The Baby-Bouncing Grandmother
While I was pregnant, you gave me the most lovely, practical advice about hating my pregnant body. I actually took this advice to heart and while my pregnancy wasn’t easy by any means, you made it oh so much more manageable.
Well, my baby girl is here now – 5 months old and the cutest darn thing you ever did see. She is such a happy baby! Sometimes I actually feel guilty because she is just so. freaking. perfect.
My issue is with my mother. (I know, SHOCKER.) My mom was a fantastic mother. She has always been really great with babies and children. But lately, this is not that case. A few years ago, my mother was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. I am not sure if you have any experience with this, but it essentially made her crazy. She became so hyper and antsy and anxious – just watching her was exhausting. If she wasn’t moving extremely quickly, she was sleeping. There was no in between.
Well, after a few years of treatment and me trying to convince myself that she was getting better, I have come to the realization that she is not. She is just as hyper/crazy as before, only now, my baby is thrown into the middle of it.
My mom wants to babysit all of the time. She calls me and tells me that if I want to go run a few errands or need to get some stuff done at work, she would be happy to help. Sounds great, except for the part where it is not great at all. Every time I walk in the door when she has been babysitting, it looks like a tornado has hit my house. Contents of her purse are spewed everywhere (because “she was cleaning out her purse!”), ALL of my kitchen cabinets are open, paper work is all over my coffee table (because “babysitting is such the perfect time to start all of these little annoying projects!”).
I really am not a mother who can’t let go and is just a worry wart about anyone but ME watching my baby. I leave my daughter with a nanny 3 days a week and don’t worry at all about that. But my mom literally comes over to babysit and brings projects to work on. Like organizing her receipts from this year. Or has me bring my baby to her house and then decides that today would be a perfect day to rearrange the living room furniture! I have no idea why she begs me to babysit if she would rather do 7 million other projects.
It would be fine with me if she brought over the occasional paperwork or something while babysitting, but she is just so busy and high strung, and I think it affects her ability to soothe my precious baby. When the baby starts fussing, she gets FRANTIC. She bounces up and down like she is on a trampoline. She frantically puts the baby in the stroller and runs in circles around my house. She comes up with crazy crazy frantic solutions. And my baby is damn predictable – 99.9% percent of the time, she stops crying with a pacifier and a LIGHT (non-trampoline-shaken-baby-syndrome-style) bouncing. She makes the baby MORE upset in her efforts to calm her down. And it hurts my heart imagining it while I’m gone or working.
It has come to the point that I’m really uncomfortable with her babysitting, but she is constantly asking me to babysit. I make up excuses a lot, insist I don’t have any errands to run, etc, etc. I’m sick of doing that and I also suspect that she knows I’m making excuses and that I don’t really want her to babysit. So my question is: what do I do? Continue to make up excuses? Or have the talk with her that she is just too high strung for babysitting? I don’t think I mentioned that she’s incredibly sensitive…. Gaaaah. Please help!
ps – Just as I finished this ridiculously long letter, my mom called and begged me to let the nanny off one day a week and let her babysit. HELP!
Yep yep yep. Another solid addition to our archive of Can This Grandparent Be Trusted To Babysit? questions. We all LIKE the idea of family members as our caregivers — any working mom who has ever used daycare or a nanny has probably gotten the suggestion of “But what about YOUR MO-O-OM? Wouldn’t that be BETTER?” But in real life, it’s usually more complicated than that.
Occasionally, I admit I don’t “get” the question-asker’s reasons for their misgivings, and have encouraged them to ease up and relax a little bit, because grandparents are so important, and taking care of their grandchildren is a wonderful thing for everyone involved, and and and etc. Occasionally, though, there’s a situation like yours, where the grandparent clearly crosses over into the realm of Unacceptable.
At first, while reading the stuff about the paperwork and various “side projects” I thought perhaps this dilemma could be resolved with one good hard honest talk about some ground rules and your expectations. A nanny, for example, is generally not allowed to bring other things to do while taking care of a child. I mean, a sitter in the evening could realistically be trusted to bring homework to work on after their charges go to bed, but for the most part babysitting is the JOB. Got some free time while the baby naps? Clean up the lunch dishes and bottles, do a load of crib sheets and burp rags, put the toys away, etc.
You would certainly not be out of line, the next time your mom admits she views babysitting time as a “great time for paperwork,” that you really, REALLY prefer that she leave those things at home while watching her granddaughter. Particularly as she rapidly approaches mobility and crawling, when even the most predictable, perfect baby in the world will TURN YOUR LIFE UPSIDE DOWN WITH DANGER AND CHAOS. If she asks why you don’t want to cut the nanny’s hours in lieu of letting HER babysit, absolutely point out that you rely on the nanny to do other vital tasks that go undone on your mother’s watch: laundry, clutter, a clean kitchen. If she’s willing to step up and fill those roles, then perhaps it’s something that could SOME DAY POSSIBLY MAYBE enter the realm of possibility.
But…then I read on, and it’s obvious your concern goes beyond the inconvenience of coming home to a messy house. You’re concerned that your mother simply cannot care for your daughter in the proper way, and not in a “she does things DIFFERENTLY than me OH NOES!” sort of way. The frantic bouncing, the agitation level when your daughter is upset, these are indeed worrisome concerns.
I don’t have any experience or first-hand knowledge of your mother’s health problems, but I do know several people with thyroid-related problems and how important it is to find the right medications to get things under control. AND I know that it’s possible to get things under control. So I’ll take your word for it that your mother’s condition is not under control. She sounds hyperactive and a tad manic. I know she’s sensitive, but…man. I don’t know how long I’d be able to watch that without eventually breaking down and saying, “Mom, I love you. I know you. I want you to babysit your granddaughter, but I am seeing X and Y and Z and these things tell me it’s time for you to go back to the doctor and talk about your medications, because I’m really concerned, and I think we better pause things on the babysitting front until you do.”
Yeah, I know. It sounds like you’re holding the baby hostage and using the doctor’s visit as a ransom, and I would make it clear that she is welcome to see your daughter while YOU are around, but also that she’s not going to be able to convince you that she’s “fine” and “better.” And this is no reflection on her actual ability to care for your daughter! (Even though it kind of IS.) She can’t help her condition, it’s not her fault, but again: X, Y and Z (anecdotes/symptoms of your choice) are happening and shouldn’t be happening.
It sucks to realize that, as our parents age, we sometimes end up parenting our own children…and taking on a bit of that role for them, too. It almost goes hand-in-hand with becoming a mother — you both grow to appreciate your mother’s role in a new light, while also seeing her flaws and failings too, particularly as they directly relate to her interactions with your children.
Good luck with this. I believe you absolutely are in the right to be concerned and to be not at all enthusiastic about your mother’s constant babysitting offers, but I really think you owe it to her (and yourself, and your daughter) to drop the endless excuses and avoidance tactics. Be honest, but frame it in a concerned, loving way that puts the emphasis on her health and your confidence that with just a little work on her part, this babysitting relationship can 100% be saved. (I know you might not actually believe that right now, but hey! Let’s go with positive thinking! Rainbows! Unicorns! Perfect babies who sleep through the night and never try to eat the tinsel off the Christmas tree! Yaaaaay!)
If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]