One of the most common discussions I have when I talk to people is “How do I handle my in-laws when it comes to my kids?”

Just this morning, I heard about a couple who has parents disagreeing with their “sick” policy. You know those conversations. They usually go something like this:

You: Oh, we kept little Johnny home today because he still wasn’t up to par

Them: Well, I don’t want to get involved but…(they get involved).


You: We don’t like for Katie to (fill in this blank)

Them: Well, we don’t want to get involved but…(they tell you why you’re wrong or why they wouldn’t do it the way you do).

There is probably a ton of other ways this happens. The books bought for you to read; the tsking of the tongue; the direct assault approach. It doesn’t matter. Here’s some practical ways to deal with these often well intentioned and equally unwanted advice givers.

  1. Look for the truth in what they are saying. Maybe the advice is unwanted but is it actually helpful? Is there something in there that will help you get where you want to go with this situation? Often, we can find truth in situations that we find to be off putting. Look for it. Find it. Use it.
  2. Tell them to try harder. Seriously, the next time someone leads with, “We try not to get involved…” encourage them to try harder. This is called setting boundaries. I have a really firm rule with almost everyone I know. If it’s in my house and I’m in the room and you know I see what my kids doing, stay out of it. Even if you think I’m wrong. You can tell me, but don’t correct my children because I will tell them to ignore you and that will get awkward. What amazes me is that when I tell people they should consider taking this approach, they act as though I am encouraging them to kill a relative. I’m not. I am asking them to draw really strong, really firm boundaries. Boundaries keep us safe. Boundaries keep our children safe.
  3. Don’t own their own angst. There is no greater invitation to regret and second guessing than parenting. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, free advice is given from this angst. You don’t need to own their regret. Just because your mother in law tsk tsk’s a decision you make doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom or dad. It doesn’t mean anything than you have found someone who disagrees with a decision you’ve made. That’s it. That’s all it means. They disagree. You may decide that you disagree with them or you may decide that you agree with them. Just make that decision based on the merit of their suggestion, not on your fear that you stink at parenting.
  4. Look at their kids. Seriously, if they have adult children. Do you want your kids to look and act like them? What kind of adults, do you want your children to be? What kind of adults do you not want your children to be?
  5. Be firm, and polite. Yes, this is back to boundaries. Be firm, and polite. Be the adult you want your kids to be when they are being given advice that they don’t think is right. This is not the time to talk bad in front of your children about Aunt Bea.
  6. PIck your battles. Ask yourself a really tough and important question, does this need to be a problem? If it does, then do something about it. Do the right thing about it.

The sooner you draw clear boundaries and live by them, typically the less you will run into issues. Typically, things grow when we try to ignore them. I doubt you don’t want any advice but making sure that you place a filter on it is important. Navigation in this area can be difficult but your kids are worth the risk. What about you? Tell me in the comments how you handle people who give unwanted advice, especially if those people are relatives.

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  1. “You can tell me, but don’t correct my children because I will tell them to ignore you and that will get awkward.”
    While I would agree that in your own home with you there, other adults should have the common sense to butt out of your parenting decisions and disciplinary action, do you think that this response could send the unintentional message that your kids don’t need to respect any authority other than you? With young people I work with, I often see a tendency to run to mom and dad when they dislike a decision made by me, their teachers, or other authority figures. And typically the students who do this the most are the ones whose parents come to their rescue the most.

  2. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for reading and responding. My answer to your question is no, I don’t think it will teach them that.
    Let me illustrate why. As you noted, I am talking about in my house. Let’s say we’re in my house and you tell my kids to stop drawing on paper plates with Ketchup. You see me sitting next to them and I obviously saw them drawing with the Ketchup. I’m going to tell them to ignore you. I’m actually going to tell them they can keep drawing.
    What that’s doing is teaching my kids that there are boundaries in the world. One of those boundaries is that people can’t really come into the house and tell us how to live and vice versa we can’t go into their house and tell them how to live.
    Now, let’s look at the same kids in your youth group. You make a rule that they can’t take any electronic devices on their next trip. Including their phones.
    My kids don’t like that rule and come to me. I’m going to tell them, it’s your trip, and you get to make the rules. I will also tell them that they don’t have to go on the trip and in fact I would encourage them to not go on the trip if they felt that was rule they couldn’t follow.
    Again, context matters. I’m not talking about my kids ignoring you in the proper setting.
    What would you do if I came to your youth group room and told all the kids that I was now implementing rules. No more pants for girls. Guys, hair off of your collars. Would you help me enforce those rules or would you essentially tell the kids they could ignore me because I’m not actually the authority in that situation?
    I actually think that by having this boundary we can help our kids to better understand what real boundaries and real respect for authority is and is not.
    What do you think?

  3. I am not trying to get a smart alec, but what do you mean why? Beyond what I already said, I’m not sure what you’re asking.

  4. I agree with what you’re trying to teach your children about authority. But I think it would still be possible for them to get the wrong message if you don’t make it clear what you’re trying to teach. If you said, “Ignore him,” in a tone that suggested you don’t respect this person, then your children might get the impression that they’re ignoring him because he, in any situation, would be undeserving of respect. But if you explained to them (even after the fact) that you’re saying, “Ignore him,” because it is your home, you are the authority there, and his demand was not in line with your rules, then I think the message to your kids would be clear and positive.

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