Let me start by saying I love grandmothers, generally. And when I’m working with a new mother, almost always, NewGrandma strikes me as loving, enthusiastic, concerned, and deeply lovable.
Yet her foot is often in her mouth. And so, continuing with What Not To Say, this list is specific to New Grandmas.
1. “Why don’t you just … “
“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.”
These remarks are undermining if they suggest that you don’t take her situation seriously. And they aren’t questions at all, unless NewMom can respond, “Well, Mom, it’s because I’m overly controlling/anxious/inadequate just like you’re implying.”
“Just” implies that whatever the new mom’s got going on is solvable by something extremely simple. The journey into motherhood is not “solvable,” people. It’s a process.
Most of the time NewGrandmas say these things because they are concerned and want to help. So, NewGrandma: when that feeling springs up, why don’t you just say,
“What could I do right now that would help?”
And, New Moms: if you hear one of these questions, feel free to respond to the question she ought to have just asked, by saying,
“I’d love it if you babysat for an hour so I could get a break!”
“I’m not ready to be apart from the baby yet but I’d love if you did a load of laundry!”
“I’m amazed at how many little things worry me these days, but it might help if I met some other new moms, could you help me pack the diaper bag so I can get to the new MOMs group?”
“Thanks so much for the joke about the vegetable garden, it’s so helpful to have some laughter to break up the intensity of my day with the baby.”
2. Anything about your body or her body
Once I had a client with a five day old, whose mother told us that back in the Day, when she was nursing, she got a clogged duct. “There were no pumps then,” she said cheerfully. “So NewGrandpa had to suck the clogged duct out of me.”
Now, I love breastfeeding and am fascinated by the human body and actually could have chatted at length about this with NewGrandma and NewGrandpa. But they weren’t my parents and I hadn’t just had a baby. NewMom didn’t want to hear anything about it.
Let us generalize from that and say it’s best, NewGrandma, for you to avoid telling NewMom about your episiotomy, hemorrhoids, bleeding nipples or postnatal weight loss timeline. She has enough to deal with as her own body changes.
Speaking of which, don’t talk about NewMom’s body either, unless it’s to say, “You look great!” New moms can be sensitive about how they appear, and some will hear even your most sympathetic delivery of:
“You seem tired today”
“You look like crap!”
So it’s best to avoid that possibility by skipping it. Instead, why don’t you just say “Would you like me to hold the baby while you lie down?”
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 classic examples are how she fed the baby and how she dealt with sleep, but I’ve heard this on everything from car seats (“when you were a baby we just lay you across the seat!”) to making baby food (“in my day we pureed everything by hand!”)
Logically NewMom might hear this as an interesting artifact from another time, but logic doesn’t always prevail. Some moms hear, in these statements, an unspoken conclusion:
“ … and the way you do it now is bad.”
A breastfeeding mom might hear her mother-in-law’s reminiscence (“I had bottles lined up in the fridge at the ready!”) as a criticism of her nursing efforts. A mom who’s struggling with a wakeful baby does not need to hear that “in my day we put you on your stomach and you slept through the night right away.”*
I think NewGrandmas say these things, almost always, out of pure nostalgia. After all, how trippy must it be for her to realize that several decades have just disappeared? So, NewMoms, I encourage you to do a mental translation and hear it as though she just said, “Gosh, I’m so flooded with memories that at the moment I’m not thinking about you at all!”
And, NewGrandma: try to say that instead! Because even if NewMom is being oversensitive, she just had a baby. Cut the woman some slack.
Occasionally, NewGrandmas do mean it personally. And to them I say: your daughter is not breastfeeding as a passive aggressive way of saying ,“You Were A Crappy, Ignorant Mother!” It’s not all about you.
*BTW, NewMom, you so did not sleep through the night; NewGrandma doesn’t remember as clearly as she thinks she does.