'Back Off, Grandma!': Dealing With Pushy Parents and In-Laws

Dealing with a pushy parent? You're not alone. Get tips on how to deal.
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Updated March 2, 2017
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Like it or not, your mom has parenting experience and opinions, and odds are good that she’s going to shove them down your throat share them with you every chance she gets. Not a problem for your fam? Smile and give grandma a hug for us. But if you have unsolicited advice coming out the wazoo, here are a few tips to help keep your cool.

See Through It
It may seem like the lady’s aiming to break you down when she suggests a new sleep schedule or critiques your burping method, but most grandmas genuinely want to help. “It’s her way of being involved,” says Erin Brown Conroy, parent coach and author of 20 Secrets to Success With Your Child: Wit and Wisdom From a Mom of 12. Dr. Les Parrott, cofounder of and coauthor of The Parent You Want to Be: Who You Are Matters More Than What You Do, agrees. “They’ve traveled the road before you. They know what’s coming for you. Sure, times may have changed, but they can’t help themselves,” he says. This doesn’t mean grandma is right or that you have to do what she says. It just means her intentions are probably good. (Unfortunately, “good intentions” can be tough to recognize when you were up all night and your shoulder is covered in puke. But it can’t hurt to try.)

Know Your Stance
First thing to remember: You’re the parents. You get to call the shots with your kids. Be confident enough in your abilities that someone else’s opinion can’t shake you. “You don’t need [her] approval, so don’t behave as if you do,” insists Jenna D. Barry, author of A Wife’s Guide to In-laws: How to Gain Your Husband’s Loyalty Without Killing His Parents.

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Aim for Peace
Second thing to remember: The phrase “You’re not the mom; I am” is NOT likely to go over well. Conroy urges that along with setting up proper boundaries, you should shoot for maintaining a positive relationship. “Often with parenting, our emotions jump in,” she says. Keep in mind that you’re looking for peace and respect, not revenge.

Smile and Listen
“Just because you’re listening to [her advice] doesn’t mean you have to follow it. And there’s no need to make stressful waves around this exciting time in your life,” advises Dr. Parrott. “You can listen — to be polite — without following through.”

Brush off the Trivial Advice
Minor comments (“She should be wearing socks”), super-obvious reminders (“Don’t forget to support his head”), and situational opinions (“You shouldn’t have her out past bedtime”) may be annoying, but there’s no harm in them, really. Just let it pass. “No need for confrontation — unless the advice is becoming adversarial and causing you to feel badly or increasingly insecure,” says Dr. Parrott. “Otherwise, chalk it up to a grandmother’s need to help. Confrontation is likely to cause her to pull back, talk about you behind your back, and otherwise not feel like part of the team.”

(Politely) Decline the Bad Advice
A lot has changed since you were a baby, and grandma might not be hip to the newest recommendations. If she starts insisting that you, say, dose your infant with cough meds, don’t snap. Instead, Dr. Parrott recommends a kind correction. His phrase of choice: “I know that’s an idea that used to be very common, but the research today is showing that…”

Confront the Rude Advice
Feeling totally insulted or challenged? It might be time for a chat. Conroy recommends setting up a talk over coffee or opting for a handwritten note (not an email). Go for peace-making phrases like “I know you’re trying to help” and “I really want to make things work.” Then explain to her the specifics of what you need from her. Let her know that you appreciate her advice, but that you’re going to try another way first. “It’s a diplomatic, loving approach,” says Conroy.

Take the Good Advice
That’s right. We said it. Sometimes your mother (or mother-in-law) knows best, and you don’t want to miss a great tip by huffing up and tuning her out. “If you can separate the advice from the way it’s said, there may be something wrapped up in there,” says Conroy. Dr. Parrott agrees, “Be on the lookout for proven remedies and successful tips that have been passed down for generations.”

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