My In-laws call themselves Mom and Dad to my toddler. How do I get them to stop?

Anne-Marie - posted on 04/26/2013 ( 5 moms have responded )

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To begin with I have very loving and sweet In-Laws. They adore their grandchild and love to spend time with her, which is great! I am glad they are getting to have a close relationship with their granddaughter.

The problem is boundaries. Right from the start after having my child, they would often "slip" and call themselves mom and dad to her. I would ask them to refer to themselves as nana and poppy (their chosen grandparent names). They would make some excuse that they just don't think about it and it was just a slip. If they have Kaity alone for more than a few hours, she starts calling them mom and dad. I have talked to them and correct them repeatedly. It has been 20 months now and they are still "slipping" regularly.

I have scoured the internet and the only time I see this coming up is if the grandparents are actually raising the grandchild without parent involvement. That is not the case here. They see her weekly, but are not the primary caretakers by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm at my witts end. I find it highly disrespectful to me and my husband. It is confusing to Kaity. Now I'm pregnant with my second child and we still haven't resolved this boundary issue with the first! HELP!

P.S. there are other regular boundary issues (like allowing her to throw blocks at their heads and just laughing about it), but one thing at a time.

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Rachel - posted on 05/03/2013

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This is your husbands job. He needs to sit them down and tell them they are crossing a line. A weird one too. This is really not normal and highly passive aggressive.

Lauren - posted on 05/03/2013

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You're clearly picking your battles, which is great, but I agree that boundaries need to be set, and slip ups aren't continuing at this point. My MIL has issues realizing that while she had special traditions with my husband, she needs to understand at least some of those her son wants to pass on to his children himself--not through her--or at least not without him involved. I used to argue with my MIL, and finally I realized my husband needed to be the enforcer and bring up issues--with me there if possible. He finally had a long heart-to-heart with her (about their relationship, the kids and me) and things have been a great deal better since then.

Make sure your husband is on board and ask him to set that boundary. I agree with the restricting time thing. You two can reinforce that you don't want to do that and you also understand that special things will be different with their grandparents, but that discipline, what they call themselves, whatever else you want to mention will not be wavered on. Adults are just like children--as long as they get away with a behavior, they will continue the behavior. Your in-laws may not love that you two take these stances against them, but if you do it jointly, it will be less likely to fall on you alone if they passive-aggressively try not to comply. Good luck! :)

Conniemarie - posted on 05/07/2013

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This is clearly a deeper issue for them. I would suggest to sit them down and help them understand that they are just confusing your child and they need to have more respect for your decisions. The overall impression you should press into them is that it is harming your childs development. even if not so much just by the wording alone, but their actions.

I would tell them if they really care and love her, then her health is put first.
How can they say no to that?

Elfrieda - posted on 04/26/2013

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Within 6 months your daughter will be correcting them, so hopefully this problem is almost over. At least, my dad constantly 'slips' and calls my mom 'Oma' (because he likes to be called Opa) and since my son turned 2 he and my mom turn to him and pretty much in unison say, "Not Oma, it's Gramama!"

I would correct them each time with a long-winded speech: "No, that's not Mom, that's Nana! Hahaha, Kaity, that's not Mom! Poppy forgot! He said Mom." My son finds things like that to be the pinnacle of humour. It would really remind your in-laws, and be funny for your toddler.

Sarah - posted on 04/26/2013

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I would be straight forward and firm. I would let them know how much you love that they want to spend time with your child. And how you cherish the relationship between your child and her grandparents. But also letting them know that they are not her mom and dad and they need to be calling themselves by the given grandparents names. Let them know that you don't want to confuse your child and thus having issues down the road. I would also state that you understand that in the beginning it might have been a "slip", but now that she is almost two you can't accept the "slips" any more. I would let them know that if it continues then you would need to restrict the amount of time she spends with them (this is what I would do)......and then follow through as they will probably test it. Once they realize that there is a boundary and you will enforce that boundary they will start to not "slip" anymore. It is much like a toddler that whines for a toy at the store......if he gets what he wants the whining does not stop, but once that boundary is set and he realizes that there is no toy given if he whines the whining stops. From the sounds of it you may have to be pretty firm on the things you see as important. I would pick and choose your battles. Focus on the important ones and let the little annoying ones slide. This way hopefully you will have more success with the important ones. :)

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Emily - posted on 09/24/2017

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I am having the same issue with my inlaws. My son is 6months old and we see inlaws once a week. It frustrates me and I wasn't sure if I should even be frustrated by this. They will be playing with him and say things like "are you having a good time with mommy" & "mommy loves you" my FIL says this to his wife and she doesn't stop him. MIL also refers to FIL as dad. Personally, I don't see how you mix up calling yourself mom or dad to someone else's child. I let it go at first but now everytime I hear them saying it I correct them.
There is such good advice on here and I'm glad I'm not the only one with this problem.

Helen - posted on 05/12/2013

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You say that its 'one thing at a time'. I disagree!

These are all part of the same issue - your in-laws respecting you, their son, their grandchild, and the relationships you have with each other and the fact that YOU are the parent in this case not them!
It seems to me that they are trying to take over the parenting role (by calling themselves mom and dad) and are undermining your authority in other areas of parenting such as the acceptability of throwing things at people.

Your son needs to sit and talk to his parents about this, and explain that all these things are not helping her development (as others have said) and that she needs consistency to help her learn.
Also point out that time with them should be special and some things that you wouldn't allow are ok for them to allow (staying up after bedtime, extra sweet treats - whatever you work out between you) but that other things are NOT allowed - throwing, calling them mom & dad etc and that if these things are then the contact will stop/be restricted/supervised only - again whatever you feel appropriate - and make sure you follow through as you would with a child (again as others have suggested)!

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