The grandmother is invariably in her forties or fifties and her experience of babies is usually more than twenty years old. The daughter however feels that her mother should have all the answers. Why is the baby crying, how do I burp the baby, is that vomiting or just regurgitation, is my breast milk enough?
The grandmother may not be in top physical form herself. It’s a stage of the woman’s life where her knees are giving way, she is probably having hot flushes and she has a husband who often needs a lot of attention. Very often, the grandmother has to leave her home and hearth and move in with the daughter for a few months.
Especially when the mother has limited maternity leave, the grandmother often has to manage the baby on her own at home. More than anything she probably wants to do her best for her daughter and the grandchild, so she is often worried and tense that she must do it all just right.
Interestingly, old conflicts often surface between mother and daughter if all is not well. For the mother, her daughter is still her little girl and needs guidance and support. For the new mother, there is a need to assert her own role as a mother which conflicts with her continuing dependence on the grandmother.
The baby’s father may also be quite relieved that the grand mother is around and may expect her to manage. Childbirth being a `womans business’, the father may be hovering in the periphery rather than being in the centre stage especially when it comes to soothing a crying baby at night or changing the diaper.
Grandmother preparation for the postpartum should not be taken for granted.
Maybe it is time to start discussing some of these issues during the pregnancy itself among mother and grandmother pairs of the current generation. Rather than taking grandmothers for granted as repositories of breastfeeding and burping wisdom, maybe they need to also be educated about babies, breast feeding and how to handle their daughter’s moods and sleep rhythms.
Most Indian grandmothers are wonderful, selfless souls who can be a great boon to new parents and protective to a new mother’s mental health. Let’s make sure we educate and prepare her for taking care of a new mum and her baby. Lets also make sure that she gets acknowledged, appreciated and supported ( especially by her husband and her son in law) for all her efforts!