Kelly Burch Oct 12, 2023, 1:31 PM EDT
When Melina Nigam left her sons, then 3 and 5, with her mother and stepdad, she had some reservations.
“They loved our boys but prioritized their own entertainment and comfort. There was also a history of passive aggression when it came to ignoring our parenting choices,” Nigam previously wrote for Insider.
Experts say that parents often have to deal with grandparents and other family members who overstep bounds and ignore their wishes. Psychotherapist Lee Phillips calls this “grandparent knows best syndrome.”
“Often, grandparents feel they are in control because they are still the parents of their adult children,” Phillips said, noting he sees this often in his practice.
Here’s what to do when a family member ignores your parenting requests
After Nigam found out that her parents gave the boys champagne — even after the kids protested — she reinforced for her sons that they were right to speak up. But she decided to “let the issue slide” with her mother, who had a history of not listening to Nigam, she said.
Phillips said that responding to transgressions in the moment can be particularly difficult.
“It is hard to respond on the spot when something like this occurs because you may be so dumbfounded and angry,” he said.
Because of that, it’s a good idea to take a step back, regulate your nervous system with a few deep breaths, and check in with your child’s other parent before responding.
When you’re ready to discuss the transgression, clinical psychologist Sabrina Romanoff suggests these steps:
- Clearly communicate the violation that occurred and why it is significant.
- Explain the impact and consequences of their actions on the children.
- Discuss how it violates your values and your relationship with your parents (or anyone else who disregarded your wishes).
- Emphasize that secrets aren’t OK. Try to focus on your goal of doing what is best for your child and frame secrets as an interference of that goal.
The initial conversation is only the beginning
After the initial conversation, you’ll need to work on rebuilding trust in your relationship, and keeping your kids safe in light of the new information you have.
“This might mean pulling back and not recreating scenarios for this to occur again,” Romanoff said. For example, Nigam didn’t allow her boys to spend the night with their grandparents again until they were teenagers.
Situations like this can also open the door to a deep analysis of your relationships with family members.
“Explore the power dynamic between you and your parents and how your children are being triangulated into this conflict,” Romanoff said. “Are your children being used as a way to diffuse the tension between you and your parents when it comes to control and power? Do your parents not feel listened to? Do they feel appreciated and valued by you?”
If possible, you can discuss those questions with your parents — or the family member who broke your trust. That could eventually lead to a deeper, more trusting relationship.
Role playing with kids can help
Nigam’s situation was unique because her mother’s decision to give the boys champagne was not only against family rules — it was also illegal and potentially harmful.
“As with everything in life we have to ask ourselves, ‘What’s the potential risk and what’s the potential benefit?'” said pediatrician Dr. David Berger. “There’s obviously no benefit to giving alcohol to a child. The risk is that the kids may start asking for it. They may then go looking for it in the home, and it establishes in the child’s mind that alcohol consumption is OK.”
Unfortunately, kids will likely be offered alcohol underage — though more often by their peers. Phillips suggests role-playing with kids to practice saying no. The conversation your child has will be different with peers than it would be with a person in a position of authority, like a grandparent or babysitter, he notes.
“Educating children on boundaries and rules is vital so they can protect themselves,” he said.