DEALING WITH MY “OUT-LAWS”

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family… in another city.”

That fun little quote is compliments of famous old-time cigar-smoking comic, George Burns, but we can all probably relate to it today, especially when we struggle with our in-laws. Our latest email concern comes from a woman who is battling with her in-laws because they’ve transformed from grandparents to sugar daddies!  


Dear Families of Character,

I have amazing in-laws who love my children. But is it possible that they love them just a bit too much? My kids’ grandparents spoil them with sugar and treats all the time. We are not a sugar-free household, but we do try to limit desserts and candy. We give our kids healthier snacks like fruit, vegetables and cheese when they are “snack-ish.” But whenever my four children visit Nana and Pops, they are plied with all sorts of sugar. I don’t want to offend my in-laws, so my husband has mentioned to them that we don’t appreciate all the garbage, but it hasn’t changed their approach at all. I want them to be a part of our kids’ lives, but I want them to respect our way of life too. Can we lay down our family’s rules without offending them? We’ve had such a good relationship up until now…

–Dealing with the “Out-Laws” in Kansans


Dear “Dealing,”

There are a few important character strengths that can help you turn this situation into a WIN for you and your whole family:

  • Unity 

  • Assertiveness, and 

  • Self-Control 

These character strengths are the key to unlocking a better relationship with the “out-laws.” It sounds like you were blessed with very loving people to grandparent your kids. They are actively part of your children’s lives and it sounds as if the kids are “sweet” on them too. (Couldn’t resist that one!) But you are rightly concerned about all the crazy amounts of candy and treats your kids are consuming in their care, especially if that’s contrary to your plan for your children.

First, let’s address Unity.

  1. You and your husband must be united in your approach with Nana & Pops. You said your husband has already spoken to his mom and dad about your concerns, but you have to make sure that you are both on the same page. Are you certain he was clear about what your expectations are? I recommend you talk very specifically with your husband about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable regarding the kids’ sweets intake. It’s important to be precise—I’m talking about a reasonable, occasionally flexible routine/plan that you find do-able when the kids are with their grandparents. They can have this, this, and this, but we prefer not this or this. Once you’re united in how the kids are to be fed when you’re not around—it may require compromise with each other, it’s time to plan a chat with the in-laws when your little ones are not present. 

This leads to the second character strength: Assertiveness

2. You both need to meet with the grandparents to convey what you think is acceptable. You need to do this in a way that confidently advocates for your family’s rules and priorities. Here’s the key to effectively using assertiveness—it must be done calmly, positively, without aggression, or passive acceptance of a wrong. In other words, you need to respectfully convey what you expect of them and why, and if they choose not to follow your rules, how you will respond. Express that you don’t want the kids caught in the conflict and if you’re not in agreement on their diets, they will spend less time with their doting grandparents. Be kind, but do not apologize for your stance. Be firm, but loving! If you don’t have this conversation now, you’ll kick the can down the road allowing resentment to build. 

And lastly, let’s talk Self Control!

3. Get your kids on board by empowering them with self-control. You didn’t mention your children’s ages, so if they’re under seven this will be tough. While you can’t always expect your children to police themselves perfectly all the time, you can set some guidelines to help them make good choices when you’re not around. Consider calling a family huddle to discuss what is acceptable for them to eat when they’re with their grandparents. Explain the why behind your family’s plan to limit too much sugar. Talk about polite ways to say, “No thank you!” so that they have ready-to-go responses if they’re presented with too many decadent desserts. Your kids are not helpless pawns. Kids with food allergies learn to make good choices when adults aren’t present. While it will be hard to say no to some offerings, they will be building that self-control muscle which will help them down the road with peer pressure. 

Lastly, try not to be too black and white with your in-laws. Nit-picking them can exacerbate the problem. As long as they’re following your plan for the most part and are behind supporting your family’s priorities, celebrate that as a big win!


SUMMER IS AROUND THE CORNER! GOTTA PLAN TO KEEP THE KIDS OCCUPIED WHILE BUILDING UP THEIR AMAZING CHARACTER?

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If you have an issue you’d like our help with, drop us a line at Hello@FamiliesofCharacter.com. If you’re experiencing a problem, chances are thousands of other families are in the same boat. We’re ALL in this parenting boat together! 


Remember to tap into our Thrive Community on Facebook. It’s free and our team’s very own clinical counselor offers helpful tips and encouragement to parents who are adventuring together. 


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