Grandma's Parenting Style
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Grandma's Parenting Style

Jan Faull, MEd, on a mother-in-law's parenting practices.

Mom's Instructions

Q. My husband's mother lives with us and helps with our child. I leave milk, food, and everything else prepared for my baby so my mother-in-law doesn't have to prepare anything. But she disregards any instructions I leave for her. She'll warm up my baby's milk in the microwave, even though the milk bottle clearly says "Do Not Microwave." The other day my baby spent the whole day in just his diapers. She did not even bother to cover him up with a shirt or something. But he got a cold as a result of spending the whole day practically naked.

I am really tired of her style of parenting. But when I tell my husband he gets offended and says I should back off -- she just does things differently. I really think she should follow my directions in taking care of my son. What do you think?

A. Of course your mother-in-law should follow your directions about caring for your baby. It's your job as his responsible and loving mother to see that he is cared for in the manner you deem appropriate and that is in his best interest.

Lay out your expectations to your mother-in-law/caregiver. If she continues to go against your requests, you must be willing to end the caregiving relationship and find another childcare arrangement.

It's important to explain to your husband that you have nothing against your mother-in-law -- you're simply concerned about the health and well-being of your baby. While you can't force your mother-in-law to do as she's told, she should follow your instructions out of respect for you as the baby's primary caregiver and the one who knows this child's needs best.

Grandma's Role

Remember to give your mother-in-law some grandparenting leverage. What your husband says is true: She most likely does do things differently, so accept those differences within reason. If, however, you feel that those differences jeopardize your child's health and well-being, that's when you draw the parenting line and say "no" to her services. Since your mother-in-law lives with you, this situation could be strained. Nevertheless, keep in mind that you're acting for the baby's sake and not for revenge.

Keep in mind that the grandmother's role here is a difficult one. She raised children, and she probably did a good job. When you ask her to care for her grandchild in a way that's different from how she parented, she might unfortunately view it as a personal attack on how she raised her children. Let's hope she's not out to prove that her way is right and your way is wrong. If this kind of tug-of-war is taking place, the person caught in the middle is that baby. Avoid this situation!

To make the situation work, here are a few suggestions to try:

  • Voice your appreciation for whatever she does that meets with your approval.
  • Only give her instructions that are critical to follow. Leave the rest up to her.
  • Ask her advice; doing so validates her credibility as grandparent and caregiver.
  • Talk about how fortunate you are to have her care for the baby, forgoing the need to take your child outside the home for childcare.

By following these four suggestions, the likelihood is greater that she'll be more willing to follow the instructions you feel you must give.