Dear Miriam

I am the mother of an eight-month-old baby girl. I am married to a farmer and we are living in a house that we built on his family farm. His father is deceased, but his mother is hale and hearty and is living in the family farmhouse just up the lane from us.

While COVID put a stop to her gallop for a while, my mother-in-law has a great social life. She is in a choir, she goes to aqua aerobics, has coffee dates with friends etc.

On the other hand, my husband and I have zero social life. As my parents live in a different county, I have nobody I trust that I can ask to babysit. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law has never offered to babysit, though she does call to the house to see the baby and we bring her up to her house to visit too.

We could badly do with the odd night out to go for dinner or for a drink or to the cinema even. Wouldn’t you think that she would just offer to mind her own grandchild every now and again? At this rate, we will never get out of the house.

What do you think Miriam?

Frustrated daughter-in-law

Dear Frustrated daughter-in-law

Thank you for your email. I can understand that with a farm and a young baby and all the other pressures of life, you and your husband would like a little break every now and again. It seems obvious to you that your mother-in-law – who you trust and who lives just up the lane – should “offer” to babysit.

But I’m afraid to say that you can’t just “expect” your mother-in-law to fill this role. She is entitled to live her own life and spend her free time as she wishes.

Of course, it would be very helpful if she could step in to help out occasionally, but she might be very nervous of minding a young baby, as guidelines have changed so much since her own children were small.

She might be worried about over-stepping the mark, or quite simply, she might just feel that her child-rearing days are long behind her and that this is her time now. Whatever the reason, it’s not really fair to have the “expectation” that she should just be offering her services as a babysitter – especially if she has not even been asked to do so yet.

She is entitled to live her own life and spend her free time as she wishes

Which brings me to my next point: maybe it’s as simple as asking her if she would mind the baby occasionally, rather than waiting for her to offer? But if you (and your husband) do ask, I think it’s important to let her know that there is no pressure if it does not suit her.

Hopefully you will get the answer you want to hear, but if it’s a no then I’m afraid that has to be accepted and respected.

This is probably not the response that you wanted to get from me. Of course, I think that it would be really nice if your mother-in-law was able to babysit every now and again so that you both get a little break. I also understand that it’s very hard for you with your own parents living so far away and that family support is really important as a new parent.

In an ideal world, your mother-in-law would step into that role, but if it’s not going to be a runner then it’s time to look at other options. Have you a friend who might be able to recommend a childminder that they trust?

Does your husband have siblings living locally who would be happy to mind for you occasionally?

If your own parents are happy to mind, could they come down to you the odd weekend, or could you go to them? Think beyond the farm gate in terms of what supports are available.

I really hope that you and your husband get your night out soon. Wishing you all the best.

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