“One full egg, including the yolk, that’s what she wanted me to feed my child,” says Indian mum Lakshmi, recalling her mother-in-law’s belief that breast milk wasn’t enough nutrition for a four-month-old.
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up until six months and then a combination of breast milk and solid foods for a year. US-based WebMD suggests egg yolk is “an easy and practical way to provide iron and other much-needed nutrients” that can be fed to kids at six months.
Whether that belief was right or wrong, however, what really annoyed the first-time mum was the deliberate sticking-of-nose-into-her business.
Dina Dimitriou, Psychologist, Founder of Calm Little Minds, went through something similar. She says, “In my professional life I have trained as a teacher and a psychologist, I have two degrees, a specialisation in child development, and two Master’s degrees. Yet, my family always had/has an opinion on how I am raising my daughters. I remember when I had my first daughter both my mother and mother-in-law came to help. I really appreciated their help, but it was hard - especially being a new mum - to decide what was best for my daughter. Their main objection over the years have been about the time my kids go to sleep (apparently, they go to bed super early) and because they have a set routine for their week and rules to follow. Throughout the years discussions like these have been both easy and difficult to handle.
“Easy when I was in a good mental space to explain the reasons behind my parenting choices and difficult when I was tired and fed up with other people (even if it was my family), judging me. Parenting is tough as it is without all the people on the side-lines trying to call the shots. If your parents, in-laws, or partner/ex tends to undermine your parenting decisions, you need to take action. Inconsistent parenting can prompt confusion and even power struggles in your children.”
Step one, says Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and the Managing Director and Founder of The LightHouse Arabia, when dealing with overzealous relatives is to get your partner on-board. Discuss and come to an agreement about the answers of questions such as:
- What will we do if we are told to do something we don’t think is right for our kids?
- What rules are non-negotiables for us?
- What rules can be bent when we are together?
- What are areas where the family members know more and we can allow them to exercise some authority?
- What responsibilities can we give the family members to solicit their support in raising children?
“Not everything has to be a battle of power or control over who raises your children and it’s okay to be flexible with some rules,” says Dr Afridi, just as long as you know when to draw the line. So instead of having “no sugar during the weekdays,” when your mother-in-law is visiting and insists on baking, it is okay for the child to have a little bit of sugar within reason on a weekday. But when it comes to negotiation where bedtimes or behaviour is concerned, stand your ground.
Dimitriou explains: “Keep in mind that we as parents know a lot more about parenting and child development. Older generations might be clinging to their own myths of what is right or wrong.”
The worst thing you can do is get defensive – it won’t solve anything and will just mean a hostile and unhappy environment that the kids will pick up on. Instead, explain the reasons for your choices, she says.
If they are a little too insistent, remind them that that this is your parenting journey, and you need to make your own mistakes, adds Dimitriou. “If a person is over controlling, you might need to be more assertive with your responses and explain to them your boundaries,” she says.
Model kind behaviour
There is of course a line between playing defence and getting aggressive. Think of it as the long game. “How you treat your elders teaches your kids how they should treat you when you are older. You do not have to do as the elders say, but you do not have to be disrespectful or dismissive either. Engage curiously with the family members, see if there is something you can learn from them, and leave the rest,” suggests Dr Afridi.
After all, advice is just a suggestion; acknowledge and consider it and let it go if it doesn’t align with what you think right for your family. “Advice on how you could be doing things differently but does not mean that you have to implement it or that what you are doing is bad. Yes, it is frustrating to hear the same advice every time, and yes, it is annoying that they refuse to see your point of view, but their advice is just them suggesting something and all you have to do is hear their suggestion with an open mind. You do not have to apply it,” says Dr Afridi.
Don’t let someone bully you into something you don’t agree with, say the experts. “Children might be negatively affected when people other than their parents interfere with their upbringing,” explains Dimitriou. Specifically, children who do not have a set rule to follow and are easily exonerated may:
- Grow up believing they are the center of the universe.
- Develop disrespectful attitudes.
- Become helpless as a result of not knowing the skills they need to function as adults.
- Grow up with an overblown sense of entitlement.
- Become irresponsible, feel ungrateful and unhappy.
Trust yourself. “At the end of the day, parenthood doesn’t come with instructions. What we can do as parents is educate ourselves, take valuable advice when needed and raise our children the way we see appropriate,” says Dimitriou.
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