Dear Dr. Meg,
I am a new subscriber to your podcast and I’m loving it. I have a question on extended family discipline and presence in my children’s lives.
We live in the same town as both sets of grandparents and own a business with one of them. The grandparents are very active in my kids’ lives. My brother and his wife are also in the business and live in the same town, but they are not as active in the kids’ lives. When my brother is present, he takes it upon himself to be an enforcer and often will correct and coach my son on respect and so on.
They have no children and I worry that because they are not present for positive re-enforcement, the coaching is misplaced. Believe me, I want my son to get all the coaching he can in life but worry he simply won’t like or respect my brother because he really doesn’t make efforts to be there outside of the larger family gatherings.
What are your thoughts on extended family parenting?
You ask a great question. Setting boundaries with family members regarding what they can and cannot do with your children are important. As a rule, if family members are well-intentioned and not causing harm to your children, it is safe to ride with their behavior. If, however, the family member (your brother here) is frightening your child, hurting them or giving them advice that is clearly contrary to yours, you need to intervene and say something.
I would suggest saying something like this to your brother:
“I really appreciate your involvement and interest with my son. I believe that it is very important for kids to have men and women other than their parents to look to for role models. I know that my son would love to see you as a positive role model.
“I am working hard to teach my son about respecting others, treating others well and learning to listen to adults. I know that you want to teach him too, but I’d appreciate it if you would leave the task to me so that he doesn’t become confused or conflicted. I want him to know that you and I are in agreement regarding important issues like respect and these lessons will sink in deeper if I alone do the teaching. I don’t want him to ever get conflicting messages, and getting discipline from you will increase his chances of this.”
This is the gentlest way to begin. You want to encourage him to stay in your son’s life as a strong and healthy role model so praise him for his interest. Then, tell him to leave discipline and teaching to you. If he persists in disciplining your son, you will need to be more firm and direct.
Depending on your son’s age, I would also speak to your son. If he is old enough, let him know that his uncle’s intentions are good but that you—not his uncle—are the authority and he must always listen to you first.