Parenting by Proxy: When Grandparents Micromanage Your Parenting

As much as we think of ourselves as excellent parents, the help of our own parents is invaluable when it comes to bringing up our children. From those late night calls to mom when the baby won’t sleep to mom-in-law’s massaging oil into the baby’s feet when the baby’s sniffling with a cold, parents can be godsent when you are trying to manage your new motherhood with your everyday life. But what happens when our parents and parents-in-law start to micromanage how we think of parenting? How do you stop grandparents from proxy parenting?

Understand the three most common ways of dealing with this

This problem of grandparents micromanaging is not new and naturally, there is already a slew of advice out there about how to deal with this. Your friends will list off how they dealt with it and the internet would have its own solutions.

You’ll hear this tried and tested advice often - about putting them in their place. You’ve seen flaws in you when you were growing up, and while you’d hate to be told of them, you know deep within that you want to change those things about yourself. Likewise, you have seen flaws in your husband - flaws that are exasperating enough for you to want to kill him sometimes. The easiest way to deal with micromanaging grandparents is to remind them that they haven’t exactly brought up perfect individuals and shame them into non-interference.

The other advice you’d be given is to ignore them. You will be told that it’s your baby, and how you do your parenting is your decision so you have to ignore your parents and in laws if they try to interfere with your parenting. You’ll even get tips about how to subtly ask your mom or MIL to back off about parenting advice.

The third way to deal with this is having a conversation. You might want to tell them that you get that they are trying to help but times have changed and you want to rear your child according to the latest in parenting. So while it’s great that your mom or MIL thinks the baby should eat by 8 pm, you want to finish feeding your baby by 6.30 latest.

What happens when you try these approaches

None of the above three approaches are fool proof. There will not be any one method which works like a dream. They may have worked for your friend or colleague, but just as every child is different, the struggles of every parent are also different. So if your friend’s mother was okay being ignored or told off doesn’t mean yours will be too.

The putting in place approach is probably the worst way you can deal with this. Your mother or your mother in law may have raised a flawed individual from where you are standing right now, but she has also raised you (or in the other case, your husband) to be a mature, successful, independent individual who is capable of loving, respect and tact. So every time you remind them of your flaws, you are undermining this part of their parenting. And it is like a slap in the face for the parent - ask yourself, would you want to be told sometime in the future that your own parenting was flawed?

When you listen and ignore, you show a great deal of disrespect. This is especially true if you are actually living with the parents and if you keep going to them for help when it is convenient for you. In this case, you are also keeping the door open for them to come in and micromanage and then you are blocking them off. How does this happen? This happens because on the one hand, you are asking them about how to make your child eat vegetables, and on the other hand, you have reservations if they comment about your child’s habit of eating sweets. Your mom or MIL simply doesn’t know when you are no longer appreciating their help. So either don’t ask them for help at all, or don’t ignore them when they give you unsolicited help.

The third way is frustrating for both of you. Your mom and MIL are women from another generation and with age, might have become more rigid in their beliefs. If they think coconut oil is best for the baby, you will not be able to convince them otherwise. Try, and you’ll end up angry, frustrated and they’ll think you are trying to preach to the choir.

Understand why they do it

People have their own reasons for micromanaging someone else’s life and some parents and in laws are genuinely interfering. But some do this because they don’t quite understand what they are doing.

Look there is no way you can tell your mom or MIL to back off without offending them. But what you can do to deal with this problem is, think of it more objectively. Whether you want to hear this or not, it is true that they were parents at a time when Google wasn’t confusing us with too many options and they have done a fairly good job at parenting.

What you need to do here is understand. They are getting older. They are not as active now as they used to be, and their world is getting smaller. In fact, they probably don’t even understand half your gadgets or how the world thinks today. To make up for their sudden loss of, let’s call it faculties, for all intents and purposes here, they try to overcompensate by doing what they are good at - parenting, because they think they made excellent parents.

In a way, that is a compliment to you. They are proud of you and they are proud of the way they brought you up. Understand that as grandparents, they think they can afford to micromanage your life and your baby’s life because they are secure in their knowledge of the job.

The other reason why they do this is, the concept of boundaries is a very new phenomenon. At least in the Indian context. Remember how you were not allowed to close the door to your bedroom and mom would come in any time without knocking? Mum is still doing it. She, and your MIL both think that when they micromanage your life, they are actually showing you that they love you and that they are trying to do what’s best for you.

How do you deal with it?

Once you understand your mother’s or even your MIL’s reasons for doing what they are doing, you will be able to stop taking things personally. Once you understand that your mother scoffs at bottle warmers because she thinks bottles can be warmed in a pot of boiling water, you will stop being completely frustrated. Likewise, when you start seeing that your MIL thinks your baby should have a mustard oil massage because that’s how she massaged her son as an infant (and your husband does have good bones, doesn’t he?) you will stop wanting to block her off.

So that’s that. The best way to deal with this whole parenting by proxy is to understand that your mother or your MIL is simply trying to do what they do best, and this is not a judgement on your parenting. In fact, they probably admire how you are going about being a parent too. If you can listen to them, do. If you think they are seriously hampering your style of pregnancy, try tactfully telling them that you’ll do it this way for now, but the next time you will follow her way. If you think your child’s cradle cap will go away with an oil massage and light brushing with a toothbrush, by all means, do it. Tell her that you will try her method next time. If your method works out, great. Otherwise, maybe give her a grudging chance.

The idea is to have as great a time as you can with your baby. This is true of you, as well as of the new grandparents. Just as you are new to parenting, they are new to grandparenting. Be a little patient with them. Let them have their moment in the sun with your baby. We aren’t saying you have to make any compromises, but perhaps stand back every once or twice, and let them take the reins. Take a call when you think it is getting out of hands. That decision should be yours, but till then, sit back and watch a beautiful relationship unfold.  

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