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Monday, January 9, 2012

Caught in a clash of parenting philosophies? 3 steps to sanity

A query by one of Janet Lansbury's readers caught my eye this morning. I quote:

'Genevieve asks: "When we are around others I find it hard to stand by and watch as well meaning and loving family members and friends treat her in a way that goes against my parenting philosophy. I am not sure how to manage these interactions or if I should I interfere at all?" '

This is such a common problem, whether it's the in-laws giving your child lollies, an acquaintance treating your child without respect or a carer 'saving' your child when you want her to discover the world and explore risk her own way. The answer's not an easy one (and certainly not one I could contain within a Facebook comment!).

Without knowing the age of the child or the type of clash of philosophies in this case, it's hard to give targeted advice, so I'll just try to provide some general hints.

1. Don't sweat the small stuff. If your child or baby is in genuine physical or emotional danger, then of course you must intervene even if it costs you a relationship- but I don't need to tell you that, because if your child REALLY is in danger you WILL act- you won't need to ask for advice. It's the grey areas that are difficult. Make sure that you're not blowing an incident up out of proportion.

Your child's teeth won't be ruined for life if Aunty Mary gives her one sugary lollipop. Try to let isolated incidents flow over you; if necessary and if your child is old enough, talk about the incident with your child later (and clean her teeth). Make 'I' statements to your child to ensure she knows how you feel about it and WHY. (And listen to her response!)

2. Don't act in the heat of the moment. If you have a repeat offender, to the point where you feel you have to say something, you don't have to say something right now while you're upset. Take a deep breath, because 'changed behaviour' and 'direct personal attacks' don't belong in the same sentence.

Write down what you want to say. Then rewrite it till it's polite. Make sure you're making 'I' statements, not 'you' statements. Try to understand and acknowledge the other person's point of view- yes, they probably mean well. 'I can see that when you give Mitzi a lollipop it's a gesture of love, and you want to make her happy.' Explain your concern. 'But I worry that sucking on sugar for hours will damage her teeth.' Make a polite request for the POSITIVE behaviour you want to see- eg 'I would really love it if you could offer Mitzi beautiful fruit instead, such as strawberries which she loves.' And close with more appreciation of the motives- 'Thank you for wanting to show your love to my daughter; I really appreciate the intent behind your gifts.'

When you've got your statement into a form where the other person is likely to hear it, instead of closing down because their good motives have been misunderstood and their behaviour criticised, that's the time to decide whether to send them the note or try to say it to their face.

You have every right to do exactly this within a childcare setting, if you see a behaviour that doesn't fit with your philosophy for your child. The response, once you're out of sight, will depend on how diplomatic you've been and how well you've explained yourself.  Once you kill the goodwill, you have ZERO chance of changing people's behaviour. Treat difficult relatives and friends with exactly the same diplomacy and respect!

3. Remember that children are resilient. In the big wide world that they must join some day on their own terms, they will see that different people treat them differently. Life is not consistent. All people are not the same, but we still have to deal with them. They will like the way some people treat them, and dislike the way others treat them, but the fact remains that this is something they'll have to learn to cope with.

Children whose parents break up, for example, often discover that there's a different set of rules at dad's place and mum's place. This can be the source of much grief for a parent who's spent a lot of time and thought deciding on his or her philosophy, only to see it undermined on a weekly basis. 

BUT you need to understand the extent of your personal power in this. The most important thing is that YOU are consistent. You can't control other people, but you can control the way you respond to your child when they try to apply other people's rules to your own home context. If you consistently point out to a child that this is the way things happen in your house and that is the way things happen at (say) grandma's house, you're teaching them an important life lesson. Children are capable of learning and adapting to this quite early on.

Talk to your child about inconsistencies in people's way of talking to them, or what other people allow and disallow. Tell them about your and your partner's own childhoods- how people talked to you, what your parents and other people let you do or forbade. Show them that the world is full of variety. Reassure them that you truly believe that the way you're bringing them up is the best for them, but tell them that other people may see things differently; there are lots of different ways to bring up children. Ask them about their friends, what they're allowed or not allowed to do. Open discussion is the best way to help children deal with the complexities of human behaviour.

Make your own position clear. I found this statement very useful while bringing up my son in a split relationship: 

"I'm your mother, and it's my job to make sure you grow up knowing how to be happy. Doing (....) probably won't make you happy when you grow up, because (...). That's why I don't want you to do that."

Dealing with clashes of philosophy can be really exhausting. Keep it in proportion, stay authentic with your child and stay respectful towards those with different views and you have a good chance of retaining both your sanity and your parenting integrity.


  1. I saw that post on facebook earlier today and was thinking about it as we had many incidents over the holidays when I was in that position. I very much dislike "good job" and clapping/praise and the generations above me do it. All. The. Time. Makes me cringe but I pick my battles. My aunts and grandmother are teachers so it's not worth the battle :)

    I'm going to save this post to remind me to be polite and explain to him everyone has different approaches. Thank you :)

  2. Wise woman. Your child might end up performing for them, but if you don't do it yourself, your child won't just "perform" for you- he'll be free to do his own thing when you're around. Good on you.

  3. Thank you so much for this! I have the hardest time dealing with my in-laws, whose every move with my son is the opposite of what I would do! It's so hard to keep perspective - thanks for your help!

  4. That's a pleasure, Mandy and Chris. Just make sure you do lots of talking to each other and to your son... depending on the age of your son, you could even talk about why your in-laws might be doing things a different way. Just be really honest with him, as well as consistent within your own frame- that's what he needs from you.

  5. Thank you for posting on my question! I feel so much gratitude to have gained different perspectives on something that has been bothering me for a couple of months. My daughter is only 8 months old and in particular I have found it hard to watch as family members “show” her how to do everything instead of letting her try to discover it on her own. I feel much better after reading both your and Janet’s comments and I believe I have a few more tools in my basket to deal with my apprehension. Thanks again! Genevieve

  6. Genevieve, if the family members concerned are those always within your home, you could start offering them some reading material from the RIE resources and talking about what you're learning about how a less 'interventionist' approach has so much to offer- and be very aware that they do believe they are helping! Tell them about how hard you find it not to interrupt her exploration. Make 'I' statements!

    If you have a video camera, maybe you could try videoing your baby with a new toy and ask others to stay out of the frame- then watch it back with them and point out the little details of your baby's behaviour that they may have missed in their rush to 'help'. If you take the approach that you are trying to learn about this and you need their help (ie by not intervening!), you'll get a much better response than if you just tell them to stop. Good luck!

  7. Auntie Anne, first time reader, think you arre a very wise woman. I have my grandson living with us and his parents, he is 3 1/2 and loves trains. We stand back all the time and let them do everything as we don't want to seem interfering. They ask for help and we give suggestions to let them make their own decissions. He has a wonderful floor, he uses the area oustide his bedroom door as a parking lot, he has all his cars, trains, trucks etc, i9n lines of sixe and colours. Messy but clean. We love it.

  8. Thank you, Pamela, for your words of appreciation!

  9. So glad I found your blog..sent by the beautiful Jane Frosh and I'm now following xx

  10. Hi! We featured this post on the we teach video this week. Here's the link to the discussion.
    Thanks for sharing it with us! And your blog looks great today :)

  11. Thanks so much Jackie. The video is a great idea- I enjoyed watching. Blog styled by !


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