Confessions Of A Governess: The Mother-In-Law Problem

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Confessions of a Governess is a Mommyish series from the perspective of someone who gets paid to watch other people’s children. Moms, take a deep breath.

Caring for kids along side mother-in-laws is not just awkward for mothers, it’s usually a pretty searing experience for me too.

Our experiences are kindred in that every so often, a woman I hardly see blows into town and tells me that I’m putting on a diaper incorrectly or that I don’t burp the baby right. Despite that I’ve been the one caring for the kid since mommy went back to work, suddenly I have a new boss who is dictating completely different instructions than the woman who signs my checks.

Mothers anticipate this, usually with cringing faces and mouthed “I’m sorrys” across the kitchen counter. I’ve had mothers greet me at the door with endless apologies, walking me towards the back of the house before whispering “my mother-in-law is here.” They shrug and hand me the baby, wishing us both luck as we take a seat at the kitchen table.

Some mothers, I’ve noticed, make our relationship seem more professional when the mother-in-law comes into town. Giving me directions in more solid tones and at times, suggesting I go into another room while she and Grandma chat. I understand that a lot of times it’s for show, as some of these older women are under the impression that a mother shouldn’t get too chummy with the nanny.

But the most awkward mother-in-law, mommy, and nanny trifecta usually happens around direct childcare.

You would think that feeding one hungry baby in a house with three able-bodied women would be a pretty easy endeavor. But between arguments about what type of food the toddler can eat, what utensils are best if at all, and if the baby is chewing properly, the kid ends up looking more confused than satiated. Spoons pass from me to the mother to the mother-in-law as eventually I get squeezed out of the predicament entirely and it’s just daughter-in-law and mom passive aggressively asserting how much better they can feed babies.

I always wince when a first-time mother fails to calm her screaming baby in front of her partner’s mother. If I’m standing there, it’s only a matter of time before the older woman says, “oh, just let the nanny do it.” If the baby calms down in my arms, the stares from the mother-in-law can be critical. Next, I’m suddenly the esteemed expert on the child which  doesn’t bode well for my relationship with the mother, who will probably be sobbing in the laundry room within the hour.

Every scenario seems to offer up another instance for the mother to be judged on her parenting skills. If the baby smiles at me when I arrive, the mother-in-law whispers to me that the mom must be spending more time at work than she thought. If the kid is hesitant to come with me to the park, the mother is accused of not “socializing” them properly.

Mothers just can’t win, and as the other person holding the baby powder next to you, I can assure you that I don’t either.