June 14, 2021

Ask Margaret - When Grandparents Undermine Your Parenting

As long as there have been grandparents there have been grandparents who say "I would love to give you this brownie but your mom won't let me". How much does this undermining hurt our parenting? If we address this behavior with the grandparent in question and stay firm with our own parenting choices the answer is probably - not much.

One question we get over and over again is about dealing with grandparents who say to our kids, "I want to– but your mom won't let me."

We have a general guideline that you only have three times available to speak to your parents or in-laws about things they do that bother you. This "Rule of Three" forces us to consider whether any given issue is worth discussing, and most importantly, whether it is the rare behavior that might actually be changed by having a confrontational conversation about it.

With the issue of undermining, Margaret thinks it might be worth a try. Sit down and have a conversation where you simply say, "When you say that you'd like to do something that my kids wants, only I won't allow it, it hurts my feelings, and it makes it harder for me to enforce the rules that are important to me."

If this simple statement doesn't change this behavior long-term (spoiler alert: it probably won't) then the next step is to respond by restating your rules and your reasoning to your children, each and every time this happens.

When Grandma says,

"I would love to buy you ice cream, but your mom won't let me!"

you respond,

"That's right, because the rule in our house is that we have one dessert a day, and you had ice cream after lunch."

As you calmly and directly restate your rules, you neutralize any attempt to undermine you.

It may also help to restate rules before things come up, and in front of the undermining grandparent,

"We're going to Target to get a new bathing suit but let's remember we're not buying any toys today."

It's important to remember that the occasional annoying comment where Grandma sides with your kid will have few actual consequences. Your kid is not going to be led wildly astray by Grandma's remarks. The best thing to do about it is probably to vent (briefly) to a friend or Facebook group about how annoying it is, and then move on. If you keep your own rules clear, and restate them when contradictory statements are made, your kids will stay clear on who is really in charge.

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