How to Deal When Grandparents Undermine Parenting

by Ivy B
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If you’re anything like me, you think parenting comes with plenty of it’s own drama.  So how do you deal when grandparents undermine parenting?

There’s something that comes over a mother when grandparents undermine parenting.  Whether they do it intentionally or unintentionally, in your face, or in secret,  there are ways to handle the situation.

It was Halloween.  My son was not quite two and heading out with the family for his first Trick-Or-Treat.  He refused to eat much for dinner, and as a rule no dinner = no treats.

This also happened to be the first trick-or-treat outing we spent with my husband’s family in a few years.  When my daughter was younger, we did it once and I didn’t want to return.  Her cousins were wildly running through the streets.  The parents let them load up on candy all night and act like hooligans.  And I get stressed out around kids with no manners or discipline.

I vowed never to do it again.

But, here we were among the madness at my husband’s request.

The first home we stopped at had a popcorn bar full of treats to load into a cup.  My Mother-in-Law asked if my son could have a cup of m&ms to which I responded “This is the first house we stopped at and he didn’t want to eat dinner.  He doesn’t need the junk right now.”

Knowing we had a long night ahead of us, I wanted to save some of the junk to help curb the toddler’s crankiness later in the evening.  It wanted to use candy bribery as my “oh shit” handle (or backup plan) to help us finish the night with some peace.

I walked away to help my daughter fill her cup so we could move on.  But, when I returned to my son and husband, I was shocked to see the toddler sitting in the stroller with the m&ms.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had issues with one of the grandparents undermining our authority.  Sadly, I also know it won’t be the last.

When grandparents undermine parenting, there's a lot that can happen in your family. What to do when grandparents undermine parents' authority. |

What To Do When Grandparents Undermine Parenting

Dealing with grandparents who cross boundaries can be a tough situation.  And, when you’re married, you have to take extra precautions so as not to inadvertently cause drama with your spouse as well.  These are my tips for dealing with grandparents who overstep boundaries.

Ask Yourself: “Is This a Safety Issue?”

If your child could be seriously harmed in a situation in which you were being undermined, speak up.

Bite Your Tongue

When you’re dealing with your spouse’s parent, it’s important to remain calm and collected.  Never speak out in the heat of the moment because you can do more harm than good.  Of course, if your child’s safety were in question, this doesn’t apply in my opinion.

Ask Your Spouse to Handle It

This point is applicable when it’s his parent doing the undermining.  Explain the situation and why you felt you were undermined.  Ask him to handle the situation in a way that he feels will be both appropriate and effective.

Talk to the Grandparent As Soon As Possible

Once you have both come to an agreement (and you’ve simmered down), talk to the offending grandparent as soon as possible about the situation.  One really good suggestion is to mention that when parents are around, they are the authority.

When Grandma is in charge, doing things her way is okay so long as the kids are safe and she has their best interests at heart.  If it’s your parent, this is your job.

Remind Them You’re the Parent

When grandparents and parents disagree on parenting, which is quite common, it’s okay to remind them that it’s your turn.  You’re raising kids under your rules, trying to teach them childhood lessons you value, and in a way that works for you.

Don’t Let Them Undermine the Other Parent

If you know your mom or dad is undermining your spouse, show them that you’re united.  Parenting teamwork goes a long way in raising good kids, so grandparents need to know you’re seriously a team.  Standing up for each other will go far in strengthening your marriage, too.

Give Them Rules

If you notice a regular pattern, don’t be afraid to share rules for grandparents to follow.

Though I wish we could all be lucky enough not to have to deal with it, it hurts when grandparents undermine parenting.  It has the potential to degrade relationships and could seriously affect how a child views their parents.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a tired mom of two kids.  I’m desperately trying to raise them to be well-disciplined, mild mannered, and good citizens.

Parenting is hard work on it’s own without dealing with grandparents who cross boundaries.

Remember, grandparents are important for your kids

Remember Grandparents Are Important

Sometimes we need to re-frame our thoughts in order to feel better about the people in our lives.  Remember that grandparents are important to your kids for many reasons.  Try to focus on some of the benefits your kids receive from having Grandparents in their lives if you’re dealing with difficult feelings.

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Tanya @ Mom's Small Victories April 12, 2018 - 9:36 am

These are great tips, the baby/toddler stage was definitely harder, especially when we had the first one and the grandma’s/great grandma’s would roll their eyes at me when they didn’t agree with something I wanted for my,baby. I’d get the well, we did the same for you/your husband and your babies and you turned out fine kind of attitude. But I was breastfeeding and we were formula fed as babies because that was the norm then so it was definitely a challenge. I feel like we have to figure out when to pick our battles. Some things I won’t compromise on but I have since let them spoil them more, but at every turn I tell my boys, just remember when I’m a grandma I’m going to spoil my grandkids worse than you are getting spoiled now!
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Ivy B April 12, 2018 - 10:32 am

Yes, we got a lot of the same things and sometimes still do. I appreciate that my husband insisted his mom let us parent our way and just be grandma.

Jennifer Young April 16, 2018 - 7:53 pm

Great article! It can be really difficult to deal with in-laws and them parenting your children. I think this article has lots of great tips. Thank you for sharing!

Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:40 am

Glad you found it useful 😀

Cheyenne April 16, 2018 - 9:36 pm

So true ! It can be tough dealing with undermining grandparents.. especially when you have so many conflicting ideas. I bite my tongue more than not :-/

Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:40 am

It really is tough! It’s funny the younger generation tries to practice biting their tongue lol

Daisy April 16, 2018 - 10:19 pm

I am feeling so blessed right now because my oldest is 22 and youngest is 17 and I’ve never felt I was treated this way by either set of grandparents…. My ex Mama in law ( I got her in the divorce) often tells me I’m doing a good job with Mamahood…

Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:35 am

Awww, that’s awesome! My dad is supportive and tells us we’re doing a good job … and when he sees something he doesn’t like, he’ll make a face, but never undermines us. I feel like that’s the best way to handle it 😀

Jennifer Maune April 17, 2018 - 4:08 pm

I definitely agree that grandparents are important, but they do need to respect the parent’s rules. Great tips!


Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:34 pm

Agreed! I’m always happy that my father supports our decisions, even if you know he doesn’t agree with them. It makes our lives so much easier! You know … because it’s not like they knew what they were doing when they were raising us either 😉

Mar April 17, 2018 - 7:12 pm

This is such a great post. We live with my mother in law and its surprisingly been really easy. My father in law on the other hand will not give up the bottles, even though we are trying to get her off them. It’s a struggle.

Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:33 pm

I don’t know why they’re difficult at times. If you’re up for the challenge, place all the bottles in a plastic bag and hide them.

With my daughter, when I was ready to give up bottles I struggled too much with the slow weaning process. So, I bagged up every bottle in the house and hid them in a closet. It went over insanely easy for everyone and we never looked back. Maybe it’s something to consider? lol

Good luck!

Lisa April 25, 2018 - 5:12 pm

My MIL drives me crazy but I make sure my kids know that I love her and I love having her around. When she visits all family rules are out the window. We through out our schedule and our expectations. I know it sounds crazy but I could butt heads with my MIL endlessly or I could enjoy her company and let my kids have a blast. When she leaves, we buckle down to get the kids back in line which sucks but after the craziness I need to get back to life as quickly as possible. Btw, my kids are 4, 2 & a newborn. I know this isn’t a good solution for everybody but I know my MIL loves my kids and just wants to show them since she doesn’t see them everyday. She normally spends about 5 days with us a month and we spend a week with her 4-5x a year. Grandma time is a blast. The only rule I have is that she doesn’t set boundaries, I make the rules and she can make them looser but not stricter. For instance, my kids don’t hold hands in a parking lot bc I need them to be aware of their surroundings, not rely on me. It makes my MIL uncomfortable but she deals.

Ivy B April 25, 2018 - 7:42 pm

My MIL lives in the same town and is pretty much an “anything goes” kind of grandma … I wish she could be more strict. Because she just about has no rules, the kids walk all over her. It’s sad and sometimes she’s let them do some pretty unsafe things, which is pretty dang disappointing.
Maybe I’d feel differently if we didn’t see her nearly as often?

Jessica May 2, 2018 - 5:08 pm

Ok… So, no. My overall response is no. If ANYONE is undermining you, you have an inherent right as a parent to set them straight right then and there. Your MIL was DISRESPECTFUL to you when she asked for your opinion about the M&Ms and IGNORED you. She played hero while you played disciplinarian. And because you didn’t correct her, you taught your kids that what you say can be ignored. M&Ms may not be harmful, but that message sure is.

I take absolutely no undermining from my narcissistic MIL. Gone are the days of asking my husband to deal with it. That is not a healthy relationship, and I do not want my kids learning that mama’s voice doesn’t matter.

Ivy B May 2, 2018 - 8:08 pm

I don’t necessarily disagree. In an instance where the conversation is had in front of my child, assuming they understand what’s going on, I will ABSOLUTELY stand up for my decision.

My husband and I had a discussion about it later and I told him we needed to treat her like we do the kids … “did you ask mom? what did she say?” LOL. Out of respect for my husband, I currently allow him to handle the situation because I know I struggle with the right words … mainly I don’t sugar coat things and I can be really harsh. I’m married to him and thus, his family, so I do it to keep the peace.

This totally depends on the situation though. When she let one of my kids play in the street, I didn’t handle it nearly as calmly or kindly.

I try to pick my battles, but still have it taken care of.

Marissa McKenna August 2, 2018 - 1:18 pm

Thank heavens I never had to speak to my mother in law about anything, but my parents? I’ve had to have words with them several times. For the most part they have listened, but now my kids know that they must ask me first before my parents give them anything or tell them they can do something.


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