Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My wife had our baby last week and asked that I take two weeks of vacation to help her get into a routine. But she also invited her mom to stay with us for the baby’s first month. My mother-in-law is a pro at this stuff and I really appreciate the help. But I feel superfluous around my own house, if not downright in the way. I’m not sure it makes sense for me to stay home for another week, but I worry that mentioning this to my wife will make her think I’m being unsupportive.
– New Parent
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DEAR NEW PARENT: You’re on to the right problem, but I urge a different solution. Explain to your wife that you feel superfluous with her mom around because she’s such a pro … and that you’d like to ask Grandma to step aside, to allow you to learn by doing while you have the benefit of her safety net. She’ll have the following two weeks when you’re back at work to get her fill.
At the risk of making too much of this: If your reaction to feeling superfluous to your child’s care is to go back to work (or run errands or whatever else), then you’re taking the first steps toward detachment from your marriage and child. It’s a well-worn path.
Get in there. Set that precedent. If grandma doesn’t take it well, then it’s better to do damage control with her than start a bad pattern in your own family. There will be countless times when it will seem “easier” for the more experienced person to handle everything, but that quickly gives way to an overburdened do-everything spouse, a detached bystander spouse, and enough resentment between them to light Manhattan at Christmas.
Re: New Dad:
He should go back to work now, and take a week off when the mom leaves! But he has got to talk to his wife about this and they need to be on the same page. Tell the wife you love her, and that you are thrilled to pieces that your mother-in-law is there to help and buy you this time. Then go back to work and save that paid time off for when you need to spend it for real to support the hell out of your wife.
When you are home from work, don’t act like she’s been on vacation all day and claim you are too tired to take care of the baby. Change diapers, take the baby for an after-dinner walk, just you.
All this is null and void, though, if your mother-in-law isn’t so much a pro, but instead completely overbearing. If that is the case, I second Carolyn’s advice.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: My concern is that he’ll do this and then never take that second week. Even if his intentions are sterling, there’s a high risk of going back to work and never need-needing to take the time off because the obvious occasion doesn’t present itself.
And it’s so easy to imagine the week not taken hardening into a grievance: “Remember when you said you’d save your week off to help me when I needed it more? And you never took it?”
So, sure, save the week, but mean it.