Busy Papa: Learning the hard way that mother-in-law really does know best

Staff writerAugust 4, 2013 

After the birth of our son and the first few months spent at home learning to become parents, we — or maybe I should just start saying I — finally encountered the inevitable: my in-laws.

My wife’s mother spent three months with us after my wife went back to work following the end of her maternity leave, which meant three more months our son could spend at home with us before starting day care. We probably wouldn’t care now, but starting day care at six months rather than at three months seemed easier for us at the time.

As new parents, you’re going to have to adjust to how your parents or parents-in-law perceive and react to you as parents, and three months with my mother-in-law wasn’t always easy as my know-it-all attitude clashed with a veteran understanding of how to raise children.

It was lost on me at the time, but now I can see her approach around my son helped me become the parent I needed to be.

My mother-in-law, Keiko Sanada, was born outside of Hiroshima, Japan, after the end of World War II. She raised two children of her own, both daughters, plus she looked after her own mother who lived to be 100. She also works a part-time job and likes to go hiking with friends. In addition to her grandson in Lacey, she has two grandchildren to look after in Hiroshima. If that wasn’t enough, she’s also a cancer survivor and a homemaker, her day beginning early and ending late.

Flying to the U.S. from Japan takes about 10 hours — a flight I call a jet lag special because the real time between the two countries is about 17 hours — so when we finally arrived home after picking her up at the airport, I encouraged her to take it easy and relax.

She decided to clean out the refrigerator.

And that was the first day.

My wife has since explained this to me: Her mother didn’t necessarily stay with us to take care of our son, but to help us when needed while we raised our son.

She also didn’t dote on him. When we were busy, she’d feed him, make sure he got his sleep, and she’d sing or get him to laugh or smile once in awhile, and then it was back to the housework.

During breaks, she’d check on him and then, once again, she was off to accomplish some household activity.

This didn’t sit well with me at first: I was more inclined to never leave his side and hover while she was outside doing something. What exactly was she doing?

Sometimes I’d come home from work for lunch and she’d be outside while our son was inside, alone. He was sleeping, of course, but in my rusty Japanese I’d question what was going on and whether it was really OK to leave him. She’d reassure me but I wasn’t always reassured and would report this back to my wife.

She’d tell me to relax, too.

But I couldn’t stop: I questioned the food he ate, the formula mix he drank and the time he seemed to spend alone. We eventually crossed swords, and then it got quiet, not quite sure what we were going to say to each other.

But in her own way, she was helping me become a dad.

While she was outside, I was inside changing his clothes, changing diapers and giving him a bath. I now do this with confidence.

Her three-month stay finally came to an end and, yes, it was hard to say goodbye. She, of course, had been a huge help to both of us and our son.

And I also finally figured out that she had transformed our yard by trimming, cutting and pruning just about every bush, plant and tree that fell within her sight. She had left behind several piles of yard debris for me to clean up and throw away.

I sized it up and rented a truck, thinking one trip to the dump is all it would take.

Four, overflowing truckloads later — so many truckloads that the lady at the dump kept asking, “You again?” — I was nearly done, shocked and exhausted at the amount of hard work she had applied to our yard. The same kind of hard work it takes to be a parent.

When he’s not writing for The Olympian, Rolf Boone spends the rest of his time helping to raise his infant son. rboone@ theolympian.com 360-754-5403 theolympian.com/bizblog @rolf_booneRolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com theolympian.com/bizblog

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