Too many times I've seen my mom friends get bowled over by...aggressive...family members. If the mom says “don't feed my kid rice cereal,” it's almost a guarantee that some overzealous grandma is going to try to sneak the baby a bottle of rice cereal. Worse yet, some feed their grandchildren a food that they're allergic to! As if these people think that allergies are made up or something? Each of these situations is problematic in itself because they could potentially endanger your baby, but there's a greater underlying issue at play. These people do not respect your parenting or the rules you set up for your child. They are actively undermining your parental authority in front of your children.
Why Do People Do This?
Every person is motivated by their own unique blend of nature and nurture, by the influences and experiences in their life. It's impossible for me to identify why your mother keeps putting her finger in your baby's mouth even after you've asked her to stop the filthy habit. What I can tell you is that this behavior is extremely disrespectful, problematic, and must be stopped. Sometimes our family members who have already had children of their own might feel like they’re being helpful. They offer advice or criticize your parenting choices without a sense of malice, but it’s hurtful all the same. These well-meaning folks should also be addressed - albeit with a gentler touch.
I want to tell you something that you will need to remember at some point in your life. “No” is a complete sentence. Memorize this phrase. Live it. Get it tattooed somewhere you can see.
Setting Boundaries For Your Baby
As a parent, it’s your responsibility to protect your child from harm. Some things can’t be avoided - like bike accidents and skinned knees. But when we see someone or something that we think has a good chance of harming our child, it’s our duty to distance them from it. It’s also our right, but more importantly: it’s our duty. Even if the people that are dangerous to your child are your family, you have a duty firstly to your child. All other family ties come after this parental obligation.
I’m telling you this because the guilt is real. And I want you to feel strong enough to fight it.
Be Prepared To Defend Your Boundaries
Something you should know: I’ve done a lot of really intentional personal work on healing from my own dysfunctional family and upbringing. One of the most helpful tools I’ve learned is boundary-setting. Establishing boundaries in your life allows you to have a healthy influence over the balance of your life. It’s basic self-care. And when you have kids, you are responsible to establish healthy boundaries on their behalf. A person that loves and respects you will also respect the boundaries you establish.
To be clear, I’m not telling you to cut off contact with your family if they cross a line once. If we haven’t established a clear boundary, they might just be confused but well-intentioned. Once you draw a hard line, be prepared to enforce it!
It’s Cool To Be Kind
Enforcing a boundary doesn’t mean you have to be mean or cruel! Let’s use an example: my friend’s mom keeps feeding her toddler lots of candy when she visits. She had a few options to address this boundary-stomping. Cutting off contact, limiting overnights, or supervising visits all seemed a bit excessive to her. My friend also considered having a gentle talk with grandma, but that felt a bit too lax. Instead, she decided to intercept the candy in-person. When grandma gave the little girl candy, mom put it in a bag for later. Eventually, the girl’s grandma got frustrated; she wasn’t able to undermine my friend’s parenting choices anymore, so she stopped trying.
Remember, parents: “no” is a complete sentence! You don’t need to justify your choices to grandparents or any other family. Be clear with your expectations and be prepared to enforce your boundaries! You’re just doing your best job to protect your kid, and that’s what great parents do.