One of the most common problems that new parents face is learning how to deal with well-intentioned family members or friends who undermine the rules you have set for your child. Setting boundaries with the people you love can be tough. For parents struggling with this issue, Wayne Parker, Ph.D., recommends reading Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage by Susan Forward, Ph.D. and When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People: Surviving Your Family and Keeping Your Sanity by Leonard Felder, Ph.D.
We enlisted the advice of experts to help give specific advice on how to put your foot down while preserving your relationships. Check out these real-life scenarios and solutions to learn how to say what you really mean.
Scenario:You and your husband are going out of town for the weekend and your mother has agreed to watch the baby. You know that in the past, your mother has given your child sweets while under her supervision, which you normally do not allow. How do you convince your mother to follow your rules while watching your child, when she employs the “grandparents are supposed to spoil their grandchildren” defense?
Solution: Paul F. Davis, discipline expert and transformative conflict-resolving mediator, recommends the following statement, “We all love you very much and value your help caring for our child.” To address the issue itself, just be to the point and honest: “We don’t allow sweets and we would really appreciate it if you could resist the urge to give them to our child.” Davis advises explaining, “We all need to stay in agreement lest we confuse the child and frustrate his health and well-being.” And of course, sugarcoat the ending, adding how lucky your children are to have a grandmother that cares so much about them. (Also keep in mind that grandmothers should be allowed a few moments of spoiling, so give her a break on the less important things and save the confrontations for those that are really important to you.)
Scenario: You take your baby to a playgroup where you interact with several other parents and their babies. It’s lunchtime and one of the parents with whom you’ve been talking notices that you bottle feed your baby instead of breastfeeding, and she starts to lecture you on the benefits of nursing. How do you politely tell her that this is your decision and to back off without hurting her feelings?
Solution: Susan P. Epstein, LCSW, Parenting Coach, recommends using what she calls the “down low” technique. She suggests that you “ask her questions about her beliefs and keep telling her how interesting [her views are], while not becoming defensive. She will feel heard, you can brush it off and she will back off because you have made her right and there is no power left in her trying to convince you that you are wrong for bottle feeding your child.”