How to Ask for Help or Privacy Once Baby’s Here

It’s not something that comes up in etiquette books but we’re here to help: Now that you have your darling baby home, how do you keep relatives from swamping you with unwanted help?

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With an infant, festive occasions like Chinese New Year and Christmas, and milestones such as birthdays, are often a flashpoint. Suddenly, everyone in the family wants to see you and expects you to spend time with them. And it will really change your relationships, especially with your own parents.

This might happen in a number of ways: Perhaps you suddenly realise how much you owe your mum for all those sleepless nights she had with you. Then, you might worry about living up to her parenting style, or you might decide you are going to do things totally differently. Most of all, you could find that all your parents (in laws and birth), are suddenly on the phone, on your doorstep and generally more in your life than you could ever have imagined.

Then, there’s the question of “helping”; AKA that feeling of being pushed out and treated as useless, when what you really need is peace and quiet to recover and to get to know your baby. Generally, it’s easier to listen to mum’s or granny’s advice since she has already raised one of you… but parents and in-laws may have different views on how your baby should be brought up, and they are probably different from the way you plan to do things. Sure, it’s well meant but it is such a trigger point and feels so judgemental; that makes your own uncertainty about your decisions even worse: No one’s born knowing how to be a brilliant parent.

A note of caution: However well-meant, grandparents’ advice can be totally out of date — advice on feeding baby with formula instead of breastmilk, for instance, which was the norm in our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Negotiate with your relatives
With all this in mind, how do you avoid the outbreak of WWIII in your family? The first thing to do might be to get some perspective by talking to a friend. But if the tension is rising, it’s probably best to discuss the problem with the person concerned head-on. Say something like, “We don’t seem to be on the same page here — what can I can do to help?”

Remember that if your problem is with your mother-in-law, don’t let that come between you and your husband. Certainly don’t attack his mother and expect him to like it. Instead, enlist his support, say, ask your husband to tell her that you need some time to yourselves.

Deflecting with humour may help. For example, if your mother-in-law says, “Don’t pick the baby up, you’ll spoil him”, you can say, “Oh you know me, I’m a soft touch.” Or you might want to back yourself up with an expert: “Oh, my paediatrician told me to.” Often, people will back off if you say you’re acting on a doctor’s advice.

And don’t forget, grandparents and other doting relatives can actually be very useful if handled with panache. If your parent (or in-law) keeps being bossy, maybe you should turn the baby over to them for a while, and go for a shower or a nap or some time with your husband! Either they will have a renewed understanding of your problems, or they’ll have a great time with bubba and you’d have had a break.

What phrases to use when parents drive you mad
• “Wow, you really did it like that? What else did mothers do with their babies in those days?” (Very useful when dealing with outdated advice.)
• “It’s really good to hear all your advice and I appreciate it, but I have thought this through carefully and I’m going to do it this way. I’m sure you can respect my decision.”
• “I might be oversensitive, but what you’ve said does sound critical and it’s upsetting. I really need your support, so try to understand my perspective.”
• “I know it sounds strange, but it’s what my doctor told me to do, so I do at least have to try it.” (Useful even if not remotely true.)
• “Would you mind calling before you come around next time? I was just about to go out and I would have hated it if I had missed you. Now I’ll have to reschedule my appointment.”
• “Please don’t tidy up ― I really need to find out how to manage the house and the baby by myself.”
• “Ah, but look at him! He’s so happy! Why would I change anything?”

By Leah Hardy

Other stories to read:

How to deal with the in-laws 
Meet the gramps!
Put baby back on track