You put your child on a gluten free diet and your grandfather took her out for pizza. You tell your parents “we’re trying a new church as a family” and they take your children aside to warn them about how Mommy & Daddy are going to hell. You’re so grateful for a diagnosis that helps you deal with and explain your child’s behavior; until your family starts casually mentioning all the ways you did things wrong in pregnancy and how your parenting is really not helping. You tell your teens, “No drinking!” and your sibling takes them both out for a beer. If these sound outrageous, be very thankful you haven’t had to deal with an unsupportive family. Read on to help a friend who has. Oh, and every one of these examples is true.
It’s not just controlling &/or self-absorbed family members who will act this way. Normally sane, functional people will become grandparents, aunts, & uncles and promptly turn a corner onto the dark side. Having children of your own changes all the dynamics in your family, but your family may not cooperate. Children are a sign that the future is coming and it’s time for everybody to grow up. Older family members may even see your children as a sign of age creeping up. Various family members may be threatened by your independence, the way you respond to your children instead of them, or even the way that children force you to finally stand up to family members. Who’ve often had it coming for YEARS! We’re all more willing to do the hard stuff and go through the conflicts if it’s for the sake of our child. If there are changes that need to be made in the way your family acts towards you or continues to treat you, children will bring that problem to a head. When in doubt, choose your kids. They need you more than family members have a right to interfere with.
Another issue that may effect multiple family members is denial. If your child has issues that you are dealing with, the rest of the family may feel threatened. Nothing says get your own poop in a group faster, than a close relative attempting to do just that. Guess what? Lots of people have poop all over because they do NOT want to deal with it. These folks are convinced that pretending it’s not there is working. They don’t want to hear about their behavior, it’s effect on anyone else, or the slightest hint that they could actually change the way they’re not dealing. You’ll tell these family members about your child’s autism diagnosis and they’ll say, “I’m not autistic!” These are also the grandparents who yell at you for insulting their grandchildren and tell you it must be the bad parenting. They will also make multiple comments about “their” grandchild being just fine and you’re wrong about that diagnosis. Like you made the diagnosis without the benefit of Dr.s or anything! Obviously, this is crazy talk. Treat it appropriately.
There are two types of non support that tend to come from the folks who raised you. You deviate from the way you were raised and they get upset. They’re either taking your every motion personally or they’re just so self-absorbed they can’t see the use of new techniques. Either way they will be a pain. You probably know already which you’re dealing with. The personalizers have been martyring themselves at Sunday dinner for years now. When you tell them about what you’re doing with Jr, they make it all about them. “You never did think I was a good mother.” “Why do you need all these new fangled ideas? Wasn’t how you were raised good enough?” When your martyred parent refuses to follow your rules, and feeds your child a combo of sugar and caffeine that acts like kiddie-crack, you will hear a variation of, “You think I would hurt my own grandchild?!” Yes, you do. And no amount of playing nice is going to cover that up, nor should it. You make rules to protect your child. If people won’t follow those rules, they are potentially harmful.
Self-absorbed parents are going to take your parenting personal if they notice it at all. The most likely scenarios are you insisting they give up a bad habit while around children, not use corporal punishments like spanking, or follow new food rules. This grandparent will defend themselves for about three seconds, “I’m fine, what’s the problem?”. After that they tend to go on the offensive. “I never had this issue as a parent, what’s your problem?” “That kid just needs a good beating to toughen them up.” “I’ve been smoking for 45 years and I’m still alive, you just believe everything you read ’cause you’re gullible.” These guys are not changing for you, their grandchildren, or the chance of peace on earth. They don’t care because they don’t see any options besides their own. Don’t reason with them unless you just needed the frustration.
Here’s the list of things you can do in order of effort you’ll have to put in and the likely negative response from family members. Some of you are going to need to jump straight to the end and just plow into the opposition. Your children are worth it and the peace of your future is worth it.
- Reassurance. Your parents or other loved ones may just need to know that you love them and appreciate what they’ve done. Some people worry that any change in you means a change in your feelings towards them. It’s needy and a little annoying, but relatively easy to deal with. Tell them, “I love you, I am so glad you are my, parent, brother, sister, cousin, etc. I will always appreciate that my family has given me the strength to parent like my children need me to.” You will need to overtly state that your parenting is not a negative commentary on theirs. (Unless your parenting is a direct attempt to be as different from them as possible and you’re still angry. Skip down to #3 and come back to this one if you ever get less angry.)
- Educate. Older family members or more conservative ones, may not like the changes because they don’t understand, or adhere to an older set of solutions. Tell them about the process you’ve gone through to come to this point. How many diets, dr.s, diagnoses, etc before you found something that worked. Point out ways that your child is doing better or your family is doing better because of the changes you’ve made. Let them know they don’t have to agree with you, but you’d love for them to understand how you came to your decision. Remember that you took a while to change and your family will too. Don’t be put off by total disbelief or disdain. We all react to new ideas pretty negatively the first time we hear them. But somewhere after that 5th to 25th time, we’re sold. Bring it up calmly and drop it quick. Multiple exposures works, but slower than you will want.
- Recruit your children. Diet changes, religious decisions, and other major issues are not something you’ll want to force down your child’s throat. No matter how young they are, relentlessly point out the positives by your words and your actions. If you change the way a child eats, do it for the whole family and treat it as an adventure. Laugh more. Be OK with making mistakes and draw your children into preparations so they feel important. Get your children involved and give them ownership of the changes. Relatives who come in trying to mess with what you’ve done will listen to your kids more than you anyway. You will benefit from having kids who try to cooperate rather than sabotage, and who are happier overall.
- Set boundaries. Of course you should already have boundaries and rules in your home. I’m talking about the formal process of laying out the rules and consequences for non-compliant family members. Let them know you are serious, you are acting in the best interests of your child, and the specific expectations you have for that relative’s behavior. If you are married or partnered, this needs to be done as a team or the relatives will figure they can get what they want by going to the other guy. Yes, it is the same behavior your 4yr old uses to get a cookie from mom after dad has said no. We tend to go back to what worked when we’re under stress.
- Recruit help. This can mean getting some other family members on your side or just opening up about the situation to some supportive friends. It can also be a time to suggest family therapy so a professional gets looped into playing the referee and you don’t have to. Be prepared for anger and bad behavior if your naughty relation figures out you’re getting the rest of the family on your side. Be prepared for the same reaction if all you wanted to do was educate the family. The people who are most likely to undermine your parenting are also most likely to be paranoid and wildly defensive.
- Limit the interactions. You’ve done everything you can and your parenting is still not being supported. This is a safety issue. When your child is 15 and wants to get in a car with a drunk driver they NEED your voice in the back of their head. Your children will face multiple situations that could kill or permanently harm everyone involved. If they think you’re stupid and not worth listening to, they are less protected and more likely to get hurt. Please don’t think that your parenting is anything less than life or death. Respecting you is a safety net against stupid/dangerous/harmful behaviors. Do not let anyone mess with that. It is totally within your rights and responsibilities as a parent to tell your mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, uncle or aunt that they are no longer welcome in your house. It’s better to tell them to go away now, than to blame them at the funeral. If you do chose to have some contact with these people, do it in settings that you feel comfortable with and get support. Have your partner, your friends, your worship community or a mental health professional present. Don’t go it alone if you can’t tell them off alone.
Not all families are born. We have to make them around us sometimes. Whoever they are, put people in your children’s lives that are respectful and helpful. Everyone will benefit.