Q What can I do about my parents who think I'm being too strict or too mean when I discipline my 4-year-old daughter? The irony is, they were even more strict raising me.
A As Bill Cosby says, “These are not the same people who raised us. These are older people now, trying to get into heaven.”
Asking my father for a nickel for a Popsicle when I was a kid involved submitting a comprehensive fiscal plan detailing how many days of chores I'd be willing to do, what size Popsicle, and what percentage of the nickel I'd give to the Church. Thirty-five years later, this is the same man who accuses me of depriving my children if I deny them a third helping of the ice cream he brought over.
What you can do about your folks' disagreement with your parenting depends upon their level of disagreement. If they just think you're too strict, you don't have to do much. Continue raising your daughter as you see best, even in their presence, knowing they don't fully concur. With time, they'll see what a good kid you're raising.
Level 2 interference involves second-guessing your discipline, either privately with you or in front of your daughter. Here, a first step is to speak up: “Mom, I know you don't always like how I raise Bliss, but you always taught me to do what I believe is right.” Or, if you want to be a little more forceful: “You raised me beautifully, Mom and Dad, so I'm going to do it just the way you always did.”
Level 3 interference is active, purposeful undercutting of your authority. You send Sybil to the corner, and your mom takes her out. You limit her donuts to one half, and your dad gives her a half dozen.
Two suggestions: One, if you can do it without ugly conflict, calmly override your parents and make your discipline stick. Two, create no dispute on the spot, but inform your daughter that if she listens to grandma instead of mommy, she'll face more trouble when grandma is not around. The average kid will learn to act in harmony with a parent, instead of siding with grandma.
The most relationship-straining level of interference involves your folks deliberately disregarding your requests and standards when your daughter is alone with them. In essence, Disneyland without limits is the scene.
Here, if all attempts to get cooperation have failed, you are forced into some tough decisions. Perhaps you can bear with the low standards, confident you can undo them at home. Or you may decide to limit the amount of time Harmony spends with her grandparents. Some cases are so extreme that nothing else will protect your right to raise your child.
In fairness to grandparents, I must acknowledge that they often tell me something like, “I'd like to spoil my grandkids a bit, but their parents already let them get away with so much that I feel like I have to be the disciplinarian.”
Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist and author.
His Web site is http://www.kidbrat.com
Reach Family Matters at firstname.lastname@example.org