Care and Feeding

My Dad Constantly Undermines My Parenting

A boy receives a present from his grandparent.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Image Source/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

When and how do I draw the line for “spoiling” my kids when it comes to my dad? My husband and I both live in a different state from our families, so when they come visit, it is always very exciting for my kids. However, my dad in particular seems to want to make up for his absence by going overboard to be the “fun grandpa.” He always brings them way too many treats and toys (think several boxes of candy and multiple toys/gifts), though we see him on plenty of non-holiday occasions.

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I am mostly okay with this, but where I draw the line is when he flat out disregards the rules I set in my own house, directly in front of me. For example, I will tell my kids that they have had enough candy/sweets/etc. and they aren’t allowed any more for the day, but my dad will openly give them “his” dessert or get a treat for himself and “share.” In addition, he will also step in every time I try to discipline my children to defend or dismiss their behavior. If they are yelling/running around in a restaurant, and I tell them they need to lower their voices and can’t run, he’ll tell them “it’s fine” and then they continue the bad behavior. If I stick to my guns and make them leave, he will fuss at me in front of my kids, about my behavior. I have tried talking to him about how his behavior toward me is disrespectful, and it is teaching my kids to be disrespectful of me as their parent too, but he dismisses it. I don’t want to flat out refuse to let him visit, but it is a huge issue. What do I do?

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—Undermined and Losing

Dear Undermined,

Let me get this straight—your dad comes to your house, completely disrespects you and your rules, undermines your parenting, makes your kids wonder who’s in charge, and you think it’s a bad idea to stop him from visiting? From where I sit, that’s the answer to your problems. He clearly doesn’t take you seriously, and it’s making your life exponentially more difficult. The best way for him to fall in line is to refuse to let him visit his grandkids if he doesn’t abide by your rules.

I believe in honesty in situations like this, and sticking to your guns on follow through. If I were you, I would start with a simple conversation that could go something like this—“Dad, I know you love my kids and they love you, but I can’t have you going against my rules for them. I am the one raising them, not you—so I have to deal with the fallout once you leave. Going forward, you cannot contradict my parenting wishes in front of my kids. If you do, then I’m not going to invite you over anymore. I wish it didn’t have to come to this, but this has become a big problem for me, and you’ve left me with no other choice.”

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If he has a shred of self-awareness, he’ll realize that he crossed the line with you and will do whatever it takes to foster a healthy relationship with you and your kids. However, if he continues to call your bluff, then you have to cut him off until he gets it. I’m not saying that will be easy for you to do, but what you’re dealing with isn’t easy, either. At least taking this path will not lead toward self-destruction and extreme resentment towards your dad.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How do you deal with parenting burnout? Long story short we’ve been stuck inside for most of the past 2 months (back-to-back colds passed through the household, and now quarantining with COVID, plus more snowy weather intermingled in all of this). My kids are 3 and 4. I’m burnt out, overstimulated, not at my best, and crawling out of my skin. Even if I get time to myself, it doesn’t feel like enough. I know I’m struggling with depression symptoms, and I have plans to  see a new therapist as soon as she’s back from maternity leave in a couple of weeks. Everything feels like a lot right now. My son isn’t an “easy” kid to begin with, so that’s been turned up a notch, and my daughter has also been doing things like taunting her brother, yelling/getting mad about small things, picking fights with him over nothing, etc. By the end of most days I feel like a caged animal that’s been repeatedly rattled around throughout the day (part of this, I’m sure is ADHD sensory problems). I feel like I’m not a good enough parent to my kids, and that I’m messing everything up. Not because I don’t love them, but because I feel like I’m insufficiently prepared. Is spring here yet?

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—So Exhausted

Dear So Exhausted,

I think the most important thing to do is cut yourself some slack. It doesn’t make you a bad mom if the sight of your kids drives you nuts—especially if you’re around them all of the time. If there are days when you feel like you need to shove an iPad in your kids’ faces for hours so you can gain some semblance of sanity back, then that’s what you should do. Sure, some people’s kids may sit still and write haikus for fun—but that’s not the reality for most of us and you shouldn’t feel bad about that.

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As a fellow depression sufferer, I’m glad that you are owning it and getting the help you need—you can’t ignore the elephant in the room. You know how flight attendants tell passengers to take care of themselves in case of an emergency before they help their kids? The same rule applies here. In many cases I believe being a good parent means putting yourself first, because there’s no way you could handle your kids if you walked around in a fog of depression all of the time.

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Remember, you’re not alone in being overwhelmed at raising kids during a pandemic. It’s new for everyone. We’re fumbling and stumbling our way through each day, too, and we’re all worried that we’re messing it up. Give yourself some grace and know there are millions of parents across the globe who are struggling just as hard as you are (myself included). This too shall pass and you will get through it.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Monday’s column, read it here.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I have been together for 5 years. About 2 years ago, he moved to California to pursue his dreams of becoming a filmmaker. The goal has always been for me to eventually join him out there, however, I recently started getting cold feet. I am very close to my family, and we live on the east coast. I love my partner, but I also know that I would miss my family dearly if I moved that far away. My biggest concern is that if I move to California, and we end up starting a family, my kids will never be close to my parents and siblings. I know that my family will have a hard time dealing with this, and I don’t want to end up being resentful towards my partner. I don’t want to end the relationship, but I also can’t imagine my children being raised so far away from my family. I know that this is something that hasn’t happened yet, but I find myself dreading the thought of even talking about making the move. Any advice you could offer would be amazing.

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—Far From Home

Dear Far From Home,

This is a tricky topic to give you advice on, because I don’t know what force is more powerful — the love you have for your partner or the desire to be close to your family. That said, I’ll do my best to add my two cents.

Finding a great partner isn’t easy, and the fact that you have one is something you shouldn’t take for granted. I also love that he knows what he wants to do with his life and is going after it. The problem I have is how this impacts you. Have you talked to him about how moving across the country would be difficult for you? Or would your cold feet come as a shock to him? Either way, you need to discuss this with him, stat.

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I’m leaning toward keeping the relationship intact. Thankfully we live in a world where video calls can happen at the touch of a button on our phones. Your family will always be able to see and talk to your future kids pretty much whenever they want. Yes, I’m completely aware that it’s not the same as visiting in-person if they live a few miles away, but I think it would be unwise to give up something great just so you could live close to your parents and siblings. Your family will always be your family, and they will always be there for you.

It really comes down to this—if you think this guy is “the one” then you absolutely can’t let him go; perfect matches don’t grow on trees. If you’re kinda “meh” about him, then you should break up with him and stay put on the east coast. The most important decision most adults make in their lifetime is who they choose to have children with.

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Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I bought a first-floor condo in a three-story multi-family home over four years ago. About six months ago, our upstairs neighbors sold their condo to a family with a two-year-old son. Since then, our lives have been miserable. Prior to moving in, the family had their condo renovated. We dealt with many weeks of loud construction at all hours, our car being blocked in the driveway, doors being left open, and the water to the building being turned off unexpectedly for long period of time. We never complained, as we figured it would be a temporary headache.

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Since they have settled in, they’ve managed to create more noise and disruption. Their toddler runs, jumps, screams, and throws things. His bedroom is above ours, and he tends to wake up in the night and cry for an hour at a time. He wheels toy trucks around their new hardwood floors, which to us sound like a train going by. The child screams while the parents laugh and say how silly he is. These episodes happen directly outside of our kitchen door.

We both work from home, and we’ve had to go on mute and pause meetings when they leave the house. They also leave their stroller out on the front porch, which is in the way, an eyesore, and against the condo association rules. I understand that toddlers are hard to control and have a mind of their own. However, I am not sure how much of this behavior is normal kid behavior, versus inconsiderate and clueless neighbor behavior on the part of the parents. My partner wants to keep the peace and live with it, but I am finding it affects my quality of life. We are hoping to move somewhere else by the end of the year. In the meantime, what is an appropriate level of noise to accept? Is there any way to approach the neighbors about the noise without offending them or making them think I’m complaining about their kid? As a frame of reference, we never had any issues with the prior owners and were not able to hear them.

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—First Floor Fatigue

Dear First Floor,

Listen, I have a very different view than your partner—you absolutely need to talk to your neighbors about it immediately. This is impacting your sleep, your mental health, your work, and so much more. You should not brush it off as if it’s no big deal.

It may not be as uncomfortable of a confrontation as you think it will. A lot of parents are clueless about how disruptive they and/or their kids can be, so if you offer a polite nudge, they may change their ways. You could say something like, “Hi there, my partner and I work from home and since these walls are thin, I was hoping you could do your best to keep the noise down as you’re leaving your unit. I would really appreciate it.” If someone said that to me, I would be mortified at my lack of self-awareness, apologize profusely, and do my best to ensure it never (or rarely) happens again. Maybe I’m just naïve, but I’d like to believe that most people are kind-hearted and would react the same way.

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That said, you can’t really stop a toddler from being a toddler—especially at home. They run a lot, have loud toys, and are generally disruptive creatures. Hopefully when the weather warms up, they’ll more time outdoors which will provide you some relief, but ultimately, the endgame will require you to leave and find another place to live sooner rather than later. Just make sure it’s not a first-floor unit next time.

—Doyin

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