Motherhood and Middlemarch: The trials of baby bathtime

April 22, 2021
Motherhood and Middlemarch: The trials of baby bathtime
Peach TeaGo to Sleep Little Baby by Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss

Dear Erica,

I just had a baby, and he is the most beautiful, adorable baby boy in the whole world(not biased at all of course!) My sister is now visiting and meeting him for the first time. Although I was excited for her visit, I am now feeling really resentful towards her. She barely gives my son a glance, and unlike my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and best friend, she never offers to help with bathtime or dirty diapers, or anything useful or helpful. And she is constantly asking me about my old job and our old friends. Doesn’t she realize that all I care about right now is my beautiful boy? What do I do?

Bothered in Baltimore

Dear Bothered in Baltimore,

Let’s be frank. No one enjoys changing diapers, as I’m sure, even you, a devoted mother, will agree! But you are probably right that your sister doesn’t understand how important your baby boy is to you. However, I don’t think it’s completely her fault. As Celia and Dorothea Brooke learn in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, sisters do not always follow the same path in life, and rarely see things the same way. Dorothea’s passionate and impetuous nature leads her on a tumultuous path of marriage and heartbreak which is a sharp contrast to that of her serene sister.

As Celia settles into a calm and happy married life, she is repeatedly frustrated by her sister’s obvious indifference to her nephew, or Little Bouddha as he is affectionately called by his Mama. To Celia’s bewilderment, Dorothea doesn’t even care that she will miss seeing Baby being washed!

But as George Eliot writes, “Dorothea would have been capable of carrying baby joyfully for miles if there had been need, and of loving it the more tenderly for that labor; but to an aunt who does not recognize her infant nephew as Bouddha, and has nothing to do for him but to admire, his behavior is apt to appear monotonous, and the interest of watching him exhaustible.”

Given the opportunity, I have no doubt that your sister, loving you, would do all she could for her sister’s child. But as the baby is well cared for by you, your mother-in law, sister-in-law, bestfriend, and probably many others, your sister probably doesn’t feel particularly necessary. Unfamiliar with motherhood, she might even feel bewildered by it all, and pushed out by this new development in your life. Remember though, like Dorothea, who eventually turns to her sister for advice once she has a baby, your sister will turn to you, her sister, for advice and understanding, and perhaps some tips on diapers and baby bathtime.