Getting In-Laws to Follow Your Rules When it comes to your kids, in-laws may sometimes think that they are their own. Use these tips to put an end to the disagreements peacefully. BY DR. CARLA MARIE GRECO
Don't let in-laws undermine your parenting, it's your child not theirs.
“ Making generous use of 'I' statements, let your in-laws know how much you would appreciate having them on board with your parenting strategies.”
If my in-laws don't obey my rules I set for my children does that they undermine my authority with my children? For example, in our household, the kids shouldn't eat junk food unless they finish their meal (my prepared food and fruits). My in-laws offered them cake before they finished their meal. Learning from SuperNanny, I reward my kids by using the 10 points system. My kids don't really have any motivation to earn their reward because the grandparents give it to them without any effort.
First, thank you so much for taking your parenting responsibilities so seriously. Healthy eating habits are essential for our children’s wellbeing! As well, a healthy respect for the rules set by parents is key to a strong parent-child relationship.
Now, moving to the heart of the matter—which is the battle with your in-laws over child-rearing rules—your question really deserves a closer look. First, if the behavior occurs rarely (e.g., just at Christmas or birthdays), you may decide to overlook the issue. (If the contact is infrequent, this is one of those "choose your battles" situations!) As well, if your children are in grade school, an age-appropriate discussion with your children is a good idea.
For example, you might let them know that you have agreed to allow them to deviate from regular family rules when they visit your in-laws on special holidays. Let them know, gently and firmly, that they will be expected to follow house rules at home and in other situations. Above all, strive to avoid triangulating the children. Their health and happiness is your goal.
However, if your children see your in-laws frequently, a different strategy may be necessary.
I imagine you might have already had a conversation with your spouse over your concerns. If not—have a gentle chat about your concerns and what your goals are for the situation. The support of your spouse is essential, as the two of you are the vital parenting team. Then, with your spouse on board, have a gentle—but very clear—discussion with your in-laws.
Ask your in-laws to meet you at a coffee shop or lunch spot to keep the discussion as calm and easy as possible (and in neutral territory). Making generous use of "I" statements, let your in-laws know how much you would appreciate having them on board with your parenting strategies. You might even give them a concise version of SuperNanny’s point system to help them understand your goals. Armed with understanding and a new, healthy way to reward their grandchildren, your in-laws may be quick to offer their support.
When All Else Fails
Now, if none of these strategies work, you are faced with a "control issue." Rather than letting the situation cause irreparable harm to your relationship with your spouse or in-laws, you’ll be left with mitigating the damage. Here are a few quick ideas:
1. If the in-laws spoil your children with gifts and toys that you feel are not appropriate, help your children see the immense benefit in donating the items to underprivileged children.
2. Before the visits, gently remind your children of the importance of healthy eating behaviors. Send your children with healthy snacks (e.g., bananas, apples, and carrots) and encourage them to enjoy those snacks over unhealthy alternatives.
3. As a last resort, you may need to reduce the time your children spend with their grandparents. If your parenting policies are consistently disregarded, this may be your only option. On the upside, a reduction in visiting time may bring the in-laws to agree to healthy patterns that support your parenting goals.
Last—but not least—trust that your authority with your children will be maintained in the long run. As we all know, children watch our every move. When your children notice how you handle this situation in a calm, straightforward, and clear manner, their respect for you will grow. With your steady guidance, the ideal result may occur: Your children will internalize the healthy behaviors they have learned from you and, more often than not, choose healthy options even when you aren’t present! For example, if Grandma and Grandpa offer cake before the peas are gone, imagine your delight when you are told your children said, "Thank you, but I can’t. It’s important for me to finish my dinner before dessert!"
Dr. Carla Marie Greco has her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a private practice in Santa Rosa, California. Dr. Greco specializes in the treatment of anxiety, trauma, depression, grief, and life transition issues. Her greatest goal is to offer services to those in need, offering select appointments on a "sliding scale" for those who have serious financial constraints. Pro bono services, including EMDR, are available for our veterans suffering from issues such as combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex PTSD. Dr. Greco is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Redwood Psychological Association. For more, visit www.drcarlagreco.com.