When you and your relatives disagree about discipline

When you and your relatives disagree about discipline
Are you relatives old-school when it comes to discipline?

When it comes to family, I lucked out. For the most part, my relatives respect my wishes and discipline methods. Many people, however, don't have it so easy. So here's the question for the day: What do you do when you and your relatives disagree about discipline?

The topic is on my mind because I just got home from a wonderful two-week vacation in Texas: the land of my forbears. My relatives were so generous and patient to put up with me, my mother, and my two active, loud, messy children for two weeks. Thanks, family!

Sometimes traveling with small children isn't much of a vacation at all. Parents, you know what I'm talking about! In a strange environment, with their schedules all thrown off, kids can sometimes react badly. My six-year-old had a few remarkable temper tantrums, which were mainly resolved by me forcing her to take a nap. Also, when we're on vacation, I relax the rules about sugar consumption, TV, and bedtime. Which of course means that I get to be around two children who have had way too much sugar, not enough sleep and a raging case of the gimmees from watching too many television commercials.

I don't have a problem with my relatives correcting my children -- when my daughter is rude to her grandmother, for example, I think my mom should step up and call her on it. When my two-year-old pressed the lever on the fridge repeatedly just to watch the water squirt out, my brother was completely in the right right to tell her to stop.

But then again, I don't have to worry about any of my relatives going corporeal on my kids -- even though they are church-going, gun-toting, bambi-killing, Republicans who drive enormous vehicles with low gas mileage, they are not critical of my woo-woo, lefty child-rearing techniques.Not outwardly anyway. Who knows what they say about me after we leave? Frankly, I don't care just as long as they don't try to spank my kids when I'm not looking.

Well goody for you, Christine (I can hear you saying) Congrats on hitting the extended family jackpot. But what about me?? My relatives are insane and  insist on going all Nanny 911 on me! What do I do when my family completely disagrees with me about discipline?

My short answer? WHATEVER WORKS.

For some parents this might mean avoiding the relatives altogether.

Or keeping the visits short and sweet.

Try modeling your methods. Sometimes when people see that it works, they're more willing to respect something new and strange. (If your kids are real terrors, however, maybe its time for YOU to reconsider your parenting approach.)

Start a conversation about how and why you discipline the way you do.

Generally I am a fan of assertive language: "Mom, I know things were different when we were kids, but we don't spank."

Sometimes, with some people, the assertive route just doesn't work. Believe me, I know. No matter how much you use "I" statements and state your wishes rationally and clearly, some people are just going to do what they want to do. Unfortunately, in this case, you're just going to have to keep a close eye on the child and try to intervene before that relative gets involved.

I am always careful not to judge my relatives who parent their children differently. My family is a large, diverse group. If I don't want to be judged, I start by reserving my judgment of others first.

What about that person who doesn't even have kids who just can't keep her mouth shut about how to raise your kids? It's always the person who hasn't been through it yet that thinks they know it all, isn't it? In this case, I just smile and nod. Smile and nod. Don't take her criticism personally and be drawn into an argument about her wacky advice. Someday she'll have kids of her own and then she'll know that it's not as easy as it looks.



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  • Yes, the smile and nod trick works every time for me as well. All kids are different and everyone seems to know better, don't they!

    I have an acquaintance who insists on aggressively disciplining my children whenever we visit her home. It was so disturbing to me I no longer visit with her.

    I like your suggestion of keeping visits short and sweet. I have been practicing this and not feeling guilty when a family member complains that we do not visit for long. Again, the nod and smile works wonders... Great post!

  • In reply to erago:

    Thanks for commenting! I forgot to put that part in so thanks for mentioning it -- don't feel guilty for limiting visits or not visiting at all!

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