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Clash w/SIL: Need Advice and to Vent

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Here's what happened: Last night phone rang and dh picked up. I heard him make some small talk and then stuff like " Well we're NOT going to spank" "yes our parenting style is different from yours" and "I'm sorry you feel that way" Naturally I went on high alert. Finally he hung up kind of upset. It was his sister who had called ostensibly to congratulate us on finally buying an apartment but then started asking what services ds is getting for Early Intervention and then started to cry, saying she was very upset about our ds and the fact that he's rough with her son, who is around the same age. Ds bit her ds this past weekend at a large family gathering. She requested that we don't have them around each other "for a while" and suggested that we take him to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Some background: Our ds's are born 3 weeks apart and dh is from a close family that sees each other a lot and this sister and her husband have a parenting style that is the polar opposite of ours. She never breastfed for one second. They did that Ferber stuff. Their lifestyle is different: They live in the suburbs, we live in the city, where our kid spends time every day in a busy playground, her kid has a live-in nanny, his mother travels for her job a fair amount and has spent nights away from him which I have not even considered. Our ds's are 25 months. My son is aggressive and we have been working hard to deal with it. The Early Intervention has helped tremendously as has just getting older and talking more. He now plays pretty well a good part of the time with other kids but there are still times that he gets over-stimulated, worked up, and like any two-year-old, grabby and "Mine!" Occasionally will bite, pull hair. Her kid is on the timid side (which bothers his parents a lot), smaller than our ds, and also speech-delayed. His mother (in my view) is the highly anxious type who is constantly wiping and dabbing at her kid. He is so clean always and is always in a beautiful outfit compared to my son who . . . well let's just say is not like that. I watched her feed him when he was a baby and she never let him feed himself; she spooned the food into his mouth and wiped and dabbed constantly. Can you tell I also have some criticisms of how she parents? Well this anger has surged to the surface in me to the point that I don't htink I should talk to her just yet. FOr one thing, I don't mean to portray her as a complete jerk, she and her husband are not at all. I have to say they have been very nice and respectful to me in the past.

I am willing to discuss how we can best handle family gatherings, and if she would prefer that the kids not be around each other, then I guess we need to take turns going to them. At the moment I don't feel like being around her, her husband or her ds until my ds is 4. Her anxiety and increasing unfriendliness to my son is something that I don't want him to be around either. But I am not apologizing for the way I parent and I am not copping to not "disciplining" (her word) him enough. (We do discipline him but gently. We don't make a public display of it. I always tell him that we don't bite, it hurts, poor kid he bit, etc. and make sure he understands I mean it, and pull him aside. And I feel in my heart it is working, though slowly. He now looks unhappy and makes crying gesture.) Dh and I agreed on that. Last night I pulled out my Sears books and P. Leach and read once again how to deal with these situations. It confirmed for me that we do deal with it correctly. Dh's sister also mentioned time-outs, which I don't know all that much about but have the feeling that for a two year old they are not worthwhile. I can't imagine ds co-operating and sitting still for any meaningful length of time anyway. I mean to go and read the article in Mother ing a couple of issues back about tantrums, maybe that'll help. SO I am asking for people's reactions as to what they would do in this situation. It has the potential to cause alot of family strife, possibly a rift. I get very combative in situations like this although I can basically understand her protective urge toward her son.

What would you do?
post #2 of 12
I would do exactly what you are doing and exactly what you have suggested - talk to her, tell her you are comfortable with your parenting and that if she feels the need for your sons to not see one another that you would be happy to work out some sort of arrangement for family gatherings. If you are feeling combative, perhaps give it a little time before you make the call and write out what you want to say so you have it to refer to and are less likely to get emotional.

It sounds as though you are very in tune with your son and giving him exactly what he needs. She, on the other hand, sounds completely clueless. Suggesting a psychiatrist for a barely two-year-old child who bites sometimes? Give me a break..... And being so bothered by her little boy's timidity? Is it any wonder, given an anxious mother who, it sounds, is not around very much and, when she is, is constantly trying to fix him?

post #3 of 12
I agree with Dragonfly with just one change: your husband should talk to her. It's his sister and his son, why should you be in the middle? I'm not saying you are not involved but it's his family and he should deal with it. And it's much less likely to get ugly if he talks to her because he knows her better than you. My .02.

post #4 of 12
I couldn't agree more with the last 2 posters. Have your dh talk to her, and keep it calm and simple. If she is not comfortable having them play together, then you are willing to respect that and to make arrangements about who will visit when. I see no good coming from arguing over parenting styles or what is or isn't working.
post #5 of 12
Just a thought... you say SIL is anxious, obviously overreacts (to suggest a Psychiatrist for a biting 2 yo!), your sons are the same age, she has concerns about her son's speech delay and timidness - she might be projecting her own issues onto you and your son. Freudian kind of thing. The fact that she cried out of concern for your son also. She sounds rather over involved in your son and your family's life - I mean the fact that she cried about it. Her personality sounds radically different from yours - she's rather perfectionist, anxious, highly strung sort of person? maybe even a little obsessive?

When people say things to upset me, it always helps me to try and see where they're coming from. Both you and your SIL sound like great parents in that you're both very involved, perceptive and protective of your kids but you have radically different parenting and personality styles.
post #6 of 12
Wow! For a second, I thought you were describing my SIL and my dh's family, with a few differences. My dd and SIL's dd are 6 weeks apart and our parenting styles are different as well. Your situation is more extreme than my relationship with my SIL, but I can see a lot of parallels and it wouldn't be inconceivable if I have to face the same type of situaiton in the future (our dd's are 16 and 18 months old currently).

Anyway, What the other posters said about having your dh talk to his sister sounds like a good idea. That's what I do when my SIL questions our parenting. She's actually not very aggressive, more of a passive-aggressive type. Her comments and questions are far more subtle and manipulative, but the basic outcome is still the same as your SIL. In any case, I find that I would get too worked up if I talked to her myself. Thus I let dh handle that aspect. I figure, whatever he says to her, she will forgive him b.c they are siblings. Whatever I say will turn into a major family drama!! His family is very close-knit and constantly into each other's business, so I don't want to be the "negative" person who is constantly making problems.

As far as family gatherings, if your SIL doesn't want her ds to be with your ds, then I think she should be the one to make sure the kids are separated. IMO, I think it sends the wrong message to totally separate the kids. How else are they going to learn? Maybe they don't need to be with each other the whole time, but how can you explain to a 2 year old that he can't play with his cousin? If she wants to do that, then let her be the one keeping the distance. Your ds, however, should not have to be ostracized because of her. He should still be able to socialize with all the rest of the family and not made to feel like he is being "bad" or however she labels him.

It totally sounds like you are doing the right thing...being in tune with your child's feelings and his personality. Biting is totally a normal thing that most kids go through. Some do it more than others, but it certainly isn't anything that parents need to freak about. Your ds will learn that biting is not permitted by having you gently discipline him. The difference, it appears, between you and your SIL, is that she thinks "discipline" has to be something harsh whereas you employ more of a positive parenting approach to discipline. Don't let her get you down or second guess your instincts and your research into the topic of discipline. If anything, you can give *her* some pointers on the positive aspects of gentle parenting!!

post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies. I feel hugely better after getting a response. It always amazes me at how much it helps. I think I will have dh talk to her because I am just too volitile and too much from other things rises to the surface. I am pissed because for these whole two years I have been respectful of her and her husband's style of parenting and there were times when I really had to bite my tongue. I feel that it is overstepping a boundary to suggest counseling. I think that's interesting that she might be projecting. It hadn't occurred to me. Both she and her husband are in general high-anxiety, high-strung types and are freaked out about germs and dirt in general. Well, that's my viewpoint; I go in the other direction you could say so I guess it depends on where you're coming from.

I do think a lot about where she's coming from. It is hard to have your kid be bit; I know, it happens to my ds in the playground often enough. Also I have noted that all her friends are very mainstream in their parenting and she has very little exposure (none that I know of actually) to any alternative methods. ONe of them lent her an Ezzo book when they were struggling with the baby being newborn and being a newborn, objecting to being put in a crib in another room and keeping them up at night--thank god she had the instinct to think it was too harsh. So that's what she's surrounded with. The problem is, I see no other alternative than to have the kids not cross paths because now I'm going to get very tense around them and what I am concerned about at this point is this: I don't want my ds to grow up in an extended familywith a reputation, with a label, already. And that has a cost; one, it means dh spends less time with his sister who he really does love, and two, ds and his cousin don't get to know each other. I had hopes that they would one day be friends, now it seems that the differences are too great. Now I think the seed of resentment has been sown. I wish dh's sister could just relax but she can't. I think she was crying because she's upset at saying she doesn't want to see us, not for ds whom I sense she doesn't like. Also I KNOW that though she didn't voice it exactly that she's thinking: It's the kook you married with those nutty ideas and lax parenting, if she would just discipline her kid and allow you to do so also he would just stop the behavior. Sigh. But it doesn't work that way does it.
post #8 of 12
After your husband talks to her, I would suggest you try to let it go next time you're together (take the high road). I would also be with your son at all times for a while, not let the two children be alone. My son started biting his cousin at about the same age and I had to just shadow him whenever they were together. It's not at all uncommon but, of course a biter needs to be supervised at all times. It won't go on forever and I think it would show that you are concerned that your nephew doesn't get bitten. I wouldn't let this be about you (or your son), like you mentioned already, this is between your husband and his sister. Let him handle it (he's got more experience dealing with her behavior).
post #9 of 12
A closed mouth gathers no feet
This cracks me up.

Now back to your regularly scheduled thread.
post #10 of 12
This is your SIL's first child? I know I was more uptight and got more upset about things when I was a first time parent. Sometimes similar issues come up with dd2 and I am much more tolerant and able to work through them than I would have been with dd1.

I'm sure the "take him to a psychologist" comment was made in anger and frustration. Some (I have never seen it to be most or even many but it certainly is not rare) kids bite at this age. My brother did. It is not pleasant for the mom of the kid biting or the mom of the bitten kid. I feel for you both. But it is just a stage and seems you are aware of it and taking steps to rectify the problem. I agree with a previous poster that you should not leave a kid who is prone to biting to play unsupervised with other kids until he/she is more able to control that.

I would wait a while until you are calm and then write her a letter (have your dh read it over or wait a few days and reread it yourself before sending) explaining that you are aware of the problem and are taking x,y,z steps (maybe even tell her about the books you are referring to). I would acknowledge to her how hard it must be to have your child be on the receiving end of the biting. I would apologize for it. I have found that a simple "I'm so sorry that happened" when one child hits, bites, pushes another goes a long way in the understanding of the other mother. Even though kids are kids and do that, even though you didn't teach him to do it and are actively trying to change his behavior, saying you are sorry it happened makes me feel better and then I deal better and more calmly with the issue.

I would try to deal with this now so your boys can have a good relationship down the road. They will never remember this - but you moms will. If you guys can find some way to respect each other's differences (sounds like you have already been doing this in the past) then the kids will follow suit. The biting thing will go away but the bad feelings from it may not if you don't deal well with it now. Give her time to cool down; you cool down; then find a way to talk or write to each other about it.
post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 
Not to drag this out interminably but I would like to reply to the right-on posts that came after my last post. First of all, an update: DH called SIL back who right away apologized for suggesting psychologist and questioning our choices of parenting and they talked awhile and worked it out that not being in the same place with both kids for a while was unnecessary and SIL was content with dh's promise to supervise our ds better. So I felt better and calmed down enough, thankfully, to be able to take the high road when she called last night and very nicely said she wanted to also talk to me personally, and again apologized and said she didn't want us to feel bad, etc., and that she realizes she has no right to suggest what we do for ds, just to ask us to keep more on top of him. I realized in was being made in good faith and that she really did feel bad, so I told her that I feel that we really do need to keep better watch of him (which I do think is true). So it was a good conversation and all (PHEW) is smoothed over--to the point that the next family gathering will not be tense and unhappy, which I was dreading. Taking the high road IS the best advice so I am glad I didn't talk to her right after we got the first phone call as I have such a hard time with that. I realize fully that with these things, children become an extension of ourselves and I would have been reacting defensively to what I perceived as an attack on my character. However I STILL think it would have been a release to finally be able to say, OK here's what I think of some of the ways that you parent . . . because as I said everything they do we do the opposite pretty much on down the line including what they feed him.

Yes, he's the first kid. Also interesting, is that we were talking to one of ds's therapists about it, who asked about ds's cousin's father, who was really whipped up about it. We said that his older brother was bullying and domineering when he was growing up and she said it's therefore not surprising that he is unusually anxious about his own son being bullied.

Also, delighted.mama, you biring up a good point in that it is not a good thing for SIL and BIL's kid to be sheltered completely from other kids who are rough. Not that he should be allowed to be bitten--every kid deserves to be respected and protected--but that the knee-jerk reaction to pull him out of any potential situation is not good. I agree. I think that it is a parents' job to have the good judgment of when to intervene and when not to and that you have to give your child the opportunities to learn how to deal socially. Not easy to call every time, I know. And I am not advocating a laissz faire attitude toward children being bitten. I bring it up because BIL is convinced that his kid being around our kid will make him afraid of other kids in general which I don't agree with. I think in general his kid would benefit from being around other kids more often.

I think that the whole situation brought up a lot of good questions and in retrospect I talked a lot about it with dh, with a friend of mine, here on the board, and in the end had the most intimate conversation w/SIL yet. I also think it was a wake up call for us. We had been very watchful and hovery in the past, when ds was worse, but Early Intervention and just growing and beginning to talk had such dramatic effects for the better that we had relaxed alot around ds and other kids. The thing is, it hasn't disappeared completley. So, we have resolved to be much more on top of it than we were and really only let them play together with one of us right next to him, and with some distance. He is also 25 months, and at the height of his NO! MINE! thing.

In Early Intervention, when you transfer from one-on-one therapy to a group, they ask you if you think your child needs someone whose whole job is to stay on top of a kid who has such a problem with controlling himself, in order to protect the other kids and keep the kid from getting into trouble, and when the coordinator asked us if we felt he needed that we said, yes, definitely.

I realize that SIL and her husband, and dh and I will never see eye to eye on the whole discipline/parenting issue, and I don't see that debating it will be so valuable (I'm right of course, and can send them the books to prove it). The main thing is that it is comfortable within the family and that the two kids can one day, if not become friends which I don't think is all that realistic because they'll live in such different worlds, at least have fun with each other during those big long boring family events while the grown ups talk.
post #12 of 12
I am glad things are better. i read your OP and though...uh, oh! I have been in the opposite situation....my cousins child was a viscious viscious biter...of my helpless infant, once biting his face and drawing blood on his little cheek, while he sat in his carseat (he was about 3 weeks old and we were getting ready to leave). I felt she could have done more, but i really didnt say anything to avoid a situation like yours! When our child is hurt, especially by another child, i think its natural to get upset to the point of crticizm....not that its right, mind you. i am just so glad your sil called and that things are better. and that she wants to talk with you is wonderful, so many people just hide things under the carpet, simmering and stewing and feelings get worse and worse.

keep us updated!
warmly, lisa
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