Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

I am a working mom with 8-month-old twins. We’re living in the compound with my in-laws. My husband’s aunts are the ones taking care of my babies from Monday to Friday, and all of them are crazy about my kids.

My problem is that I feel that I am not getting respect from the caregivers of my kids. They bring the kids anywhere, sometimes without my knowing it. On weekends, when I’m at home them, they still take the children instead of letting me have time to bond with my babies.

Many times when I’m holding my baby, and she cries, they immediately get the baby. I feel that they act more like they are the mothers than I am. However, I’m afraid if I say something to my in-laws, it might create trouble. But I’m really afraid that my babies will be closer to them than they are to me, their real mother. They are kind and I thank them for loving my kids, but I need them to give me space and time to bond with my kids. I want to know if I’m wrong thinking this way. I cannot help being jealous. Please help me.

Judy

 

 

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Dear Judy,

There are two basic issues: is your jealousy reasonable and how will all this affect your children?

In my view, you are perfectly right to feel jealous since the twins, after all, are your children, not theirs. However, your position is complicated by the fact that you are a working mother who needs people to look after your children while you are away and just as importantly, you are living with your husband’s family.

The joy of living with your in-laws is unfortunately not without its problems. Most significantly, the double whammy of being younger and not a blood relative makes your situation particularly fraught. It’s great not to worry about the kids while you are away at work, or commuting, or having little time to yourself (shopping, with friends etc.). But there is a price to pay for free babysitting and in your case, it is your in-laws thinking that, since they spend more time with the kids than you, they know and can look after them better. Were you just dealing with a yaya (nanny), you could simply change her for another so that your children do not get too attached. But that is not your case.

One obvious course of action is to get your husband to deal with the problem, either by himself or jointly with you. He is the nephew/stepson and better placed to sort things out. However, since you don’t mention him at all in your email, I wonder whether this suggestion has any real value. He seems to be totally absent from your lives. Perhaps he is an OFW or perhaps he just isn’t supportive?

Another course of action is to stop working. This may not be a practical suggestion now, but perhaps in the near future it could be a solution, unless of course your absent husband is also a non-contributor to the family finances.

If he cannot help, one way or the other, there is still another consolation. Thousands upon thousands of children have grown up spending the vast majority of their childhoods apart from their parents – physically and/or emotionally. This is not just the case when their parent(s) are working or are OFs, but also where the non-working parent(s) simply prefer to spend their time with other people, rather than their kids. It is a fact of life that not all parents are maternal/paternal, though this does not stop them from having kids, either because of family pressure or the perceived demands of society. Ignorance of, or lack of access to, contraceptives is also a big contributor, as is the belief that contraception is morally wrong. So all is not lost even if there is no immediate solution to your problem.  That does not have to alienate them or scar them for life. Circumstances change and the kids will grow up understanding perfectly well that however close they may be to their more distant relatives, you are still their mother, the only one they will ever have, and as such, irreplaceable.

Please write again if there is more that you wish to discuss.

All the best.

JAF Baer

P.S.  I must admit a certain personal involvement in this. From the age of 9 to 18, I lived away from my parents, seeing them for only four months of the year while away at boarding school in England. I feel I am not that warped. After all, Dr. Holmes married me (joke only – though I have the certificate to prove it!)

 

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Dear Judy:

Mr. Baer has given you the reassurance and the perspective to accept your feelings and to realize that all is not lost despite the constraints you are living with at the moment.

Anyone who feels parenthood is the most important calling in the world  and/or anyone who feels or has felt he has been unfairly treated by more powerful forces, be they in-laws, corporations etc. – cannot help feeling one with you.

It is precisely because your plight resonates so much with so many of us that I have purposely chosen a more strategic, rather than an emotional approach to your concern.  (Not because strategy is more important than feeling but because to get what you want, you need to strategize.

The first thing is to determine whether your aunts are friends or foes. This may seem diametrically opposed to our espousing that people are too complicated to classify as one or the other, but because you are working under so many constraints — no yaya, only free time is on weekends,  (seemingly) no support from your husband — it is best you simplify so you achieve your goal.

Knowing whether they are friend or foe will help you decide whether to try sugar (ask for cooperation) or ampalaya (lay down the gauntlet).

Happily, it is simple to distinguish between the two. A friend is someone who agrees with you that bonding with your baby is of utmost importance. Thus, since you work on most days, you get to be with them when you’re not working.

A foe is someone who feels they are more important caretakers than you since they spend more time with your babies.  Spending more time with them, your babies will always prefer them to you, but only if they are hovering in the background, eager to take them away from you at their first sign of distress. (foe, foe, foe). In other words, anyone who considers you competition for your babies’ attention is a foe.

If they are friends, then do the following:

  • Share your frustration at having to work and thus not being able to mother your kids 24/7.
  • Thank them profusely for allowing you to leave for work with a clear conscience, confident that your twins will be nourished not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
  • Ask for their help so that, despite your having such little time with them, your kids still realize  that you are their mom.
  • You can even admit you are a little jealous of them and ask for advice on the best way to engage your kids since they probably know your kids better.  In our clinical experience, such admissions, if honest, work wonders on their willingness to cooperate.

If they are foes, however, life gets a bit more complicated.

Admittedly, there are numerous strategies you could employ, but each will require knowing your foe/s well enough to know their vulnerabilities and knowing yourself well enough to decide which particular strategy you can sustain.

However, because you appreciate what your aunts are doing for you and your kids, you cannot turn into a cold blooded, relentless,  practitioner of Sun Tzu’s  The Art of War…at least not until you realize that that is the only way to truly bond with your kids.

Because it will take many more columns to evaluate each and every strategy possible, may I suggest you read  Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes  by Szuchman, P.  and Anderson, J. (Random House, 2011).  This will be truly helpful for you, because not only does it explain the perspective which makes each strategy helpful, but because it deals with spouses, which are similar “foes” to aunts.  They are people you love and appreciate, but who drive you crazy.   Also, if you let either get away with everything, your life will be a living hell.

But what things are worth fighting for and what are best left for time, patience, deeper understanding to work out in its own time?  Perhaps that is something that you need to find out for yourself.

Write to us again when you’ve figured out things a bit more clearly and we promise we shall be here to help you all we can.

Ingat…

MG Holmes

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