Grandparents too critical of parenting style
Q: I have two boys, 6 and 4. The 6-year-old is autistic. Both are highly energetic, and our household is generally filled with noise and energy. When my in-laws visit, they tell us we are not strict enough, don't feed our kids enough healthy foods, and let our kids watch too much TV.
Our kids are happy and healthy, they are doing well in school/preschool, and we have fun together. My husband and I have deliberately chosen our (admittedly somewhat lax) parenting approach, because we decided together that we wanted to focus on only a few rules we really care about (regular bedtimes, no hitting/biting/kicking, and safety-related stuff). Plus, we find the noise and energy fun.
Last time my in-laws visited, they gave us enough grief that I asked them politely to please stop criticizing our parenting style. (BTW, my husband is the stay-at-home parent, so the grief was directed at him.) They continued to criticize us until I got mad. I told them I didn't appreciate their comments, our kids were just fine, and they needed to just lay off. My mother-in-law did ultimately apologize.
I'm still annoyed that we expended energy cleaning the house, preparing meals and giving them our comfortable bed (we slept on a futon), and they used the visit to berate us. So, I'm not sure where to go from here with this. I think it will happen again. Should I just ignore them when they say stuff? Limit our visits with them? Other suggestions?
A: First, you need to see whether the apology was sincere. As hard as it will feel to welcome them back — and as much dread as you will generate leading up to that visit — it's only fair. Your mother-in-law capitulated, so it's time to reward her, not slap her with sanctions because you think the grief will happen again.
Next, take a moment to appreciate how tough it is for guests to be around loud, high-energy kids.
Raising them, especially with special needs involved, is obviously the far greater challenge. But failing to see their side will undermine your efforts to make peace just as your in-laws undermine them when they fail to see your side. Some people delight in boisterous young kids; everyone else suffers some degree of flash-fried nerves from the noise level alone.
So, should your in-laws berate you again, scrape up your cool, and say you understand how annoying the noise and chaos must be.
Then, do both parties the favor of reminding them that they raised different kids under different circumstances — and that, like all parents, you and your husband now have to use your best judgment to raise the kids you have under the circumstances you have.
It's really just the long, calm version of "lay off."
But with this approach, you acknowledge your in-laws as veteran parents who had their own struggles, and ask them to identify with you long enough to realize on their own that they need to lay off.
If neither the angry nor the Kumbaya response sticks — and possibly even if it does — then your husband needs to suggest they try a hotel. Give them an out, let their nerves regenerate. Limiting visits works best as a last resort.