'In My Day, There Were No Such Things As Car Seats'
When Debbie Eiel of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, left her 5-month-old son, Tommy, with his grandparents for the first time, she let them know she'd be back in a flash. "I'd just nursed him, and I was gone for less than an hour," she says. "When I got back, they'd given my baby -- who was totally breastfed up to that point -- a gigantic bottle of formula! I'd have fired a babysitter who did that. But how can you fire Grandma?"

When relatives volunteer to watch your baby, it's a blessing. But the blessing quickly becomes a curse if they flout your parenting guidelines -- or, worse, inadvertently jeopardize your child's safety. For minor infractions, however -- permitting extra sweets, for instance -- choose your battles. "My in-laws constantly gave Jack sugary juice and even soda in his sippy cup, even though I begged them not to," says Hale. "Finally I gave up; I just made sure to brush his teeth when we got home."

Videos are another common area of contention. "My mom always griped that she never saw the baby," says Nelson. "But when I brought Milo over, they'd watch Elmo all afternoon." Chances are, your relatives don't set out to defy your rules. They may resort to videos from sheer exhaustion. Be sympathetic -- you know how tiring babies are -- but suggest spending downtime with books instead.

Some family caregivers equate permissiveness with love. "My in-laws adore the idea of spoiling their grandchildren, and to them that means lots of soda and TV," says Hale. "Obviously I don't agree, but I'm less angry now that I understand where they're coming from."

Where your child's safety is at issue, though, you can't afford to compromise. You need to make it absolutely clear, even if your mom put her kids to sleep on their stomachs, that putting yours on her back is nonnegotiable. It's your job to make sure all caregivers can manage all the car-seat buckles before they take your baby on the road.

If you suspect a relative is doing something that's a danger to your baby (smoking near her, for instance), confront him or her right away. If things don't change, you may need to pull the plug on unsupervised visits.
Finally, childproof your relative's house a little. "My mom had five kids, but it's been seven years since she had a baby," says Palmquist. "So I moved the cleaning supplies and made sure her bathroom cabinets were secure."
In the land of motherhood, nothing stays static for long. The changes your baby goes through will astonish you -- and this week's most challenging etiquette dilemmas might vanish in a few months' time. Sure, new ones will emerge, but by then you'll no longer be a neophyte. You'll be Veteran Mom -- ready to lend your road map to a brand-new voyager.

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