Mother-in-law undermining dad, Care and Feeding parenting advice.
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Dear Care and Nutrition,
My father in law passed away last year and my mother in law moved in with my family: my husband, our twins and me, a stay at home dad. MIL is a good woman but we have quite different parenting philosophies. Examples: If the child takes a small tumble, my inclination is to stop for a minute to see if they want to brush it off themselves. MIL immediately runs up to them, picks them up and says, “You need Nana’s hugs, don’t you? Let’s have a biscuit. At dinner, my general rule is for the kids to eat what the family eats, and if they don’t like the dinner served they can have fresh fruit plus crackers and cheese or a peanut butter sandwich. MIL will make spaghetti or whatever the kids crave. I’m struggling with how to draw “I’m the parent, not you” boundaries in a gentle but firm way. MIL’s rationale for the dinner situation is, “I know, I know, you don’t want to cook dinner anymore, but I’m here and I’m happy to!” But it’s not just that I don’t want to cook dinners anymore, it’s that I don’t want my kids to manage dinner time. If this were a quick visit, I’d shrug and say, oh well, the kids get a taste of different styles. But this living arrangement is likely to continue for years, so we must learn to manage it. How can I recognize that MIL will be a real and important presence in the children’s lives while also maintaining parental control?
— I am dad
Dear I am dad,
Do you mind if I admit that what intrigues me the most is that this dilemma seems to have come as a surprise to you? You’ve presumably seen your mother-in-law in action with the kids before; presumably that’s how she’s always acted. (Let me establish that I sympathize with Both you and your MIL: Like her, I’m an “oh dear, what can I get you for dinner that you’d like?” lass; like you, I would never want my MIL, or anyone else, to undermine my parental authority or treat my children in a way I disapprove of). with your family without any discussion about how are you raising these children and what would be his role? In fact, how did she come to move in with you? (Do you think that’s irrelevant? Not me. Me, I think she may have taken the invitation to move as an invitation to help you and her child raise your children as well.) And wait—Done do you invite her? Or did she ask? Did you have any kind of conversation about how this would work?
And one final set of questions: First, does your husband agree with your child-rearing decisions? Otherwise, if this is a source of conflict between you, or if his attitude is “you’re home, you’re in charge, I don’t care” then his mother could intervene in a more complicated way than it seems in surface. Secondly, take the two’s You Have you talked about this since your mother moved? Is he as distressed as you? I think you two must be on the same wavelength, or there will be a blowout in the near future.
As for the question you asked MyselfI’ll offer my usual answer: Have a conversation. An honest one. Tell her you appreciate her and her relationship with her grandchildren. Tell her (if it’s true!) that you’re happy to have her there. And tell her that you have very clear goals in raising children that need to be embraced and respected. Explain them to him. She doesn’t have to agree with you; it just has to respect your principled decisions. Have this conversation as often as needed. Use your gentle voice. But first, please answer (in a nice conversation you have with yourself) everything My requests.
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