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Mother vs. Mother

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I have a question that I haven’t seen, mainly because I know that I have the opposite problem many women have. The issue is that my mother-in-law is about thousand times more helpful, loving and supportive to my family than my own mother is. While I can pretty much get around this on a day to day basis (we don’t live in the same area as either woman) now that I’m pregnant with my second child, some decisions need to be made that will clearly hurt my mom. The main issue right now is that my 2-year-old actually knows my mother-in-law, who comes to visit often, and we want her to come up to stay with my daughter while I’m in the hospital and for a few days afterwards to help out. However, my mom, because she was out of the country when my first daughter was born, wants to have this “honor.” I do really love my mom but she refuses to see that her granddaughter would not be comfortable with her and that the extra tension would not be conducive to come home to with a new baby. While this pull and tug situation has come up before and we’ve been able to resolve it peaceably, I think now because it involves babies everyone has their emotions set to high. Any suggestions on how to oh so delicately handle this would be appreciated!

The Daughter

Could…both of them come? Could your mother come for a shorter time period than you currently have in mind for your mother-in-law, with your MIL arriving immediately after she leaves? Could your mother commit to X number of visits BEFORE the baby arrives so your daughter can get more comfortable with her? Could you try showing your daughter photos, video messages, or set up a webcam once a week?

I’m putting these ideas out there kind of rapid-fire because I get the sense you’ve already made up your mind and are mostly looking for a way to say NO WAY to your mother without hurting her feelings. Which…doesn’t exist, won’t happen, sorry. If you are absolutely adamant that this is the way you want things, you’re just going to have to tell her that.

I don’t know your history with your mother; I don’t know how unbearable she can be or how selfish she’s been or…any number of things that Mothers Can Do To Drive Us Crazy. I do know that you should be very careful, and think long and hard about saying NO WAY to her this time. The surest way to guarantee that she won’t try to improve her relationship with her grandchildren is for you to refuse her when she finally DOES make an effort.

It goes back to my sort-of universal theory on Grandparent Relations (and yeah, I can’t believe I actually have one, but there you go)…the relationship with grandparents is Very Important. Even imperfect grandparents, and we as parents need to sometimes put on our big-girl pants and not let our own issues with our parents stand in the way of our children having as close as possible of a relationship with them. TO A POINT. I’ve also mentioned the whole toxic/dealbreaker level, where your child’s actual safety and well-being could be compromised by being around them. And that’s like, abuse, neglect, health risks, overall vileness…not because you had a ton of fights with your mom in high school and still kind of can’t stand her.

So. I guess you need to look at your mother and really figure this out: do you want her to be involved with your children, or are they better off with her as a distant, vaguely familiar figure who they maaaaaybe see on holidays or get birthday cards from? You may argue that that’s exactly what she’ll be anyway, regardless of how this situation pans out, but you might sleep better one day knowing that you did everything you could to have it be otherwise.

A child’s stranger anxiety is not something to brush aside, particularly if you’ve seen that she does indeed get very upset around unfamiliar people. I can’t really help you there, as Noah’s never been that fazed by strangers, and would probably have been happy if the mailman came and stayed with us through Ezra’s birth. But maybe, if this is important enough to your mom, she’d be willing to make herself less of a stranger in the next few months. Can she come visit BEFORE the birth, at least once? I think that’s a reasonable stipulation to ask of her, and include at least one decent chunk of alone-time babysitting during the visit, to see how your daughter does. Take a ton of pictures and talk up the special Grandma Time she’ll get when it’s time for baby brother/sister to arrive. And I mentioned a webcam and video chat — we’ve done this with Jason’s parents for YEARS, at least once or twice a month. Even when Noah was too young to really grasp that they were actual people talking to him, it helped to make their faces more familiar to him when we were able to visit. (I think it’s a fabulous little tradition for any far-flung family members — if you’re stumped for Christmas gifts, webcams are relatively inexpensive, video chat is free and you can include a Geek Squad gift card for the technologically nervous.)

Now, it might seem unfair to your MIL, as she’s the one who has ALREADY made an effort to be close to your daughter…but I do think if she’s as fantastic as you describe that she’ll understand. It’s your mother, and she was out of the country last time and it’s kind of her turn, so to speak. What you need to sort out, I THINK, though I only going by vibes I get from your question, is your own feelings toward your mother. Are you…maybe a little resentful that she missed your daughter’s birth? Resentful about your relationship as a whole? Maybe even shifting the fact that you *just don’t plain flat-out want her around this time* onto concerns about whom your daughter would be “more comfortable with?” I am not judging, by the way. I am sure there’s a LOT MORE to your mother than got included in your question. I completely freaked out when I found out that my first choice of family was not going to be able to help with Noah and the new baby.

I FREAKED. Like you said, emotions run high when it comes to these things. But really, it was just fine. Yeah, I got tense and irritated a couple times, but I am pretty sure I would have gotten tense and irritated at whoever was around. I’m talented like that.

If you’re worried about your mother’s practical ability to help — could you swing a postpartum doula? Someone to do the things your mother might not think of, like laundry and refilling your water glass, and to possibly act as a nice, neutral force between the two of you, so you’re not having to ask your mom for breastfeeding advice. Or could your mother-in-law come too, if that’s at all doable for space. (Remember your newborn won’t actually spend nights in his/her room, so if it’s just a matter of finding a spot for a second air mattress, don’t feel like this HAS to be an either/or situation.) Start cooking and freezing meals in your last month, whatever you need to do to put your mind at ease that a few days’ worth of time with a less-than-particularly-helpful mother won’t be the end of the world.

So…yeah. You have to ask some tough questions: What do you want from your mother? Do you want her to make more of an effort to be an involved grandmother? Then realize you probably can’t shut her out of this event and still expect that she’ll be super-down with coming for Christmas every year. Is there something about her that truly concerns you, that means your children would be better off without her in their lives? If not, you might need to swallow your own issues and annoyances and do everything you can to facilitate a good relationship…or at least a few good memories.

Photo by Hamed Saber

Published December 11, 2009. Last updated March 27, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 [email protected].

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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  • Anon for this

    December 11, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Wow, I could have written this question.
    With our first, we had MIL (and her mom, too!) stay for the first week, and it was delightful, then mom (and dad) came for 4 days or so right after that, and it was… ok. It was so obvious the contrast between the two families having back-to-back visits! I think that the staggered visits is a great idea, from our experience. And having mom come first might not be so bad, because MIL can come and pick up the pieces.
    Mostly, though, just *hug*. It’s hard to know what to do with feelings like this when it’s just not a problem a lot of people can relate to. Congratulations on #2’s upcoming arrival.

  • Muirnait

    December 11, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Great job of looking at the many possible facets of an issue, as always, Miss Amy 🙂

  • Bitts

    December 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Wow, Amy. That was a TOUGH question and I really like your answer. Good job.
    Good luck to you, Daughter! I don’t have anything to add to what Amy said, except that her answer must be awesome because I don’t even have this problem and it really got me thinking anyway!
    I hope it works out ok for you, your daughter and your new baby!

  • Jaymee

    December 11, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Well I personally feel like it needs to be both or none. It’s kind of a slap in the face to invite one and not the other. Think about it, how would you feel if when your daughter has kids she says, “No Mom, you can’t come. I want my MIL to be there instead.”? I bet you would feel really hurt! To say that your MIL will be more supportive than your mother doesn’t really make sense since bacause you have NO IDEA how your mother is going to be. She wasn’t there for the first birth. Maybe she’ll surprise you and be a wonderful blessing to have around.
    For me, I will not have ANYONE(except for my husband that is) at the hospital for our next child. We wont even be having anyone at our house for the first couple weeks. We both feel that having a child is something special between us. Not something special between us, our parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, co-workers, random guy from the grocery store(no we didn’t really have a random guy from the grocery store show up, but we sure felt like it). When our 1st child was born we wanted to get to know him and spend time together as a new family. Instead we spent most of our time trying to make sure one person didn’t hog the baby so much that someone else didn’t get a turn. For the first 2 weeks I only got to hold my son when I was nursing him and my husband only got him when he needed a new diaper(not joking, that’s really how it was). The very second we got done someone took him out of our arms without giving us a chance to blink. That’s why next time everyone else can just wait.

  • AJU5's Mom

    December 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    In our case, we are lucky that my dad understands my issues with my mom. She is very loud, which can be stressful for our daughter. Both sides see our kids regularly, so that wasn’t the issue per se. It was more that I wanted calm around the birth.
    Maybe you could take this up with your dad? Would he be coming with your mom or not? Maybe you could arrange with him to have them come the weekend after the baby is born?

  • Julie

    December 11, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I really understand your pain! Doulas are very expensive. And you have some free actually helpful Help being offered to you…
    It really is awful but necessary to find ways to pretend that a grandparent is helping while minimizing the reality that he/she/they are creating more work. So look for things she can do that are actually helpful while working on her bonding with her grandchildren.
    My parents wanted to be super helpful and had been planning to show up right after birth. They -while well meaning- are not the definition of super helpful. (Mom, sleeping in until 1030 in a family of newborn twins is not helpful. Taking a nap later that day is infuriating.) We did the doula for the first month and then had my folks show up afterward. Mom cooked some meals and did laundry and spent some time with her new grandsons. Dad was given several assembly tasks (a swing, DIY furniture)and in a pinch could hold a baby for a few minutes.
    They still drove us crazy, but at least they weren’t generally more work than help. Most days. sigh.

  • Spring

    December 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Your situation sounds almost exactly like mine. My own Mother is uninterested and standoffish with my kids, even to the point of expressing unhappiness when I told her was pregnant the first time, because I’d have less time for her. And she won’t come visit unless I drive the 5 hours to get her, bring her to our house, and then drive her home later. And this is after I bought her a new car because she said she’d drive up if I did. My MIL, however, is wonderful, loving, and visits frequently. What that means is that my son is very attached to his Dad’s parents, while my Mom is mostly a figure in pictures. After all this rambling (sorry, my Mom makes me want to vent) my point is that my son was REALLY unnerved by the birth of my daughter a few months ago, and having his beloved and familiar grandparents around was SUCH a good thing, distracting him and making him happy. If you think your first child is going to be stressed out at all by having your Mom there, I’d really think twice about it, even if it risks future rough patches in your relationship. Really, it just meant SO MUCH to my boy to have someone he was used to and comfortable with when he was so freaked out by the baby.

  • Diana

    December 11, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Described in more detail below, but I actually preferred having my less-favorite grandma out for the birth and saving my favorite grandma for a fw weeks after.
    In my family, my 2 year old knows my Mom better than my MIL, and my Mom had been there for his birth, while my MIL missed it. So, second time around, MIL came for the birth. She is a lovely woman, but doesn’t see my son very often, and drives me nuts in all the usual ways.
    I had a c-section so was in the hospital for the first 4 days of her visit, and then pretty much slept/hid in the bedroom whenever I wasn’t breastfeeding the 2 additional days that she was there. I.e. I practically didn’t see my MIL at ALL during her visit.
    My husband was around the house during his usual before and after work hours (now his before and after hospital visit hours), and the 2 year old kept going to his usual daycare during the day – so the 2 year old was a little rattled (mommy missing, strange grandma around, everyone a little stressed), but had enough normal to not totally fall apart.
    Then, 2 weeks after the birth, when I was getting stir-crazy, my mom came up and actually hung out with me and the baby for a week.

  • JCF

    December 11, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I agree with a lot of what Amy said–to a point. You’re not going to find a way to tell your mom no without hurting her feelings. However, a 2 year old who is becoming an older sibling for the first time can be a volatile thing. I think it would be really important to have your daughter with someone she’s comfortable with while you’re in the hospital and especially for the first day or two after you come home.
    My son was an emotional wreck for those first few days after the baby was born, and it was invaluable to have grandparents he was comfortable with around to help with whatever. It made me feel next to no guilt to hand him off, whereas I would have been totally anxiety ridden to hand him off to a relative stranger.
    That being said, if Amy’s suggestion of having your mom visit and get to know your daughter BEFORE the birth doesn’t work for whatever reason, can you spin the whole thing a different way to your mom? Maybe tell her that you’d rather have her there when you’re NOT in the hospital and can spend more time with her once you’re home? Maybe that way your MIL could be there while you’re in the hospital and for the first day or two you’re home, and then have your mom come for a chunk of time at that point? That way, if your daughter does have anxiety about the whole situation, at least your and your husband will be there too.
    I totally understand the stress that goes along with new babies, older siblings, and other family members! I hope you are able to figure out something that you’re all okay with. Also, keep in mind that the newborn stage the second time around is SO MUCH EASIER. Yes, it is hard having to deal with a toddler too, but you’re feel like a professional with the baby, and it probably won’t be as crazy as it was the first time.

  • Anon this time, also

    December 13, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    I can’t believe someone else has the same problem! And others in the comments! My MIL is so wonderful and my Mom and I… don’t get along so well, to put it nicely
    I can imagine myself saying the exact same thing and I can tell you- I would be looking for any excuse not to compromise and find a way to tell my Mom to disappear. But… Good advice. Grandparents are important, and we’re supposed to be adults. I should probably act like one, at least sometimes.

  • Anonymous

    December 13, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    “I personally feel like it needs to be both or none.”
    Omigosh no. My mother comes to my house and she helps dry the carpet after the basement has flooded. She gets bored and starts fixing things, like broken doorknobs, and then goes out to the yard, which needs serious attention.
    My husband’s parents come and they can’t even walk down the stairs because of their health issues. They expect to be entertained and waited on hand and foot. The drinking starts at 5.
    If we had a baby, my mother would reduce my stress and my husband’s parents would send it through the roof. They would not be invited to stay chez nous. I don’t care how much it would hurt their feelings.

  • midwestmom

    December 14, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    i totally empathize with you, and have dealt with a similar issue myself recently. i agree with amy that you need to assess whether this is about your comfort or your older child’s comfort (at least that is what i did). if it is about your comfort, then the question is can your mother get over her hurt feelings to understand that good intentions don’t always equal good results and, if not, can you get over your discomfort to make her happy? and hopefully your MIL will understand if you say you want your mom there right after the birth. on the other hand, if it is about your child’s comfort, i think that is and will always be your priority, so you might as well make that clear to your mother now, hurt feelings or not.

  • Methut

    December 15, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I’m the person who posed this question. First I want to thank Amy for her advice. She definitely help me face some issues that I was willing to ignore until she put the hard questions in black and white. My husband and I sat down and really thought about what was best for our daughter and our future relationship with both sets of parents. Of course, while we were doing this, my parents called with “surprise, we’ve decided to take a trip out of the country {again} right before you are due so we’d be happy to come up after the baby is born instead of while you are in the hospital.” So…everything worked itself out without having to discuss big, emotional issues with my mother. But…I still realize that there are deeper issues that need to be addressed and we are going to do so after the baby is born–mainly so I don’t get too emotional right now.
    Thank you again for the great advice from everyone!

  • ines

    February 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    I can totally relate to you and I do not agree that it has to be you to make the compromises. People who do not have similar histories with their mothers tend to emphasize on the compromise and that at least you will spleep well during the night knowing that you did all that you could…bullshit. Most of us spent our whole lives doing everything we could to compromise and make mother happy, guess what? it was never enough, mothers feelings got hurt either way and I still have nightmares about my mother. You’re the one having the baby, you’re the one deserving a little attention and “the honor”, not your mother. This is not about your mother, and frankly someone who is demanding “the honor” is not finally making an efford as someone has put it, she is just demanding attention ad not there to help… Which is exausting and anxiety inducing. I also had my mother around for the time my first child was born, for the sake of compromise and that grandparents are important and basically to keep my husband happy as that is what normal people do, have their mothers around. As I told you, other people do not really understand people in our situation. I ended up taking anxiety pills prescribed by the child’s paediatrician, who somehow managed to read me. No way I am going to compromise for other peoples peace of mind when my second child is due this year. I do not care for my mother’s feelings anymore and I stopped caring for what other people may think of me for that matter.