How Can I Ask Family Members to Stop Disciplining My Child?

Try this tip to stop well-meaning family members from getting involved.

Q. My husband and I enjoy spending time with my father and his wife, whom we see about once a week. However, since we became parents ourselves, a problem has arisen. My stepmother, who never had kids of her own, advocates a “tough love” approach to child rearing, which is different from my own philosophy. So whenever my eldest child, a strong-willed two-year-old girl, acts up, my stepmother steps in and tries to handle my daughter as she sees fit. The other night, we were over at my father and stepmother’s house, and she did not like the way my daughter was behaving. Her harsh words and actions caused our child to have an explosive meltdown. I did not say anything at the time, but I’m growing resentful of her interventions. What is the best way to handle this situation? 

J.S.

A. Parenting is a complex undertaking, and it stinks to feel judged. But you need to try to stay calm; getting into arguments with your stepmother will only make matters worse. Therefore you’re stuck with direct honesty as the only (and hopefully effective) approach.

In a moment that’s not heated, when your daughter is out of earshot, try saying this to your stepmother: “We love seeing you guys, and we appreciate your good intentions, but we need to give our child a consistent message when it comes to her tantrums or challenging behaviors. Since you have different ideas from ours, we need you to leave the discipline to us.”

However, saying this means that you ought to follow through and discipline your child. Letting a tantrum play itself out is fine—if you’re alone in your own home. But if your daughter is screaming in someone else’s house, I think it’s only considerate to offer to remove her, either from the room or from the house entirely. An added benefit to this approach is that your stepmother won’t be right there watching. Plus, it might teach your child that she can’t have a meltdown wherever she wants without consequence. (Not that you asked me for parenting advice, either.)

—Catherine Newman

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