When I found out my in-laws, including my husband’s two cousins, sister, 15-year-old nephew, and Spanish-only parents, were set to descend on my house for twelve days over the holidays, I experienced a rollercoaster of (postpartum) emotions. It was something like, “I can’t wait for everyone to meet the baby! We don’t have enough beds for everyone! Yesss – Cuban food! They’ll probably think I’m a terrible mother! We’ll have so much fun!” I thought of writing a post about their visit even before they arrived and titling it something like, “Surviving the In-Laws.” But this is really more of a tribute to them. Not only was it a wonderful visit, but they also helped immensely in caring for my baby girl and boosting my confidence as a mom. To be clear, it wasn’t all rosy. There was a retainer on the sink in the downstairs bathroom, on two occasions I found footprints in baby powder from the bathroom to my bedroom (???), and I had to remove myself from all the noise at some point almost every day. But overall, I can easily say that our visit was much better than your average in-law invasion. Here are some highlights:
They cooked AND CLEANED. Our house was like a fabulous Cuban restaurant for the duration of their visit. Ropa vieja, bacalao, split pea soup, Spanish omelet, rice, beans, yucca – with leftovers in the freezer. My father-in-law did the dishes in the morning before even the baby woke up. My mother-in-law was like one of those Roomba vacuums, constantly circling the house, collecting empty coffee cups and dirty plates. One of my plants even died because it turned out that my mother-in-law and I were both watering it (poor thing wouldn’t have made it under my care anyway)! My sister-in-law practically begged me to let her reorganize my pantry. Thank goodness she did, because it was helpful to have everything in its place when they returned to the house with boatloads of groceries.
They helped with the baby but also let me be a mother. At the time of their visit, I was exclusively pumping breast milk, and at pumping times I hardly had to ask if anyone would hold the baby before she was in someone else’s capable arms. They changed diapers, bottle fed, and played with baby. And while everyone held onto her as tightly and possessively as they could, when it was time to be with mom, nobody protested. I learned a lot from watching them with her – noises and faces to make her smile, and a way of holding her that my sister-in-law discovered that makes baby fall asleep almost instantly (we call it the “magic hold”). It was also incredibly helpful having everyone there the night that baby girl had her two-month vaccines. It was my first time hearing my baby’s pain cry, and they helped me calm my own resulting panic cry.
They fell in love with my baby. The thing I was looking forward to most about their visit was everyone getting to meet and bond with my daughter. It was love at first sight! True story – when everyone arrived from the airport, I was upstairs making the guest bed. By the time I came down to greet them, my mother-in-law was already cradling baby on the couch. It was wonderful watching the family fall in love with my baby, and it really sank in just how precious she is.
I accepted and took advantage of their help – which also meant relinquishing control over my house. I’m not a neat freak or a type-A personality, but like most of us, I have a certain way of doing things in my own home. Enforcing these routines and systems with six additional people in the house proved to be impossible. Shoes did not make it onto hallway mats, my bottle cleaning system went out the window, and the baby wasn’t always burped to my liking. But stressing over every detail was just going to make the experience harder for ME. I had to take a step back and realize that the fact someone else was willing to burp the baby at all was amazing!
The night before they left, I was very emotional. I couldn’t even remember what it was like to be alone with my baby. Worse, I didn’t feel confident in my ability to care for her as well as our six houseguests had. Baby girl was asleep in my arms, and everyone took turns bending down for a kiss and a half hug. When it was my father-in-law’s turn, he kissed me on the head, and in his best English said, “You are a strong woman.” I cried. He couldn’t have chosen better words in any language.