Kids Change Family Dynamics

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Mark and I in Nantes, December 2013

Mark and I in Nantes, December 2013

This year, Christmas was a family affair in France. We stayed at my parents’ place in Nantes with my sister (25 years old), my brother (22 years old), my grandparents on both sides, my uncle, aunt and my two young cousins.

Yes, I have a rather large family.

And now I have my own—Feng, Mark and I are a family-in-training.

It’s funny how a kid changes dynamics.

My parents are young, in their early fifties, and my brother and sister are barely out of their teens. Suddenly, they have been promoted to the grade of “grand-maman”, “grand-papa”, “tata” and “tonton”. As for me, I’m a mother, a wife and then a daughter and a sister.

In a family, everyone has a role. As the oldest, I have always been the peacekeeper and the caretaker.

Sometime, I can’t help feeling I no longer exist. It’s probably a silly paranoid thought, a simple misunderstanding. But I do get annoyed when, on bad days, I call my mum on Skype for some comfort and the first thing she asks is “Is Mark here? Can you turn the webcam on, can I see him?”

“Yes, of course Mark is here!” I feel like shouting. “Where else on earth would he be? He’s been clinging to me the entire day! Meanwhile *I* am not okay, can you please be here for me?”

People find Mark cute, smart, bright, funny, etc. Hey, I’m not going to disagree. Yet, our son can be a real pain in the butt. When he doesn’t blind his father or throw tantrums, he refuses to sleep. When I leave him in his room for two minutes to go pee, he screams as if a giant bear was eating him alive. And if I show signs of annoyance, my parents just say “I know, I know… but look, he is so cute!”

Yeah, thanks, I know. He is doing fine. I am just worried he is killing us and I need advice and a sympathetic ear, that’s all.

“You’re overreacting,” my dad said jokingly a few times. No, I’m not. Sure, it’s fine if he goes to bed at 1 a.m. on Christmas Eve but I certainly won’t do that at home—otherwise, when do I rest, when do I work?

Becoming a mother, I feel like I lost my parents’ attention. I wish someone would take care of me. I’m usually pretty good at taking care of myself, I’ve been doing so for a long time. But these days, I spent all my energy on Mark and I forgot myself in the process. Before I can do anything, including the basics such as eating, sleeping or taking a shower, I have to make sure he is okay—fed, changed, bathed, busy playing, etc. The world revolves around Mark, rightly so… but why can’t anyone do something nice for me, for once?

Dynamics also changed with Feng’s parents, my in-laws. I jokingly nicknamed them the “Bùkū” (不哭), which means “don’t cry” in Mandarin. It took Mark about six months to get used to them, he used to scream on top of his lungs every time they held him or played with him, and they would pace the living-room repeating “don’t cry, don’t cry!”

Feng’s parents are nice people, albeit very stubborn and convinced that they know best. They also tend to forget their only son is almost 40, not 10, and they constantly remind him to dress warm, look both ways when crossing the street, get a better job, buy insurance, etc. Their motto should be “if it’s not broken, let’s fix it anyway”.

I use to dread their weekly visit because they invariably took over the house, bringing tons of food we don’t eat (“But it’s healthy! But it’s cheap!”), fix or replace stuff that should have been left alone and impart their precious wisdom until it results in arguments with Feng.

Now, the “Bùkū” are entirely dedicated to their one and only grandson and don’t have much time—or energy—left to “fix” us. They buy toys instead of filling our fridge, and they are on Mark’s back instead of being on ours.

I love them even more… since they leave us alone. Plus they can help out with Mark. Sure, it annoys me when they overfeed him or insist to dress him with two pairs of pants and five sweaters (he may catch a cold at home, after all it’s only 25°C indoor… right?) but Mark is safe with them and we, the parents, can get a break.

Building a family isn’t easy… nor it is to deal with your existing one!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. “but why can’t any­one do some­thing nice for me, for once?”

    Are you sure they don’t? Sometimes we’re trapped in a problem and anyone trying to help look like doing something useless for us. Maybe you need something specific and they just can’t guess what it is. Maybe you can explicitly ask? Sometimes, it’s surprisingly as simple as that.

    I think it’s very hard to be… any of the role in a family, including grand-parents. In my family, I could see how some spontaneous “help” that (grand)parents could propose was perceived as criticism. Like “I don’t NEED you to remind me I have to change my baby’s diaper” kind of things 🙂 On the other end, the new parents were hoping another type of help that they didn’t get, which was as simple as an explicit recognition that they were doing fine as parents from their own parents.

    So well. Maybe it feels a bit forced and I would probably be a bit shy myself for asking, but maybe you could try to direct the help you receive? Explain to your mother that you would like some mother-daughter time and to your in-laws what could actually be useful to buy since they like covering the family with gift?

    I hope I’m not sounding patronizing, it’s not my intention.

    Bon courage à toi. Toujours dispo pour un café si tu as besoin d’un moment de détente entre filles 🙂

    • I think you are absolutely right. I must admit I wrote this article right after Christmas, when I was tired and, well, not doing so well. I didn’t have the chance to publish it. When I read it again last week, I thought I’d publish it anyway because this is how I felt but I have changed a bit since then and now things don’t look as bad.

      I suck at asking for help. Part of it is probably because as the oldest one, I took the caretaker role. Part of it is because when you are tired, you don’t even know what can help.

      I haven’t changed my mind about mi in-laws though 😆

  2. My sister went through the same thing when she had her first son, fortunately, it doesn’t last forever! I promise, it is almost like a novelty-thing. It must be made worse for you because you are so far away from your parents. I know the thing I miss most is my nephews – seeing them grow etc. It is hard not to demand to see them instead of talking to my sister, because they change so much and because I have spent so little time with them, unlike the lifetime spent with my sister! I guess it is about trying to form an autonomous relationship with these new people in the family. I have to try so hard to not do this with my sister, but it isn’t because I don’t want to talk to her – because I do, all of the time – but for these reasons above.

    • Thank you for sharing the other side of the story! Indeed, a baby affects everyone in the family, not just the parents. And I’m sure it’s not easy for the rest of the family to adapt.

  3. HI Zhu, My first time reading your blog! My daughter is named Juliette and we call her Juju as we live in France. I’m American and have been in France for 11 years, so a bit the opposite of your case. You’re definitely right that kids change the family dynamics and leave the mom (especially) no time for herself. Don’t know all of your situation but try to take some downtime for you (maybe a playdate with moms with kids of the same age) to chill! And demand your mum’s attention a bit cause you’re still her baby!

    • Eh, I am “Juju” too! This is funny, I don’t know too many people named Juliette–in fact, I had met only one my entire life! How old is she?

      It’s funny, you must have settled in France right when I settled in Canada 🙂

      Anyway, thank you for stopping by and saying “bonjour”. I love chatting with expats and immigrants, especially those living in France!

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