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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: In-laws interfere with mom's parenting

Question:

Dear Jan,

My son is 17 months old now, and since the day he was born I have had problems with his grandparents, my husband's parents.

They began by giving a lot of advice; I was able to take the good and leave the bad. When my son was about 7 months old my mother-in-law began to give me direct orders telling me what to do with my son. For instance ... he rolled and hit his head on the coffee table, he started to cry and I got up to pick him up. My mother in law shouted, "Sit down now, he's fine." I ignored her and she continued shouting this same order at me. I left the room with my son temporarily to gather my wits. I have told my in-laws that my husband and I are the parents and we will make the decisions regarding our son.

When my son was about 12 months old, they began disciplining my son when they felt it was necessary. I can be standing next to my son and my mother in-law will scream at him from across my house to stop doing something he is doing. If I had a problem with his behavior I feel it is my place to correct my son, not hers. Additionally, I do not believe in screaming or yelling at a child.

My husband and I are relaxed about what my son plays with in the house and this seems to bother my in-laws. The last time they came to visit, my father-in-law continually scolded my son when he cried, and my mother-in-law turned to me and said, "Bill is not going to put up with any more of his crap." I was devastated. The rest of the weekend, I kept my son busy in his room or playing in the yard. I even left the grandparents and took him to the park once.

My son is normally a very happy, curious, enthused little boy. He is afraid of his grandmother and very rarely gets within her reach. They come to visit about once a month and I dread it every time they come. My son becomes very moody and clingy. Every time they yell at him he looks at me, I feel like I am letting him down by not advocating for him. The more they scold him, the more he cries, the more they scold him. It has become a vicious circle and my son is miserable every time they visit.

Do you have any suggestions for me? Can you recommend any literature I could read? Any help you have to offer is much appreciated. Thank you.

Debra


Jan's Reply:

Hi Debra,

My heart goes out to you in this frustrating situation. How sad that your in-laws can't simply enjoy their grandchild.

I'm wondering what ideas your husband might have. Could he help his parents to understand that they are alienating a child with whom they presumably would like to have a close relationship? Could he ask them to be a bit more open-minded or at least less vocal in their demands and expectations? 

How unfortunate that your in-laws can't see that they are making your son too fearful to have the kind of loving and trusting relationship any grandparent would want to have. If you think they might be open to reading material, here are some suggestions:

Empathic Grandparenting
The Parenting Golden Rule
How Children Really React to Control 

Gather your courage and continue to stand up for your son, because he is the one who can suffer the most in this kind of situation. He is also the one who can benefit the most, by learning from your example how to stand up for someone who is being hurt and misunderstood and is not in a position to defend himself. 

My articles on intervention may be helpful:

Intervening on Behalf of a Child in Public Places - Part 1: Is It Our Business?
Intervening on Behalf of Children in Public Places - Part 2: What Can We Do?

Although I wrote these articles with public intervention in mind, the fact that this is your own child only means it is even more relevant and important for you to help him in these situations.

If you are nursing, a La Leche League leader would be another good resource, as they are experienced with similar problems of disapproving relatives. The LLL includes the following articles on their website:

Responding to Criticism
Criticism from Relatives
How do I respond to and avoid criticism about breastfeeding?

The folllowing articles on handling parental disagreements may also be helpful:

"When Parents Disagree"
"When Dad Disagrees"
"Agreeing to Disagree"

Best wishes with this challenging situation. Please keep in touch.

Jan

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