A funny thing happened along the way of becoming a parent – I instantly saw my own parents and parents-in-law in a completely different light.

It was like a lightning bolt of understanding that could only really come from first hand experience.

Ahh so this is what they went through all those years ago when faced with a screaming baby.

This is how they felt when making the whole parenting gig up on the fly.

Cause really, as much as we like to pretend otherwise with our children, the rules and reality of how they grow up are completely made up constructs designed by us, the parents.

Until they work that out, we are the gods that shape the boundaries of their little worlds. We tell them no, we tell them yes, and we tell them maybe later (read: no but I don’t want to have an argument about it right now in the supermarket).

We also teach our children manners and the difference between right and wrong. Indeed, we teach them dozens of lessons every day and they, in return, teach us just as much back about patience, expectations and love. It’s an intense but life-affirming exchange.

The bit where it can get tricky though is when you have to parent your child in front of your own parents or parents-in-law.

I guarantee you at some point you will find yourself in an awkward moment, a parental trap where your own authority is undermined by the forces that used to rule your world or that of your partner.

It may come in the form of an audible sigh, teenage-worthy eye-rolling, a comment muttered under the breath, fudging ground rules, making secret pacts, or perhaps outright questioning of your parenting style.

Perhaps like me, you will get a twinge of rage somewhere deep inside as you feel yourself turning into Cartman from South Park. How dare they not respect mah authoritaaaaaaay!

From there you might plummet unexpectedly into self-doubt or embarrassment. Oh gosh, maybe they are right. Maybe I am being too hard/soft/reactionary/new age/conservative in my parenting approach.

And then you may stand up straight, crack your neck to the left and right, and smile diplomatically before continuing on with whatever parenting you were doing before interrupted. You pray all the while that you have escaped the parental trap.

Ok, so maybe I’m speaking a little bit from experience here. I love my mother and mother-in-law but they have completely polar opposite approaches to parenting and I sit somewhere in between them.

One is the definition of a helicopter parent, hovering literally above her grandson’s head at all times and removing any potential risk/fun within a 5km radius. The other prefers an approach that is so laidback it is practically horizontal.

Grandson is licking dog fur off the floor? At least it’s good for his immune system. He is reaching for a loaded nail gun? Oh, he’ll learn.

If I engage one, I feel like a hippy. If I engage the other, I feel like a wound-up neurotic. And I don’t think I’m alone on this one. I’ve heard plenty of stories of friends falling into their own parental traps.

“You want some chocolate [at 7pm]? Just don’t tell mum, she’s a bit funny you know.”

“Ohh, I would never have allowed you to still have a dummy at that age…”

“The poor petal, you can’t let her scream herself to sleep”

“I just want to give him gifts, where’s the harm in making him happy?”

“Are you sure he should play with that?”

So what to do? Any open questioning or undermining, particularly in front of the child, is going to inject some ambiguity into the rules you and your partner have established. So if that’s happening and you want to confront, then find a time when the child is not around to explain the logic and goal behind your approach.

Otherwise, if it’s manageable, then maybe just take the high road and let it be.

The parental trap is, after all, one made from love and good intent…even if does give you a facial twitch from time to time.

Do you have any of your own experiences to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

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  • My dad was full of criticism when it came to me parenting my kids. He said they were out of control and I was lucky that someone didn’t call welfare to take them away with all their screaming etc. Thing is, my kids were totally normal, he just didn’t know it because he didn’t have much experience with kids. He spent very little time with us as kids, we should be seen and not heard


  • This is interesting! Thank you for sharing this!


  • Haha I sometimes have to stop myself because I am actually starting to sound like my parents did. I do have to laugh as you do understand your parents more once you have kids.


  • great tips here. just remember we learn from our mistakes and they are your children at the end of the day….do what you feel is right


  • sounds awesome and looks great


  • My parents live with us and I wouldn’t have it any other way. they get to see the kids everyday, they mum and I share the cooking but I do everything else. It’s so great having that extra helping hand with the kids and I know their memories of both kids and grandparents will be everlasting.
    There are the odd Occassions I need to remind them I’m not a child, or they’re my kids and I’ll raise them how I want but I have my best friend there and can talk to mum about almost anything.
    Living with parents isn’t everyone’s cups of tea but I’m so lucky to have them in my life

    • oh sweet. thanks meagan for sharing this


  • You just have to do things your own way. What you feel is right for your children.


  • I enjoy reading these kinds of stories…..my little guy is constantly licking our dog etc !


  • well they can give their opinions but you don’t have to listen! lol


  • I’m lucky.. My mum doesn’t really have many opinions on how the grandkids are taught..


  • Interesting stories from everyone here


  • I think that if you children are lucky enough to have two sets of grandparents wanting or around to be a part of their life that it can be worked out.
    Both my husbands parents have passed away and my parents are only around when asked too, no popping in or asking to take the children out nothing and if I ask for them to look after my children so about 4x a year we can go out my mother lets them pull all the toys out and I have to cook for them pre leaving and then come home and clean up toys and dishes, so maybe if you can just talk to them and the children sepereatly about it then you can go back to being able to enjoy that your children have grandparents there in their lives


  • Wow that’s cheap


  • This article is sooooooo true! I agree completely! I’m lucky (so far) that our Little one is still too young but I’m terrified of how it’s going to look like in couple of years… ;-)


  • I tell people well you might have done that, but this is what we do. I hope you can respect that.


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