeeBelle

    I felt bad memories burbling up just from reading this. I was across the country with my firstborn. My mother offered to (and did) come out the first week after baby was born. She cleaned everything, went grocery shopping and made dinner every night plus some for the freezer, and was able to hold the baby pretty much when she fetched her for me to feed. I slept when baby napped. It was awesome. MIL and I had a rocky relationship so I asked her to wait a month. FIL called DH to chew him out for this and hugely guilt-tripped him into agreeing that she and his then 13 yo sister should come right out and spend a week. They took turns holding the baby and arguing outside my bedroom while I tried to rest, typically about the nature of my bad housecleaning and how my SIL could not clean to those standards, but had to clean to MIL’s standards. It was a tiny apartment but they were banging and vacuuming and arguing constantly! MIL asked me what to make for dinner, where the best place was to buy the ingredients, hey I know why don’t you just go get them, no you got the wrong things, hey look I happen to have these recipe cards in my bag so I’ll make these things instead. And for what? So that she could be early on the bandwagon to see a baby that was at the least interesting phase of life. My mother = took care of me. My MIL = more work for me. It was terrible but it also taught me how to set boundaries for the future in a way I had never expected I would need to do. Best of luck – you’ll navigate this, and learn from it, and no matter how these grandmas choose to respond, you can be fine.

  • France

    “Dear Mom, 
    I would love for you to come and meet the baby when she’s born! Please, do get on a plane/bus/wagon and come stay with us for a few days [after all, OP did say she’d be happy to have her mom, just that there didn’t seem to be an easy way]. 
    You can’t? Oh well that’s a shame, I’ll really miss you, but don’t worry, we’ll be back in no time and you will be our first scheduled visit when we do. In the meantime, we will Skype every hour/day/week.” THE END

    Ok, so maybe not quite THE END.
    One thing that wasn’t mentioned (I think, maybe I read too quickly): if OP IS ok with the idea of flying with her newborn back home to meet the grandparents, then she could also suggest that the grandparents fund the plane tickets. Doesn’t have to be at Xmas, but maybe in January/February?
    Because, after all, it is possible that there is a solution here, and that her mom just genuinely wants to meet her grandkid before six months. 
    (don’t know why, but feel I need to justify myself and explain I’m actually mother to four rather young children, so not trying to defend any grandmother league, here!)

  • S

    Totally been there with this. My mom and mil had difficulty with sharing time. They both wanted to be given the special “I am a grandma”attention during the first days of my sons life when he was very ill. My mom also has a fear of flying and wants all plans to accommodate this. Something also to consider, my kids both deliveries were c sections. Both kids were sick. Drs did not want us traveling far from the dr office. I didn’t even drive for six weeks. My husband had a generic “the kids and wife are getting better we can’t wait to visit when everyone is well thanks for thinking of us “for every caller. He still uses this as my son still has serious health issues. This situation may be a warm up for setting limits and communication. One of our issues was both mil and mother wanted baby present at events for attention on them. I know this from my sister in laws kids they were asked to many adult events to meet the in laws friends. Maybe your mom wants you to visit her to invite “a few” friends or relatives to her house to show them her new grandchild. We do a lot of facetime.mThe situation will resolve itself. You need to focus on your wonderful baby. Good luck!