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Reality Check: Meddling Mom

Q. When my first child was born six months ago, my mom started telling me how to do everything. How can I stop this without alienating her?

A. The trick is to elicit the sage advice grandparents do have, while you set limits on the amount and frequency of the advice-giving. Depending on the personalities involved, this can be a delicate matter, and may cause a touch of strife.

"Becoming a parent is yet another stage in becoming your own person, and an adult, in your parent's eyes," says Mary Calabrese, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and consultant in child psychiatry at Children's Hospital in Boston. Think back to when you were a teenager and chose to dress in a way that made your mother crazy, or later, when you chose to marry someone your parents were less than thrilled about.

Now that you're older and wiser, this conflict can be handled in a more harmonious way than in the past. Calabrese has witnessed the Pushy Grandma issue up close -- between her mother and her sister. "Bonnie's first child was late in toilet training," Calabrese says. "My mom, a retired first-grade teacher, was all over her about what she was doing wrong. But every time Mom started up, Bonnie would change the subject from toilet training to something she did want my mother's advice on, like which art supplies were best for kids."

Grandma got the message, and there was a lot less acrimony than if Bonnie had chosen to simply confront her. "Grandparents really want to pass on something of themselves," says Calabrese, and this diversion strategy allowed her mother to do that in a positive way, while also allowing new-mom Bonnie to send the message that she, not Grandma, was in charge now. "You are the authority on your child," says Calabrese, "not because you always know exactly what you're doing, but because ultimately, you have all the responsibility."

It may also help to explain to your mother that, while you know you'll make some mistakes from time to time, you need to learn how to be a mother your way, just as she did. And for this, there's no substitute for on-the-job training!

Contributing editor Trisha Thompson is a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk magazine.