Care and Feeding

My Sister Constantly Undermines My Authority in Front of Her Kids

I’ll tell my nephew he can’t ride a scooter inside, and then she’ll tell him he can.

Aunt looking skeptical at mom and child smirking.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Druvo/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’ve watched my 13-year-old nephew and 3-year-old niece for up to a week at a time a few times over the years. I love spending time with them and I have no problem being asked to watch them for extended periods.

My issue is with my sister’s behavior while I’m in charge. She constantly contradicts the things I say; I told my nephew he couldn’t ride a scooter inside while he was video-chatting with his mom—she tells him he can ride it. I’ll tell my niece she can have mac and cheese or a PB&J to eat, both previously approved by my sister, only for Sis to tell her to make something else. I feel I have to acquiesce when she does this, and it also impacts the authority I have in her absence because the kids know they can call Mom and have me overruled. Am I being unreasonable?

—Flustered in Florida

Dear FF,

You are NOT being unreasonable. Explain to your sister that the only way you can safely care for her children is for them to respect your word and recognize you as an authority figure to whom they must listen when their mother is not present. Talk about the boundaries that need to be non-negotiable for your home/care (i.e., no scooters indoors) and cite some of the examples of her undermining you, such as the food incident, and how they have made your caregiving difficult. Work on establishing some rules and habits that the two of you can agree on and creating a system in which the children are not allowed to go above your head to get permission from her, which means being reasonable with your rules and creating an environment where they can be themselves and feel comfortable without destroying your home or running roughshod over your needs. Hopefully, she and her kids will understand.