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This is a little hard to explain, so if you need clarity I can try.

My mother in law visits a few times a year for a week each time. My kids are the only grandchildren she will ever have. She is not the sort of grandmother that is help to me. She is fun for the kids, but she does not watch my kids, take them places, assist me at all. That is fine. Due to her age I am not expecting her to do anything specifically.

She is aware of basic house rules and rules for the kids. She will, while I am home, bend & even break rules the kids have. They have been very minor things, so I have just looked the other way & even teased that it's cute that they have their own things they do with grandma that mom doesn't do. I have been truly okay with it as my kids have always seemed to grasp that this is only while grandma is here, and they do fine after she leaves with returning to the regular ways.

As my kids get older, it has become more & more apparent she doesn't approve of my parenting approach. She has been more & more vocal about things I should allow or shouldn't allow as well as how discipline issues are handled. I have been very calm & respectful in responses & just told her that she doesn't have to like how I do things. I am okay with that. Everyone does things their own way, but this is the way I do it and I am not going to explain it, defend it, or discuss it. I said it kindly, calmly & without any anger, because it really is how I feel. This has worked for a while, but I can see something brewing the last visit or two, where she clearly is struggling to hold her tongue & is being obvious that she is angered that I would tell her I don't want to hear it, no matter how nicely I say it. I also know she has a temper. I haven't had her scream at me in years, but she used to, many years ago now & my husband had to get into a nasty fight with her for that to stop. I have never screamed at her at all. I would only reply with things like 'I can see you are too upset for a good discussion, we should let it go for now & talk later when you are calm". I have a lot of practice before her on how not to engage in fighting & setting boundaries and I am pretty good at it.

I am wondering if by chance I have created this sense of entitlement I am seeing out of her by allowing the rule bending & if on her next visit I need to assert that the rules are rules & that they will be the same no matter who visits. I thought I was being accommodating, since she gets so little time with them, but now I am wondering if I have sent the wrong message. I would of course tell my kids before she visits that this time is going to be different and tell her as well, that I don't think the rule bending is a good idea anymore. I am just not sure if I am overthinking that part or if I have created my own issue by making her think she can change my rules when she is here.

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I think you've handled this correctly so far. It's similar with my parents: the rules when the kids spend a few days with them are not the same (more TV, special food, etc). The kids know it's different with grandparents. It gives them a sort of holiday from the stricter rules with clear boundaries and no lasting harm.

Where you go from there is up to you. It does not seem from your description like she's causing any trouble with the children so far. So it's really about how much bad mood you are willing to put up with. If it's affecting you enough to write this long winded question, it's probably time you had a serious talk with her and your husband. Perhaps with him alone first so he's up to speed on your issues with her.

I doubt you can change her opinion significantly at her age. You might be able to get her to change her behavior somewhat, especially if she's not entirely aware of how she's affecting you. A reminder that some things are none of her business might be in order. And that you do not have to put up with what she thinks, nor change how you raise your children because of her. If she's unwilling to work on keeping her opinions to herself, then all I can see is finding a way to see less of her when she's over or her not staying as long or as often.

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I can't see how you caused this at all. Grandparents do spoil their grandkids to some extent, and usually it's all good. But there's a difference between relatively harmless rule bending and a desire to "set you straight". So, no, I would not tell her that something you've been tolerating as relatively benign is now off limits. That will send her a different message than the one you actually want to address with her. Your children will probably also be confused by what you're trying to do with this move.

The proper person to discuss this (that she doesn't approve of your parenting approach) first with your mother-in-law is her son. Ideally he should be running interference. If he will, problem solved. If he is unable or unwilling to, then you have no choice but to deal with it by yourself.

Keep in mind that as your kids are getting older, so is their grandmother. There may be something going on with her mind that isn't readily obvious but may be a sign of aging, such as decreased inhibition. It's not, however, license to disrespect you.

...but this is the way I do it and I am not going to explain it, defend it, or discuss it.

Everyone wants to feel respected and heard, including you and your MIL. It sounds like she's struggling with this issue. Being respected and heard are different from agreeing or obeying. One or both of you will struggle with this difference, so it bears discussion as well.

Keeping that in mind, I would open a discussion when the two of you are alone and early in the visit before tensions are mounting. Ask her for her opinions and listen to them. Keep that well-honed patience on display, but do listen and try to comprehend why she is saying these things. Don't interrupt, because you want to be able to tell her truthfully that you didn't interrupt her when she was speaking.

I don't know why you don't want to explain, defend, or discuss your methods. I can see not wanting to do it again and again, but maybe doing so now - if you incorporate what she's told you - can help diffuse things. E.g.

I understand that you think (x) is better for the children and why, but I've discussed this with your son, our pediatrician, and have read books which say (y) is actually more helpful (because...), so your son and I have chosen to go with (y).

Addressing each point respectfully should help both of you and your relationship, if she is able to be respectful (if she's held her tongue so far, that's evidence that she can.) Then it's done. You can refer back to the conversation you had and restate your boundary ("this is what we decided. We thought about what you said, and we disagree, so I'm sorry, but talking about it again won't change my mind, and I don't want to fight with you. I want us both to be happy, etc.")

If she can't help herself or is disrespectful, then draw your boundary about not desiring to argue with her again, and repeat as often as needed.

  • The reason I avoid discussion is because we do not punish or reward & we both come from highly strict backgrounds that allowed for no expression of feelings unless they were pleasant, plenty of penalties, etc. I see no point in trying to explain it as I do not see it going well & I don't engage in defense of things like this since it's my choice. Let me give you an example of the way she thinks. Last time she was here she told my son, when he said he wanted a cat that if we got one, she wouldn't come visit anymore because she doesn't like cats. Oddly, before kids I always had cats. (cont.) – threetimes Jul 17 '17 at 17:01
  • And at that time, despite that I had cats, she would come visit for longer durations than she does now. She never once complained about the cats or even brought it up. She likes to control. So my feelings are that if I start explaining anything, she will find a way to needle every single point in there & she loves to think she did an awesome job as a mom, so she will want to say things like, "I did this & he turned out good enough for you to marry him". – threetimes Jul 17 '17 at 17:03
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    To which I would reply, "and smart enough to make good decisions, which we agree upon." It's your choice what you do or don't do. She's your MIL (and she sounds like a challenge, but you are far from alone in this), not mine, and you know her better than I do. This is just how I see things. :) – anongoodnurse Jul 17 '17 at 17:17
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    @threetimes even if you want to skip the explaining part, allowing your MIL to give her input (in private, and even if you summarily discard it) would still be a good idea. And who knows, hearing her perspective may give you some good things to think about. I agree that you don't have to explain yourself to her, and she DOES have to respect your decisions and your rules. But being told "you may not even speak on this subject" has got to be pure torture for someone who likely loves your children very much. – MAA Aug 5 '17 at 3:39
  • Wish I could upvote this answer more than once. – MAA Aug 5 '17 at 3:40
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You have handled this remarkably well so far.

@Oliver has made some excellent points in his answer. I would add another option for you, and you will have to decide whether or not it's appropriate for your circumstance. The next time that your mother-in-law complains, I would say something like:

"I run my household in the way that I believe is right, and so far I have allowed a small amount of rule-bending while you are here out of respect. However, for that to continue, I need you to respect me and to co-operate. If you refuse to respect my house rules, I shall have to enforce all of my rules strictly, without exception. I'm sure that you are not a disrespectful person, so perhaps you would like to respect my decisions from now on?"

Of course, if you do this, the wording is entirely up to you.

Good luck, and continue to stand your ground.

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