Dear Prudence

Help! My Mother Keeps Putting My Newborn in Danger.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A baby lying on its stomach with illustrated paw prints in the corner.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Q. Tired and Desperate Parent: My wife and I just had our first child a month ago. As we are starting to return to our normal lives, we are needing help with child care. My mother, who lives close by, has offered to help. We do not have a great relationship, but help is help, right? Well, both times we have let her watch the baby I have come home to find worrying situations.

First, I returned to find the baby in her bassinet, but with a large blanket and two full-sized towels with her. I was obviously unhappy and told my mom as much. She became incredibly defensive and even has the audacity to tell me that she knew it would upset me to find those things in her bassinet, but did it anyway because she thought the baby was cold. It was 75 degrees inside and we had also left a sleep sack to use for that reason. The second time I came home to find them on a floor mat next to my front door. The issue there is I have a 70-pound dog who is protective of the house and will bark at anything. She also gets very excited when I come home. The dog’s foot was literally an inch away from my baby’s face when I walked in.

Again, upon pointing this out I was met with a rude, defensive attitude. My mom would not even admit that the dog was too close to the baby in that situation. I want the help, but am starting to fear for my child’s safety in my mother’s care. My mom also refuses to admit wrongdoing and instead becomes offended when I correct her.

A: Parenting in front of our parents can bring out big generational and philosophical divides. What worked for one era is outrageous in another. Sometimes—quite often I’d imagine—grandparents can modify their behavior or adopt a “your house, your rules” approach to babysitting. Other times, new parents can find ways of adjusting their expectations. But in your case, it seems neither is likely nor particularly prudent. The fact that your mother is reacting defensively may indicate that she doesn’t have any interest in modifying her babysitting style. Or it might indicate that she felt attacked by the way you corrected her. You write that you don’t have the best relationship, so part of this may not be coming from negligence so much as the inherent tension in your relationship.

See if you can set an expectation in advance that’s less about being right and more about making sure your child is safe. Constructive criticism after you come home isn’t helping anyone right now. But I wonder if, the next time she agrees to babysit, you could ask her to make sure that the dog and the baby aren’t too close to each other, for instance. Now, it’s impossible to run through all of the situations that might pop up, and, ultimately, you’re going to have to decide if you trust your mother’s judgment. But if you’re in a jam and you need the help, having a preemptive conversation might give you more peace of mind.

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