Of all the challenges I've experienced after becoming a mom (and you know there are many!), one that has been the most complicated is dealing with extended family. The transition from becoming the "kid" following my parents' and in-laws' leads when planning family outings, vacations, and schedules to being the parent who needs to prioritize the needs of my own little family — and communicate that shift to loved ones — is a tough change, both mentally and in practice.
Just think about it, if you're close with your parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, you've probably spent the majority of your life respecting their wishes and pretty much showing up wherever and whenever you're told. Then suddenly, you have a baby, and that baby's schedule, and the subsequent happiness from sticking to that schedule and having a happy baby, becomes a lot more important than making it to Sunday dinner every week at grandma's house. But you still kind of feel like an ass for ditching grandma.
It's a conundrum for sure, but one that can be handled gracefully if you follow some simple guidelines. Here's how to put your new family first and set boundaries with your extended family without any drama.
- Be on the offensive. Just as you probably aren't used to telling your family elders what's what, they're used to being the ones in charge. It's not malicious, just standard practice. Therefore, it's important to get on the offensive. Before they have a chance to say, "We're all coming over for dinner tonight" or "You need to bring the baby to see Aunt Trudy on Tuesday," establish yourself as the one making scheduling decisions. It can be as simple as saying, "Mom, we're not going to have anyone over until next week, and then I'll give you a couple two-hour windows you can pass along to the rest of the family." The point is, you're now in charge and you need to communicate that shift.
- Under-promise. Even if you're a person who loves being surrounded by people and thrives on always being on the go, it's best to take a "wait and see" stance before committing to events soon after your baby is born. That way, you're not disappointing anyone and if you decide you're up for your cousin's bridal shower at the last minute, you'll be a pleasant surprise.
- Be direct and unwavering. This is not the time to be wishy-washy. Establish clear guidelines for visitors, including time frames and limits, and don't be afraid to kick people out, nicely, of course. "Oh, it's already 4 p.m.? It's time for me to have some one-on-one time with the baby. Thanks so much for coming," is a kind way to remind family members that their prediscussed time is up.
- Don't be the hostess with the mostess. Sure, it's easier to have people come to you when you have a baby, but that doesn't mean you have to get them drinks and snacks. It's actually the opposite. Don't be afraid to tell a family member who wants to come see the baby to bring along lunch for themselves and, more importantly, you.
- Don't change your parenting style or schedule for visitors. Need to breastfeed but don't want to do it in front of grandpa? Then ask grandpa to leave the room or move to a private space with the baby. Want the baby to nap in her crib? Then your mom is going to have to wait to hold her. Your child, your rules.
- Be honest about your changing needs. Maybe you used to love having your parents sleep over in your guest room, but now you're sleep training and have a baby screaming in the middle of the night and know your parents won't be able to resist the urge to swoop in. It's time to move grandma and grandpa to a hotel. Maybe all the cousins used to congregate at your house for Saturday game night, but now it's lights out at 9 p.m. Communicate the necessary changes to your family, and, fingers crossed, they'll be understanding. But even if they're not, stick to your guns.
- Prioritize your child, not making everyone happy. All families come with their own unique dynamics, struggles, and traditions, but as a new parent, your job is to do what's best for you, your baby, and your partner. And if that means you're the only one not at midnight mass, your sister's third engagement party, or your cousin's book club, then so be it.