GRANDPARENTS can be a godsend for first-time parents – but they can be a cause of stress too, writes Jess Ratty. How do you deal with unwanted parenting advice?
The cot has been put together, the nursery has been painted and the baby clothes are neatly folded. You are about to give birth and everything is ready - or is it? Have you thought about how you will handle the "grandzillas" when your new baby arrives?
Will your parents and your in-laws be fighting through the doors of the hospital wing? Competing as to who will buy the most baby kit? Giving unwanted opinions on the name you have chosen for your child? This sort of behaviour can ruin what should be a special time in your relationship. Some new grandparents even go so far as to act as if the baby is their child, reborn 30 years later.
Having a baby can be hard enough without dealing with over-zealous grandparents, and being tactful with an ocean full of hormones coursing through your exhausted body can be incredibly difficult. The number of times I have bitten my tongue in the last few months in my position of first-time mum has been too many to count. Often words didn't even thicken the air before tensions were raised and my belief in myself as a mother was thrown into doubt. Should I chance placing my baby on his stomach to sleep for an hour? No! Bad mother! What about the odd bottle of formula? No! Bad mother!
One young mother I know continued breastfeeding just so her mother-in-law, who had strong opinions and vocal objections to how the child was being raised, would not be able to feed the baby with a bottle. She felt threatened by her intimidating manner and became increasingly possessive of her baby.
Another mum had a different kind of problem: she doubted the cleanliness of her in-laws' house. She was scared to place the baby on the carpet after wondering when it was last vacuumed. Just how do you tell a grandmother not to place your freshly bathed child on a dust- and grit-littered floor without causing offence that could last a lifetime?
"It is the grandparents I turn to for advice when my baby won't stop crying ... they are valuable and wonderful"
On the other hand, it is the grandparents I turn to for advice when my baby won't stop crying or I'm looking for a much-needed break. They are valuable and wonderful. And, of course, many grandparents are kind and dedicated full-time carers for their grandchildren.
But it is the unwanted advice and pressure over how to "be a parent" that is tricky to navigate. It is an issue that many parents-to-be don't even think about in the months leading up to the birth, and one that can cause a lot of aggravation afterwards.
Valuable advice given to me beforehand was to be brutally honest from the start - that way there are no surprises after. It didn't solve the problem of which granny got to hold the baby first, though! I also found that a bunch of flowers goes a long way after an argument and a frosty Sunday lunch over the wails of a newborn baby.