Concerned about her mother-in-law holding her baby, a mom took matters into her own hands. The granny is forbidden from even touching the infant unless she follows mom’s rules, including two-steps that some call “extreme.”
A heavy smoking mother-in-law’s bad habit is under fire, and her daughter-in-law, who’s expecting her first child, isn’t messing around. When it comes to the health of her infant, the mom-to-be isn’t taking any chances. But, is she going too far? The mom is concerned her mother-in-law’s long-time smoking habit will subject her baby to thirdhand cigarette smoke, the residual nicotine and other chemicals left behind after smoking a cigarette.
Exposure to these chemicals occurs when “touching contaminated surfaces or breathing in the off-gassing from these surfaces,” according to the Mayo Clinic. The residue “is thought to react with common indoor pollutants,” creating “a toxic mix, including cancer-causing compounds, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers — especially children.” Some say the mom’s two-step requirement for the grandmother to be granted permission to touch her grandchild is taking things to the extreme.
The mom wrote to Slate’s Care and Feeding advice column, asking how to tell her heavy smoking mother-in-law to keep her hands off of her baby unless specific rules were followed. Worried what will happen when the grandma visits after the baby’s born, the anonymous mom-to-be said her mother-in-law can’t smoke and then come around her baby.
Instead, she and her husband expect the grandmother to shower and change her clothes before touching the baby each and every time she smokes. But, she doesn’t know how to tell her. Not wanting the grandmother to feel ostracized or have her feelings hurt, she asked, “How can we still be welcoming and let her know we are excited to have her around while still setting these boundaries? Also, how long should we remain this strict about the issue? How should we handle this when we are visiting my in-laws?”
Not everyone agreed with the woman’s expectations, though. Some said she had gone overboard. Calling the request “extreme” and “obsessive,” people questioned whether she was being “punitive” or “passive-aggressive.” Others warned she was driving a wedge between the grandmother and her grandchild, risking the grandparent relationship.
They cautioned the mom that this might make her mother-in-law feel shamed and she may decide not to visit at all, suggesting she “ask a pediatrician to weigh in” on the risk and “how to mitigate it.” Advice columnist Carvell Wallace, on the other hand, told the woman to take a stand and set boundaries as soon as possible, applauding her for confronting the issue of thirdhand smoke.
“Kudos to you for taking it seriously,” he wrote. Acknowledging that he knows she doesn’t want her mother-in-law to feel ostracized but that’s a likely outcome, he added, “I would take this opportunity to remind you that you are perfectly within your rights to ask for what you want; her response to that is her business, not yours.”
After telling her to be strict about her request when her mother-in-law visits, Wallace further advised, “When you are visiting them, I think you have to, for necessity’s sake, be less so. It’s not possible for them to clear all residual smoke and nicotine off of everything in their home.” He then suggested, “You may want to stay in a hotel for that reason.”
Wallace theorized that knowing her relationship with smoking is affecting her relationship with her grandchild might help her kick the habit, but the daughter-in-law needed to make a point to tell her mother-in-law that they care about her and want her in their lives.
“So be sure to say in clear and explicit language that you welcome her and love her,” he wrote. “Her hurt feelings may interfere with her ability to hear it, but that’s fine. She can just deal with it.”
A parent should set boundaries that they think are appropriate for their child’s well-being. But, it’s not always easy to do where loved ones are concerned. Those conversations are difficult, but you have to decide if the risk outways the potential harm to the relationship should the other party react negatively.
Whether you agree with this mom’s approach to thirdhand smoke, the take away from her story is the importance of communicating with the people we care about when their behavior becomes a cause for concern. Hopefully, these women can find a healthy resolution.