My Mom Disagrees With My Parenting Choices—And Here’s How I Deal With It

My mom lives in Canada, so when she comes to visit, she comes to visit. As in: she stays with us for three weeks and gets 100% immersed in the busy, messy, occasionally chaotic weeds of my family’s life. And that’s great; my kids get to spend lots of quality time with Grandma, and I get a little break from some of the things, like dishes. I love that.

What I don’t love is when my mom criticizes my parenting choices. She’s never been someone to hold back an opinion, and if she sees something she doesn’t like, you bet I’m gonna hear about it. She loves me and my kids to the moon and back… and yet she complains that my household is too kid-focused. She also always mentions that my children lack gratitude, that they question authority too much, and that my son’s picky eating is beyond the pale. (Her solution: just put a piece of chicken in front of him, and if he’s hungry enough he’ll eat it.)

When she criticizes my choices and my kids’ behavior, of course I get defensive and peeved. I try to hold the frustration back in front of my kids, but sometimes it just spills out… and no one is happier for it. So, in hopes of doing things a little differently on this visit, I turned to Chicago-based social worker Kelley Kitley to get some strategies for dealing with disapproving comments from parents. I shared with her a bit about my mom and my typical exchanges, and Kelley made this suggestion: Affirm my mom’s good intentions, then tell her if and when she can help. You know, the good old improv technique of “yes, and.”

With Kelley’s suggestion in mind, I’ve been anticipating some of the conversations my mom and I might have (OK, will have)… and practicing changing my own role in them. How might I tweak my responses to make the conversations more productive — and keep my cool?

Here’s an example:

Typical exchange 1

Mom: You shouldn’t plan your weekend around the kids’ activities. They need to know they’re not the only ones that matter here.

Me (getting worked up): Just because you let us kids roam the neighborhood helter-skelter while you had coffee with your friends doesn’t mean I should do the same with my kids. Their lives and mine are enriched by their structured activities! I want to give them all the opportunities I can and there’s nothing wrong with that!

What I’m going to try instead…

Me: I like giving my kids enriching experiences. But you’re right that we could probably use some more child/adult balance. Would you be willing to babysit tonight so my husband and I can go out? (Catch the stealthy redirect?) And maybe tomorrow you and I can hit up a museum while the kids are at capoeira.

Typical Exchange 2

Mom: You should volunteer at a soup kitchen with the kids so they can see first-hand how fortunate they are.

Me  (trying not to foam at the mouth): You can’t just show up to a soup kitchen with two kids under 10 and expect to leap in and serve meals to the homeless, Mom! There are forms to fill out, hoops to jump through… I don’t even think they allow minors on the premises! Besides, the kids are learning about economic privilege through carefully curated reading material! Do you even see how stressed I am just trying to fulfill my family’s basic needs? Seriously Mom, you need to back off!

What I’m going to try instead…

Me: I like that idea. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now so can you help me find out when and where volunteer opportunities for families are available? I’d be happy to take a look.

Typical Exchange 3

Mom: You should stop catering to your son’s picky palate. Just serve him what the family’s eating, and he’ll join in eventually.

Me (verging on hysterical): He would probably starve to death before eating that chicken! And have you seen how he gags at the smell of cheese?!? (See above re: how stressed I already am and re: minding your own damn business!)

What I’m going to try instead…

Me: I’d love for him to enjoy the family meal. We’re working on it by introducing new foods bit by bit. His pediatrician is comfortable with his nutrition for now.

Typical Exchange 4

Mom: Your kids question authority too much. I told them to take out the garbage, and they said “Why? Mom doesn’t make us do that.” It’s disrespectful and rude.

Me (brimming with hostility): They’re not even tall enough to open the lid of the outdoor garbage bin! Anyway, we already have set chores for them—see that “responsibilities chart” on the fridge!? I’m teaching them to help out, but no one likes being ordered around (just ask my teenage self!).

What I’m going to try instead…

Me: Our parenting style is to explain things to our kids and keep communication open, and I get how that sometimes feels like questioning authority or talking back. They’re expected to help out in ways that they can, but we also encourage them to voice their opinions. If you see chores that need doing around my house, talk to me about it and I’ll decide if it’s something I can add to the kids’ list.

The thing is… my mom has some decent points. I would like for my kids to understand their privilege better. I’d be ecstatic if I didn’t have to make a separate meal for my picky-eating son every evening. And wouldn’t we all love it if our kids just did as we said, instantly and without question? But I’m doing the best I can with my resources, my kids’ innate tendencies and personalities, and my capacity to engage in battles. In case no one’s noticed, this parenting thing is HARD.

And here’s the re-frame that’s helped me most: My mom, while free to express her opinions, has essentially very little power in the situation. I’m the parent, and my husband and I get to decide how things are done in our house. So, I can approach the whole “Mom doesn’t like my choices thing” differently by selecting what to tune in and what to tune out. If there’s a grain of truth to what she’s saying, I try to file it for mulling over later—like in the privacy of the shower. (Just kidding! I’m a mom, I don’t get privacy in the shower.) But when a comment holds no truth for me, I’m free to let it go. Did she go through childbirth with these two lovely humans? No? Okay then—my kids, my rules.

Given all of that, I’m practicing a new mantra: I don’t have to lose my sh*t. I don’t have to lose my sh*t. I don’t have to lose my sh*t.

And the truth is—the tendency to question authority (within reason) and voice opinions that my kids and I share? Guess where I learned it? That’s right, from my mom.

Danielle Simone Brand is the author of Weed Mom: The Canna-Curious Woman's Guide to Healthier Relaxation, Happier Parenting, and Chilling TF Out. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their two kids, and a very barky terrier.