Q. My in-laws are from England. They visit every Christmas and stay with us for three to four weeks. The first week or so is usually fine, but after that, they get “too comfortable,” giving me unsolicited parenting advice and criticizing my children. I’m stressed out just thinking about it. What can I do?
A: It can often be difficult to listen to someone else’s views on your parenting and, more importantly, to hear your kids criticized.
First, you need to decide how comfortable you are with accepting advice or criticism from your relatives. Once you determine your personal boundaries around this issue, try to have a direct conversation. Set a sincere tone, letting your relatives know about your needs and limits. This will hopefully contribute to diminishing the amount of advice you receive in the future.
Let’s say you decided to close the suggestion box and are not accepting parenting advice from your relatives. The most important strategy is for you to assertively set some boundaries. People, particularly relatives who may be staying in your guest room, have a right to their own opinions. However, it is reasonable to request some clear and firm boundaries concerning how, when, and to whom a relative expresses his or her opinion on a potentially touchy subject.
When a piece of unwanted advice is lobbed across the table, take a deep breath and try the following sequence:
1. Start with an “I” statement. For instance, “I appreciate you caring about the well-being of my child/children, and I know you want to best for us. I believe it will benefit us both if some boundaries are discussed.” Or “I feel uncomfortable when you criticize my children, let’s talk about some boundaries.”
2. Use your body language to express respect for yourself and for your relatives. Make eye contact, don’t scowl, sit up straight. Be clear that what you’re about to say is important to you.
3. Use a calm and non‐threatening tone. Remember, the object here is to set boundaries, not to intimidate or criticize.
4. Speak up, expressing your boundaries. Calmly and clearly let your relatives know what is and what is not acceptable.
Congratulate yourself! Recognize that being tactful and assertive with family members has a good chance of creating an honest exchange that will eventually pay off.
On the other hand, you may be willing to accept some advice, but not on every aspect of parenting. This is where experience and the work of others pay off. If a relative insists on giving his or her two cents on subjects that you find unnecessary, ask for some advice in areas in which you have lingering questions. For instance, “You know, what I do have a questions about is curfew. How late do you think Scott’s curfew should be on a weekend night?”
Contrary to how they may come across, these relatives do want the best for you and your children. So allowing them to genuinely contribute in ways in which you feel comfortable creates a positive situation for all. Of course, if you’re Scott and your grandma suggests a 9 p.m. curfew on a Saturday night, you may not feel as comfortable.
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