If you’re a parent chances are you have experienced some helpful friend or relative undermining your parental authority.
I’ve seen it many many times.
Deflector went on a school camp earlier this year and wanted spending money. I told him that since I paid for the camp, he could use his own pocket money for souvenirs. I told him that he would appreciate his purchase if he had to work for it himself, and he would be less likely to come home with a bag full of plastic crap. The school had suggested this arrangement also, and I fully agreed that it was the perfect opportunity for a lesson in the value of money. A relative was present at the time and witnessed the full conversation between me and my son. After she had left, Deflector came to me and said “(she) gave me this Mum, wasn’t that so nice!” and he handed me $10.
The fact that she slipped it to him out of my sight made me want to scream. I didn’t though, I simply told Deflector that this defeats the purpose of my earlier point, and I explained that the decision is mine and Daddy’s, no one else’s, as I took the money away.
It’s not always the relatives you have to watch for either. Recently I had a situation where my family and another family were on a day trip together, Captain Clumsy had already defied me multiple times that morning and I had told him that he was now my shadow for the day; to be no more than one step away from me at all times.
I was talking to my friend, with CC right beside me, and she pulled out a bag of marshmallows from her pocket.
“Can he have one?” she said.
“No, he can’t”
“Why not? It’s just sugar. There’s nothing wrong with sugar” she says and she hands him the marshmallow. CC swallows it before I have the opportunity to take it from him.
My husband’s jaw hits the floor as he waits for me to explode. But I don’t because I am utterly shocked. It took me a few minutes to realise the blatant disrespect and by that time the moment is lost.
Later that day when I was buying hot chocolate for Princess (and not the boys whose feral behaviour was not going to be rewarded) she declares in front of all the kids “I can’t believe you would buy Princess one and not the others!” Then I have to deal with sulky boys who feel warranted in their sulkiness because a respected adult has justified their case.
As I sit here and type this I still feel the need to rationalize my choices, but the reality is that I am their Mother and I don’t have to justify myself to anybody. Worse still, is my desire to point out all the things that I don’t agree with about her parenting, and then boldly illustrate why I am right and she is wrong. But I can’t. Because I understand there is no such thing as right and wrong when it comes to parenting. Who am I to decide that something she does to discipline her children is necessary or not? It’s not my place to say and despite my initial desire to retort with something equally undermining, I hold my tongue. Because I should.
I have had multiple instances like these. Specifically when we were doing the Failsafe Diet a few years ago. We eliminated all artificial colours, flavours, preservatives as well as amines and salycilates from our diet. My kids changed from ‘normal’ rowdy, excitable, kids to absolute angels. I kid you not, they were PERFECT. No noise, no arguments, no tantrums, no yelling, nothing. Just co-operative, peaceful, immaculate, caring, sharing children. It was a miracle.
Still it didn’t stop people from huffing when we told them our kids couldn’t eat strawberries, or oranges or watermelon. They’d roll their eyes when we said they couldn’t have cheese or vegemite “But it’s the health food of the Nation!”
They’d declare how ridiculous it is to not allow your child a granny smith with “What’s the difference between a granny smith and a golden delicious anyway?!”
They’d hold up a bag of orange coloured, cheese flavoured, corn starch and say (in front of the kids) “Can they have these then?”
Every time I had to say “No” I’d get the “But Mum!” from the kids and the huffing and eye rolling and judgement from the undermining adult. I’m not sure why they cared; it wasn’t any more difficult for them, they didn’t have to prepare the food, or lug it with them everywhere they went. We did, and we had decided it was worth it.
By the time my kids started school we realised that a restrictive diet like that is just too difficult for kids when the whole world is against them.
It’s hard enough for adults when the whole world is against them.
(I have to say that some people went above and beyond to ensure our wishes were met. Not everyone is a saboteur)
When someone undermines your parenting, either by passing snide comments, or totally ignoring your rules and preferences, they are saying “You are wrong and I am right.”
You might be parenting in a way that they never have, perhaps they don’t agree with your style so they go about undermining and insulting you in order to bolster their own self worth. In order to make them feel justified in their own parenting choices they have to belittle and undermine yours.
The only thing to do is be consistent. Don’t feel bad about enforcing your own rules. Don’t apologise for your beliefs or your style of parenting. Show your children that no matter what other people say or do, you are the rule maker and you won’t be deterred. You don’t have to explain or justify your choices.
It is your job to set boundaries and ask people to respectfully accept them.
Then remind them.
And remind them again.
If you continue to let it slide, or forever allow them to treat you with a lack of respect, it is only you who is to blame. As the old adage goes, “It takes two to tango.”