How would you handle this situation? (Parenting issue with in-laws)

I’ll preface by saying that I think that normally, my FIL is wonderful with my son (B). They adore each other, and my son gets upset when his grandfather walks out of the room to go to the bathroom. I have no issues with him as a grandparent - but I do take issue with what happened this afternoon.

We went to the in-law’s house for Mother’s Day dinner tonight. Normally, one day a weekend, they will have him over for lunch and his nap so that we can get some stuff done around the house (we both work full-time). Today, my husband took him over around 11:30, and we came over around 3:30.

My son, who is 21 months, was a little bit crazy. He’s actually a pretty good kid for a toddler and listens very well, but he has several teeth coming in at once right now, and it makes him a little nuts - he also hasn’t been sleeping well because of his teeth, and unfortunately, that sets him up for bad behavior. He’s one of those kids who is perpetually happy, even when he hurts, but he lets out his feelings in other ways. He thinks he is ALWAYS funny, and that’s a trait he got from my side of the family. Even when he’s in trouble, he thinks everything is HILARIOUS. I’m not blind to his misbehavior, and today was one of those days where I could tell he was testing my father-in-law’s limits.

We have chosen not to spank. It’s a decision we made before he was born, and at the time, I was more on board with it than my husband was, but once our son came, he was with me on it. We have made this clear to my parents, since my nephew has been spanked (and my brother and SIL have given them permission to do so), and we wanted it clear that there will be no physical punishments given, including hand-slapping. I also thought we made this clear to my in-law’s, and I though they were in agreement because we’ve talked about discipline techniques.

Today, my MIL was loading the dishwasher, and my son was ‘helping’. I was clearing dishes off of the table, my husband was putting something away, and my FIL was closest to my son at the dishwasher. At one point, B reached toward the dishwasher to take something out that he had already been told not to touch, and my FIL slapped his hand. I saw this, my husband did not. I believe my MIL also saw it.

I chose not to say anything. B was obviously more shocked than anything else, and didn’t cry or really react other than to walk away, and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I’m sure bumping his head on the table hurt more than the hand smack. And although the Mama Bear in me came out, and I was seething inside, I made the decision to tell my husband on the way home since it was his father.

We left about a half hour later, and I told my husband what had happened in the car. He has said that he will bring it up to his dad, but I know he’s worried about causing friction. While his mom and I have always gotten along beautifully, his dad and I never really got along until the baby came - since then, we have gotten along much better, and I thought he respected our parenting decisions.

We’re not sure how to approach this with his dad. It may have just happened in the heat of the moment and was a one-off, but I don’t want his dad thinking this is an option for discipline. I really thought it would be my parents who had problems with it, but it seems to be the other way around.

(Please don’t turn this into a debate on spanking vs. non-spanking. This is simply the decision we have chosen as parents, and realize that others may make different choices. This isn’t necessarily about the actual hand-slap, but about my FIL respecting our decisions as our son’s parents.)

Give gramps a spanking.

Frankly, I don’t see what grandpa did as punishment. Grandpa might have though he was reaching for something sharp, or fragile.* What do you think they should have done? Where do you draw the line? Would grabbing him and steering him away from the dishwasher have been okay?

*Or he might have just stepped on grandpa’s last nerve.

In my opinion, I’d let it go. It was a fitting, non-abusive, not-outside-the-norm response/punishment by grandpa for something your boy shouldn’t have been doing, and grandpa was right there to handle it expeditiously.

You’re seething because you’ve had issues with grandpa in the past, not because of this whole song and dance about “respecting our decisions as our son’s parents”. Who cares if they respect your decisions as your son’s parents? You’re going to raise him exactly the way you want to raise him, and you have the lion’s share of the influence in his life. Whether anyone else agrees or not doesn’t really matter does it, because they’re not the ones that count. In the whole scheme of things, your son is over there, what, a couple hours a week? And in that time, discipline issues that you yourself are not in the imediate vicinity to handle in a timely manner probably hardly ever at all come up.

Without getting into a big thing about how given your son’s age, your FIL handled it in the best possible way it could have been handled IMO, I’ll just leave it at “let it go”. If there is a more aggressive pattern of this in the future, then maybe I’d worry about having a talk with the inlaws.

I would let it go. We don’t spank our kids and would get upset if one of the Grandparents did it. This, however, sounds like more of a knee-jerk type response and probably not worth getting too upset about if it’s an isolated incident. If it happens again it won’t be so easy to let it go and you should ask your husband to speak to them about it.

And I totally get this - I think he was on his grandfather’s nerves - I admit that. He was reaching for a barbecue brush - nothing dangerous, just something he had found interesting that he had been told to leave alone once before. I had been redirecting him on a constant basis, and turned away for two seconds to take some plates off of the table.

I do suspect this is a knee-jerk, one-off response from my FIL - and we have definitely reached a much better place than we were at even three years ago. I’ve learned how he thinks, and I will just say what I need to say to him in a non-confrontational, but firm way - and we actually can discuss things pleasantly. It’s definitely a much better way to handle things than the way we used to handle them. That’s why I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill if this is just a one time thing.

And drpepper, I disagree with you that I was seething because of our past issues. We were having a very enjoyable day and my FIL and I have definitely reached an understanding. I was seething because I saw him use a physical punishment on my child that we have chosen not to use. It was a Mama Bear response.

My concern with our past issues is just about making more out of this than it really is.


Well I seem to be in the minority here. I, like you, would be furious if someone hit my child after me letting them know that we were not going to be using corporal punishment with him.

Obviously the little smack didn’t hurt too much but that’s not the point.

I can understand someone who doesn’t have a problem with spanking thinking that it’s no big deal, let it go. But for someone who really does have a problem with spanking, it’s a huge deal.

I have no advice as to what to say to gramps I’m afraid. I just wanted to lend a little support.

It wasn’t a spanking, it was a quick slap to get the message through that was already ignored. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I would not be upset if my FIL did the same.

I would have repeated the warning again, more sternly, but I just don’t see this being a big issue.


It is not a bad thing for children to learn that people other than their parents have different rules and different behavior. Obviously if gramps had wallopped the child, or in some egregious way contradicted your teachings that would be different. Ditto if he had given him something he was not allowed to have because it was dangerous, like food he was allergic to or too young to handle.

When I used to babysit for my sister’s son at my house, I asked her about things he was permitted and not permitted to do. She said that when he was at my house he should follow my rules. She expected that he would learn that there would be different rules of behavior, and different consequences of misbehavior in school, in church, in his own home and in other people’s homes.

If I were the FIL in this case and you came to me with that, I’d probably say I was sorry, won’t do it again, etc. I’d go along with it because I’d love my grandchild and want to go along with what the parents thought best.

Then I’d wonder who the fuck you thought you were, telling me, your elder and a person who has proven parenting skills (you married my work), what to do in my own house.

We’ve helped you two out by watching the child—I love the child of course, and enjoy being with him. It may not always be a convenient time for ME, but I know you need the help and I try to accomodate you whenever possible…you both work full-time and need time to get things done.

Then you want to get pissy with me for an absent-minded, one-off thing? :mad:

I would also be upset if anyone slapped my child’s hand away. Why can’t you just go over to FIL and remind him that you all do not usual physical punishment, either slaps or spanks? "Gramps, I noticed you slapped Jr’s hand away at the dishwasher the other day. Please don’t do that with him in future. We don’t believe in hitting kids, and are teaching Jr to use words. Thanks. How about this weather we’re having? <insert other mundane topics here> Gramps may want to discuss this, but it’s not likely.

I think you were right to not call Gramps on it in front of your kid. 21 months is old enough to play both sides against the middle, but also, it might have gotten contentious and possibly have upset Jr.

Thing is, you haven’t said anything to Gramps about this, so how is Gramps going to know that this is not acceptable? He may know about the no spanking, but might not consider this in the same category. Hubby sounds like he just doesn’t want to rock the boat–may I suggest that you take this on? You may not feel really comfortable doing so, but I know from experience that waiting for my husband to talk about any issue with his parents led to nothing being talked about. You feel strongly about this, so you need to set the limits. (it’d be nice if Hubby backed you up). No need for ugly words or belligerence, but a few nice words would take care of this issue. If those words don’t work, you have another, larger problem on your hands.

good luck.

lobotomy–Gramps can feel whatever he likes about his DIL’s position on discipline. He isn’t running the show here. He needs to recognize and respect the parent’s limits on their kids. Resent away, but bite his tongue and do it. I’m not a grandparent yet, but I have to say I’ve had several living breathing examples of how not to do it. You don’t undermine the parents with bribery and making Mom and Dad the bad guys, and you don’t confuse a child with using a different “technique” of parenting, as much as that’s possible. Slapping a hand away is not an effective disciplinary method, unless said kid was reaching for something on fire. Gramps is out of line here, but not in a malicious or big way. He needs reminding, not a scene or a drama.

I have no problem with setting rules in their house - I expect my son to listen to his grandparents, whether he’s in our house or theirs anyway. In my family, you listen to what an adult tells you to do. If an aunt or uncle told me to do something growing up, I damn well better have listened. Hell, on the street where I grew up, if an adult reprimanded me for something I shouldn’t have been doing, if I didn’t listen, I would expect them to tell my parents and I’d be punished. I’m totally fine with the ‘it takes a village’ mentality, and several of my friends, as well as my SIL and cousins, and I have the same outlook on that - we are all fine with the others reprimanding our children if it’s deserved.

However, I think the idea of physical punishment is the decision of the parent. To us, a hand-slap or a spanking is not the way to handle his discipline (and he went right back to the dishwasher a couple of minutes later - so it obviously didn’t deter him for long). He has also entered his own hitting phase (which is an unfortunately side effect of daycare and spending time with his older cousin, who’s in his own phase of hitting), and we have been working very, very hard to show him that hitting is NOT appropriate. It’s rather difficult to reinforce that if someone else is using physical means as punishment - especially at this age.

Again, I still do think this was a one-off issue, which is why I chose to let it go at the time. I’ve calmed down a lot since it happened, and I know how much my FIL adores my son - so obviously, this is not something that’s going to make or break our relationship. I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I’m reacting to the OP term “seething” and Floaty’s “furious.” I think as an elder and an accomplished parent, both of them need to cut him a little slack. I’m NOT saying they need to change their view on corporal punishment. I AM saying they need to dial down their anger toward someone who obviously loves the child, had a little slip, and will probably cheerfully self-correct if they bring it to his attention nicely instead of “GODDAMMIT FRED, WE TOLD YOU WE DO NOT SPANK OR HIT BLAH BLAH BLAH!” “seething?” “furious?” They’re on the same team aren’t they?

Notice I said, “Here’s what I would do.” followed by “Here’s what I would think.” Nary a word about the grandfather creating drama.

FTR I don’t have kids (let alone grandkids) so I channeled my deceased father for this response. I’ve seen my sibs leave kids with my folks and now it’s just my mom. I know older folk love them and are hard-pressed to refuse. But they’re retired, old, need a little peace…and deserve a little respect and leeway.

This is where I’m at. Your kids, but their house. He did not spank the child. Sure, you may not have liked the hand slap, and I probably wouldn’t either, but I guess the question I’d have would be: What was he reaching for? If he was reaching for a sharp knife, I’d set aside the “Hey, you hit my kid” and be thankful that he stopped the kid from a potentially far more damaging incident.

This is the angle you need to follow in any discussion with your FIL.

This is why I didn’t say anything at the time. We’d been having a really nice day, and I didn’t want to ruin it. I can’t go back and change not saying anything - now I wish I had said something calmly, although I was angry at the time. I think it was more the shock of seeing someone physically disciplining my child when we’ve discussed it before and he knows it’s not how we parent.

Regardless of what he and I have felt about each other in the past, I DO want him to respect us as parents (And I HAVE gained respect for him as my FIL over the past couple of years - not something I would have said three or four years ago) and I do not want to alienate him as my son’s grandfather. We are very appreciative of the time that they give us by letting him come over and ‘play’ once a week or so.

Just to address this - as far as ‘proven parenting skills’ - my husband is a good guy, but he has put up with a lot of emotional shit from his father in his life. That’s improved over the past few years, but it’s one of the reasons he and I had such a volatile relationship from the beginning - I didn’t sit back and take his shit and venom. Let’s put it this way - my husband would never speak to our son the way that I have CONSISTENTLY heard his father speak to him, and the way he has spoken to his wife and me at times. If he did or if I ever thought that was a possibility, I wouldn’t love him and I sure as hell wouldn’t have married him.

I do appreciate the advice and empathy. Obviously, there are things that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I do appreciate people taking the time to respond.

IMO, Elza, it’s a package deal. There’s good—your child gets to know his grandparents, you get some much-needed help, and so on. And there’s bad, like this small incident. You can’t take all the good and leave all the bad. I’d encourage you to realize that it’s the same for the grandparents, i.e. good and bad. Don’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water over a small slipup. JMO YMMV.

Where did I say I was going to go full-on screaming at FIL? I WAS seething, but I was seething inside and it lasted for about thirty seconds before my rational side took over. I do think my FIL is a much better grandfather than he was a father, however.

Chimera, I didn’t even think about that. We probably should address it from that angle - it’s starting to get through to my son, and we don’t want that to be disrupted.

I’ll just make it clear - this is not a make-or-break kind of thing. My son was not hurt by the hand-slap, if anything, he was just startled. I would NEVER take use him against FIL for something like this - that’s not hurting anyone but them, and my kid adores his grandpa way too much for me to ever even think about that.

You didn’t. I read it as this volcano building up inside you. Perhaps “seething” has a bigger connotation for me than you intended…I don’t think I can seethe for (only) 30 seconds, for instance.

Floaty’s followup made me see helicopter parents surrounding the grandfather like King Kong on top of the Empire State Bldg. If this was not your intention, apologies.