When Extended Family Doesn’t Support Respectful Parenting

Photography: Megan Lewis

By Megan Stonelake

We might love our families and simultaneously feel as though we aren’t entirely accepted by them. Before every holiday and family get together we brace ourselves for criticism about our hair, job, or housekeeping skills. Even more personal, we might find our parenting choices being questioned.

To our extended family, respectful parenting might seem permissive, trendy, or flakey. They might assume we’re just lazy or indulgent. If you know your family isn’t in support of your parenting style, here are some tips to remember:

Make conscious parenting choices

As I explain in this article, we are likely to feel defensive about our parenting choices if we aren’t sure why we’re even making them. In contrast, when we’re making decisions for our children that are deeply rooted in our beliefs, we’re more likely to feel secure. Cultivate self-awareness and be intentional with your parenting. And then be secure in those conscious choices knowing they weren’t made because someone told you something once that they maybe read somewhere that might be true.

Rely on data

When my son was about 18 months old, my brother disapprovingly informed me that my baby clearly didn’t have an interest in nursing and implied that I was thrusting it upon him. Creepy insinuation aside, my brother is childless and has had very little experience with babies and small children. He’d have no way of knowing that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to the age of 2 or beyond.

Sharing data from a reputable source makes an otherwise heated interaction less personal and shows that your choices are conscious decisions supported by the data.

…when we’re making decisions for our children that are deeply rooted in our beliefs, we’re more likely to feel secure.

Recognize they probably feel defensive

Odds are that the criticism you’re subjected to doesn’t actually have anything to do with you at all! Family members who are currently parenting small children or who have raised children in a different generation may feel that your own parenting style is somehow a condemnation of theirs.

If you don’t use timeouts but your sister does, she may assume that you’re judging her for her choices. If you co-sleep but you were placed in a crib in your own room at six weeks, your parents might assume you blame them for how they parented. And if you don’t spank but your grandparents are firm believers in the “spare the rod, spoil the child” school of parenting, they might be feeling as though you not only disapprove of spanking but that you also disapprove of them.

It might help to have empathy for these family members, recognizing that they did their best with the skills and information available to them. You can remind your sister that your parenting choices are personal and have nothing to do with hers. Parenting simply isn’t a competition.

See page 2 for more tips! 

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