Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Carolyn: My wife had our baby last week and asked that I take two weeks of vacation to help her get into a routine. But she also invited her mom to stay with us for the baby's first month. My mother-in-law is a pro at this stuff and I really appreciate the help. But I feel superfluous around my own house, if not downright in the way. I'm not sure it makes sense for me to stay home for another week, but I worry that mentioning this to my wife will make her think I'm being unsupportive.
You're on to the right problem, but I urge a different solution. Explain to your wife that you feel superfluous with her mom around because she's such a pro and that you'd like to ask Grandma to step aside, to allow you to learn by doing while you have the benefit of her safety net. She'll have the following two weeks when you're back at work to get her fill.
At the risk of making too much of this: If your reaction to feeling superfluous to your child's care is to go back to work (or run errands or whatever else), then you're taking the first steps toward detachment from your marriage and child. It's a well-worn path.
Get in there. Set that precedent. If Grandma doesn't take it well, then it's better to do damage control with her than start a bad pattern in your own family.
Re: New Dad: He should go back to work now, and take a week off when the mom leaves! But he has got to talk to his wife about this and they need to be on the same page. Tell the wife you love her, and that you are thrilled to pieces that your mother-in-law is there to help and buy you this time. Then go back to work and save that time off for when you need to spend it for real to support your wife.
All this is null and void, though, if your mother-in-law isn't so much a pro, but instead completely overbearing. If that is the case, I second Carolyn's advice.
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