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Family Influences on Your Children: Navigating Extended Family Dynamics

Some of the greatest help, support and encouragement you can receive as a mom is from your extended family.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles & cousins can be a wonderful sources of friendship and guidance for your children when they are on the same page with you on what values you hope to instill.  But what if they are not on the same page?  Then what?

















During this session we will discuss navigating the influences and dynamics between you, your children, and extended family members.
Let’s first talk about what your role is as a mom. 
To teach them about God and His will in their life.  

To provide for their physical and spiritual needs.  

To protect them from physical and spiritual harm.  

To give them love and emotional support.  

To teach them how to socially relate to the world.  

To ensure they have an adequate education for a successful adult life. 

In every session, we have discussed something that can be categorized under one or more of these six fundamental parental responsibilities specifically relating to motherhood.  Individually, your extended family is either helping or undermining you and today we will talk about what you can do to encourage the good aspects of these dynamics, and discourage, or even stop, the bad.
As we go through each of these categories and how extended family may influence your children, think about this.  YOU are the mom.  YOU have the right to decide the environment and influences that you will allow in your children’s lives.  It is important that you take charge of this. You own this and you should protect this right. 

Your husband is a partner with you in this, but for now, we are going to discuss your role since we are talking about moms.  If you have any questions about disagreements with your husband on any of these issues, we can talk about that as we go.

Also, think about the precedents you are setting with each scenario.  Remember what we discussed in “Protecting Without Over-Protecting”.  Each decision you make will determine a precedent for future decisions and you must think about all the possible consequences before you answer.

In order to talk about how to do this, we are going to imagine some family members whose last names are Hope and Blunt.

The Hope Family

They consist of family members who understand your role as guide and protector of your children and do not undermine your decisions, but support and uphold them.
The Blunt Family
They believe they are in charge and undermine your decisions and attempts to guide and protect your children.

We will go through the responsibilities on the list above (points about your role as mom) and talk about different scenarios. 
To teach them about God and His will in their life. 

Grandma and Grandpa Hope - they support your decision to teach your children in the ways of the Lord and compliment your efforts.  They go to church with your family if possible.  They give gifts that teach about God’s love, His creation, His will in their lives.  If you decide to take your children to another church or activity they do not engage in, they may talk to you about it, but they understand you are the parent and you will ultimately decide how your child will learn about God.  They do not get angry if you have a disagreement and quickly forgive and reconcile. They let you know they are praying for you and do not undermine or speak against your beliefs to your children. 

They want to take your child on a church retreat that you are unable to attend.  What do you do?

ANSWER: You allow it as long as it fits into your immediate family schedule.  G&GH have established the groundwork of trust with you because they uphold and support you as a parent.  A good amount of time can be spent with these family members because they have earned your trust.

Grandma & Grandpa Blunt – they let you know clearly whenever they disagree with anything having to do with church.  They may attend church, but believe you either attend with them or where they tell you to go, or you are doing something wrong.  When in conversation with your children, they commonly talk about the problems with your decisions or how you are handling their spiritual upbringing.  If you are talking to your children, they will interrupt and correct what you have said regarding spiritual issues.

You heard Grandma Blunt telling your child privately something you believe is wrong about spiritual issues.  What do you do?


You have a private conversation with your child always being careful to show respect for GB.  Example: "You know we all love Grandma, but there are some things she believes that are not what we believe."  Then lay out the differences in what you believe vs. what GB has told your child.  

First, if this is your husband's mother, talk to him and have him address the problem.  If he will not, we will address this in more detail, later in this blog post. Anytime a problem comes up with a member of his family, if possible, it is best for him to address it.  If it is your family, you should address it. 

Depending on the circumstances, this time, you may have to address it. Her response will determine the future interactions you allow with you child.  You let her know your disagreement with what she told your child in as kind a way as possible.  Make it clear that you are asking her not to discuss this issue again with your child.  

If she responds well, and agrees, you can continue to allow GB to interact with you children.  If she refuses, you will have to set stricter boundaries as to the access she will have with them.

To provide for their physical and spiritual needs. 

Aunt Hope – She dresses modestly and is a good example of how to take care of oneself.  She compliments your efforts to dress your children and sometimes purchases outfits for them just for fun! Whenever she can, she finds ways to incorporate godly advice consistent with your values and beliefs… because hers are the same.  You are confident that if your child asks her about clothing, she will give the right advice, and will support any decisions you make.  She will tell them to listen to their mother even if she personally disagrees.
Aunt Hope wants to take your child shopping for their birthday!  What do you do?

ANSWER: You allow it as long as it fits into your immediate family schedule.  AH has earned your trust and is the kind of person you hope your daughter will become.  
Aunt Blunt – Sometimes her attire is immodest and her makeup is overdone.  She seems obsessed at times with her appearance and makes it a priority over other things of greater importance.  She purchases clothing or makeup and gives them to your children inconsistent with what you have clearly stated about your beliefs on this matter.  She makes fun of your attitude about modesty. 
Aunt Blunt wants to take your child shopping for their birthday!  What do you do?

ANSWER: You do not allow it. AB has made clear your parental guidelines mean nothing to her and the closer relationship your child has with her, the more influence she will have in your daughter's life.  It is not wise to allow a lot of private personal interaction.
Grandma Blunt – She criticizes what you feed your children.  When you tell them they have to eat what you have served, she balks and says, “They are just children.  It won’t hurt for them to have dessert this time.  They need something in their tummy!” 
You have told her not to give them candy, but she sneaks it to them anyway.  What do you do?
ANSWER:  You stand your ground kindly.  In front of your children, let GB know that they will not eat desserts or candy unless you allow it and that will be after they have finished a healthy meal.  This needs to be done in front of the children if the comments she made were in front of them. 
Privately, you tell GB that you love her and and so do the children.  But, if she will not stop giving candy to your children when you have asked her not to, you will have to limit her access to them.  This may seem like a small thing... and it is unless the rest of the scenario is as has already been described here.  

Uncle Hope – He is a fun loving bachelor who plays with your children whenever he is around. They find him to be a barrel of laughs.  They light up as soon as he walks in the door.  He always listens to you about issues with your children and never undermines. 
Uncle Hope brings a bunch of junk food over for a food fest!  You do not want your children to get sick from eating a lot of unhealthy food, especially before bed.  What do you do?

ANSWER: You tell UH that your children can have a few items of your choosing, and you can save some for another time.  Privately, thank him for being such a great and fun uncle and assure him how much you love him and the children adore him.   Ask him next time to discuss this with you ahead of time so plans can be made before getting the children all excited to eat an abundance of food that will later make them sick.


To protect them from physical and spiritual harm. 

Cousin Boy Blunt – 11 year old Cousin has made clear by his actions that he doesn’t appreciate going to church or having anything to do with God. You have learned he talks about girls in inappropriate ways on a regular basis. He is otherwise a good kid and gets good grades. 
He is having an overnight party at his house and you find out there will be adult supervision.  He has invited your child to attend.  What do you do? (Remember precedent)

ANSWER: Do not allow it.  Your son should not be building up relationships with any boys who are heading the wrong direction in their character.  Encourage your son to find friends who have good character and are looking at the world in mature ways.  Read "Protecting Without Overprotecting" from this blog.
Grandpa Blunt – He is your husband’s father and believes firmly that only those in his own church are authorized to do ordinances and vows not to be a part of any that do not include him or other PH men in his own church group.  Your father, Grandpa Hope, has been very supportive of your spiritual guidance to your children and is looking forward to being a part of the baptism of your youngest child, but does not attend GPB’s church.  Your husband and you believe both fathers are authorized to perform the baptism and your child has asked to have GPH perform the ordinance.  What do you do? (Remember precedent)

ANSWER:  First, consider GPB's point of view.  Ask him to show you scriptural evidence of his position, but do not argue or contend about it.  Does it align with scripture?  Or is it all about prejudices, politics or emotions?
If there is no scriptural evidence to support his position, kindly let GPB know that he is welcome to participate in the ordinance with your child.  If he chooses not to do so, you will be disappointed about that, but will have to leave that decision up to him.  Allow GPH to perform the ordinance and continue to invite GPB to all future functions as well.  You cannot allow one family member to determine the outcome of all future church ordinances with unnecessary divisions over emotions, prejudices or church politics.

Aunt Blunt - Aunt Blunt has been living with her boyfriend and wants to invite your child  for a lunch date.  You have no indication that her boyfriend would be around, but your child is aware that they are not married and living together.  What do you do?


ANSWER:  Do you believe living together outside of marriage is appropriate?  Do you want your child to look at this situation as acceptable?  Our actions speak louder than our words.  If this is not appropriate, do not pretend it doesn't matter.  Accepting this behavior says you think it is ok even if your words say otherwise. Do not allow your children to become close to a family member who is living a lifestyle that is outside what you consider appropriate.  If you do, expect they will grow up to behave the same way.

To give them love and emotional support. 

Cousin Girl Blunt – 12 year old Cousin has told your daughter that she has ratty hair.  This has hurt her feelings tremendously and she has come to you for comfort and advice.  You know Aunt Blunt has been very sensitive about the contrast between how you are raising your daughter and how she is raising hers. What do you do?

ANSWER:  Assure your daughter of her own self worth.  Let her know speaking to others as her cousin spoke to you is wrong and inappropriate.  Ask her to be forgiving of her cousin but to recognize she was out of line.  

If the children are small and still learning how to interact with the world, you must talk to AB and CB even though it will be difficult.  As kindly as possible, let them know the words were hurtful and ask that CB understand and apologize.  If the children are older, leave the discussion with AB/CB alone and keep it between you and your daughter.  She must learn to deal with people who do not speak and act appropriately without making a big deal out of it.  

Grandpa Hope – He jokingly comments on your 10 year old son’s weight suggesting he lose some.  You see your son’s face turn red in embarrassment.  You can tell he is very hurt. What do you do?

ANSWER:  Approach GH after your child has left the room.  Be very firm but kind and let him know this is not acceptable.  Your child should not have to deal with being put down when in the presence of family.  

Privately, go to your child and discuss his worth and value.  Let him know he is important and that anyone who says something like that is out of line.  If it is true and your child needs to lose weight, let him know you will help him if he would like to work on it and that everyone has things they need to work on in their lives. But his worth is not connected to his appearance.   
To teach them how to socially relate to the world. 

Grandma Blunt – You have told your young child to go and shake hands with Mr. Oldman at church.  She is shy and you have been working with her to help her overcome this problem.  GMB comes up and sees your child is hesitant to do what you have asked.  She tells you in front of your child, “You shouldn’t make them shake hands with people if they don’t want to.  That’s just not nice!”  What do you do?
ANSWER: Take your child aside and remind them of the importance of overcoming fears.  (Read "Teaching Social Skills" from this blog.)  Remind them that it is part of learning and sometimes learning is difficult.  Continue with the training you have been doing. 

Take GMB aside and explain to her that it is important that she not undermine you as you are teaching your child social skills.  If she doesn't agree, that is ok and you respect that, but she will have to defer to your parental rights to teach your child as you see fit.  

Cousin Boy Hope – He has invited your son to a volleyball event at his church.  Your son likes to hang out with Cousin, and absolutely LOVES volleyball, but doesn’t want to go because he is afraid he won’t know anybody.  What do you do?
ANSWER:  Make sure the only reason for not wanting to go is because of social fears.  If that is the case, tell him he is going and give him some advice on how to interact with people he is meeting for the first time.  Privately, let Cousin know he is apprehensive and ask that he be sure to make him feel welcome as he is learning to become more comfortable in social situations.  Do not allow his fears to make his decisions.

Cousin Boy Blunt – He has invited your son to attend a youth event at his school.  Your son wants to go.  What do you do?
ANSWER:  Say no.  CB has proven himself to be of questionable character.  He is also taking him into an environment with friends that you do not know and likely would be of questionable character as well.  Rethink how you are teaching your son to choose his friends and talk to him about it. 
Much of the decision about who and when a young person should be allowed to interact with others is dependent upon their own self-confidence, character and maturity.  Take this into account and err on the side of caution.  Be sure your child has plenty of other social outlets and experiences that are positive and of good influence.  A child will rebel if "no" is all they hear, so make sure there are plenty of chances to say "yes"!

Grandpa Blunt – He starts to burp loudly and laugh about it in front of your preschool children and tries to get them to do the same.  What do you do?

ANSWER: Immediately stop the interactions.  Tell GB and your child that this is inappropriate behavior and is not acceptable.  Remember those things we might find cute when they are little will become rude when they are older.  They need to learn appropriate social behavior when they are young. 
To ensure they have an adequate education for a successful adult life. 

Grandma Blunt – You are a homeschool mom. GMB insists homeschooling is going to stunt your children’s educational opportunities.  She frequently comments on how much they are missing by not attending school.  She talks to your children about the great things happening at their local public school and how she wishes they could be a part of it.  What do you do?
ANSWER:  Consider her words and her motives.  Thank her for her concerns. Have a talk with your husband if this is his mother and ask him to address the situation.  If it is your mother, remind her that you are in charge of their education and would appreciate her support and encouragement.  Kindly tell her if she is unable to do that, she will need to keep her opinions to herself.  Also let her know not to discuss this with your children again.  When appropriate, invite her to see some of the work they have been doing and to give you suggestions of things you could do at home to improve homeschooling. 

Grandma Hope – She tells you the benefits of homeschooling and wants you to do it.  You believe a private school would be more appropriate because of your family dynamics and your own abilities. She brings you a brochure on the benefits of homeschooling.  What do you do?

ANSWER:  Thank her for her concerns.  Let her know you appreciate her thoughts and are aware she only wants what is best for your children.  Consider what she has to say.  Then, decide for yourself what is best for you and your family and ask her to kindly support your decisions.  

Of course, there are many more scenarios that could and will come up with you and your extended family members, but there are a few basic rules to follow. 
You are in charge of your children and you must make sure your relatives know this.  

You will not be undermined by anyone in regards to raising your children. Period.  

You will listen to sincere and wise advice and consider it when making decisions.  You are not always right.  

You will show respect for all family members to every extent possible and teach your children to be respectful of all.  

You expect respect in return and will protect your children from influences that cause disrespect or acceptance of lifestyles that are unacceptable to you. 

What should be done about a constantly
undermining extended family member?

Sometimes, subtle hints, words or actions do not deter a family member from undermining your authority as a parent.  This kind of situation takes a firm response.  Keep in mind the fourth point above.  You always want to show respect.  But there is a time when a confident and firm action must be taken to stop inappropriate behavior. 
If the inappropriate behavior is coming from your in-laws, the first step again is to talk to your husband kindly and let him know you expect him to deal with this problem.  If he does not do it, does not see it, does not support you, you need to let him know you love him and want to support him, but you will not tolerate this behavior from his family.  If he does not want to deal with it, you can ask him to support you in dealing with the problem and have your back.  If he will not, it is time to get some family counseling.

Depending upon his response, you may have to deal with it yourself.  Hopefully he will be on board and understand the problem.  Sometimes, even if he IS on board, this next step will need to be taken. 
Regardless of whether or not it is your in-laws or your own family, you will need to have a conversation that “lays down the law”.  Clear boundaries need to be set.  Clear expectations need to be stated.  It is a good idea to write out what points you want to make before you set up a time to speak directly to the party involved. 
It is also important to let them know you love them and are hoping that by having this conversation, your relationship with them and their relationship with your children can improve and continue.  Let them know in no uncertain terms that your goal is to reconcile the problems and set appropriate boundaries so you can all communicate effectively in the future. 
Then, lay it out.  Let them know your goals for your children, what you expect of them, and what boundaries you are setting in place.  Be confident but kind.  Firm but compassionate.  Their response to your sincere attempt to reconcile the problem is not your responsibility. 
Your responsibility is to confront the problem and solve it to the best of your ability. 

Before you do this, it is a good idea to get some counseling from someone who knows how to do it and allow them to give you some feedback.  Also, let your husband know what you are doing and that when a possible backlash happens, you expect his support.  He will likely get a call from his family member if you have confronted the problem with them.  He needs to be prepared and you need to have a conversation with him to make sure he is going to support you.
There may be times when there is no solution because you have done all you can.  The influence of a family member may be too potentially harmful to allow interaction at all.  Extended family members are not entitled to be with your child.  It is a privilege YOU give them as a parent.  You set the boundaries and you determine the level of interaction family members will have with your children. 
Keep in mind the 6 fundamental parental responsibilities.  Your relationship with others should never be the priority over these six things. 
Sometimes being the MOM can be a hard road.  But, in the end, you will know you have done the right thing if you do not let fear get in your way.  Moms, YOU CAN DO THIS

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