Accepting Grandparents’ Good Intentions (With Humble Apologies To My Father-in-Law)

After meeting motherhood dazed, confused, even panicked, I was greatly relieved to discover a child-rearing philosophy that made perfect sense to me. Captivated and empowered by infant expert Magda Gerber, I set about following her parenting principles to the letter. My gusto caused some missteps. The one I regret most is offending my father-in-law.

My handsome, fun-loving father-in-law is a successful Broadway producer, was a set designer in the early days of television, and has always been an artist. When his first granddaughter came to visit the family house in Vermont at 20 months old, Grandpa Edgar naturally wanted to connect, and one of the ways he did that was to draw with her. Charming, right?

What Edgar didn’t know was that I had been zealously protecting his granddaughter’s power of discovery for months,  suppressing my own urges to show her how to do things that she might later be able to discover on her own. By then, Magda Gerber’s belief that infants should be trusted to be initiators, explorers and self-learners had been confirmed for me by my daughter many times over. I had also been steeped in early childhood educator Bev Bos’ advice to “never draw for a child” and Piaget’s words, “Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself…That which we allow him to discover by himself…will remain with him.”

When my dear friend Stuart dropped by a few months before the Vermont trip and brought my daughter a small box of crayons, I cringed. He was probably a little offended, and certainly taken aback when I begged, “Don’t show her how they work!” But having been a best friend for years, Stuart was well-acquainted with my somewhat obsessive, perfectionist tendencies. He obeyed.

My daughter liked the crayons. She took them out of the box, and struggled until she got them all back in. Many, many times. I may have been the only mom in the world to appreciate such an activity. I thought it was perfect. And I knew the day would come (and it did weeks later) when she discovered the profound truth — crayons make marks! But even then, the marks of color were not as fulfilling to my daughter as getting those stately soldiers to line up again, just right, in the box.

So, well-meaning Grandpa Edgar didn’t have a prayer. I was polite (I think) when I asked him not to draw for his granddaughter, and I tried lamely to explain why, but in retrospect I believe opening my mouth at all was ungracious. After all, it wasn’t the same as if I drew for her — parents are much more influential to a child than anyone else. A demonstration from me might have been perceived as the “right” way to draw, and discouraged her because she wasn’t as able.

As my mother-in-law sagely pointed out, my daughter would just think of drawing as something special that her grandfather does.  And it is…and she does. And, she became something of an artist in her own right as a photographer. (And she’s still into composition – likes everything lined up, just so.)

So, the moral of this story is: tame your parenting zeal. Embrace tact, even if it means biting your tongue.  Leave the grandparents alone. They deserve to develop their own relationships with their grandchildren. If they are not daily caregivers, it matters little if they have different parenting practices than we do.

Do you have any grandparent stories? Or are you a grandparent? I’d love to hear from you.


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. My Hubby’s parents were deceased before we married so the MIL role fell to his aunt, a dear woman. Staying in her home with our first born she allowed him to play with an intricate metal neck chain, teething it voraciously. She sensed my discomfort and tried to reassure me that he would not be effeminate from playing with necklaces. I don’t think I said anything, but I was really struggling at being accused of gender identity concern (not) AND I feared he might choke on bits of the chain.

    ‘Taming my zeal’ would have been the correct advice for me then, too. And yes, I already had my PhD in child development then.

    Good advice, Janet.

    1. Wow, Barbara, good self-control on your part. That reminds me of well-meaning friends offering my babies their fingers to suck. My babies would always gratefully accept, and I’d be worried to death about the germs.

  2. I love it when I check Google Reader and you have a post. Always something thoughtful and relevant. I agree with this post very much. My mom took care of my daughter one day this week and it’s true, she does things differently than I do. She’s always trying to teach her things – like saying a word – and she uses toys to distract during diaper changes. But I just look at it as the special way the two of them interact. My mom has read Dear Parent and Your Self-Confident Baby so at least I have that going for me. But she’s going to do things differently than I do and it’s going to be okay.

    1. Thanks! I think you are wise to be so accepting of your mom. Having parents around to help us with child care is such a BLESSING for all concerned.

  3. Great post, Janet! I agree for the most part with what you’re saying, but I think only as long as baby’s grandparents aren’t part of their everyday life and upbringing then it’s okay that they do things a little differently than the parents. When grandparents are part of the extended family sharing a home and maybe the child’s primary caregivers, differing parenting philosophies or ignoring the parents’ wishes can be a problem. In that case you’d have to get baby’s grandparents on board with the parenting style you’ve chosen.

    1. Hi Fran!

      Thanks, and I couldn’t agree more. For one thing, it doesn’t help a baby feel secure to have to deal with vastly different styles of care. Any regular caregiver should be on board with the parent’s wishes. Babies adapt, but they shouldn’t have to.

      I find it fascinating that young infants discern and adjust to even the subtlest differences in the way they are handled — like the way daddy picks up as compared to mommy, and they prepare their bodies for what they have learned to expect. The intelligence of babies never ceases to amaze me.

      1. Young children’s adjustability was demonstrated to me in language by my wife’s best friend’s daughter, who, at age 3, was (nearly) quadralingual, knowing to speak Portugese with her mama and her maternal grandparents, Croatian with her dad and paternal grandparents, English with the rest of us, and ASL with her cousins (who are deaf). I watched her switch seamlessly between 3 of these languages (her cousins live in another city) at birthday parties or family/friend gatherings. It’s totally amazing.

        And then her parents put her in French Immersion (we are Canadian) when she hit kindergarten, so now at 7, she’s completely fluent in 5 languages. The amazing capacity of the human brain blows my mind (hahaha). 🙂

        I’ve had other friends who speak a non-English language at home had their children outright reject their native language, so it’s totally kid dependant. But so amazing.

  4. I understand being gracious about the different and unique ways that grandparents deal with their grandchildren. My new problem is that the grandparents (my in-laws) that we have a had such a great relationship with, have decided that our latest decision (regarding school) is WRONG. We still have a good relationship, but we are all sort of uncomfortably skirting around this disagreement…

    Of course, it is OUR decision to make, as their parents, but truthfully, their input is important, especially to my husband.

  5. I love this! GREAT advice. I used to hate it when my dear mom-in-law would tell me “no more rules when grandma is here!” and follow by giving my 2 1/2 year old daughter a whole bag of M&M’s, thus undermining my “almost no candy” training… really hard to keep smiling! I might have offended her by (rather abrubtly) putting away half of the candy -oh well 🙂 Like you said, as long as our children live with us and depend on us for advice, let the grandparents have their bit of fun…!

    1. I would hit the ceiling at this. Not so much the candy, but the “no more rules when grandma is here” bit.
      it doesn’t matter how important the grandparent is or thinks they are, you are the parent. They are basically telling your child they are overruling you and everything you say while they are there. It’s not acceptable, there have to be limits to these things – they can be taken too far. You can bite your tongue at things, fair enough, but a statement like that needs to be nipped in the bud.

    2. I had yet to encounter the “don’t show them how art supplies work” rule of RIE – no wonder grandparents struggle with this one, because it seems absurd to me! Crayons, like other tools, aren’t simply toys. I wouldn’t hide kitchen tools around my daughter so she can discover for herself how a whisk or spatula work, why keep crayons a secret? Also, art is one of the few activities that goes beyond play, it’s also a practice. My husband plays music to her with his guitar, should I advise him to also stop least she not discover how instruments work for herself? And one of the few things that many parents enjoy getting to do with children, artists or not, is coloring. Along with reading, making art is one of the most joyful things to share with a child and can help make the day to day of parenting enjoyable. Certainly, heed advice not to lean over and correct how they create, but I’m with grandpa all the way when it comes to suppressing the urge to open and box of crayons and draw!

      *and since we have broken this rule of RIE, other creative parents should know that a) she proudly presents me with both art that certainly isn’t trying to be anything like I make alongside her (currently, at three, she colors while telling stories – swirling a craving and saying “it’s a storm, it’s a storm!” Etc. Also b) her crayons often get dumped into a box with some old bows from Christmas and used to “feed the sheep”, so her imaginative play has yet to be undermined by the fact that I’ve been using pastels and pencils and paints “the right way” in front of her from infancy.

  6. (Exhale!) Thank you for sharing this Janet. I am walking a little taller. That internal, and external, juggle of what I want for our children and enjoying our time with their dear grandparents is going to be simpler from now on… and much more pleasant… for all of us.

  7. Maybe it’s a “cultural thing” (I’m Indonesian by birth), but my mum was horrified when I emailed her a picture of her new grand daughter lying on a mat in our yard. My mum called me up the next day and told me off for putting a one month old baby on the grass. Her reason: “It’s dirty, your dog might have done her business there! And why is she wearing trousers not a gown?”. I explained to her why I put her “on the grass”, pointing out that our dog had her own special spot for her “business”. Despite our differences, now I know mum knows best and when she offers her advice (even the “odd” ones), I accept with gratitude, because she has far more experience in this field. The proof is in the pudding with 4 successful grown up children (me being her second child), she must have done something right.

  8. Interesingly this is an area I think I mucked up! I was following some Waldorf advice to create with your child and I started doing little drawings *for* her when she was tiny-tiny. Now (at 17months) I am having to work hard to shift her from wanting me to draw for her when she sees paper and pen. Now, even if she asks me to do a dog, or whatever, I go abstract and try and encourage her to draw too – a far cry from letting her discover crayons for herself and in her time find out they make marks on things – which sounds rather magical (if very, very slow – hahah).

    Any thoughts on how to get back to letting her ‘discover’ art after such a RIE faux pas?

    1. Great story, Gauri! Normally I am an absolute stickler for honesty with children, but in this case it sometimes helps to be — not exactly dishonest, but a little coy. When she asks you to draw a dog for her, ask her “What should come first? Oh, the head? How should I draw it…can you show me?” Breaking it down like that for her, asking her to draw each part of the specific dog she’s imagining will help place the “ball in her court” as it were.

      1. I like this answer, Janet. The problem I’m having is that when I do ask my 2 1/2 year old son to “show me”, he then whines again and again, “YOU do it!” wanting me to draw it. Any other suggestions on how to turn this pattern around?

        1. My advice, as an artist parent, is not to worry about these requests, but also get him art supplies that are a pleasure to use and he won’t be able to resist trying them out. Then ask him about his works and praise what you like, or note the process. Try bath-crayons, finger paints, glue and paper, pastels – he will want to experiment with these new textures! Then you can each create – you’ll do the dogs, what will he make?!

  9. This is so timely! My mother just came to visit for 10 days and left yesterday and even though I had not read this post I remembered you had mentioned something at some point about letting granparents be and she drew for my son and I let her be 🙂 There were times though when my son himself would be clear that he would do things himself, she kept insisting on showing him how to play with some things but I did my best to let them be because for the most part my son is very verbal and would let her know anyways and she did great with following his lead 🙂

    1. Great post Janet! My heart is broken from grandparents ( ? Perfectionist personalities) struggling to emotionally connect with child – your story gives hope, maybe one day.

      1. Thank you! I will also hope for the best for your family. Hang in there!

  10. I’m a newish grandmother. I have a one-year-old grandson. I wish that I had been a RIE mom and I am overwhelmed with the desire to be a RIE grandma. I try very hard, however, not to interfere with his parents’ very loving care. (though I may have mentioned more than once that helping him walk is not actually helpful). My grandson and I have our own quiet connection, thanks to you, Magda and my friend Genie who brought Magda to my attention.

  11. I am loving reading about parents’ response to grandparents…I am a grandmother. I am trying to understand all the various approaches to parenting in 2012. It has been eye-opening as well as so enjoyable to see such interest in growth and development.
    I have to say that as a grandparent I have much more patience and am not as concerned with perfect living as I am with a secure, calm, understanding and loving home environment that will help my grandchild thrive.

    1. Loretta, I love what you’re doing. Any child would be lucky to have a parent or grandparent like you!

  12. What would you suggest saying to my mother when she forcibly grabs my 15 month son to change his diaper? This makes him really upset because she “surprises” him and then holds him down. I have found if I give him some time, he will willingly lie down himself and help me with the changing, no tears or screaming necessary. I just don’t want to be critical of my mother because she has been so helpful in caring for him.

  13. Sue Martin says:

    I used to worry about the details. I’m a professor of early childhood education and author of textbooks etc. As a consequence I have some fairly clear ideas about what is desirable. … Magda Gerber,Bev Bos, Waldorf/Steiner, Froebel, David Elkind and so forth are some of my guiding lights.
    I read your piece about grandparents and their role with great interest. I am now a grandparent and am currently listening to the breathing of my two grandsons avec the and six in the next room. They are having a sleeper-over ( as they call it). I’m exhausted but can’t sleep for my concern for them. The younger one had recently had a brain tumor removed but we have just heard that the chemo has been successful in attacking the residual that wasn’t removed surgically. The older one fractured his arm on Friday while at school!
    Anyway the year had been awful for them add their parents split up and their have been several home moves and changes in caregivers.
    When so much has been at stake my values haven’t changed and my passion to do things right hasn’t faded but my priorities have shifted. Nicky found pleasure in the electronic games he could play from his bed. He loved sticker books and coloring within the lines gave him satisfaction . Behavioral guidelines were stretched, routines were not followed, we ate pizza and pop because that was all the boys cold both eat. Tommy was kept of school for a while because Bucky wanted his company. Grandparents indulged. Now the parents have new patents they have parents so there are even more’ grandparents’ sharing the carrying, muddling the instructions, confusing, the guidance rules and projecting different values add much add I have been distraught I know that this means there’s is an army of people who love the boys. That can’t be bad even if my role seems minimized (and I’m working on how I am about that).

    1. Sue – I wish your grandchildren a speedy recovery and thank you for sharing your perspective. Sounds like they are in very good hands!

  14. I’m glad I read this today & really get it. I blew it for the first couple of years so determined to protect my “fragile” children from outside differing styles. I missed the point, not only do our grandparents do things out of love & with great intention but my children were never confused by grandma rules vs home rules.

  15. Janet, Thanks for this great post. As a Waldorf teacher inspired by Magda Gerber’s philosopies, I found myself in the same pickles with my mom and in-laws when my son was born. I found that many of the “big” ideals for me were quickly humbled when I saw the pure love between my son and his Grandparents who were just being themselves. I really wanted everyone to feel like they could just be their authentic self around my son and so I decided to practice modeling instead of teaching the values that we create for our family. I actually wrote an article about it that may resonate with other parents. Here is the link;
    Thanks for sharing your wise words, especially now before the holiday season when we get together with extended family. Sometimes a slice of humble pie is on the holiday menu 🙂 It has been for me!

  16. Ali Porteous says:

    I so so so so so agree with this. I have tried to rear our 7 month old daughter within the RIE principles. But whenever we go round to my parents place my dad insists on standing her on her feet, sitting her up etc etc. I have really had to bite my tongue because I believe that the relationship that she is creating with her Grandpa during these moments far outweighs any positions that he is placing her in. I so love watching the two of them together and really didn’t want to put my dad off interacting with my daughter because there were too many ‘rules’. Once again a very timely post. Thanks your blog is such an inspiration for me to keep going with my respectful practices even when others look at me like I am crazy =)

  17. Hello Janet!

    This is a very lovely post. I have a question, my case is different because we live with our in-laws and sister-in-law. When you say they should be on board in our parenting style, is this like sitting with them and explaining RIE? Thanks

  18. I’m really curious why you say that grandparents ‘deserve’ to develop their own relationship with the grandchild?

  19. Hi Janet,

    I want to agree that grandparents usually know better. But my 2.5 year old son just gets so agitated by my in-law’s style. He’s a reserved, serious little person who thrives on respect, responds really well to the type of acknowledgement you describe, and gets super-focused in play (transitions – even with respectful preparation – are difficult). His grandparents are boisterous and demonstrative. They swoop in on him when he’s playing and demand the usual grandparent hugs and kisses. This always throws him and he gets really upset. Like they’ve interrupted his flow. And when he’s upset, they try to distract him by doing things like turning up the television, singing loudly, showing him videos on their phones. I can see it doesn’t work; he gets more and more frustrated and upset.

    What’s hard is they think he’s disrespectful, that we’re not raising him right because he won’t stop playing to greet them. Harder still is that they don’t listen to us when we explain that he’s just reserved, focused (and only 2 and a half!) and needs a slightly different approach.

    We spend time with them most weekends, and I’d love to see a more joyful, natural relationship develop. Any advice?


    1. Stephanie says:

      Allie, we are in the same boat as you, as far as personality dynamics! Our son is only 18 months right now, but his little personality has been apparent since day one, and it really clashes with my side of the family. I hope Janet can shed some light.

  20. Even though I cringe when grandparents interact and do stuff in a different way than I do, I let them do it. But where I draw the line is when they completely disregard and disrespect my kids’ feelings. For example, they try to force kisses and hugs on them that they are saying “no” to. Or trying to tickle my child and the more she says “no” or “stop” and cries the harder the grandparents try to tickle. My oldest (3) hates being touched by anyone but mommy and daddy so this stuff throws her into a huge meltdown that takes her a really long time to recover from. Am I wrong in asking the grandparents to stop on this situation? How am I to teach my kids that “no means no” if someone they should trust, like grandma, doesn’t even respect that? Thanks for your input.

  21. “If they are not daily caregivers, it doesn’t matter if they have different parenting practices than we do. ” What about if the grandparents ARE daily caregivers? My mum takes care of my 7mo daughter in the mornings and my mother in law in the evenings (I know, I’m very lucky and my daughter is too, we live in a small country). But there are times when I really feel like I’m hitting a wall, especially with my mother. Now that fear of abandonment has slowly started I have tried talking with my mum on the importance of “agknowledging feelings” and “sportscasting” but nothing works, she just repeats what she knows “It’s ok, mummy is off to work, she’ll be back”. I hate to be disrespectful, and often times I have bit my tongue not to say anything, but there are days when she might see her grandparents for more hours than she sees us, her parents. Any advice?

  22. I’m having some trouble with this, my MIL will snatched the baby out of hubby’s arms and run off with him while he is upset, at family functions. So I’ve taken him back and said he needs to be comfortable first. I let it go if my LO isn’t crying.

    1. I’ve lived this experience. It took some major work for me to establish my boundaries with MIL. I very clearly said that I am not comfortable with the idea of baby crying in someone else’s arms. It was not very well received, but after several interations and me not letting down finally she stopped doing that. Good luck!

  23. I really appreciated this article because i think its ungracious to impose my parenting methods especially the subtle ones mentioned such as allowing my child to learn for themselves and self discover. (Intrinsically learning)
    I enjoy the grandies forming their own relationships in their own ways with my LO. I think he will need to adapt to differing expectations and ‘rules’ in different settings throughout life. It’s nice to know as the parent you are the most influencial and therefore what I do matters most.

  24. Louisa Turiel says:

    My grandson is 13 months old and I do my best to follow my daughter’s lead. When I do something “unacceptable” she squints and smiles, and I get the message. I think she and her husband are doing a great job educating both my grandson and me. This Christmas, Santa Claus is giving her a pair of sunglasses.

  25. Hi Janet,
    This is my first comment on your website and first of all I need to thank you for your inspiring work. Makes my life a bit easier with 2 & 1/2 little buddy!
    Ans this post comes just on week away from our holiday in Italy to granpas! (We live in Spain). Great advice. My father has a classic view on children as he was very severe with us! But he’s obviously being very sweet with his grandchildren. He is still a great limit setter and I think I can learn something from his security in doing it. 🙂

  26. Timely re-share on your facebook page – I am wondering how to approach some more delicate manners with family this holiday season. Mostly not wanting to allow them to try to guilt my 3 year old into hugging them, saying goodnight to them etc. I don’t feel like I can let that slide because I want to teach her autonomy and that sort of emotional pressure seems very unfair to put on a child. But I’m a bit nervous about trying to talk to them about it with tact and respect should it come up again. We’ll be staying at their house for a week…

    1. My very sensitive 4 year old is not a hugger. When someone asks him for one I usually intervene and give some options. Like a wave, blow a kiss, or even a high five. I say something like “We are not ready for hugs just yet but can we offer you a high 5?

  27. I’m having quite a bit of conflict with my mummy about the way she deals with my two boys, particularly the eldest. She tells superfluous lies to manipulate and get him to comply. Whenever I call her on it she says it is harmless,and gets really rather offended. She says I am always correcting her and that if it doesn’t stop she won’t want to visit anymore. It’s really rather uncomfortable. Anyone been in a similar situation or have suggestions of how to resolve this respectfully?

    1. Yes. I have. What I usually say to mum is that we in our home practice factual language. Instead of correcting her, I give her the vocabulary to use instead. It usually works but it is constant training!

  28. Xenia Karantani says:

    “as long as they are not daily caregivers they should be fine”… What if they see the child 3-4 times per week for 3 hours and NEVER applying the RIE guidelines? Is this OK you think?

  29. Loved reading this article. Thank you for sharing. And I have been in the exact same situation. Except I did not ask my in-law not to draw and he did. He drew trucks over and over again one afternoon. Then days later, when my 4 year old son tried to draw for himself a truck he grew so frustrated, he asked me to draw one and I didn’t Actually I couldn’t if I tried! That made him more frustrated. I wish I had said something, I wish I had asked him not to draw for him. Because for days after that, even weeks we had to witness and ongoing frustration with crayons!

    1. Hi Gaby, so in this case you disagree with Janet’s “lesson”?

  30. Hi Janet, I’d love to know where you draw the line (or is there none at all, can grandparents literally do whatever they wish in the name of bonding?). Im sure I’m over correcting the grandparents right now but I don’t know how much to cut back. If their actions cause baby to startle or cry, for example?

  31. Nicollete says:

    Hi Janet,

    What advice do you have for parent educators who work with grandparents who are parenting their grandchildren?

  32. Sorry but I totally disagree with this. It’s fine when it’s well meaning and it’s not something major like wanting to bond over drawing. But in a lot of cases, grandparents do not know better because they believe in spanking, or shaming the child into hugging and kissing everyone, or criticizing everytime the child cries which mine only does when she is with them (my in laws) oddly enough but they start making snarky comments about how she is not well behaved, or I don’t let her see other people (fyi EVERYWHERE we go the comment I always get is how well behaved she is and how happy and calm she is!) I got criticized vigoursly for not wanting her to cry, for example because hse is sensitive, I didn’t let her sleep over at my in laws until she was older and she could understand because before that she would cry if I left, and I would get comments like so what if she cries, she’ll stop. I’ve gotten so much unsolicited advice that I bit my tongue not to say anything, but that advice was horrible…my husband has issues because of how he was raised. So all this to say, I am sorry but most grandparents these days of my friends, having gone through this themselves, are unconditionally supportive and don’t criticize new methods even if they don’t agree and offer love. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we still have critical grandparents who add stress and make you feel like you’re a bad parent for the choices you are making and that is unacceptable. I was criticized and yelled at for feeding my daughter organic food! For wanting to breastfeed, telling me breastfeeding is overrated.

  33. Thank you for sharing. I’m so thankful someone I admired taught me this lesson 21 yrs ago. My mother-in-law had very different ideas about feedings. It was difficult for me to let her do it her way ( encouraging over eating, allowing more sweets etc). Through the encouragement from a mentor I let her do it her way during visits to grandma’s 2 to 3 times a month. My children were 6 and 5 when she died. I am so thankful they have wonderful memories of the special foods at grandma’s.
    I’m thankful for the timing of sharing this article. Hopefully it will speak to parents and they will embrace the special relationship between and grandparent and their grand baby this holiday season.
    Much love to you Janet!

    1. Love back to you, Julie! Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  34. I have struggled with this as my MIL is known amongst her children and their spouses for her lack of boundaries, “meaning well”, and being entirely unable to accept any criticism or correction. There has been much biting of the tongue over things like food, television, and her giving unsolicited advice by speaking on behalf of my son (“oh mummy I want…”). She cares for him one day a week so there are some consistency issues. Most recently, toilet learning. She potty trained her kids by putting them in underpants and letting them wet themselves. I told her we had decided on bare bottom and sit him on the potty at regular intervals. When I picked him up, sure enough she told me all about how many pairs of undies he had wet through. Hubby spoke to her about that one. Recently she told him that Santa only comes for big boys who don’t wet their pants. To which I responded “none of that thank you”.
    The big thing that I have noticed recently is the bossy and dictatorial tone that she uses is now being directed from my son to me when he wants me to do something. “Now!!! Get in there!” I stop him and tell him that in this house we speak politely and respectfully, then ask him if he would like to try again.
    Thank you Janet for the reminder that we as parents are the most significant influencers. I will continue with my current approach of reinforcing our family values.

  35. Hi! I am wondering if 2 hours 2 days a week is too much to be with a grandparent who is overly anxious, does everything for them and has no calm bone in her body. My mother has a lot of issues and unfortunately is very fear based because of her past. It worries me because I know my kids (ages 3 and 1.5) are very young and impressionable. The good part is that she adores her grandkids, loves on them a ton and I feel confident she tries to do her best by keeping them safe while showing them a good time. Is this too often a hangout? Thanks for your time!

    1. I also have this question!

  36. Hi Janet,

    A great piece to read, I feel like I’m slowly discovering the importance of allowing the Grandparents to play their own unique role. I’ve particularly come to understand this with my own mother who is very skills focused and I worry is pushing my daughter to perform skills on cue rather than following her lead. However I have come to realise that if I stand back and let them interact my daughter manages it really well and they have many special games of their own which I can see is valuable to them both.

    In contrast I really struggle with my MIL, she and I have very different ideas about safety (and many other things) and I feel like I am constantly on damage control with her. Any advice on how to manage this with her respectfully for everyone? I find it very hard to get her to listen to my perspectives, having had four children she seems adamant that she knows everything and makes me feel like I’m being ridiculous when I’m trying to express my discomfort with her behaviour.
    Any thoughts would be much appreciated!

  37. Thank you!! I find myself cringing in many ways when my parents in law interact with my babies, but then simultaneously feel terribly guilty because they are wonderful, generous people who have so much love and time for our boys. Your story has given me some good perspective (and hopefully the will to take a deep breath and smile instead of taking it as a personal affront when their interactions don’t meet my expectations!)

  38. I feel for all who have commented on the MIL who grabs the child, doesn’t have boundaries, but “means well.” My MIL has slipped into dementia and my mother passed early in my daughter’s life.

    I would not have known how to manage if these two women were still here. Except, now, I see, there would have been places like here where I would be able to feel supported.

    In regard to the drawing. I guess I don’t do anything hard and fast, because each moment is fresh and I want to be intuitive, fresh and aware in each moment.
    I drew for my daughter, 3 years old, and she would paint the pictures as though in a coloring book. We were connecting. She then began to draw her own pictures and never asks me anymore to draw for her.

    Each child is different, so my daughter was not like the boy who was frustrated. He might even only be frustrated with not being able to see his grandfather (I can’t quite remember who drew the fire truck). Maybe it is not about the drawing, per se.

    I have learned from reading Janet’s books and a ton of these articles and listening to her podcasts (I actually give myself a foot soak and pedicure, self-care, while listening to a podcast) that my daughter may be full of emotion that has nothing to do with the actual moment.

    Today, she woke up crabby and rude. I did not let her watch her show until she was no longer rude to me (I am not hard and fast about “tv” either, but we don’t have cable). I was calm, felt loving (learned this here, because I used to get anxious) and she thrashed, wanting to hit, but I have taught her not to (from here) and then she suddenly said, “Mommy, I’m scared.”

    Turns out, she was afraid of an owl she imagines lives in the tree outside her window. I won’t make this post longer, but the main wisdom I have gleaned from Janet is to breathe and be present in the moment, in order to hear what the moment is telling me. The moment just may call for drawing, or taking my child away from an aunt who is talking louder and bouncing faster and patting harder my 3 month old baby.

  39. Hi Janet this post is great for me! What do you think though if the husband is not on board with RIE? ‘My husband tries to follow and he also understands my super controllingness to a degree but I have got to the point where he has flipped out as has one grandparent. Any advice around this when it’s another primary caregiver?

  40. What if the in laws dismiss feelings of the child and requests of the parents ? My SIL, MIL and FIL took our then 4 year old to an amusement park. They live overseas so only saw her once a year so they didn’t know her or her needs or want to know. They believe we are the grandparents and Aunty and will do what we want.
    I packed her lunch as she has reactions to food but they refused to take it and left in the car. She cried on a ride that had guns and lasers (too much for her at 4 years old) she took a couple of weeks to not talk about it. When they told me she cried I said “on no, is she okay?” And I was told to get over it. Lied to about the lunch and she was crying at times during the next couple of weeks due the experience. She was also given candy floss amd we wwre lied to about that also. They don’t talk to us now as “we” over reacted but they lied, made our daughter cry, when we asked if she was okay we were told to over it, the SIL yelled at me and stormed out (FIL also responds in the way, its part of their family culture).
    I don’t believe this is for all in laws, my friends MIL feeds her daughter lollies etc in her care while the mum is trying to fix her teeth as they are rotting. There needs to be a mutual respect of care for a child for it to work and some in laws feel they have a right and that’s where I think it falls short. I think the kids come first and you work together to meet the needs of that child which involves communcation about the child., not dismissing communication about the child’s emotional space, food needs etc I don’t believe it working together with the parents to bring up a child. I would never treat my grandkids like our inlaws did. While I know I wouldn’t agree with every thing my kids would do with their kids I don’t believe that’s my role in the family. My dad said while he doesn’t agree with some of our parenting choices and that’s his opinion he said its his job to love his Grandkids and he wouldn’t like to be a parent in this day and age. I like his comment. (Sorry all over the place, its 1am!)

  41. Thank you for this reminder. We only visit with my in laws 1x a year due to distance. They adore their grandson, but many of the well meaning things they say and do drive me crazy. All with good intentions, but not how we parent (ie applause when he eats vegetables, showing him how to build a house the right way…). This helped me (mostly) move past gritting my teeth to appreciating their love for him.

  42. What if the grandparents live with you and keep tickling the child, shaming the child etc.. though not intentionally.. but with disgusted facial expressions and angry voices?

  43. Siân de Freyssinet says:

    I really needed to read this today! We’re about to embark on a trip home to England with our nearly 2yo to visit the grandparents and I feel a lot of tongue biting in our future.

    I’ve also been fostering my LO’s interest in drawing. She has a roll of paper that is always out on the coffee table for her to draw on as and when she sees fit.
    I’ve been rolling up the used paper with the idea of putting it up somewhere when the whole roll is finished so we can see the progress she’s made from first picking up a crayon to the end of the roll.
    I had a friend babysit the other day and saw she’d been drawing on the paper with my LO; my heart sank.
    Now every time the same friend comes round my LO runs to her with the crayons and demands she draws for her. LO doesn’t draw herself when friend is around, only watches as friend draws flowers and trees for her.
    It wound me up quite a bit, but after reading this post I’m starting to come round to the idea that this is the relationship my friend has with my LO, and that’s ok. LO never asks me to draw for her & when the roll of paper is done it’ll also be a reminder of the fun times my friend had with her

  44. I feel this advice may be helpful and appropriate for a lot of parents, however, I know I am not alone in that my in-laws have significant issues with boundaries and respecting, both with their grown children and now their grandchild (my son). From birth they gave him their phones to watch videos for hours, electronic loud toys, stuff food in his face (even when he shakes his head no),and visibly exhaust him and scare him by invading his personal space with loud, playful yelling in his face and dancing. He shakes his head no, cries a lot, has more meltdowns when in their care and stomach aches afterward. I have to firmly review boundaries, state our expectations and clue them into my sons reactions and emotions regularly. They usually watch him once day week but want to have him visit 5 days/week. I just want to share all of this because not all grandparents are simply coloring with kids. Sometimes parents really do know best and I should feel empowered to stand up for themselves and their child.

  45. Janet, wow, I wish I could hold back my feelings. I’m struggling with this as I dont have a good relationship with my in laws. My daughter is the first grandchild in which they like to call her “their baby” and talk badly about my parenting(note:my husband is considered their favorite so he cant do any wrong). Ugh, to say it hasn’t hurt me would be an understatement. So I constantly struggle with their choices when she picks up behavior I’m not ok with. In all, I’m working on finding a balance.

  46. Janet, I am struggling with this.
    As an experienced educator, I value reflective and respectful practice. My mother is very different to myself- she has raised three children and always knows best. Some of the behaviours I disagree with are like the ones above- well intentioned but over the top ‘helping’ style. Baby talk, constant distraction with very active toys or screens, always offering sweets or praise… when she’s not on the other side of the good/bad dichotomy and using manipulation for eating or attention, using threats of smacking etc or isolation/exclusion for ‘bad’ behaviour. Thankfully as my daughter is only just a toddler she has not had much need for the negative behaviours yet but I heard her response to my very tiny (sick, exhausted) toddlers ‘tantrum’ and wanted to cry.
    She’s helped us with care when she is sick and is now pushing to care for her 1-2 days a week. It would save us money but I have said no because I don’t see this as a necessity to their relationship. Needless to say the response to this has not been good- however not confrontational. What do I do?

  47. This feels kind of backwards and ridiculous honestly. Yes, we should encourage kids to explore how things work on their own, but we also don’t leave them in the lurch when we have a few cool tricks to life to show them. They don’t have to re-invent the wheels from the dawn of humanity. Their imagination is not ruined just because we show them how things can work in a few ways. Please, everything in moderation, including moderation.

  48. Hi Janet, thanks for sharing this story. I’ve been following your blog posts for a few months now and really enjoy the RIE way of childrearing with my two kids. I’m very close to my parents and sisters and they love playing with my kids and helping out on a regular basis. I constantly notice things that they do that are against the RIE principles – stuffing food in my baby’s mouth, pressuring my toddler to eat more when she’s not hungry, telling her not to be a naughty girl, ‘helping’ my baby to walk when he can’t even sit up himself( this really frustrates me!). I’ve told them enthusiastically about all the principles I’ve learned and how I’m trying to follow RIE but they don’t really get it or think about it. Initially I tried to explain what I wanted them to do differently but soon I realised I was wasting my breath and just coming across really controlling and negative. So now I just let them do it and I appreciate the help and remember that my parents raised 5 kids and that there is never only one correct way to raise a healthy happy child 🙂

  49. I love this post. I have the same sort of tendencies you describe: I do a lot of research to help decide which course of action is correct and then it’s very difficult to dissuade me from my path. My own mother was a fairly progressive parent in her time, and has worked with children all her life in her career – she is beloved by all and is a fount of love and respect for children. But when my own daughter was born and I embarked on this respectful parenting journey, I focused too much on the differences between our parenting styles, pointing out why my way was better (“Well, current brain science says…”) instead of just realizing that she deserved to create her own relationship with my child.
    About a year ago, I had a wonderful aha moment where I reframed: Most of the time when loved ones intervene or offer advice, it is their response to their own uncomfortable feelings of watching us struggle in parenting. If they perceive an easy way to fix the problem (“Just lay down the law – you’re the parent!” Or “When she’s that upset, just distract her with something else”), sharing it with us is their way of showing that they love us and want things to be easier for us. Once I reframed and focused on modeling “my way” instead of controlling the situation, I felt more relaxed and could sit back and actually enjoy watching my parents connect with my daughter. I received this message in my Mother’s Day card from them: “As your own mom and dad we love watching you parent and, while you are always teaching your child, you are teaching us as well. We see the result of your parenting and we follow your lead whenever we can.” I cherish these words.

    1. Molly – Thank you for your beautiful sharing. I love your aha moment. How lucky you all are.

  50. Rafaela Rios says:

    We live in a different country from both sets of grandparents, it’s so hard for me when they visit because they stay for long periods.
    My in laws are currently here for 2 months! So in a way, I feel like I need to preserve some of our “ways”. I know routine will set in once they leave, but it is 2 months out of the lives of a 3.5 year old and a 5 month old. I struggle. My mother in law will not leave the baby alone to nap in the car when we are going places. When he’s talking to himself to dose off, she thinks he’s asking for help and will get a burp cloth and cover his face or will get a toy and play with him. I cringe because I know just how important that time slot is and if he doesn’t fall asleep right then, it’ll become a long process through many tears and i’ll Be the only one able to calm him down. As for my daughter, she’s having a ball but I can tell that there are times when she would much rather be just the 4 of us. And I also know my in laws would much rather have us “discipline” her in a “firmer” way. So hard!!

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