I was going to write about how new parents need to come together to create a “united front” when it comes to how they’re going to raise their baby, but because of a great thread I’m following on Facebook, my focus is beginning to soften and is more inclusive. There is a need for new parents to really hash out all the key points on how you intend to raise your children – before the baby arrives. If there are any big differences in your parenting styles, it would be best to know before your little person comes into the world to shine a spotlight on them! And if there are challenges between the generations, and there almost always are, it’s important for the couple to unite together for the sake of their own relationship. If a particular issue with a grandparent comes up, their child should speak directly to them about it – not the in-law child. This is just basic information that you’ve probably already figured out as a couple, but has special importance when you become new parents.
Having acknowledged all of this, the thread I’m following on Facebook talks about how grandmothers might experience postpartum mood disorders as their own daughters become pregnant and give birth. This was nothing I’d ever considered before, but makes complete sense to me upon hearing it. What a woman experiences during her birth will remain with her for always, her whole life. As a woman’s own daughter begins her journey toward motherhood these emotions and feelings from so long ago might begin to resurface. This can cause strain in the mother/daughter relationship as the soon-to-be grandmother revisits her own experience. If it was negative or traumatic for her, than there will be challenges that come along with this remembered event. If there were no real issues at her birth, there can still be some challenges or feelings of judgement if her daughter decides to do things differently from the way she did in her early years of mothering.
The same can be said for fathers and grandfathers. We live in a very different time with new research and lots of ideas about best practices during pregnancy, birth and parenting that just simply did not exist when our own mothers and fathers were on their journey. It’s no wonder that we have plenty of families having discussions with soundbites like this:
“When we were having babies, we just did it! What are you so worried about?”
“Well, that’s not the way we did it when you were a baby, and you turned out just fine, didn’t you?”
The health care system I work for has a fairly new class called “Grandparents Today” and it’s geared toward softening these conversations between the generations. It’s taught by a retired L&D nurse of 35 years on the floor who also happens to be a grandmother herself, so this is peer-to-peer education. The class brings to light all of the current information we have on how to keep babies safe when sleeping, why there is such an emphasis on breastfeeding, how and why it makes such good sense to wear your babies and have them skin-to-skin as much as possible, etc. The grandparents who take this class absolutely love it! They come back to their own children and school them about these best practices and everyone lands on the same page – at least about the things that are taught in the class.
I’d like to propose these two generations take this opportunity of bringing the newest family member on board as a chance to unite the whole family around raising this little person to adulthood. It’s a ton of work to do this job well – if you’re lucky enough to have your parents nearby and can count on them to assist with the day-to-day care of your newborn, this can be a lifesaver for you and your relationship. But even if they’re far away, relying on the wisdom that they possess – just from having more years on this earth than you – can be so helpful.
When talking with them about your challenges, try hard not to compare your situation to theirs. Yes, you might be going back to work full-time and they stayed home, but every parent works – just in different locations! Include your father in this new stage of his life without resentment – it was a different time and he was not encouraged to take part in parenting the same way you are today. If your mother never breastfed you, remember that as she’s learning right along with you, her words don’t mean to be unsupportive, she just might be feeling a little guilty about not doing this when it was her turn.
Having a new baby means stretching, growing and making room for this little person. Everyone examines who they are in relationship to this new life and it brings up stuff for each member of the family, some of it good and some of it not so good. Don’t assume anything in communication with one another. If the words you hear sting, instead of getting defensive, pause and try to imagine where their hurt might be coming from. Ask lots of questions. Look for understanding and common ground.
Having a baby does not have to be something that divides a family – it can be something that brings you all together. Being aware of these multi-generational challenges can be one way that you get closer to your own parents. Isn’t that something worth fighting for?
When you had your baby, did issues arise between you and your own parents? How did you handle them? Did the baby bring you closer together or drive you farther apart?