Question 

I am a single mother of four children and I live with my parents. I love my parents and they love all my children and me. However, they clearly favor my youngest. My mother buys her things and gives her a lot of attention that the other kids don’t receive.

When my older kids do certain things, they are scolded or punished by my mother. When my youngest does the same things, she gets away with it. I feel like she is old enough to take responsibility, as she is in the first grade. And, when I take action, my Mom often criticizes me.

My daughter has become aggressive to her older siblings. When she is given consequences she runs to Grandma, who jumps to her defense. It sometimes starts arguments with me when I have to defend my parenting decisions. I feel like this is undermining my parenting. When I try to bring this up to my mom, she gets defensive. I stick to my guns and don’t let my mother’s criticism affect my parenting choices. She tells me that this means I don’t respect her. My father’s role is that he goes along with whatever my mom says. Or, he just stays out of it. He rarely is supportive to me if it goes against what my mom thinks.

This has not gone unnoticed by all of the other children. They feel like Grandma doesn’t love them as much as their sister. This is very hurtful to them. My older son feels like he is singled out and picked on by both of my parents. And I see why he feels this way. They tend to ignore him the most. And he gets the blame for a lot of things that his baby sister does.

My goal is to move out on my own. But with my situation it isn’t possible any time soon. What can I do for the time being to help all of my kids and try to keep the peace with my parents?

Answer

I think it’s safe to say that the sooner you can get out and reclaim your role as the mom, the better. This situation isn’t likely to fully resolve until you are on your own raising your children by your rules. While you can’t control how your mom treats your children, you can change locations to limit her direct influence.

Since you mentioned that moving isn’t an immediate possibility, let’s talk about what you can do right now. The good news is that as soon as you move out on your own, the special treatment of your daughter will end and she will adjust back to regular sibling life where she is accountable just like everyone else. Her entitlement won’t last forever because you’re not going to live there forever. When you’re finally able to be the full-time mom to her, she will quickly learn that the days of preferential treatment are over and she’ll adjust. She’s only six years old and this will happen quickly, so please don’t panic that grandma’s favoritism is going to transform her into a permanent diva.

It’s challenging to have multiple generations living under one roof. It’s common to have confusion about roles, boundaries, and expectations when there are multiple parents. It’s like that your mom still sees you as her little girl and bypasses your authority with your own children. If you’re going to stay in her home for now, you’ve got to dig deep and find your voice so you can protect your children from the chaos.

Even though you have tried to talk with her about your concerns, I recommend you try again. If that time doesn’t work, then try again. Stay with the conversation until roles are clear and agreements are in place. Even if your mom struggles and takes your concerns personally, you’ve got to be persistent in addressing these dynamics if you’re going to have peace. It will raise the intensity for a while, but change will happen.

Instead of sitting your mom down and singling her out as the enabler who is ruining your children, I recommend you enlist her as a support to you as the parent. Let her know you need her support as the grandmother and describe how you feel she can best support you and your children.

You don’t need to criticize what she’s already doing. You can make it clear that you want to work together as adults to do what’s best for the children. Take the lead as the mom, even though you’re living under their roof. They have authority over their home and you have authority over your children. You might also ask them if there are things you and your children can do to make it easier on them as your hosts. Find out if there are ways you can support them and decrease their stress.

Don’t be afraid to engage your dad in these discussions. Even though he’s quiet and doesn’t appear to have much to contribute, my guess is that he is a good observer and might have more influence on your mom than you can. When you visit with them, make sure to ask him for his suggestions and ask what he recommends. He just might surprise you.

It takes courage and stamina to keep revisiting discussions that don’t resolve quickly. You don’t need to be rude, aggressive, or dramatic with them. Keep addressing it kindly, calmly, and clearly so you can help co-create better living conditions while you pass through this difficult phase.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

 

 

About the Author

 

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

 

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

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