I am a thirty-five year old mother of two boys, ages 12 and 9. I am married, and both my husband and I are employed, but are not highly paid people. Because of our shaky finances, we have moved in with my mother and her husband. It is a little cramped, with the boys sharing a fold out bed in the living room. We contribute to the bills and the food. My question is, how much power do I give my mom in disciplining the kids? Although they are pretty well behaved, they are boys, and don’t always get along. When I got home from work the other day I found the 9 year old standing in the corner, and my older son sitting on the couch with his hands folded on his lap. They had both been there for about an hour. I was then lectured by my mom what a poor disciplinarian I was, and how poorly behaved the kids were. I told her privately that she needed to “release” the boys from their punishment, and she said no, they hadn’t learned their lesson. I took them outside, discussed the problem and set them free. My mother was furious and hasn’t spoken a word to me or the boys for the last two days. Was I in the wrong here? I am grateful she let us move in, but does that give her the authority to run my family? I don’t know what to do.
Working Myself Crazy
You know, other cultures accept multi-generation families living under one roof. Asians, for example, have had grandparents, parents and their children living together to consolidate resources and income to save for the kid’s college education. Our American culture has not embraced such a lifestyle until fairly recently. Due to lousy finances, broken families and dysfunctional lifestyles, the number of “blended families” has increased greatly in the past twenty years or so. Thus, when I deal with families who have numerous generations living under one roof, I almost automatically assume some level of dysfunction. It’s not always the case, obviously, but it is more often than not. Then, when you add the probable issue of poor problem solving abilities into the mix, you have a really sad home environment for everyone, especially the kids. There are some solutions however, but it means practicing some light assertiveness in addition to working at problem solving skills. Consider as well: was your Mom an angry parent when she was in round one of her parenting days (that is, raising you)? If so, it’s unlikely she will have improved when she is called out of parenting retirement to embark on round two. Allow me to innumerate a few possible ideas to improve the home environment.
1) Without the kids present, have a calm sit-down meeting with your Mom. Start by giving her a time frame of how long y'all are planning to camp out with her. It's pretty daunting thinking your house is being invaded for eternity. Then try to come up with ideas to help her deal with your kid’s unacceptable behavior until you return home. One example would be: if the kids were arguing over a TV program, she might give them a warning that they have two minutes to reach their own solution, or face grandma’s solution (typically taking away screen time for an hour or so). In this way you are giving her some authority to control misbehavior while keeping yourselves as the final authority as to the discipline. Be sure to add your own consequences (though keep them light if granny has already punished them). Remind your Mom (and yourselves as well) to make note of good behaviors as well . Remember the old management mantra: “Unrewarded good behaviors cease”.
2) In the event your Mom is a highly stressed out grandma who is unable or unwilling to embrace a few ideas to make life in her house more enjoyable, you and Mr. Husband need to spend part of your time checking out future places to live - and soon.. Most towns have reduced income housing available. Look into your local HUD housing office for options and ideas. There are also reduced fees for child care for lower incomes. You need to prepare ahead of time so you are not forced to make a decision in a family crisis. Keep all this information to yourselves, as your Mom might perceive it as a threat or an insult. The both of you working likely means y’all are not lazy bums, but under-paid people. Our poor years are usually not permanent. When we are struggling, we need to do some extra things to keep afloat. Do it.
3) Keep this thought in your head: when your kids are in their thirties and coming back with their spouse and kids to visit you, what do you want their memories to be? Do you want them reminiscing about the worse days of their life growing up with you? Your son says, “I couldn’t wait to graduate from high school so I could get out of that hell hole?” Or would you rather, “I miss those days as a kid when we all would have some great meals and play those gooney games you used to love?” CrazyWorkingMom, you are creating the future right now. Choose wisely. Our childhood is not supposed to be rotten.