'My mother-in-law said it’s MY fault my 1-year-old wasn’t walking yet'

At an early scan for their first and only pregnancy, *Serena and husband, *Tim, received a shock they never, ever expected. 

“We were told that our baby had ventriculomegaly (a condition in which the ventricles appear larger than normal),” the Australian mom tells Kidspot. 

“When we Googled it, we were hysterical because it meant he could be severely developmentally delayed and disabled.” 

“There’s nothing wrong with him”

However, in the first few months of their son, *William’s life, scans thankfully showed his condition was not what doctors had expected. 

“It turns out there’s actually nothing wrong with him, and he just has enlarged ventricles for no reason,” the 32-year-old explains. 

“It’s not affected him at all. He still rolled over, picked up things, crawled, stood up and made all the normal baby sounds when he was supposed to.” 

While Serena was relieved to say the least, the first year of her son’s life was overshadowed by the anxiety she still carried from her pregnancy. 

An Australian mom's "judgmental" mother-in-law blamed her for her 1-year-old son not being able to walk.
An Australian mom’s “judgmental” mother-in-law blamed her for her 1-year-old son not being able to walk.
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“As a first-time mom, knowing that he’s got that diagnosis and when he doesn’t reach a milestone, I think, ‘Oh my goodness, is there something wrong with him?’ And I’m quite sensitive about him ever becoming delayed, which I’m being reassured by doctors won’t happen.”  

Earlier this year, Serena and Tim took William on their first ever overseas family holiday to Vanuatu with as well as Tim’s mother, *Helen — and also friends, who have a daughter, *Laura, aged two months younger than William. 

“My MIL would tell him ‘You should be walking’”

At that time, William — then aged 15 months — was cruising on furniture, but had not yet learned to walk unassisted. 

“I just knew it was taking him some time to get his confidence and that there wasn’t anything to worry about.” 

Serena’s fears about her “judgmental” mother-in-law commenting on William’s progress were confirmed on the first day of the holiday. 

“Every time we went anywhere where Laura was walking, Helen would say to William, ‘You should be walking. Laura is walking, why aren’t you walking?’” 

The mother-in-law compared Serena's son to a friend's toddler who was already walking.
The mother-in-law compared Serena’s son to a friend’s toddler who was already walking.
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At a dinner one evening, Helen’s persistent criticism of William’s development escalated to the point where Serena could take no more. 

“She had a few too many drinks, and when William started crying after Laura walked off without him, she said, ‘We need to do something about this kid. He’s clearly delayed’,” the mom-of-one and stepmom-of-one remembers angrily.   

“I picked up William and stormed off and didn’t say anything to her because she was drunk, there was no point. She would just blame it on that. After that, I just limited my time around her and didn’t speak to her for quite a few weeks after the trip.” 

For Serena, it sadly wasn’t the first time her mother-in-law has made unjustified and hurtful critiques about her grandchildren, and Serena’s parenting.

“My nephew is speech delayed and she’s awful about it”

“She’s amazing with her other grandchildren 90 percent of the time, but for that remaining 10 percent, she’s extremely critical and vicious,” Serena says. 

“My nephew is speech-delayed and she’s awful about it. She would also comment that William wasn’t eating enough when I did baby-led weaning, and that I should have just fed him. He was in the 90th percentile, too. Then she insisted we pat him to sleep even when he was fine self-settling for a very short amount of time.” 

When William was 12 months old, Helen even went as far as to “blame” Serna for her baby’s inability to walk. 

“She told me she had given all her children walkers from 10 months, so it was my fault that William wasn’t walking because I hadn’t given him a walker,” Serena says, still aghast by the comment.

“I was devastated and embarrassed. I said to her that I don’t think that’s why he’s not walking and that we can get him a walker if that’s what she thinks he needs, but I didn’t think it was necessary.”

“My husband is happy to cut her out of the children’s lives”

Serena and Tim have both agreed Helen’s toxic behavior will only be tolerated until a certain point.  

“I told my husband that if she was going to keep doing this, we need to reconsider how much time we spend with her,” she says. 

“He is happy to cut her out of the children’s lives if it’s to their detriment.” 

The family has managed to maintain a relationship, albeit a distant one where Helen visits Serena’s family, and other relatives nearby, about once a month from her hometown three hours away.

Serena's son started walking at 18 months and her mother-in-law never apologized for her comments.
Serena’s son started walking at 18 months and her mother-in-law never apologized for her comments.
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Serena is so fearful of what her mother-in-law might say, however, that she avoids every chance to spend one-on-one time with her. 

“If something is said, I would need someone there to back me up,” she says. 

“I’m anti-confrontation, so it would be so awkward not being able to say anything to her on my own. It’s awful that it needs to be that way, but you have to do what’s needed to keep yourself in a good headspace and your family together.” 

“She’s never apologized for anything”

At 18 months old, little William proved his Nanna wrong when he took his first steps in the most momentous way.

“We were at a family gathering and Helen was there,” Serena smiles at the memory. 

“It was filmed and the whole family was there, cheering him on. I was very close to saying, ‘See, Nanna, he can do it!’ But I just gave William a big hug and told him how proud I was of him — he was clapping hands and smiling, he was so beautiful.” 

After that, there was no stopping her little walker. 

“Two days later, he was practicing running,” she laughs. 

Ironically, just days before the big moment, Serena was also told by both her maternal health nurse and GP that she should be very worried about William’s progress. 

“My GP just blurts out, ‘Why isn’t he walking? Why is he so delayed?’ and the nurse went on about how he needed physical therapy and an OT,” she says frustratingly. 

“I didn’t listen to them — they just needed to stop with all the pressure.” 

As for Helen, Serena has never received any acknowledgement that she was completely off the mark about William’s development or had any indication that her behavior will improve. 

“She’s never apologized for anything,” Serena says deflatedly.

“She needs to take her role as a grandmother more seriously. Even if they’re off-handed comments, they still stick with kids as they grow older and I want to preserve my child’s mental health and protect him. I just wish she would accept these kids for who they are.” 

Sadly, if things don’t change, her little boy will see less and less of his beloved Nanna for very sad reasons. 

“I’m so worried about what she may say to William as he gets older and understands more,” Serena says. 

“I’ll always be very wary of her.” 

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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