Are the Grandparents Undermining Your Parenting?

February 27, 2013 by

Do you have a well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) relative who constantly undermines your parenting? Recently, I wrote a blog about grandparents, and the positive role that they can play in your child’s life.  What happens, though, when the opposite happens –when grandparents or other relatives try to negate or undermine the limits you set on your child?

The role of grandparent is one that is treasured and eagerly awaited by many.  As my own mother put it when my siblings and I started having children of our own, “Being a grandparent is the reward for all those tough years of parenting!”  In our society, grandparents are expected to be gentle and soft-hearted, with a generous dose of spoiling as well.  Many grandparents relish this role of being able to “do all the fun stuff and then send them home.”  It can be difficult as a parent to rein in this free-spirited attitude when your child is home with rules and limits once again!

It’s helpful to keep in mind what James Lehman calls “the culture of accountability” — namely, the behavior that you expect from your child, and how they can expect to be rewarded or held accountable for their behavior choices while they are in your home. You cannot control what happens when your child is with their grandparents; you do have control over your own house rules.  We recommend stating your rules in an objective manner, neither apologizing for them nor putting down the rules at their grandparents’ house.  For example, you might say, “I know that Grammy lets you watch TV before dinner at her house; in our house, it’s your job to set the table before dinner. You can watch TV after dinner if your homework is done.”

Related: Grandparent raising grandkids?

What about when your child’s grandparents disagree with your parenting, and argue with you in front of your child, or actively help your child avoid consequences?  We receive calls on the Parental Support Line about grandparents constantly telling parents that they are handling a situation the wrong way, or grandparents telling a child that Mom or Dad is wrong about something.  There are also situations where grandparents will “rescue” and do a child’s chore or homework for him or her so that the child doesn’t have to experience the consequence for not getting it done.  What to do then?

We recommend talking with the grandparents in private, not in front of your child, about the goals you are trying to achieve with your child, and how they can help you achieve those goals.  (It is most helpful if the parent addresses this with their own parents if possible.) You might say, for example, “I am trying to teach Leah the importance of picking up after herself and how to be responsible for cleaning her room.  I’m concerned about the lesson she is learning if you continue to clean her room for her.  I know that you might not always agree with my parenting; I ask that if you disagree with me, please bring that up with me in private instead of telling me that I’m wrong in front of Leah, or telling her that you think my rules are silly.”

Ultimately, you can only control your behavior and your house rules — you cannot control your child, and you cannot control what your parents or your in-laws choose to do.  You can control how you respond to those choices, however, and by responding in an objective, businesslike way, you are well on your way to developing that culture of accountability in your home.

Rebecca Wolfenden earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University in 2005.  She has been with Legacy Publishing since 2011 working on the Parental Support Line. Rebecca, who is also a new mother, has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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