Your Baby's First Year: Dealing with Caretaker Conflicts

You love your parents — you really do. But why do they insist on feeding Baby ice cream and candy when they baby-sit? You've made it very clear that you're concerned about milk allergies during the first year, and you don't want your 9-month-old eating anything laden with fat, sugar, and caffeine. Why can't they respect your wishes and follow your rules?

Apparently, the old rules that your parents applied to your own upbringing — Mother and Father know best — have gone out the window now that you're the parent (the rule has now been revised: Grandma and Grandpa can do whatever they want). They expect that you will still yield to their whims without making much fuss about it. After all, they're the grandparents, and it's their privilege to spoil Baby. They'll point to your child and say, "Look how happy he is! You should give him candy more often."

It's the dance of the new parents versus the old hands. Not only will some grandparents (or friends or other relatives) call Baby's diet into question, they may also completely ignore your routines surrounding these issues:

  • Bedtime: You want Baby in bed at eight o'clock or else he'll be a bear in the morning? Your mother wants to visit with the tyke while she's baby-sitting, so he'll get to bed when Grandma is ready to say goodnight to him — whether that's at nine o'clock or eleven-thirty.
  • Medication: Your sister doesn't think that Baby looks sick, so she doesn't give him the antibiotic you left behind (along with specific dosing instructions).
  • Appropriate clothing: Your dad took Baby to the park in February without putting mittens on your child. He says it was warm enough to go without; you're checking for signs of frostbite.
  • Bathtime: It's part of Baby's bedtime routine, but your parents thought that Baby looked clean enough and put him to bed without a thorough cleansing.
  • Allowing pets near the child: Your aunt swears that her dog is harmless and allows the animal to sniff Baby while she holds your child.
  • Hygiene issues: Your mother-in-law thinks the way you clean Baby's hands with a baby wipe before he eats is ridiculous. She lets you know that she never did that for her kids — and you know she doesn't do it for yours when he's visiting at her house without you.

How do you deal with these issues? Surely these people are wrong to disregard your rules concerning your own child — but do you really want to instigate what could be a drawn-out fight over a few pieces of chocolate? (Keep in mind that some grandparents become very offended if their judgment is called into question — never mind that by ignoring your wishes, they're putting your judgment under the microscope.)

First, rate each issue in order of importance. It wouldn't have hurt your father to put mittens on Baby — but maybe he couldn't find them, or maybe — just maybe — it really was warm enough for Baby to go barehanded. No permanent damage is done, and it's best to let this incident go. Next time your dad is planning an outing with your child, make sure you hand him the mittens and say, "You know how I worry. Please put his mittens on him when he goes outside." You're telling him that you're concerned for your child and that this isn't some arbitrary rule you've created to make Grandpa's life more difficult.

Matters of scheduling — a skipped bath or a late lunch — are usually random and won't affect Baby adversely. These really aren't worth fighting over. What's done is done, and whoever fed Baby late had to suffer the consequences (and learn the lesson) of dealing with a hungry, cranky child. (The exception to this is a late bedtime, because you're the one left to deal with the fallout, in the form of a crabby kid the following day. This is worth a fight if it happens on a regular basis.)

Hygiene issues mean a lot more to some parents than to others. Baby's hands should be cleaned before he sits down to eat finger foods. He's been crawling around on the floor, pulling himself up on everything, and generally exploring the world through his tactile senses. Wiping his hands before a meal doesn't make you obsessive-compulsive; it makes you observant of what he's been doing. Do you accept that your mother-in-law isn't going to wipe Baby's hands off, or do you insist on it? If you're not around to make sure it gets done, realize that arguing with her could make her that much more defiant on this issue. As long as he's not coming home from her house vomiting, you're probably wise to look the other way on this particular issue.

Some issues are completely non-negotiable. If Baby is on some sort of medication, giving it to him is not a debatable whim (will he get it or won't he?). Whoever is left in charge of caring for the child needs to understand this and be given explicit directions as to the timing and administration of the drug. And pets should always be kept at an arm's length from Baby, no matter how docile (and humanlike) their owners believe them to be.

No one wants Baby's care to cause an irreparable family rift, so before things get out of hand:

  • Assess: Is this issue important enough to argue over, or is it possible that you can overlook it completely — again and again?
  • Plan: If it's something that isn't negotiable, think of the nicest way to tell the offender that this can't happen again.
  • Lay off: You can — and should — check up on matters of importance. But after you're convinced that the issue has been resolved, there's no need for you to continue to remind your aunt to keep that dog away from Baby. She gets it.
  • Find a new sitter: If things have gotten so out of control that what's happening is effectively a power struggle between you and the errant sitter, find someone else, no matter what the financial cost. Trusting the person who is caring for your child is worth every penny you shell out.

What this comes down to in the end is a matter of respect — for your parenting skills and for your position of authority as this child's parent. No one should blatantly flout your rules. An occasional slip-up by a caregiver should be expected and tolerated (because, after all, Grandma is only human), but an out-and-out debate over what you do and don't allow your child to eat shouldn't really be of concern to anyone else — as long as your child is healthy and your pediatrician is satisfied with Baby's progress.

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