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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

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

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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