When Extended Family Parents Differently

3:32 pmin Articles, Ask the Coach Rosemary Strembicki

Family puzzleI am a single parent of a 7 year old and rely on extended family for childcare and support.  My family often doesn’t agree on choices that I make for my daughter and will often not follow my rules when they take care of her.  We’ve been arguing about it a lot and I’m worried about how it will affect my daughter.

Children are very good at learning rules and expectations and how they are different in different places. For example, your daughter will learn that TV before homework is OK at grandma’s but not at home.  Or that she’s expected to clear her dishes after dinner at home but that it’s not her job at grandma’s.  She may to go church on Sunday with grandparents but not with you.  If the rules are clear and the consequences consistent in each household, it will be easy for her to understand how to behave and build positive relationships with everyone in her life.

But difficulties often arise when the underlying values and beliefs are not the same.  Many of us carry our family values with us as we raise our own children with some changes along the way.  Others totally reject all or part of our family’s belief system.

With small children there are often the issues of discipline (spanking or not), safety (the amount of supervision) and diet (soda, milk or water).  As children get older it may be attitudes about religion, culture or how we interact with others.  The good news is that as children get older we can discuss the inconsistencies with them and they can learn that different people make different choices and choose different paths in life.

It’s important for you to decide what you want to pass on to your daughter and have an open discussion with her caretakers. Which rules are flexible and which are “just a good idea”?  Where is it important for you to stand firm and where can you compromise? When you have a clear idea of your values you can have a good conversation about your expectations with your family.  Remember, you’re her mother and you may have to decide that some influences are not worth the convenience of your care-taking arrangement.

Questions to consider:

  • Think about the ways you and your extended family agree on values and behavioral expectations for your child.
  • What are the ways you and your extended family disagree on values and behavioral expectations for your child?
  • How strongly do you feel about the differences?
  • Are you comfortable with your child understanding that your way and “grandma’s” ways are sometimes different?
  • Are there areas where you feel you cannot compromise your values and/or behavioral expectations?
  • Find ways to have a conversation with the extended family members who support you in the parenting process celebrating the areas where you agree and setting appropriate boundaries for the areas where you do not.
  • If discussions/compromise isn’t achievable, then consider what needs to change – do you need to let go of some of your expectations?  Do you need to find alternative care-taking arrangements in order to resolve the conflict?  Or is there some middle ground you can negotiate?
  • Think about the way you can positively communicate your values and behavioral expectations to your child and help them understand how to handle circumstances when other people believe/behave differently.

Conversation starters:

  • I understand that some families _________, but in our family we _________________.
  • Part of growing up is deciding what actions, beliefs, and values will guide your life.  But while you are asking those questions and exploring your options, we ask/expect you to respect the ones we have set for this house.
  • To extended family:  I appreciate all you do to support me and all that you do for my child.  I understand that when you were raising me you ____________.  Now that I’m the parent, I want to raise my child ________.



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