They mean well. I think.

16Aug08
Ants make me say uncle.

Ants make me say uncle.

I’m running up the basement stairs, with an extra lilt in my step. It is 9PM and I’ve just locked the back door. I’m about to be alone with my wife and Buster. As I skip with glee toward the main floor, my wife locks the front door and rests her back on it.

She sighs. I sigh. We smile at each other.

KNOCK KNOCK.

It’s her mother, who’s been handed a paper plate or something by my mother.

“I don’t want you to attract animals from leaving the dog food out, so – here,” my mother calls from somewhere in the darkness.

My wife’s mother hands my wife the plate. My wife accepts it and slowly closes the door, despite the clucking of grandmothers still filling the air.

She looks down.

The plate is teeming with ants.

She yelps and hands it to me. I panic and run around in a few circles and then run it downstairs and outside again. I hurl it into the night.

This is a perfect microcosm of what it’s like to have help from grandparents during the first week or two.

I could tell you about a dozen similar stories from just a few days’ visit. One involves soap suds pouring from my dishwasher and filling my kitchen. Another involves the grandpas proudly sharing the task of cooking over a roaring grease fire by setting my grill way past “HIGH,” past “LITTLE DRAWING OF FIRE MEANT TO CLEARLY INDICATE IT SHOULD ONLY BE USED ONLY WHEN LIGHTING” to “OH MY GOD IT’S SO HIGH YOU YOURSELF MUST BE COMPLETELY HIGH TO THINK THIS IS APPROPRIATE.”

I had tried to make everything simple and easy. I wrote what I thought was a very touching letter to the grandparents, accompanied by a list of simple processess for around our house. It was a long list, I’ll admit. Okay, it was seven pages. But it was perfectly reasonable. There were procedures for laundry, trash, meals, everything. And then a round-up of ways they could help us. It was not initially well-received. It did not grow on anyone, either.

In the end, I ended up allowing the grandparents to do nearly nothing. I ran around my house taking everything from their hands like they were children. They are justified in feeling I was being condescending. I am justified in taking everything from their hands.

My goal was simply to keep my wife stress-free, so she could focus on Buster. It stresses her out to a degree when things aren’t being done properly. She has worked hard to train me on all the procedures for the house, from not using the evil evil forks on the magic happy pans to remembering to find the five things out of all our trash that can actually be recycled to cleaning She Who Will Not Be Named‘s litter box to catching food in my mouth on command. Well, not the last one. But I’ll be damned if I’m the only one following the rules.

What we realized by about the third day was that we really didn’t need all that much help. My wife was pretty good at being a Mom, it turns out. And I was actually kind of on top of things.

We found that the few hours in the late evenings and early mornings when we were alone were the most peaceful and relaxed ones – even if we had a mini-crisis with a screaming baby.

The other thing is we have been really lucky with Buster – healthy, good natured and basically really cooperative so far. I’ve just knocked every form of wood in my house.

But I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s because his mother and the world immediately around him has been nearly completely peaceful.

Okay, so here are my tips for making your baby’s world in his first couple of weeks as chill as possible, too – even if you are overwhelmed by visitors:

  • Put your wife’s needs and wants first. You’re asking her to put your child’s needs and wants first. So it’s only fair. I warn my wife that she only has a man slave until the baby’s six months old, at which point she is no longer going to get her way automatically anymore. But for now, I say, make everything easy for her and be at her beck and call. I make sure she has her cellphone on her and made her the promise that no matter what I’m doing in the house, I’ll be upstairs with her by the third ring. For the first time I feel lucky I am not wealthy enough to have a very large house.
  • Be willing to be the bad guy. Don’t make your wife confront people or answer a million questions about where things are or argue with people over what the baby needs or hear any form of criticism. Step in and take some punches on the chin. Don’t pick fights or fire back when relatives are rude, or you’re going to create longer-term problems. Just rope-a-dope while they’re being ridiculous. But refuse to give up ground when it comes to how you want your family to be treated and your home to operate.
  • Take the morning feedings as soon as you can. First, it gives your wife a chance to sleep in. Second, it doesn’t really take that long to do the feeding, and afterward, you can park the kid in the car seat and go about your normal pre-baby morning, presuming you weren’t still sleeping off hangovers. Plus, it’s pretty damn awesome to watch the morning break with your kid and not have to share him with anyone.
  • Remember how much your own parents love you. That feeling of desperation that you have when you think you might not be not taking care of your kid properly? Yeah, they’ve been living with that for like 30 years and right now they’re feeling it too. It’s called love. Take it easy on them if you can.
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4 Responses to “They mean well. I think.”

  1. 1 dhartman

    hilarious! did you really think your parents would read the 7-page house policy book? they assume they taught you everything you know. try to remember these interactions for 30 years from now…

  2. Keep up the writing. You are an inspiration to fathers everywhere. It will be chaos in 8 weeks in my house and this is just what I need to be reading. Thanks.

  3. 3 Angela

    I think this is quite common; I have a friend who had to approach his mother-in-law and diplomatically suggest that she return home because she was totally stressing out his wife and making the situation far more difficult than need be. I had a similar experience, and was also pleased to learn that my husband and I were quite capable of doing it all ourselves; so well, in fact, that when our first born was a mere four months old, we got pregnant again! (That I wouldn’t necessarily recommend). 🙂

  4. 4 Chris G

    Oh yeah, this is familiar ground. We have a 3 month old (our first) and my mother-in-law came for 2 weeks upon our daughter’s arrival. Let’s just say it went as well as I had expected it to go, which is to say that I was pretty miserable. We had some nice moments, to be sure, but by and large, it was just something I had to grin and bear. As a full-fledged sensitive new-aged guy, putting on a happy face in spite of being royally po’ed is not my forte, but those are the breaks. This was kind of my first “Its not about you anymore” experience as a new dad, and it was as challenging as you’d imagine.

    My problem was an odd one- I was trying to be a really nice guy. I truly understood how deeply my mother-in-law had been yearning to finally become a grandmother, and I wanted to honor her desire to “get right in there” and spend quality time with her grand-daughter. However, we have a really small house and we’re hardly used to having houseguests, especially during such a crazy time, so her presence, while non-negotiable, was hardly a “help”. My wife appreciated having her around for emotional support, and I respected that completely, but as for myself, it pretty much drove me nuts. In a way, that kind of summarizes what that initial post-childbirth time was like for us: the situation calls you be to at your best (your most patient, your most flexible, your most understanding) while also causing you to be at your worst (sleepless nights, roller-coaster emotions, mothers-in-law on the premises 24/7).

    Three months later, we’re doing great, but I would not revisit those first couple of weeks if you paid me.


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