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The Postpartum Mom…and Her Mom

Oct05

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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?

(And if, on that note, you’re suddenly realizing that you maybe owe her a special thank-you, Procter & Gamble [who kindly sponsored this post] is running a Thank You Mom contest. Simply tell them how much you appreciate your mom and you could win $1,000 for a special visit with her. Each month 15 winners will be chosen in a voting process, so head on over to ThankYouMom.com and say nice some things about your mother, already.) The contest runs through November 30.

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This post has been sponsored by P&G.

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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20 Responses to “The Postpartum Mom…and Her Mom”

  1. Leigh Oct 05 at 2:45 pm Reply Reply

    my parents came (across a border and continent) for our first child. They stayed at our one bedroom apartment while we were in hospital and then moved to a B&B. I came home to a clean home, flowers and my favourite dinner. One of the nicest things they did was spend time adoring my son while I had a nap. They used the time to catch the morning light for photo sessions. My parents don’t fuss, they help behind the scenes and let us get our parenting feet under us.

  2. BMom Oct 06 at 11:06 am Reply Reply

    My mom lives in town, so she could come and go more easily, but one of the best things she did: pick up dinner for us at our favorite take-out place and meet us at home about half an hour after we got home from the hospital. We had enough time to take some pictures and walk the baby around the house on our own (my husband loves to give tours of our house, so he wanted to do the same for her) and then Mom showed up with food. We ate and then she left, which was also great.

  3. Pogita Oct 06 at 11:41 am Reply Reply

    My in-laws (whom I adore) came the week after baby was born. It was unexpectedly hard because neither one is in great physical shape. The stairs were hard, they couldn’t manage the claw-foot tub, our furniture was hard for them to manage. I was a wreck between worrying that I might drop the baby and that my FIL might trip and fall down the stairs and we wouldn’t be able to get him up, and then we would have to call an ambulance, and then we would have to go to the hospital, and then both he and the baby would get some strange bacterial infection and die. oh. my. I. was. a. wreck. I felt bad when they left early – but I also felt really grateful.

    When they returned at Christmas they stayed in a hotel – so I knew their showering needs were met and we could all have a nice time together without my worrying so much. Mental note: next time buy a house with a bathroom with a modern shower on the first floor…

  4. Nancy Joyce Oct 06 at 11:52 am Reply Reply

    My mother cleaned while I was in the hospital for a last minute c section. My husband said he has never seen the place so very clean. who knew you could polish bathtubs? She also filled the freezer with food for us. So that was wonderful. It’s the first grandbaby so after all of that, my parents wanted quality baby time but were great about respecting the limits we set in the first few week although i’m sure they weren’t happy about it.

  5. Therese Oct 06 at 12:17 pm Reply Reply

    Awesome advice! My mother lives in the same town as me and she and I have eerily similiar personalities. This has led to plenty of battles through the years but when my baby was born, it was perfect. She somehow knew exactly what we needed and how to make it happen with little fuss. It was awesome! I could definitely use this advice for my MIL though. She is a wonderful and sweet person but so meek and timid that she would choose to sit in the corner by herself rather than get involved, do something wrong or even ask how to help. She is definitely someone who needs explicit instructions. (even then she is only comfortable with a few things and say no A LOT! i.e., I will not drive your car 5 minutes down the road to Walgreens because I am not from here and could get lost…) I have a very take charge and just figure it out personality so this can be hard for me to handle. Laying out expectations in advance will hopefully make it easier when baby #2 arrives this spring.

  6. Jessica V Oct 06 at 12:59 pm Reply Reply

    My mom helped with the baby so I could take a shower and a nap, and forced me to get out of the house every day, even if it was just for a walk or lunch. Mostly, she kept me company, which was really what I needed at that point. Being a new mom can be isolating, and she helped immensely in those early days.

  7. Kay Oct 06 at 1:05 pm Reply Reply

    My mom came for my induction (and eventual C-section) and stayed a full week. She cooked, she cleaned, she fed the cats while we were at the hospital, she held the baby when I needed to nap. Should I decide to have a second, I may ask her to hold off coming until the second week. I ended up back in the hospital a week after my daughter’s birth on IV antibiotics for endometritis from the C-section. *That’s* when I needed my mom, since DH was back at work, and I felt like crap – but she’d already used all her vacation time.

    Fortunately, my MIL, who had *insisted* on being AT the birth, like IN THE ROOM (to which I said, emphatically, NO NO NO and thought I’d really pissed her off) stepped up and visited for the second week while I got better.

  8. Amy Oct 06 at 1:12 pm Reply Reply

    I am quite fortunate to have both of my parents live within 20 minutes of me (they are divorced). So, after the birth of my DD my mom very thoughtfully came over every night after work and either brought dinner with her or cooked something simple for us. She helped folding laundry and even was the first one to give DD a bath as I was worried about drowning the poor kid (they didn’t show us what to do in the hospital).

  9. Liz Oct 06 at 1:26 pm Reply Reply

    My mom came for a couple days after our first daughter was born, which was nice. But THE thing that we did that I will totally do with all future children is that we went and stayed at HER house for like 4-5 days around the 5 week mark. This was the point where I was just totally worn out and just needed someone to mother me, which is exactly what my mom did. She would get up with me at the 6:00 am feeding, and as soon as my little girl was done eating, my mom would take her and send me back to bed. I didn’t have to worry about the diaper change and getting her back to sleep. It was incredible. Plus, my baby was born in January so we hadn’t gotten out ot the house much, and it was nice to spend my days sitting in someone else’s living room. Plus, since we were at her house, I felt no compulsion to clean/entertain/etc. Will totally do that again!

  10. jive turkey Oct 06 at 1:50 pm Reply Reply

    I think it’s helpful for everyone to have clear expectations about who’s going to be doing what during the visit. My mom was there for a week, beginning the day I came home from the hospital. She cooked and cleaned and did the grocery shopping and it was AWESOME and JUST WHAT WE NEEDED. She, however, kept insisting she was “doing nothing” and hinted around that she thought she’d be doing more baby-related duties. And since this was my first baby & I was navigating breastfeeding (AND my husband was also there), she just did not get a whole lot of hands-on baby time. When it came to the baby, there were simply too many cooks in the kitchen, and tempers flared. My husband & I wanted to handle all the baby stuff so that we could 1) learn how to do it and 2) prove to ourselves we were capable of it (and not to mention we were drunk on New Baby Love and wanted to hold her every second of every day). In hindsight, Mom should have come up the second week, when things were a bit more settled & my husband was back at work.

  11. Jenny Oct 06 at 1:58 pm Reply Reply

    I think your relationship with your mother prior to birth is a huge influence here. For example- my mom and I aren’t close. At all. Both my parents and my husbands parents live about 2 hours away. I tried to convince my husband to not even call anyone until the baby had arrived because I was so worried about my mom forcing her way into the delivery room.

    My parents came to the hospital the day after our son was born and visited for a few hours, and then they went home. My husband’s parents came a few days later, again, for just a few hours. My mother-in-law brought some frozen home-made meals with her and that was just divine, I could have kissed her for that.

    That was about it, we did everything else mostly on our own. Next time I think I would ask my mother-in-law to stay. It might make my own mom very mad but I would have enjoyed having her around. She’s very down to earth and helpful.

  12. Kelly Oct 06 at 3:35 pm Reply Reply

    I definetly agree that it would be a good idea to outline your expectations for visits. That is, tell family and friends exactly what you want help with, what the rules are on length of stay, what the rules are about “popping in,” etc. I never even considered this with my baby (5 months old now), and regret the fact that I didn’t clearly tell people what I wanted- next time around will definetly be different!
    We actually live with my in-laws so we didn’t technically have house-guests, but I can imagine that the situations are somewhat similar. Thebiggest problem I had was with visitors “popping in” The in-laws would just open the door and come into the room without warning. This was not condusive to learning how to breast-feed, or for having alone time as a new little family. The second issue I had was that everyone’s idea of helping was holding the baby. I did not need help with my baby- I needed help with the other things, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc. I was often accused of hoarding my baby because I didn’t want to share her. So after reading this article, the biggest change I will make is setting a rule that we don’t want visitors for a designated period of time. Or maybe require that they must do a chore before they are allowed to hold the babe:)

  13. Eva Oct 06 at 4:01 pm Reply Reply

    My mother lurked around our house a lot when our first daughter was born in 2007.  It was annoying – she needed too much hand holding, took no initiative, and just wanted to hold the baby rather than actually be helpful.  At least she lives in town so we didn’t have to have her here 24/7 other than a few nights where she sort of….stayed.  Our second daughter was born 2 weeks ago and we have been very clear and adamant – please don’t come over unless invited, especially not just to hold the baby, thanks, we’ll call you when we’re ready, please accept this, thanks.  This has been much much better.  I just don’t like other people including my mother cleaning or cooking for me, and have really enjoyed having time with just my husband and #2 (and #1 when she’s not at daycare).  

  14. Kirsty Oct 07 at 12:32 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, this really touched a nerve – I have tears streaming down my face! When my elder daughter was born my mother was already well into her early onset dementia and couldn’t travel (I wouldn’t have wanted it either), so my dad came when Carla was two months old and, though obviously doting, he did nothing to help exactly (not his generation, I guess). My (now ex-) mother-in-law came when Carla was one month, and would have come sooner, but as she’s never been my favourite person, I couldn’t bear the thought of her coming to criticise me any earlier; it was hard enough as it was! By the time my younger daughter was born, my mother was dead, so that was out, and my MIL-from-hell came, but again, not for a while.
    I’m now single, with two daughters (aged 8 and 6), an ex who thinks I’m the devil (while I know he’s mentally ill) and this just, oh, made me realise how much I’ve missed out on, how alone I am, how much I miss having a mother to turn to…
    I’m sorry, this is all totally irrelevant, but wow, am I SAD… I really do wish things had been/were/could be different…

    *******************
    Isabel: Dear Kirsty, you’re not alone. Around Mother’s Day, I hear similar sentiments of sadness by motherless daughters. Thinking of you and them right now. Hugs.

  15. Amy Oct 08 at 9:30 pm Reply Reply

    Does your mother/MIL cook? If they live within driving distance, ask them to prepare & bring frozen meals (think lasagna, chili, enchiladas, beef stew, etc.) or if they’re flying in, send them to the grocery store & let them prep the stuff at your house to freeze. Then, whether they’re still there or not, you’ll be able to have a hot meal w/o any work involved. My mother did this with my 1st, (and I did it for myself before my 2nd was born), but it’s a great way to ask for help without having to give any handholding or instructions.

  16. Becky Oct 12 at 1:19 pm Reply Reply

    This was such a great post, especially the timing of it. I am expecting my first baby next month and my mother plans on coming to help out the first week that the baby is born. My husband or I will call the parents after the baby is born to tell them to come meet their grandbaby. (My parents live 6 hours away). Then they will both come stay with us for one week. My mother’s own mother did this for her and she did it for my sister as well. The best part is that my mother is adament about letting me take care of the baby while she takes care of everything else. I LOVE this! (Especially since we are both clean freaks.) She will make sure everything is clean, laundry is done and food is on the table leaving my husband and I with a full week to learn how to take care of baby. My sister said she is also really great for all the moments when you just want someone else there to say “She’s the cutest baby I’ve ever seen! Isn’t she? Isn’t she the cutest baby you’ve ever seen?” I can’t wait! My MIL is a bit more difficult and we’ve agreed that she will come visit once things get settled :) Establishing expectations takes a lot of the stress off.

  17. Stevie Oct 12 at 2:14 pm Reply Reply

    This…makes me sad. My mother was too crazy by the time my first son was born (even more so by the second) to even come by until he was three weeks old. She lives in the same town. And she brought her girlfriend who hates children. They stayed about 5 minutes, and hopped up and left to go out on a dinner date. My stepmother was “ill” like always, she called and asked if we needed anything but didn’t even offer to come by. My mother’s ex-partner, bless her heart, was the most involved. She called every other day and brought diapers on emergency when we got him home and realized that he did actually need the newborn size, and our cloth diapers were WAY too big. Hubby’s mother was not allowed near my family; she’s even more mentally disturbed than my own mother. I wish I’d had a mother to be there with me. I know it’s hard for women to deal with their mothers sometimes, but it kind of upsets me to hear about them “helping” even in their own ways, and getting bashed for it. Ladies, LOVE your mum. It’s infinitely harder, sadder, and lonlier without one, even if yours does meddle.

  18. Eileen Oct 14 at 10:00 pm Reply Reply

    My MIL came for two weeks. She read her magazines, did her crossword puzzles, and left a trail of work for me behind her. Once, when a friend came over to clean the house so I could sleep, she prevented said friend from making formula to feed my hungry daughter because she didn’t know how (uh…directions on the can?). I was awoken from my nap by a squalling, hungry baby. For baby 2, MIL asked to come for two weeks and “help” and was firmly told no. She was invited to come for a short 4-day Thanksgiving weekend visit about 3 weeks after the baby is born. That’s help I DON’T need!!

  19. Tanya Oct 15 at 4:04 pm Reply Reply

    DH and I live with my mother currently. I am 13 weeks pregnant with our first, and we were planning to buy our first home before baby is due in April. However, it is looking less likely that this will happen, and we will most likely be living with her and bringing new baby home to her house. I’ve gone back and forth about how distressing this thought is, and also how reassuring. I’m afraid that she will be in our space, trying to help, and not give us the opportunity to learn how to be parents on our own. On the other hand, I’ve had many tell me we will be grateful for her presence and I’m trying to settle on that, and this helps me to determine what kind of boundaries to talk about with each other before next April, even though it won’t be a “time limited visit”.

  20. Ansyia Oct 29 at 2:44 am Reply Reply

    Oh! Oh! Oh! Love this post and all the comments.

    My mother crossed an ocean to be with me after my daughter was born, even though I tried to convince her that we’d be okay (I didn’t want her to worry about the expense of coming or feel like she was obliged to come regardless of her own health and situation at the time.) But the best thing she said to me was “I’m coming to take care of *my* baby so you can take care of *your* baby.” It took me a moment to realise that *I* was her baby :D and when she came, all she did was mother me and DH and made sure we had enough energy and stamina to look after our newborn. I hope one day I can do the same for my daughter.

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