Care and Feeding

I Can’t Believe How My In-Laws Are Treating Our New Baby

This can’t be normal, right?

An infant holds an older person's hand.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by FamVeld/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I had our first baby eight weeks ago. After one-week home together, we started having visitors. His parents came to meet her the first day we offered. When they got settled in, I asked who wanted to hold her first. They were both very hesitant and looked at each other nervously, and then my MIL said she wasn’t sure either of them were ready for that; they’d just wanted to see her. Neither of them has had any significant time around babies since they had babies thirty years ago, and both have anxiety, so we wrote it off as nervousness that they would get over.

Since then, they have come over once a week (at their request and our encouragement) and my MIL held her once very briefly. That’s it. My husband said he was going to start more actively encouraging/asking them to hold her, and that’s how he got his mother to hold her once, but then the baby almost immediately filled her diaper and when my husband suggested that his mother might want to help with her diaper change, the color drained from her face and she gave the baby back to my husband. She’s shown no interest in holding her again. His father has actively denied any requests to hold/directly interact with her. A bit of nervousness we get, but this just seems weird.

We’re torn between continuing to have them over to try to get them more comfortable with/around her, and stopping the visits because it’s awkward basically just having them sit there and watch us with her. What’s our responsibility in trying to get some kind of interaction between them? Do we just write off the grandparent relationship until the baby’s a little sturdier and maybe less scary to them? Are grandparents supposed to be this terrified of their first grandchild?

— They Just Look, Don’t Touch

Dear They Just Look,

I agree that it’s a weird situation, but I don’t think it really matters whether grandparents are “supposed” to be this anxious around their granddaughter or not—your in-laws just are. I don’t think it’s your responsibility to make them feel or behave differently; you couldn’t force them to, anyway. I feel badly for them. Obviously I don’t know their history or why they’re so anxious around your baby, but it’s sad that they’re missing out on some precious experiences with their first grandchild due to their intense worry.

Unless you’re having some other major conflict with your in-laws, I wouldn’t stop the visits. Not only because that seems a bit harsh, but because they aren’t going to get any more comfortable around your child if they never see her. And it probably does mean a lot to them to see and spend time with her, even if they aren’t the ones holding her.

I know it would be ideal to have more help from your in-laws in terms of holding the baby, changing the baby, etc., but perhaps there are other ways they can lighten your load while they work on getting used to being around a baby again—they could prepare or freeze meals, pick up groceries, fold the never-ending infant laundry, etc. Their hesitancy around your child now doesn’t mean they don’t genuinely love her and want to be close to her. I hope they are less nervous when she’s bigger and sturdier.


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