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Dealing With Parents/In-laws Who Undermine Your Parenting

“Oh, sure, you can have a lollipop,” says your mother-in-law with a bright, knowing smile. Every ounce of physical strength is required to push down the inappropriate retort that nearly rolled off your tongue. What do you do? Parenting is tough as it is without all the people on the sidelines trying to call the shots. If your parents, in-laws, or partner/ex tends to cut down your parenting decisions, you need to take action right away. Inconsistent parenting can prompt confusion and even power struggles in your children. Handle those who undermine your parenting by managing disagreement between parents, appropriately communicating your boundaries with interfering in-laws, and coming up with effective ways to manage continued resistance.

Method 1 - Eliminating Interference from In-Laws and Others

  1. Communicate your house rules. There’s a chance that others are undermining your parenting because your intended rules aren’t clear. You can’t expect in-laws or others to respect your parenting guidelines when they don’t fully understand your goals. Take the time to communicate your rules to those who spend time with your children. This may prevent any undermining down the road.

    • You might say, “I know we haven’t clearly stated this, but we have a rule about no TV during weekdays, Mom. If they are done with homework, they are welcome to play with toys, work on puzzles or do creative projects—but absolutely no TV. Okay?”
    • In addition to telling them the rules, it may also help to post charts in your home that outline bedtimes, feeding schedules, and general rules you want your children to adhere to.[1]
    • It is ideal to start communicating your boundaries to your relatives before your child is born. However, if you did not do this, and your relatives are now undermining your parenting, then communicating your boundaries now is better than not at all. The sooner you can start communicating your boundaries to your relatives, the better your chances will be of getting your relatives to respect these rules.

  3. Collect yourself before planning a discussion. The worst thing you can do is respond to interference with acid stinging your tongue. Being emotional when communicating with your in-laws about parenting differences will only complicate matters. Take some time to calm down first.[2]

    • Step out of the room and count to 10 silently. Take some deep breaths—in through your nose and out through your mouth. Repeat an affirmation like “I am the picture of calm.”
    • Then, rejoin the environment and reach out to your spouse or partner first and say, “Do you mind if we have a chat with your parents? I really want to talk to them about something that’s been bugging me.” Then, explain the situation so that you are both clued in to the problem.

  5. Present a united front with your partner. If your in-laws detect conflict between you and your spouse, they may use it to their advantage. That is why it is important to always be on the same page when you confront them. When you and your partner are on the same page, your relatives may be more likely to take what you say seriously.

    • Let your spouse lead the conversation with their side of the family. Your in-laws are less likely to take such strong offense when a confrontation is initiated by their own. Your spouse might say, “Mom and Dad, we need to talk to you…Is now a good time?”[3]

  7. Express your concerns in a respectful manner. Navigating this discussion may be tricky. Bruised egos and hard feelings may occur, which is why it’s best to let your spouse do the talking with their family. The key is to be clear about the issue while maintaining respect for their authority.

    • Your spouse might say, “Your style with the children is causing some problems. We find that Carey sets a rule, and you guys go behind her back and change it. Or, worse, you bad-mouth her in front of the kids. We’d really appreciate it if you could support our parenting choices, even if you don’t agree with them. It’s better if the kids see that we are all on the same side.”[4]

  9. Decide what you can let slide. While you don’t want to come across as a pushover, you may be able to relax some of your rules if arguing over the matter complicates things. If others are in charge of caring for your children, you may want to decide which rules you are willing to bend and which ones need to stay firmly in place.

    • For example, when your sister-in-law babysits, you may choose to relax the “No fast or convenience foods” rule simply because she is going straight from her job to watch your children. On these days, it may be acceptable for your kids to eat microwave dinners or takeout, or you might even prepare something ahead of time that she can just heat up for your kids and herself.
    • Try to be compassionate as you decide what rules you are willing to let slide now and then. Consider why your relatives might try to break these rules. For example, if your mother-in-law wants to watch a TV show with your kids, it might be because she remembers watching it with her grandmother and wants to share the same experience with her own grandkids.

  11. Diffuse tension by communicating your appreciation. Of course, your desire is to stop undermining in its tracks, but the last thing you want your parents to do is feel like you’re not grateful. Touching lightly on how much you are thankful for their financial assistance and offers to babysit can minimize any hard feelings.

    • You might say, “You have such a wonderful relationship with the kids. We both appreciate you caring for them after school each day. We just don’t want to feel undermined when it comes to parenting. I hope you can understand.”[5]
    • Be sure to show your appreciation for specific help that they provide you with, such as coming over and teaching you how to swaddle your baby, or taking your kids to the park when you are too sick to take them.
    • Communicate with them often as well, such as by calling once or twice per week or sending them a text message here and there. Keep in mind that they were probably as excited as you were about your children being born, so they will likely appreciate regular updates and the occasional picture.

  1. https://www.afccnet.org/Portals/0/PDF/AzAFCC%20Coparenting%20Communication%20Guide.pdf
  2. http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx
  3. http://www.twoofus.org/educational-content/articles/when-in-laws-meddle-in-your-parenting/index.aspx
  4. https://powertochange.com/family/interfere/
  5. http://www.twoofus.org/educational-content/articles/when-in-laws-meddle-in-your-parenting/index.aspx

Excerpt from Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki building the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Deal with Relatives Who Undermine Your Parenting. Content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons License.

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