Do you have a well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) relative who constantly undermines your parenting? 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.”

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 comments through our parent coaching service 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.

Related Content:
Your Child Is Not Your “Friend”
Positive Parenting: 5 Rules to Help You Deal with Negative Child Behavior More Positively


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated EmpoweringParents Parent Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca 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.

Comments (4)
  • yiggie
    i have a son who is in the military, although i told his step grandmother that i wanted to have everyone over here for a bbq, she said we'll see about that. then she had my son and his girlfreind over 2 nights in a row.  then she proceeded toMore say very nasty things about me. being my son was on a 10 day leave, it hurt me and my husband very much. now, she is calling my other children up. being that she has lost 2 of her sons(she has 3) one to suicide, the other to diabetes(which she, and his wife knew that he was not taking care of himself)  i don't know what to do now, she is constantly overminding me. this is my husband's stepmother, and he is constantly ignoring the fact~ HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      It’s understandable that you would be upset by what happened

      during your son’s leave, as well as what is currently going on.  I think

      it’s important to keep in mind that everyone in this situation is an adult, and

      has the ability to make their own choices.  While his stepgrandmother may

      have invited your son to go over to her house two nights in a row, it was

      ultimately his choice whether to accept or decline the invitations.  As I

      mentioned in my blog, in this type of situation, it’s really most effective to

      focus on what you can control, which is yourself and your own actions, because

      ultimately you cannot make anyone else behave in a certain way.  For

      example, you might share with your son that you were hurt and disappointed that

      you didn’t get to spend as much time as you might have liked while he was home

      on leave.  You might also consider some boundaries that you can set for

      yourself when it comes to interacting with your husband’s stepmother,

      especially if she is saying nasty or hurtful things about you.  I

      recognize that this is a really tough situation, and I wish you and your family

      all the best as you continue to move forward.  Take care.

  • Anonymous
    I am dealing with a very toxic grandparent relationship with my eldest child. Every opportunity my mother finds to undermine us, with my now 19 year old daughter, she takes full advantage of as a way to get closer to her. She has been forgiven and excuses made for herMore instability and irresponsible behavior for years. She overinflates her importance and the role she has played in our daughter's life on so many levels. She is dilliusional about her importance in various areas, as well as her connection and knowledge of our children and her " expertise". She hates my husband for not putting up with her. She uses that God speaks to her as why she has the authority to tell everyone else about themselves and what they need. Her perspective on life and self assessment are completely warped. She is completely irresponsible and encourages rebellion in our daughter by saying horrible things about us, telling her about the mistakes her mother and father have made as a reason we we should excuse her behavior and show "grace". She openly disagrees with our parenting in conversation with our daughter. I made the mistake of asking for her help with a situation because we are living overseas, instead of helping to encourage accountability and to hold our daughter accountable for repeated recklessness and disrespect.....she sent her money, called her repeatedly telling her she would help her, and sympathized with her behind our backs...even calling us names. She tells us she has a right to her grandchildren and to express her opinion. That we can't just "use" her when we need to ( referring to visits we paid for so our daughter could have some family to attend special events or a holiday with family). We have decided to eliminate her from our lives and the lives of our other children, but the damage she has caused with our daughter and continues to cause to her life with her disrespect for us as parents and her interference in our attempts to get our daughter back on track and demonstrate personal accountable are incredible and irreversible it seems. We feel we can no longer tolerate this sick woman in our lives and her level of haughtiness and audacity. Our daughter had a promising future and we were keeping her on track as best as we could with100% support, but since a visit to her grandmother ten months ago, she feels more entitled and rebellious....acting as if she doesn't have to answer to us or respond responsibly when we have payed for her entire life away at college and care about her well being after repeated careless mistakes. We have now had to take away everything due to her rebelliousness and disrespect. Now our daughter calls us names and tells us never to speak to her again because we won't support her plan and behavior any longer.
    • sdella


      @Anonymous  Wow!! Do we have the same parent? Exact same issue with my mom. But, my son is 11 years old... I knew that his disregard for me was because of my mother AND his father AND the paternal gandmother!!! I just feel like giving up completely!!!! But that's what they want I think...

      look up "Narcissistic Mothers."  

      Read more: Are Grandparents Undermining Your Parenting?

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