Back in June, my mom wrote an amazing series here on the blog about downsizing from her large home in the suburbs to her cute condo in the city. You can find it all right here (part 1, part 2, part 3). My biggest takeaway from that post was that you guys want more Janimal here on the blog! She is an amazing writer and has so much wisdom to share, so I knew we had to get another post on the books. Then, I started getting a lot of questions about how we made it work so well with my mom living with us for a month after I had Rory, and now with her nannying for us three days a week. I figured that would be the perfect topic to write about with my mom! So today, we’re both going to share our thoughts and tips regarding having family members help with a baby.
But before we get to the good stuff, let me share an overview of how my mom has been here helping.
Help When Rory Was Born
When I had Rory back in April, we were in peak quarantine mode. I hadn’t seen my mom for at least a month because we were all taking precautions and I didn’t want to chance anything with my delivery. She ended up quarantining before Rory was born. Then, a few days after we got home from the hospital, my mom packed her bags and came to stay with us. We didn’t really have an “end date” for her stay, but she ended up staying with us for four weeks and it was glorious.
Finn and I were in a sleep-deprived state and were trying to figure out this new little baby of ours. My mom was there to help with Rory (and give us some much-needed rest), pick up the house (that quickly became a disaster!), and cook yummy dinners (she kept us well-fed during her stay). It was nice having a “professional” around to ask any questions as we figured out our newborn. She walked us through Rory’s first bath, answered our endless questions, and was just an overall joy to have in the house! It was also really fun for me because I was on maternity leave, but Finn was working. So I had a buddy to go on walks with every day, cook dinners, and drink wine with on the couch at night.
Janny to the Rescue!
Now, my mom is watching Rory three days a week so I can work. We call her our “Janny”! She cut back to working part-time at her job (she is able to work from home) and has plans to eventually retire next year. She is usually here with Rory during the workday, but sometimes Rory will head over to my mom’s condo to hang for the day. Both Finn and I are working from home, so it’s a busy house with the four of us all around and together in one place! We each take a floor (Finn gets the basement, my mom and Rory have the living room/kitchen, and I work on the second floor in the office) so we’re not all on top of one another. We’ve been doing this since the beginning of July and it is working out well.
Answering Your Questions: Tips for Family Help with a Baby
Now that you know our situation, let’s answer some of the questions you guys asked on Instagram about how we make this setup work for us.
I know you’re super close, but how do you establish boundaries?
Casey: The funny thing is, this is actually the third time Finn and I have lived with my mom! When we moved to Chicago from St. Louis in 2013, we stayed with her for about two months while we looked for an apartment. Then, last summer we lived in her condo for three months while our home was being renovated. I shared all about our life as roomies in this blog post. (In short, we all had a blast together!) So, while my mom and I are super close, the three of us are actually very close, as well.
I think because we had experience living together for an extended period of time, we already had boundaries set when my mom came to stay with us when Rory was born. She would give us space to have time together as a new family of three (heading to her condo a few times during the week to pick up mail and get work done) and she would also head to bed pretty early so we could have some time together, just the two of us. Also, she was getting up at 3:00 am to help feed Rory, so an early bedtime was a must!
Jan: I have to say that while living with my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter has worked well for us for short amounts of time, it may not be the ideal situation for everyone and I would advise you not to push it if it feels the least bit uncomfortable. Because this was our third time living together, a lot of the “kinks” had already been worked out. One of the main things I tried to do was to get out of the way in the evenings so that Casey and Finn could have time together, without me. When they lived with me previously, I would make sure to retire to my room early so that they could have the living room space to themselves and some “alone time”. When Rory was born, I did the same thing. I would go to bed about 8:00 or 8:30 because I was responsible for the 3:00 am shift, so it was very easy to get out of the way and let them have time together as new parents!
Taking Care of Rory
Are there things that you disagree on in regards to baby care? How do you address it?
Jan: I raised my children back in the 1980s when EVERYTHING was different. We were taught to put the baby to bed on her stomach, to put a blanket over her while she slept and that bumpers in the crib were the way to go! What??? Now in 2020, those ideas are all taboo! Computers and the internet were not yet a thing, so my go-to resource for how to raise a healthy baby was the Dr. Benjamin Spock book (I’m surprised that it’s still in print!). My point is that I raised my babies in the best way I knew how at the time, but those ideas have all changed dramatically. Because of the advances that have happened over the last 40 years, I went into my role as Janny as a “student”, not as a “teacher”. I knew that Casey and Finn had been reading, researching, and attending classes before Rory was born so they became the experts and I became the novice. By listening and learning, it also took a lot of stress off of me. I didn’t have to be the expert and give advice and I didn’t have to rack my brain to remember all those details from decades ago! All I had to do was follow the schedule and love Rory. What could be better or easier than that?
Parenting Now vs. Then
How do you navigate differences in how you parent and how she parented?
Jan: This is a bit of a follow up to the previous question, but one thing that is very different from my parenting and Casey’s parenting is that Finn is much more involved in baby care and decision making than my husband was. (It was the same for most men who were new fathers in the 1980’s.) Also, my own mom and family members lived 500 miles away, so parenting was pretty much up to me and me alone. I remember being exhausted and overwhelmed with all of that responsibility and when I look back on it, it wasn’t very good for any of us. The thought now is that “It takes a village” and I couldn’t agree more. I think having fathers heavily involved in every aspect of the children’s lives is a gift to the fathers, mothers and children. And if grandparents, aunts, and uncles can also be involved, it is a win-win for everyone.
What exactly do you have your mom do? Both when she stayed with you and now as your nanny?
Casey: During the month after Rory’s arrival, my mom helped out with everything! She took the 3:00 am feeding (what a lifesaver!) and loved watching the sun come up with Rory every day, while Finn and I snuck in a few hours of shut-eye. Jan really did everything with Rory that we did. She changed diapers, gave feedings, helped with baths, held Rory for naps, etc. She also helped pick up the house, made dinners, and more. She was another adult in the house, helping out with just about everything!
My mom’s love languages are acts of service and quality time, so that’s how she showed us her love. But, I can see how other moms might help out in other ways. Maybe they really enjoy cooking and want to make meals all the time, but aren’t as hands-on with the baby. Or perhaps they’re clean freaks and want to do the laundry and keep the house running smoothly. Different family members show their love in different ways, so while they may not want to be too hands-on with the baby, they could be a big help in many other ways.
As our Janny, my mom is taking care of Rory while we both work. So, whatever is involved in taking care of a baby, Jan is on it. We certainly don’t expect her to clean or cook for us, although she is constantly picking up, emptying the dishwasher, etc., even when I tell her not to!
How does Finn like the setup?
Casey: Because we all just lived together last summer, it didn’t feel so foreign for my mom to live with us during the first month of Rory’s life. And, as I mentioned, my mom gave us plenty of space to bond as a family of three. I’m lucky that Finn has a great relationship with his MIL and I know that’s not the case for every family out there.
When I asked Finn this question, he said that he loves having Jan around because he knows Rory is so well taken care of and it allows the two of us to work and to get other things done around the house. Then, when we do have our one-on-one time with Rory, we’re more present and better parents. Figuring out childcare was a big stressor for us during my pregnancy and adding the pandemic to the mix made it even more stressful. Having my mom around as our “Janny” was a relief for both of us.
Creating the Right Setup
How did you make sure your mother was not overwhelmed with the setup?
Jan: Luckily for me, Casey and Finn leave it up to me to decide what I can handle without being overwhelmed and I think this is the key to making our arrangement work. If they were asking too much of me, I would let them know right away, but that hasn’t been an issue. (I had a hip replacement last December and I was a little worried that it might be difficult for me to go for regular walks with Rory and carry her up and down the stairs. Luckily, I recovered well and I am better than I was before!) Casey and Finn are aware that I don’t have the strength that they do, so they literally do the heavy lifting for me. They also make sure that my day is done by 5:00 pm so that I can go home and relax after being the Janny. As always, honest communication is the key here. Believe me, if they start asking too much of me, I will let them know.
Did you set ground rules or talk expectations?
Casey: The biggest rules we set were made because of COVID-19. In the beginning, we wanted to strictly limit Rory’s exposure to other people and any germs until her immune system was a little stronger. So, we sat down with my mom and talked about our rules surrounding that and how we wanted to limit interactions with anyone until Rory was at least eight weeks old. Jan was totally on board.
Even though Rory is a bit older now, we still have rules set in place about who my mom can see and where she can go, since she is one of Rory’s primary caregivers. And as the virus changes week by week here in the US, so do our discussions surrounding this. I think the biggest thing is being open about it and constantly talking about our expectations. I’m guessing this will be an ongoing discussion we have for at least the next year until things change with the virus.
Jan: This hasn’t been a big issue between us because we are all vigilant about following the rules regarding staying safe in a world with COVID-19. As you all know, it’s not easy to stay secluded, avoid stores, limit outings and time with friends, but the bottom line for me is Rory’s health. I don’t want to do anything to put her health in jeopardy, so that makes it easier to follow the guidelines with vigilance.
Dealing with Difficult Family Members
Having the first grandbaby soon. How do I manage my mom who makes this about her?
Jan: I feel a little harsh saying this, but if I am honest, I don’t think it will work if your mom makes this all about her. I understand that she is excited to be a new grandma and she might feel like she has lots of advice to offer you, but her focus has to be on her grandchild and the best ways to raise a child in 2020. Like I said earlier, your mom should think of herself as the student and allow you to be the teacher. I hope she will realize that it is truly a feeling of freedom to sit back and watch someone else make all the decisions. You may want to sit down and talk to her before the baby is born so that you start out on the same page. Honest communication is the key to a successful arrangement with your mom.
Do you pay your mom to nanny? I know hiring a nanny can be so expensive!
Jan: Casey and Finn pay me for my Janny job and I appreciate that. My main concern was my health insurance because it is super expensive to buy it as an individual. Because I have been working full time at my job, I am now able to keep my health insurance through the COBRA program while I work part-time. I will retire in February and go on Medicare so health insurance will no longer be an issue at that point.
Jan’s Four Week Stay
Would you recommend a longer or shorter period of time for you mom’s stay when Rory was born?
Casey: When my mom came to stay with us after Rory’s arrival, we didn’t have an “end date” set for her stay. Instead, she packed a bag and was able to come and go to her home to get whatever she needed. (She is only about a 10-minute drive away.) Four weeks ended up being the perfect length for her stay. Those first two weeks were complete chaos as we adjusted to life with a newborn, got organized, purchased the right diapers and clothes, etc. Then, we started to get into a better groove during the third and fourth weeks of Rory’s life. Having a third set of hands around was crucial for us during those really stressful weeks. But after a month, we were feeling more confident and had established a nice routine with Rory. For us, four weeks was the perfect amount of time but that might be too long or too short for another family.
Casey: I am so grateful to have my mom around so often. Not only is it a huge burden off our shoulders, but I get to watch the amazing relationship unfold between Rory and her Grama. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jan: For me, there is nothing more important in my life than my family. Having this time with Rory has been a huge blessing. Every time I feed her or rock her to sleep, I remind myself that this time is fleeting and I should enjoy every second. I am grateful that Casey and Finn have given me the opportunity to do just that!Jan&Casey