Dear David Coleman: My mother constantly undermines me

Q I’ve two children aged seven and nine. My mother is great in that she takes them for me after school, but it comes at a cost. She often undermines me with the lads, telling them I’m a bad mother and that I’m unfair to them. It’s especially bad at pick-up time and they can be really rude to me. And she tells me, in front of them, to go easy on them. What can I do to stop her undermining me?

David replies: That sounds like a very difficult situation, especially since you sound like you are beholden to your mother because of the childcare she offers. I think you would be in a stronger position to assert your authority with the children if your mother wasn’t involved in their shared care. Are you in a position to consider alternatives? It may not be possible to make other after-school arrangements, but it would be a good catalyst to then have a proper talk with her about how she speaks to you, or behaves towards you, in front of the children.

I think you have to let her know what she does, and the impact it has. That isn’t criticising her, it is simply setting out the facts as you observe them. She may not realise she undermines you, and so when it is brought to her attention she may be able to change.

Should a private talk not resolve things, then you may have to resort to publicly pointing out the occasions, in the moment, where she says or does things that don’t help. Then you will need to remind her and the children that you are the one in charge.

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