Enforcing the Rules When Family Isn't Supportive

Mailbag time! Today, you get two for the price of one, on a really challenging topic: how to handle family members who undermine our parenting.

- first question -

Hey, Kendra!

I was at the funeral for one of my relatives, and after at the cemetery, we went to visit the grave sites of some other family members. Well, one of my second cousins is in her mid 30s, and she has three kids- 1 girl and 2 boys. The youngest, I'd say, is about 7 or 8, and he's quite the handful. Anyways. We were all gathered around my great-grandfather's grave site, and said boy walks right up and starts climbing on top of the gravestone.

At which point, his mother tells him to get down. Two things happen. 1- he completely ignores her, and, 2- the rest of her family (parents, aunts, and cousins) completely undermines her authority and tell her and the child that it's ok, it's not a big deal, and then even make light of it.

I said nothing, but was outraged because 1- Mom said NO, regardless of what the kid is doing is unacceptable, she said no. End of story. 2- her family members unintentionally enabled the kid to completely ignore his mother by disregarding her authority as a parent.

I discussed it with my fiancee, and we both agreed that said situation was not acceptable, and would remove our kid from the situation for correction if it ever occurred. However, we drew a complete blank when it came to dealing with family members who undermine our authority as parents.

So. Question: Has anything like this ever happened to you? How would you deal with the family members who stepped in?


- first answer -

Hey Jen,

Thanks! Yeah. I think all parents have faced that one. And I think your instincts are completely right on it.

In those situations, I try to remember that the family members (or friends, or complete strangers) really do THINK they're being helpful They're not, of course, but they do mean well. It's not like they've set out to undermine your parenting, they are just uncomfortable witnessing parental correction, since you just don't see it out in the open these days.

So, I am polite to the meddlers, but firm in my discipline. I'd just smile and say, "Well, either way, he DOES have to listen when his parents tell him something." And I'd try to find someplace more private to have a discussion with my child.

And if you do that often enough, the meddlers quit meddling, mostly.

I'm sure there are some grandparents out there who are (consciously or unconsciously) deliberately undermining parental authority, but I think in MOST cases it's just awkwardness than can be handled by confident parenting. It sounds like you're on the right track!


- second question -

Hi Kendra,

I am wondering how you would handle a situation I often find myself in. My husband and I are very, very blessed to live close to our parents, siblings, and close family. We see them often, at least once per week, usually more. I am so happy that my children get to see their family on such a regular basis.

I have learned so much about parenting from your blog, and a lot of the rules and expectations you have shared really seem to work for my family. The problem is that our extended families do not seem to respect our rules for our children, even when we politely explain or ask. Many of them think we are "much too strict" and that our expectations exceed the capabilities of a two year old (which is obviously not true, because my daughter has shown me that she is very capable of following my rules).

I used to simply give up and allow "free for all" whenever our family visited, but since we do see them so often, it is causing me a great deal of stress. And, not to mention, the amount of effort it takes to get my daughter back on track after they leave is difficult in itself.

I really want to be respectful of our family, and especially our parents. But where is the line between "honoring thy father and mother" and my sanity?

Thank you Kendra, and God Bless!

- second answer -


This one is really tricky. And how I would handle it depends on a few different factors.

If I thought I could do it without hurting their feelings, I might mention to individual family members, in as casual a way as I could manage, that I think consistency with our family rules is really important for my daughter and I'd really appreciate it if they could try to back us up on them.

But I know that's not possible in all families, and in some cases people could be really offended.

In that case, you might be stuck doing your best and waiting it out a bit. I have a different mailbag post about how we try to babyproof the baby, rather than babyproofing the house. And, really, we are the same way with older kids. I want their discipline and standards of behavior to come from within. Of course, those standards are based on our family rules, but basically, my goal is that the behavior of my children would be the same inside my home as at someone else's home, and the same under my direct supervision as under the supervision of another adult, or completely unsupervised.

I should admit here, however, that despite the fact that this is something we really do work with our kids on, IF my kids are going to do something crazy and ridiculous and that I would not believe they were capable of, except that someone is standing here telling me that they did it . . . well, you can bet they're going to do it at someone else's house. And make it appear to our friends that Tierneys are totally fine with locking toddlers in closets, or attempting to eat lunch with our feet.

But, in THEORY, we do expect our kids to hold themselves to the standards of our family rules whether someone is there to make them, or not. And mostly, it's an effective technique. It really doesn't matter at this point if other family members or friends agree with or want to enforce our family rules, because it's what the kids are supposed to be doing on their own, anyway.

Now, I'm all for high expectations and starting discipline at a young age, but for my kids, two would have been too young to expect them to do a very good job of keeping our family rules on their own. Some things, like not getting food for yourself without permission, not going out the door alone, only drawing on paper . . . stuff like that, I do expect them to be able to handle. But not throwing toys if kids around them are throwing toys, or saying no thank you to snacks that are offered right before dinner, that's probably too much to ask of a toddler.

So, if you don't think you can convince the family to support you, I would focus on being really consistent with your rules at home, and calmly and repeatedly reminding your daughter that family rules are for all the time and everywhere and they are her responsibility to remember, even if mommy isn't watching. I would make a point of really noticing and praising her when she does follow family rules on her own. But, probably, you're going to end up having to let some things go for another couple of years. And it will be okay, she will still learn. She will still internalize YOUR family culture, because that's the one she's around most often.

Good luck!


Other posts you might enjoy:

Creating a Family Culture

How to Love Your Kids and Like Them Too

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.