What to Do When Grandparents Undermine Parents' Authority

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You tell your toddler no cookies with breakfast, but your mother-in-law offers him an all-access pass to the cookie jar. You say no TV, but you come home to find your 2-year-old plopped in front of the widescreen, mesmerized by a yellow talking sponge. You say your 3-year-od doesn’t need a haircut, but then find him newly shorn when you go to pick him up from your mother’s house. The battle of wills between grandparent and parent is nothing new; many parents, at some point or another, will go mano y mano with their own parents and in-laws over what’s best for their children. So, then, what is the best way to deal with overbearing grandparents? How do you handle the grandparents who second guess the way you discipline your child, offer advice when it’s not asked for, or simply ignore your established norms for raising your child? If you continuously find your child’s grandparents undermining your authority, there are ways to take action.

Step 1

Engage in conversation with your child's grandparents, which is the first step in trying to quell a budding conflict. If they’re your parents, you take the lead. If they’re your husband’s parents, give him the reins. Either way, sit them down and (calmly) tell them that while you appreciate all of the help that they are providing, your kids are YOUR kids, and therefore, you have the right to set the rules. Reinforce that they should trust you to do a good job. If they are reasonable human beings, they will hopefully respond to your verbal cues by backing off a little...or a lot.

Step 2

Assign duties. One way to reign in grandparent overzealousness is to ask them to perform specific duties for you. For instance, you can provide the grandparents with a specific request, such as, “I think Jake would really like if you took him fishing and showed him how to cast a rod, just like you showed me.” Or, “Remember how you showed me how to make brownies when I was little? Julie would really love that if you showed her.” These types of requests provide the grandparents with an outlet for their eagerness, and give them the opportunity to feel involved, loved and reassured of their role in your kiddos’ lives.

Step 3

Compromise. If you’ve tried talking to the grandparents about your feelings but they’re still giving little Xavier that fourth cookie of the day, try to compromise. Tell them, “Listen, I know you want to spoil our child. You’re his grandparents. We get that. But please understand that we also want him to learn that cookies are not healthy, and are a special treat. If you must give him a cookie, please limit it to only one.” The same goes for television watching, video games or any other activity you feel he gets too much of when he’s at grandma’s. Limit television to one hour or video games to 30 minutes; whatever you decide, make sure they are rules that you can both live with.

Step 4

Limit visitations. If you’ve tried different tactics to no avail, you may need to limit the amount of time your child spends with her grandparents. While this can cause even more friction in your relationship, it may be necessary if your parents or in-laws have made no effort to fix the problem and if their continued refusal to acknowledge your guidelines are beginning to affect your child’s health or behavior at home or at school. Simply telling the grandparents, “Until you learn to respect the rules we’ve set for our child, we won’t be coming around as much” may be enough to sway them back toward your way of thinking.