When Grandma Sucks (And What You Can Do About It)

Grandmas. On the one hand, an immeasurable gift. What could be better than a helping hand from a woman who loves your child as much as you do? A helping hand from a woman who loves your child as much as you do, but doesn’t say things that drive you insane. I personally have not even the slightest inkling of complaint about the two paragons of generosity who share my children’s DNA and help me care for them. Really, ladies, you are awesome. But apparently, some other people are not so lucky.

My friend Meredith Lichtenberg, a childbirth educator, postpartum doula and all around Mom Genius, dedicated some space on her blog to talking about the various ways in which Grandmas can be a source of negative as well as positive influence to parents. Even better, she has some practical solutions that actually seem like they might work.

Annoying things that Grandmas say:

1.  “Why don’t you just … “

as in…

“Why don’t you just hire a babysitter so you can get some baby-free time.”

“Why don’t you just stop worrying about everything?”

“Why don’t you just grow a vegetable garden in your window-box, and then cook my son nourishing food every night like he deserves after he works so hard all day.”

The problem with “just”, Meredith says, is that it implies whatever Grandma is asking for is easy as pie. Meredith works a lot with new mothers, so she makes the valid point that when you’re a new mom, NOTHING is easy as pie. And while parents do generally dial down the anxiety after this stressful early phase (thankfully…could you imagine??) the assumption that shaking up a routine, adding another effort to a packed schedule, or controlling things that are difficult to control can really rankle a mom’s cankles.

Meredith’s suggestion to Grandmas is to focus on what they are really trying to ask, which, she optimistically infers, is how you could improve your situation. She cautions against a “solution” mentality, which doesn’t work because what you’re dealing with is not a problem, but a process. But she urges Grandmas to think in terms of what kind of help they can offer, not what you could do to fix things.

And for moms who get these types of annoying questions, Meredith suggests just ignoring the “why don’t you just” part of the conversation and answering the question Grandma really should have asked, which is “How can I help?”

Other winners in the Grandma Don’t hall of fame:

2. Comments about your body or her body.

These fall into two basic categories. TMI, or perceived critique. This is especially true in the extra-sensitive postpartum period. But we all know that the physical impact of motherhood can leave women feeling sensitive about their bodies for a lot longer than that.

3. “In my day we never/always did ________ and it was just fine/ even better / much more work than you are <lazily> doing / much less work than you are <stupidly> doing.”

The implication here, quite clearly, is that your way is the wrong way. No one wants to hear this, really, ever. Especially not when it comes to the way she is raising her child.

Meredith has some interesting ideas about what inspires these kinds of comments (hint: it’s about her, not about YOU). I’d tack on another possible interpretation. Grandma might just be nostalgic about how things used to be, or taking a little synapse trip down memory lane as she sees you caring for your little one. But she may also be having a teeny flash of insecurity about how she did things back then vs. how you’re doing them now. If things are so vastly different, somebody’s gotta be wrong and somebody’s gotta be right, right? Wrong.  The huge chasm between generational parenting styles may actually serve to illustrate one of my personal fundamental beliefs about parenting: there is no right way. You do what works for you, which is a product of who you are, what your life is like, and yes, when you’re doing your parenting thing. Deep down, Grandma probably knows this too. Unfortunately, it might not be what comes out of her mouth.

Read Meredith’s whole post: What Not To Say To a New Mother: Grandma Edition. She has some great tips on how to get perspective and manage your frustrations. Then subtly send your offending kin to her website.

Have you ever heard any of the above from the Grandmas in your life? Any other choice Grandma gems to share?

photo: horizontal.integration/flickr

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