When Relatives Comment On Your Parenting

Why do relatives comment on your parenting style? How are you supposed to respond? And are they actually right?

Disclaimer: for the purposes of this article, let’s assume all adults involved are “normal”, even if they have “issues”. I cannot speak to diagnosed or presumed mental health or personality disorders.

You’re putting a lot of effort into your parenting. Not necessarily rejecting your entire upbringing, just fine tuning it for the next generation. You want to interrupt less-than-ideal patterns and introduce healthier ones. Maybe less yelling and hitting, more hugging and loving.

Good for you! Amazing! Your family would be proud.

Except… they’re not. (Or at least, they don’t seem to be!) When you spend time with them – especially during intense times, like Pesach – instead of compliments, you get comments.

Why do they do that? How are you supposed to respond? And are they actually right?

When to consider their advice

If you want to be a more conscious parent, you need to be self-aware and brutally honest. So if the delivery wasn’t good, consider if the message is. Is your family member trying to hint (or outright spell out) something you should be listening to? 

Maybe you think you’re doing “gentle bedtime” and what they see is: overtired little kids who aren’t being put to bed at a decent hour. Or you won’t force your child to finish their plate, and then your toddler is hungry and cranky. You let your child “have a natural consequence” when they refuse to put on their shoes, when you should be protecting their feet from hot concrete.

If a family member is saying something about the way you’re caring for your child’s physical health or safety, pause and consider it carefully. She might push for parenting techniques that are no longer considered best practice, but she did raise her kids to adulthood.

Be willing to change what you’re doing to make sure your child’s physical and safety needs are being adequately met.

The other kind of advice

Heard something like this?

  • “Nothing will happen if you let the baby cry for a little. How do you think I sleep trained all my kids?”
  • “Maybe if you gave him a little discipline he wouldn’t throw such tantrums.”
  • “So you’re just going to let her speak to you like that?”
  • “He’ll never learn to be flexible if you keep giving in to him.”
  • “It’s okay for kids to cry, a good potch will teach them. I spanked you and you turned out just fine.”
  • “He’s wild like this because you keep him home instead of sending him to a playgroup.”

This isn’t about health or safety. It’s good ol’ judgment of your parenting style.

Why do people do this?

It’s funny that the people in our lives who give us the most intrusive, annoying or off-the-mark advice are also…. usually the closest people in our lives.

That’s because they actually do love us and our kid. Let’s assume they really, truly mean well and want what’s best for us. (Also, the way they’re going about this is probably the same reason we’re trying to NOT emulate their parenting.) They truly have the best intentions.

 It could also be that they…

  • Forgot. It’s been a long while since they had 3 under 3, a nursing toddler and a newborn, or a rambunctious 5 year old. Their own kids were perfect, of course. (It’s because they don’t remember.) 
  • Don’t get it. Your kid has (or may need) a behavioral or other diagnosis. Your helpful relative does not know, understand or believe this.
  • Are perplexed. They’re genuinely confused about why you won’t just spoon feed purees. Babyled weaning is a foreign concept. 
  • Are hurt, defensive or feeling judged. By doing things differently, you insinuate that how they did it wasn’t correct. It seems like you’re rejecting your own upbringing.
  • Feel guilty about how they raised their kids, especially seeing what’s possible as you model it.
  • Are triggered. They see the warm and loving childhood you are painstakingly creating for your child, and they are reminded that they didn’t have this. They respond either as an emotionally immature child, or with the parental voice within them that they were raised with (like “Stop crying!”).
  • Have opinions. They have certain values or beliefs that they want to transmit, and it seems like your parenting flies in the face of that.
  • Really want to help. They may have professional experience here. They can’t bear to see you make mistakes. (They’ve gotta learn to let you make them!)

The fact is, our parents used the resources available to them at the time. And it’s okay that we have access to different, updated or better information than they did. Feel compassion for the young mother this relative once was, who did NOT have the tools and resources that you had now. There was no Instagram, parenting podcasts or widely available books when she was raising her babies!

Attempting to understand them is a good first step to changing our own response, though it doesn’t really make a difference why someone is behaving a certain way. It just helps us understand that their behavior stems from a particular emotion (whatever that is).

You cannot change another person or what they think, believe or feel. You can only control your own actions and your own steps in this relationship dance.

How you can respond:

What to say in the moment:

  • Smile and nod.
  • Thank you. I appreciate your advice.
  • This is what we have decided to do.
  • The doctor recommended this (blame an outside professional when you can!)
  • We’ve tried it, and she is much happier this way.
  • I know you mean well. I’m not accepting advice right now.
  • I’ve got this. We’re good.

Try not to:

  • Get into debates
  • Excuse yourself (“farentfer” in Yiddish)
  • Second-guess a parenting decision you’ve already made

Feel defensive? Could it be….

  • You are not strong and confident in your own decision. (I highly recommend learning about parenting so that you can really own your decisions. I teach this in my course.)
  • You still want approval and validation. (Normal! You’re human. You may need to accept that you’re not getting approval/validation from these people in this area.)
  • You feel guilty. You are allowed to be grateful for what your parents did for you AND do things differently that  work for your personality, your relationship with your husband and your own child’s temperament and abilities.

Ways to be proactive:

  • Point out the ways you are actively emulating them.
  • Ask for advice on topics you are willing to talk about.
  • Communicate. If a child is going through a hard time, you may want to let family members know that you’re aware and are dealing with it. (Or you may want to respect your child’s privacy.)
  • Adjust expectations. You know these people. Be realistic about what they’re like and how supportive they are capable of being. 

Other kinds of comments

If you are trying to raise your kid differently from your family, that’s all well and good… until you’re back with that family. Then, your child will be exposed to all the behaviors you’re trying to avoid.

You may hear (or your child, of course within your earshot)…

  • “Here’s another candy, now tell me, who’s the best aunt??”
  • “I’m going to be sad if you don’t give me a hug and a kiss.”
  • “No crying in this house! You’re not a baby, you’re a big boy!”
  • “What do you mean, you don’t want a ponytail? Come here, I’ll make you a nice pony and you’re going to wear it just like I say.”
  • (in front of you) “Tell your cousin that you’re sorry! Say it nicely and you’ll get your treat!”

It can feel like all your hard work is being undermined.

You’re allowed to speak up

You can set boundaries for yourself or for your child. 

“We are teaching him that nobody can touch his body without permission. Please respect if he says no to hugs or kisses.”

“Bubby, we need to limit sugar because we’ve just had a bunch of cavities. Also, the kids just had supper and aren’t hungry.” (Buy organic lollipops or other approved treats to keep in her cabinets.)

“Actually, my child was taking a turn with the toy first. She doesn’t have to share it with the younger cousin just because she’s older. She can give him a turn when she’s done with it.”

When boundaries aren’t kept

You may be right… but do you have to be?

Ask yourself: is this the hill I want to die on? Is this the reason I will stop coming, visit less frequently, not enjoy my stay when I do come, or otherwise limit the opportunity for my child to develop a relationship with this relative?

This relative is an invaluable part of your child’s attachment village. That’s the network of adults and individuals that surrounds your child, giving him a sense of belonging and security within his family and community.

Isn’t that why you’re spending time with these relatives in the first place? For your child to get to know them?

Don’t underestimate the importance of the larger attachment village. It’s the greatest gift you can give your child. The relationship is more valuable than the person’s individual parenting techniques.

You don’t have to see everything

If it’s not actively harmful, can you ignore it? (Even if it’s something you’re trying hard to avoid!)

Kids learn quickly what is accepted in one house or from one adult, and what isn’t. When you return home, your house rules go back into effect.

In Bubby’s house, your child can be spoon-fed, eat more candy than you’d like, and read books that you grew up with but decided not to pass on to your kids.

If Bubby serves too many candies, at least your kids have a grandmother who spoils them. If the cousins insist on forcing toys to be shared while you prefer to teach “turn-taking”, at least they’re getting to know their cousins.

To the young mother

Don’t take it personally. You’re being called out because you’re acting differently. It alarms others on an instinctive level when you stand out from the herd.

Keep doing this important work. You are breaking cycles.

The cycle doesn’t have to be terribly traumatic or dysfunctional. You might have even had a wonderful childhood and a stable home. Still, you want to give your child more. Maybe more love and warmth, more competence, or more support and cheerleading. Maybe it’s just research-evidenced practices.

What you’re doing WILL make a difference, even if you’re being laughed at now. When they say, “Just wait and see!” know that you WILL, indeed, see.

You’re playing the long game, but you should also be able to see results soon. If you’re teaching your child to self-advocate, be competent and capable, or be emotionally intelligent, then you’ll start to see evidence of that.

Hopefully, your family will see that too. Not because you need their validation (although it’s always nice to receive), but because it should be clear that your efforts are resulting in a remarkable little human.

And sure, you’re not perfect. You will pass on your own idiosyncrasies, because you’re human. Your own shortcomings, your husband’s, and those in your marriage, will all be a part of your children’s story.

But at least you are trying to own it. You are rewriting it.

(By the way, if this whole article rings true for you, then you need to take my course. Because you need to really know what you’re doing so that you can stand in your power and remain firm even while other people are trying to bash you for it. You need to own your decisions so that you won’t second guess them.)

What you can tell yourself (if you’re the family member reading this, tell it to the mother!)

  • You are doing a great job.
  • You can only control yourself.
  • What you’re doing matters.

To the older generation

(If you somehow find your way here – perhaps someone shared it with you) 

You didn’t do anything wrong in raising us. You raised us right. You raised thoughtful, intelligent adults who consciously and deliberately work on their parenting.

Is it a different generation? Yes. And today’s parents are dedicated to raising their kids in today’s world.

We don’t “know better”, but we are more objective. We’re more removed from the source of whatever behavior it is that we’re trying not to perpetuate.

You probably do know best. You know what’s worked best for your kids in your times. You do not know:

  • The child on a day-to-day level (really, just trust the parents on this)
  • What the parents have already tried or what they are pursuing
  • Which professionals are involved, if any
  • The state of the marriage and how it is affected by or impacts the parenting

Remember, we are all on the same side! We all want what is best for our children. And a harmonious family of loving relatives might be just that.

Did you download your FREE guide to creating a kid-friendly Seder? Get it here.

If you liked this article, you’ll love my weekly emails. Sign up here to get them straight in your inbox.

+ show Comments

- Hide Comments

add a comment

  1. Chava I says:

    Great stuff! Love the combo of self-respect and respect to others (kids included!) that’s all throughout this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Parenting Inspo in Your Inbox

Finally—emails a busy mother actually wants to read! No tips and tricks to make you feel guilty about all the things you should be doing... but fresh perspectives to inspire you as you go along.

    get to know me

    I've been there: wanting to do everything right and not knowing where to begin. I knew what kind of mother I wanted to be, just not how to actually get there.

    1 degree (Master's in Education), 7+ years, hundreds of books, thousands of virtual students later... I've kind of figured it out. And I want you to know it, too.

    Now, I'm far enough along to guide you—and with 4 kids, still very much in it to remember what it's like!

    I'm Mushka.

    oh hey!

    Jewish Montessori Newborn Contrast Cards

    download now

    free download

     Free Resources

    © mothering mindset inc 2021-2024


    whatsapp group >

    GET my emails >

    follow along 
    on Instagram: