Miss Conduct

Baby battle brews

Competition between new grandparents, plus a mom who just can't stop worrying.

By Robin Abrahams
March 13, 2011

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In a couple of months we will be blessed with our first grandchild. The parents are a wonderful couple and will make great parents. We are very close to them and enjoy our time with both. However, the other grandparents are very jealous – of everything. The baby hasn’t even arrived, and they’ve already started causing problems for the parents: phone calls about how much time they’ll get to spend with the baby, who can buy more, etc. We aren’t in competition with them! Short of stepping back and giving them as much time as they feel entitled to, what can we do? We don’t want to create more stress for this wonderful new family.

S.B. / Dover, New Hampshire

You sound like a delightful person, and surely two sets of devoted grandparents is a problem many new parents wouldn’t mind having! Still, I see why you’re concerned about the attitude your opposite numbers are expressing. Are they normally competitive about family matters? If this is unusual behavior for them, it might be best to wait until the baby is born and see if they burn themselves out. One’s first grandchild, I’ve been given to understand, is like getting a book deal and a diamond bracelet and a Christmas pony all at once, so some excess enthusiasm should be forgiven.

But if your gut instinct is telling you that this is a real problem in the making, have a discreet talk with your son or daughter. (The fact that you didn’t reveal which of the new parents is your own child sends a wonderful message of acceptance – there are no in-laws or out-laws, only family – but it’s making my writerly task a bit tough, just so you know.) Acknowledge the awkwardness, and tell your son or daughter that you don’t mean to be gossiping, but you’re concerned about the situation and would like to know how they want you to handle it. Let them know your primary concern is with keeping their parental task as child-focused – rather than grandparent-focused – as possible.

Unfortunately, this may be a problem to be managed over time, rather than solved conclusively.
As soon as I try to go to sleep I think of all the horrible things that can happen to those I love. My youngest son is living in a big city several states away. When my husband and I stayed with him for a weekend we noticed that his apartment lock is very difficult to get open. My brain keeps coming up with two scenarios: one in which my son is inside and needs to get out during a fire, and one in which he is coming home from his job as a bartender at 4 a.m. and needs to get in quickly. I want to donate a new lock to the apartment. I fully expect that you will tell me to mind my own business, but I guess I need to hear it before I heed it. My son will be angry that I am even concerned about this.

Anonymous / Boston

Don’t buy the lock. Here is why I say this: I am not a psychic. I am not even a clinical psychologist. However, I am a good reader, and you say (1) that your son would be angry to know you were even worried about this, and (2) that “as soon as I try to go to sleep I think of all the horrible things that can happen to those I love.” This wording suggests that you have an ongoing problem with intrusive thoughts. So you give in to this particular obsessive concern. Then your son finds out, gets angry, and shares less of his life with you, which gives you even more to worry about. This is not the outcome you want.

Instead, talk to your doctor or another medical professional whom you trust about your sleeping problems. Because, hon, I’d bet anything that the people who love you are worried about you, too.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

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