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Back off, Grandma: Mom, baby are a package deal

Q: I am the proud grandmother of two beautiful granddaughters, 5 months old and 2 months old. They are the daughters of two of my sons, the first for each. I am impatient for the quality memories I have planned for. I have asked several times to have the girls for a few hours or overnight, and the mothers always give me excuses, which I am sure seem valid to them, such as they are breast-feeding, the babies don't like bottles, they just got their shots. We all live less than 2 miles apart. I really want to be patient but it hurts when the excuses seem never ending.

I have a room set up for the babies (never used). The crib remains empty, the baby bathtub dry, the swing idle and the stroller folded. I have decided to return the room to its former condition just to stop seeing how empty a room full of stuff can be. Am I wrong to feel restricted, or am I just impatient?

A: Planning for grandchild visits is practical, generous, heartwarming.

I'm not sure where to file "planning for memories," though. Desperate, needy. Vaguely disturbing.

I realize this assessment might be grossly unfair, and based on nothing more than poor wording on your part. But you asked me why you're getting shut out, and if you are coming across to your daughters-in-law as you did to me in your letter, then I don't see the value of handing you a bromide.

What you want is to spend time with your grandbabies, so here's my best shot at getting you that time: Embrace spending time with their mothers.

In other words, back off. Not completely, of course — keep offering your love. But do offer it in the form of help for them, as opposed to emotional nourishment for you.

The first step toward that is to have more reasonable expectations. These are first-time moms you're dealing with, both apparently nursing their babies, and neither one is your daughter. Give them a chance to know you, to see you with the children, to build trust in you as a future host to their children.

Maybe most important, give them a little respect. Breast-feeding isn't an "excuse" for saying no to an extended visit, it's a reason. These are small babies whose nutrition is coming from Mom. If the mothers aren't pumping — and why should they, if they neither have to nor choose to — then mother and baby are a package deal. Offer to watch the babies in their homes while the mothers nap, take a bubble bath, or read more than one page of a book.

Once you get the balance right — of helping them with their babies versus demanding they offer up their babies to help you — then you also get something else right that's essential to your cause. You align yourself as their advocate, someone who supports, reinforces and even enables their choices as mothers.

Right now, you're complaining about these choices, demanding alterations to them, questioning their veracity — and nothing, nothing, will alienate these mothers faster than undermining them at this physically and emotionally draining time. If you get nothing else from my answer, get this: If you're not on board, you're getting left at the dock.

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Back off, Grandma: Mom, baby are a package deal 04/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 5:36pm]

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