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CommunityMental HealthHow to deal with interfering relatives

Well-intentioned grandparents, in-laws, aunts, and uncles will have plenty of advice on how you should raise your children which often feels like they are undermining how you’ve chosen to raise your children. Here are a few things to consider when dealing with interfering family members:  Get our partner on board If you have a partner/husband/wife, it is important you have the discussion about your parenting strategy because it is important you two are aligned about...
Dr Saliha AfridiSeptember 28, 202211 min
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interfering familyAli Inay/Unsplash

Well-intentioned grandparents, in-laws, aunts, and uncles will have plenty of advice on how you should raise your children which often feels like they are undermining how you’ve chosen to raise your children. Here are a few things to consider when dealing with interfering family members: 

Get our partner on board

If you have a partner/husband/wife, it is important you have the discussion about your parenting strategy because it is important you two are aligned about how you want to raise children when faced with well-intentioned parents and in-laws. If you are a single parent you need to be sure about your personal parenting strategy. The more you know your strategy, the less likely anyone is to rattle you with their advice. This is even more important if you live with parents/extended family. 

Some questions to consider: 

    1. What will we do if we are told to do something we don’t think is right for our kids? 
    2. What are non-negotiables for us? 
    3. What rules can be bent when we are together? 
    4. What are areas where the family members know more and we can allow them to exercise some authority? 
    5. What responsibilities can we give the family members to solicit their support in raising children? 

Be flexible

Not everything has to be a battle of power or control over who raises your children and it’s ok to be flexible with some rules (that don’t compromise your personal values or cause long-term harm) when interfering family members are around. It is okay for your kids to know that some rules can be bent slightly when you are around family and on vacation. So instead of having “no sugar during the weekdays”, when your mother-in-law is visiting and insists on baking, it is okay for the child to have a little bit of sugar within reason on a weekday. Remind yourself that the time they spend with their grandparent creating memories is more important than rigidly applying a rule in the face if interfering.   

Talk to your kids

If your children are old enough to understand, then it is important to have the discussion privately with them before you gather as a family. It can go like this: “Many people will tell you to do things differently than how I tell you to do things. Remember, our rules are: (list the rules you want them to strictly follow) and if anyone tells you otherwise tell them ‘My mom/dad have different rules for me’, or ‘I prefer not’. This equips your children with a plan for what they might encounter and how to respond. 

Keep your values close

Kindness, generosity and connection are some of the universal values we all have but we often forget those around our family members. How can you apply those values to this situation and teach your children to do the same? How can you draw boundaries kindly? How can you give up control so the other person can be able to express love in the way they know how? How can you be temporarily flexible to facilitate connection?

Remember interfering is their job

Their job is to give advice, and your job is respect it. That’s all it is — advice on how you could be doing things differently does not mean that you have to implement it or that what you are doing is bad. Yes, it is frustrating to hear the same advice every time, and yes, it is annoying that they refuse to see your point of view, but their advice is just them suggesting something — not really interfering — and all you have to do is hear their suggestion with an open mind and heart. You do not have to apply it. Phrases such as ‘hmm, interesting’ or ‘I will consider that’ make space for them to be heard and you to process this suggestion at a later time.

Model behavior

How you treat your elders will show your children how they should treat you when you are older. What goes around comes around. If you can listen to your elders with respect and openness, your children will do the same. You do not have to do as the elders say, but you do not have to be disrespectful or dismissive either. Engage curiously with the family members, see if there is something you can learn from them, and leave the rest. 

Trust your child

When you have a good relationship with your children, fewer people will be able to interfere with the rules or with your relationship. Remind yourself that your children will encounter all sorts of people in their life, and in the end, the interactions you have with your children are far more than what your family members have and so your influence on your children will also be far more. 

Be kind

Remember to be kind when you convey your rules. Because of the collective narrative of interfering families, we often assume the family is interfering when they do something that we don’t want to be done in our home. Assume that your family might not be aware of your rules, and communicate them with kindness and respect. It can go like this: “Mom, I know you want to allow the kids to stay up, but it really impacts their mood the next day if they don’t get their full sleep, so I prefer they stick to their usual routine of bedtime at 8 pm” or “Mom-in-law, I just wanted you to know that we don’t eat (blank) during the weekdays so I prefer we stick to those rules while you are here.” If they say “oh stop being so strict” the response can be “I just know my kids are more well-behaved for all of us when they follow their usual system when guests are present.” It is very possible to convey your family system with respect and kindness.  

Dr Saliha Afridi

As a clinical psychologist for the past 13 years, Dr Saliha Afridi has spent 12 years working in the UAE and founded The Lighthouse Arabia in 2011, a community mental health and wellness clinic providing quality psychological and psychiatric care to children, adults, couples and families.

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