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Question

My husband’s parents speak really rudely and sharply to our three year-old son when he’s doing things that are part of being a normal toddler. I don’t have a great relationship with my in-laws in the first place, so I’m not sure they would even take me seriously if I brought up my concerns. I’m not sure if they treat my son this way because they don’t really approve of me or how I raise him. My husband says that it’s just who they are and they don’t mean any harm. He says it’s how he was raised and he turned out fine. I just don’t like it and it makes me want to keep my son from spending time with them. Any advice you have is appreciated.

Answer

Your question has two main issues. First, your in-laws interact with your son in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Second, you and your husband aren’t unified in how to respond to his parents. I recommend that before you talk with your in-laws that you do everything you can to become unified with your husband. If that doesn’t happen, then his loyalty to his parents will likely cause you to feel resentment toward him. Marital tension will have a negative impact on your son that will be harder on him that an occasional negative interaction with his grandparents.

Let your husband know what’s difficult about this interaction with his parents. It won’t be enough to just tell him that you don’t like the interaction and have him jump onboard with support. You’ll want to take a close look at what’s difficult about the interaction and why it doesn’t work for you. For example, you may be fine with them redirecting your son, but don’t like their harshness. Break down what’s okay and not okay with the interaction. Chances are that their interaction with your son has some elements that you can support. This will increase the likelihood of gaining your husband’s support, as he most likely can see his parent’s intentions even through their rough edges.

It can also be helpful for you to share with your husband what you believe will work well for your son. You likely have ideas they haven’t considered and may win more cooperation from your son. Conversations like these go better when you can move it from complaining to having specific suggestions and recommendations.

If your husband doesn’t want to support you and continues to defend his parents, you’ll be less likely to feel resentment toward your husband if you can take matters into your own hands and redirect any harsh parenting interactions with your in-laws. Instead of just telling them to stop, you might say something like, “I’ve found that this works well for my son when I do this” and then share something specific.

I do personally believe that it’s healthy for children to be redirected by adults who are unfamiliar to them. Their methods for correcting your child will most certainly feel harsh to your son, even if it appears appropriate on the outside. He will experience their influence much differently than yours. And, in fact, I think that’s a good thing. It creates in children a healthy sense of their limits and their own personal awareness of how they affect others. As long as it’s not abusive, the influence of other adults can be a great support to your child’s healthy development as a good citizen. Hopefully you can find the right balance of working out your differences with your husband, influencing your in-laws, and allowing your son to experience other people’s limits.

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.geoffsteurer.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. 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
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT