This is a tricky situation. It’s clear that you aren’t ungrateful for your mother’s help. It’s clear that you are trying to protect everyone’s feelings. It’s also clear that your folks are well-intended. But well-intended or not, they are putting your new family under unnecessary tension.
First, let’s be clear: It doesn’t matter what your parents think or what your parents’ friends think. What matters is what you and your wife think. Your daughter is YOUR daughter, not your parents’. They had their turn at parenting. Now it’s time for them to Grandparent. It’s a different role.
Further, your wife is correct. It is confusing to a small child to call her grandmother by her mother’s title. Grandma is Grandma. Mom is Mom. Your mother is out of line to try to blur that distinction. My guess is that since your Dad has to live with you mom, he tries to keep peace by backing her. But he’s not doing anyone any favors by doing so. It would be better if he supported his wife by helping her accept her proper role.
I do have to wonder what is going on with your mom that she expects a married son to not back his wife and wants her grandchild to call her mother. I do have some guesses: Could it be that she really does not want to do childcare but can’t bring herself to say so? Maybe she is setting up a situation where you have to fire her and she doesn’t have to quit. Maybe she thinks that your wife has given up her rights to be a parent because she is working instead of doing the daily childcare. If that’s the case, there needs to be a serious discussion about the reality that working doesn’t disqualify a mom from being the mom. Maybe she feels bad about her own parenting and wants another chance to do it right. I have no way of knowing if any of these guesses come clase to the truth or whether it is something else entirely. All I know for sure is that there is something unhealthy going on and you all need to sort it out or risk a sad rift in this family.
Her tactics of leaving off the car seat, etc. is a manipulation that puts you in a no-win situation. If you agree to not leave your daughter with her, you’re the bad guy for taking her granddaughter away. If you take the carseat and stuff back to her house without having it out with her, than you are giving in to her and giving up your authority to decide how your daughter should be raised. Neither choice is acceptable.
What you can do instead is refuse to play the game. For this to work, you need to be your most mature self. Calmly tell your mother that as much as you appreciate her help with your daughter, you can’t accept it on the terms she is
demanding without compromising your own adulthood. (If you are angry or upset when you say this, all she will hear is the anger. Just lay it out as matter of factly as possible.) Let her know that if she can’t keep the boundaries clear when she does childcare, you think it best to make other arrangements. Reassure her that your family will visit often and she’ll get to be a doting grandma. Ask her what name for grandmother she prefers (Nanna? Gram? Granny? Grandma?) and promise her that you will respect that. (And no, she can’t have any variation of mother or her first name). Of course, if she can commit to supporting your and your wife’s wishes, you can try out leaving your daughter with her again. Your job during this conversation is to stay clear and firm while at the same time being as kind as you know how to be.
Either she will continue her boycott, in which case give her lots of opportunities to see all of you – but get yourself another babysitter. Or she will accept your terms and do a more respectful job while doing childcare. Hopefully, with time, she’ll decide that being Grandma is a fine thing to be.
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on April 30, 2006.