As a new mom, you’re bound to experience a few tricky interactions. From strangers invading your space to in-laws disregarding your rules, we’ve detailed—and diffused—the most common uncomfortable circumstances.
The tough spot: Strangers (or even friends) want to hold your new baby, but you’re not comfortable playing pass-around just yet.
The sweet spot: Whether you’re worried about germs or simply expressing your inner mama bear protecting her cub, it is perfectly OK to turn down these requests. When I checked out of the hospital with my first baby—a healthy 8-pounder delivered midspring—the doctor said it was fine to let people hold her right away. “But,” he added, “if you’re not ready to let people hold her, you can tell them I said not to.” A little white lie can help a mama save face.
If you’re not comfortable stretching the truth, take a note from Brooke Soderholm, a mom in Chesterfield, Virginia: “I think polite candor is the best way to answer— ‘I am afraid that this may sound rude, but I am going to keep her for now. I would prefer not to pass her around.’” Simple, honest, straightforward.
Of course, many new moms preempt the awkwardness by choosing a path of prevention. Katie Henderson, a new mom in North Salt Lake, Utah, says, “When we go out, we keep Sloan’s car seat cover draped over her constantly.” Admirers are less likely to invade baby’s space when she’s hidden under a shroud of privacy. Likewise, if you’re wearing your baby in a wrap or sling, you’re apt to avoid requests for hands-on handling.
The tough spot: Your friend has been battling infertility for ages. You want to preserve the friendship, but you realize that seeing you with your baby could be painful for her.
The sweet spot: Hillary Frank, mom and host of WNYC podcast “The Longest Shortest Time,” suggests, “Acknowledge that you’re both going through different things, but be empathetic toward each other, so you can continue the relationship.” Be sensitive and open to discussing your friend’s struggles in a compassionate way, but also allow your friend some space. If she’s not comfortable coming to your baby shower or visiting your newborn right away, it doesn’t mean the friendship is over.
Frank supplies a great conversation starter: “This is really hard. I know you want to be a mom, and I feel awkward about this. How can I support you and be a good friend to you at this time?” The attitude of understanding squelches any sense of competition and opens the door to honest discussion. This can also apply to other inequities in friendship: One is happily married while the other is recently divorced, or one has a child with special needs while the other has a child who’s ahead of the curve. You can be friends who are there for each other while preserving boundaries. There might be places where you can’t relate right now, and that’s OK. Create a friendship that works for you, so you can both feel comfortable and have your needs met.
The tough spot: Baby lets out a full-blown battle cry and can’t be calmed—stressful at home, but downright painful in public.
The sweet spot: The first time baby has a total meltdown in public can be pretty embarrassing. Maybe you told yourself you would never be the mom making a scene in the middle of Target, but now here you are. It feels like everyone is looking at you and judging you for being unable to keep your child calm. But here’s the truth: Most people are just thinking: That’s rough. I’m glad it’s not me! Anyone who has been a parent will relate to your situation, and you might be surprised at how kind and generous strangers can be toward a struggling new mom. Although it can be humbling to show, publicly, that you don’t have it all together as a parent, allowing others to help you can be a heartwarming experience. And when you’re on the other side of it, you’ll be able to pay it forward and help out another mama who has her hands full.
Meanwhile, what do you do about your shopping list? Personal decision. If baby refuses to be soothed, you can drop everything and book it to the parking lot. Or, if you’re not willing to leave without the formula and diapers you came for, finish your trip promptly, apologize politely in the checkout line, and get out of there before you have a meltdown of your own. Be mindful of the impact you’re having on those around you, and take note of the environment. A crying baby is nothing new at Target, but if baby is losing it in a quiet boutique, you might do better to quit the trip and let the shopkeepers restore their ambiance.
The tough spot: Asserting your parenting beliefs when your in-laws seem dead-set on sticking to their own rules.
The sweet spot: When the in-laws are coming over to babysit, make sure they know your expectations ahead of time. Deanna Brann, PhD, author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law, stresses the importance of establishing ground rules—regarding feeding, bathing, bedtime—very clearly and in advance. Whether you have this conversation over the phone or in person, you and your spouse should talk to his parents together. “It shows them, psychologically, that you guys are a united front,” says Brann. Then, be firm without being mean. Keep the conversation casual and light, but get your point across in a loving way.
If your in-laws break your rules deliberately after you’ve been clear about your expectations, the situation gets a bit stickier. Now it’s time to sit down together for a second talk. Start by deflating possible arguments with, “I know this may be different from the way you raised your kids, but this is the way we’re doing it in our house,” or “I know doctors used to give that advice, but now they’re saying this—so that is how we’re going to do it.” Brann suggests telling your mother-in-law, “Yes, I will make mistakes [as a mother], and I may change my mind about certain things, but let me do that.”
Reiterate the rules in your house, and introduce consequences if your in-laws don’t respect your boundaries. For example, “It’s important to us that baby goes down to sleep on her back. If that’s not something you can do, then we’ll make sure to be here at bedtime, so we can put her down.” If boundaries are crossed again, you will need to follow through on the consequence. Once more, approach the topic in a light way—avoid anger, but show that you’re serious.
The tough spot: You have your reasons for bottle-feeding rather than breastfeeding. However, that doesn’t stop the insensitive comments and judgmental looks.
The sweet spot: Why do moms judge each other? It’s an unfortunate reality that we can try to avoid, but once in a while, we’re going to run into naysayers. One of the most common debates of the “mommy wars” is the breastfeeding-vs.-bottle-feeding battle. Yes, there is lots of research to support “breast is best.” Yes, doctors, nurses, lactation specialists, midwives, books and articles are going to encourage you to breastfeed. But guess what? The formula companies are still in business! For some moms, bottle-feeding is the most viable option for feeding their newborn. There are many physical reasons why a mom might be unable to breastfeed or why baby might do better on formula. Then there are equally legitimate emotional and logistical reasons for opting for the bottle. “Most of the time, when they’re not breastfeeding, there’s an issue with the mom or the baby,” says Frank. “Moms need to be more understanding of each other.”
No matter your reasons for bottle-feeding, know-it-all moms need to back off. When a stranger makes a “helpful” (but really not-so-helpful) comment, Frank suggests responding, “If you knew the whole story, you would know why I’m bottle-feeding.” Try to laugh it off, and don’t let a misplaced comment ruin your day. You’re in charge of your own parenting approach, and these decisions are yours to make.