The Postpartum Mom…and Her Mom
After the birth of each of my babies, I wanted my mom. I wanted her to come visit me and help me and tell me that everything was going to be all right and I wasn’t going to screw this poor tiny creature up too badly.
My mom and I have a good relationship. Yes, it’s been rocky at time and “complicated” at others. I’m sure we have made the other want. To. SCAH-REEEEEAM. on more than one occasion. But when it came to those hazy early days and weeks, she was the one I wanted.
Even if you feel the same way, the idea of the postpartum visit can still be a bit nerve-wracking. Will your mom be a help or will you just be at each other’s throats the whole time? Will she be okay with your parenting choices or try to insist that you do things “her” way? Are you asking for disaster if you don’t have a guest room? Will she be offended if you suggest a hotel? How long is too long? How short is too short?
I can’t really help you with those questions, but I CAN help with some general tips for improving the postpartum family visit, and setting it up so your mom (or sister or aunt or mother-in-law) can be the kind of help you really need, and getting everyone’s expectations in order. Here are some of the things I did — and some of the things I WISH I did — when it came to the postpartum helping-out visit.
1. No open-ended visits. Agree on an arrival and departure date ahead of time.
2. It’s okay if you’d like a week or two alone before the family visits start, too. (First baby: We took two weeks to ourselves to settle in and my mom came when Jason had to go back to work. Second baby: In-laws arrived the day before my c-section and stayed to mostly care for big brother until we got the hang of juggling two children. Both plans had pros and cons, but it’s totally okay for you to pick the plan YOU want and expect family to stick to it.)
3. Have all conversations about travel and lodging questions ahead of time — no assumptions allowed. Will she be needing or expecting a ride from the airport and will your partner be able to realistically accommodate that, particularly if you’re still in the hospital that day? Is she okay taking a cab or having one of your friends pick her up? She might assume she’ll stay with you on the pull-out couch while you were thinking a hotel would be better. Everybody might not end up with their number-one dream-visit choice, but at least you won’t be thrown with a “wait, WHAT?” scenario at the last minute.
4. Likewise, if your mom plans to come before your due date to be there for the birth, hash out the conversation about your birthing room wishes (she can be there/you’d rather she wait outside) and how much alone time you and your partner will want in the hours and days immediately following.
5. If there are tasks you’d like your mother to help out with — making coffee, laundry, housekeeping — devote some of your pre-birth nesting energy into making these tasks extra-easy for her to complete without needing input or guidance from you. For example:
* Put the coffee machine, filters, beans, grinder, etc. all in one place so your mom isn’t hunting through cabinets helplessly for each component.
* Clearly label all your cleaning products with where you use them. WOOD FURNITURE, HARDWOOD FLOORS, CARPET, BATHROOM TILE, etc. We’ve all got dozens of bottles and we’ve all got our own preferences about where we might feel comfortable using one product vs. another — especially with a newborn in the house. This way Mom knows exactly which all-purpose cleaner you prefer be used on the counters and which one you’d rather NOT get sprayed on food-prep areas, or to help her know exactly what’s in those generic spray bottles of homemade vinegar solutions you like to use. Label laundry detergent in the same way, if you plan to use different types for your clothing vs. your baby’s.
* Speaking of laundry, it doesn’t hurt to write down your preferences and tape them to the washer door. Do you wash everything in cold? Like an extra rinse cycle for the towels? What goes in the dryer and what gets hung up? (My husband probably lost half of his t-shirts to shrinkage during the postpartum someone-helping-with-laundry phase.) Obviously you don’t need to get super-obsessive about it, but if you’ve got a mom who might fret over doing things differently than you prefer (or one who might not ever think to ask at ALL), a quick little cheatsheet can help her really “own” that task during her visit.
6. Don’t play hostess. This is doubly important if you’re worried you might get short-shifted on the “help” part of the visit and simply end up making dinner for an extra houseguest while your “helper” sits on the couch cuddling with the baby for hours. Set the tone of the visit from the get-go. You don’t have to offer snacks and refreshments or refill her coffee. Jokingly announce that under no circumstances will you be making dinner your first night home — but mean it seriously. You don’t have to get out of your robe or jammies or get dressed to entertain anyone. You don’t have to schedule sightseeing tours or feel obligated to do “just one nice dinner out as a thank-you.” There’s time for that later, when she’s back for strictly-fun grandma-type visits.
7. There is nothing wrong with a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob. I love my in-laws, for example, but there were definitely times when I didn’t want anyone bursting into my bedroom with folded laundry or a ringing telephone while I was nursing or napping.
8. Great non-housework tasks for mom to help with? Addressing birth announcements, helping with the first pages of the baby book, keeping a list of incoming gifts that will need thank-you notes, showering older siblings with a ton of grandma attention and taking over the morning sibling routine: getting dressed, breakfast, walking them to the bus stop, etc.
9. Everyone always talks about your mom offering to watch the baby for an hour or so while you and your partner grab lunch or something. This is great, but it can also be really nice if Dad offers to watch the baby while you and your mom go out and enjoy some coffee or shoe shopping or bonding time outside of the House Of The New Baby OMG.
10. Take a lot of pictures of her visit, then upload them to one of the online photo-book creators and have it sent to her afterwards as a thank-you and memento of her visit.
What did your mom do for you after your baby’s arrival? What meant the most to you — practical help, her advice, or just the presence of someone experienced to be your emotional cheerleader? And how did you say thank you?