Breaking Point. Reached.

When I became a mom 3.5 years ago, I was 30 years old. I had a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, both in English. I was working full-time in my chosen field, and had been for eight years. I had been a homeowner for six years. I had done a lot of traveling, drove a car that was paid off, and regularly gave to charities, mostly animal welfare groups.

I was hardly a green-under-the-gills teenage mother, clueless about how to take care of myself much less a newborn. And yet from the moment Isabella was born, many members of my family treated me as if I was.

It's no secret that my extended family (including my mother, one of my aunts, and my grandma) thinks of my parenting skills as flawed. I've blogged about their feelings that my treats policy is denying my kids their childhoods. My mother's belief that taking Isabella to have her hair cut would traumatize her for life. My grandma's insistence that enrolling Isabella in preschool would not only lead to Isabella spending thousands of dollars in therapy discussing her childhood abandonment issues, but that preschool was a place where selfish mothers dumped their children so that they could socialize with their friends.

I've heard it all, and I continue to hear it on a weekly basis. They contend that I grew up with very few rules, didn't go to preschool, ate as many sweets as my little heart desired, and didn't have a haircut until I was 10, and look how well I turned out! Despite my oft-repeated manta to them that I am making different choices for my children, and that different is not wrong, they neither respect or pay much attention to my parenting rules and decisions.

You see, my mother and my aunt (not the one who continually questions my mothering ability) were basically single mothers. My mom divorced my dad when I was three. My aunt had a husband who wasn't involved with his three children. And so, "the family" raised both my sister and me, and my three cousins. My mom and my aunt gave my other family members carte blanche to make decisions for us a lot of the time. There was no Internet. There was one baby book (Dr. Spock). And in the 70s and early 80s, pediatricians basically gave kids physicals, shots, and little in the way of advice. So my mother turned to her mother for parenting guidance, and followed whatever she recommended, verbatim.

I never had the intention of doing the same when I became a mother. And I haven't. Unlike my own mother did when my sister and I were young, I do not parent by committee. The hubs and I make the decisions for our kids, and we do not put these decisions up to a popular vote.

This? Is not popular in mi familiga.

And so, when they are around my children, and most especially Isabella, they disregard my rules. If we're at a family party, and I tell whomever is scooping ice cream to give Isabella one scoop, they give her two (and, mind you, this is after slipping her M&Ms in a back bedroom for the previous hour). If I say it's time to leave, my aunt will ignore me, and continue to play whatever game she's playing with Isabella. If a relative has given her a gift and Isabella forgets to say "thank you," I will remind her only to be admonished by a relative who tells me, "Oh, stop being so hard on her. She doesn't have to say thank you. She's only three." I feel as if there is nothing that I'm doing with my children that they approve of.

The most outspoken of my relatives is my aunt. She has no children of her own, and yet feels entitled to offer me assvice (and not in a kind way) about the myriad things she believes I am doing wrong. She has told me that taking the kids to the gym daycare (which is more like Club Med for kids than a daycare) is exposing them to germs, H1N1, filth, and unskilled employees. I don't dress them warmly enough. I should allow Isabella to have sweets whenever she wants them, and Isabella is only 3, and therefore should not be expected to use the bathroom or get dressed on her own, or have any chores for which she's responsible.

I have endured over three years of this kind of treatment from my aunt. She does not respect my parenting, and has more times than I can count done the exact opposite of what I've asked her to do when she's in the company of Isabella. At family gatherings at my grandma's she continually ignores my requests and the hubs' requests to please allow Isabella to socialize with some of the relatives she does not get to see that often on the main floor of my grandma's house. Instead, she takes Isabella upstairs to play in a bedroom, so she can have her all to herself. When I tell Isabella to please stop eating the cheese and crackers my grandma puts out on the hors de oeuvres table before our meal because I want her to eat her dinner, my aunt will give her more as soon as my back is turned. The list goes on and on.

And on Sunday at my grandma's house during a family party, in what admittedly was not my finest moment, I lost it. But my outburst was not unprovoked.

I don't give Isabella anything but milk or water to drink, unless it's a special occasion (for example, a friend's birthday party where it's being served). This is not a secret in my family, and they are all very much aware of (and of course, disagree with) how we are choosing to feed our kids. My aunt, sitting next to Isabella at dinner, says, "I'm going to go get her some juice, like I'm having." I very politely told her that Isabella had milk in a cup in front of her, and that her doctor and dentist recommend that she drink only milk or water, and I am following their advice. Mind you, Isabella had not even asked for the juice. My aunt would not drop it. "How about if I mix the juice with some water? What's wrong with juice? Why can't she have just a little?"

Of course, the issue here is not juice. As I've said before, it doesn't matter if we're raising our children as vegans, Buddhists, or Rastafarians. Parents make the decisions and friends and relatives do not undermine them.

It happened again a little later that night. Isabella had been given a huge piece of cake for dessert; this after finishing a vanilla ice-cream drumstick just before. I told my mom, who was serving the ice cream, to not give Isabella any ice cream with her cake, because she had just had the drumstick. She didn't. But then later, when I sat down next to Isabella to eat my cake, I noticed she had ice cream in her dish. You'll never guess who had procured some for her. After Isabella had eaten her ice cream, and about three-quarters of her cake, the hubs told her she had had enough (we feared her getting sick, as she had just consumed more dessert than any adult at the party had that night). Of course, she threw a fit, and my aunt, who was sitting on the other side of her, picked her up and whisked her away, no doubt telling her what awful parents we were for denying her her dessert. I went after them and heard her tell Isabella, "Let's go get your dish back."

Um, no.

I told my aunt that the hubs had taken away the cake because Isabella had had enough. She gave me a look that clearly conveyed her unhappiness with me, and took Isabella to play in another room.

And then finally, as we were leaving, my aunt was carrying around Isabella (something she does all the time, and which I find odd, given that Isabella is a 32-pound, three-and-a-half-year-old). I said it was time to go, and my aunt instead took Isabella off into another room, completely ignoring my requests to take Isabella to get her pjs on (we put the kids in their pajamas when at relatives' homes so we can get them right in bed once we're home). Once my aunt finally deemed it time to get Isabella ready to go, she was still carrying her around when I asked her to please put her down so Isabella could say her goodbyes to the rest of her family, and most especially to her out-of-town relatives who were there visiting. Isabella was overtired, up past her bedtime, and high on sugar. She didn't want my aunt to put her down. I asked my aunt to please set her down, and she loudly said, "Fine! If you want her to scream, I will!"

Isabella pitched a screaming temper tantrum.

And I? Had had it.

I turned to my aunt, and yelled "Will you please stop undermining my parenting decisions??!!??"

She said, "I would never do that!"

I said, "You do it all the time!!"

And with that, the hubs scraped up a screaming Isabella from the floor, I grabbed Luci (Nicholas was already in the car), and we left.

My mom who was privvy to my outburst as well as to most of the night's ongoings, and who knows her sister well, has told me that "you can't tell your relatives how to love your child." I believe she's wrong, because what my aunt is doing is not called "loving my child;" it is undermining my parenting decisions in front of my child. This not only causes Isabella huge confusion (and huge outbursts), but it is damaging her relationship with us, her parents.

This kind of treatment will also demonstrate to Isabella that she doesn't have to listen to directions or follow rules, that if one person refuses her demands or tells her something she doesn't like, she can always get her way by asking someone else, and promotes the idea that her parents are mean and listening to them is optional.

And it's not going to happen again.

Should I have had this discussion with my aunt privately? Sure. But do I feel so good about finally calling her out?

Hell yes.

Bring on the family drama, because clearly, I need something else to occupy my empty days.

20 Responses to “Breaking Point. Reached.”

  1. # Anonymous Ness at Drovers Run

    I am glad that you stood up for yourself to her - I mean what they're doing is SO wrong on so many levels. The fact that she said, "Well if you want her to scream, then I WILL!" shows you that she doesn't have the emotional maturity to see that she's pandering to the child, instead of teaching her to behave correctly.

    My pediatrician breaks it down into such an easy thought process for me once by saying, "Say to yourself, is my action encouraging the behaviour to continue? Or encouraging it to continue?" and by asking myself these very simple questions I know how to proceed. All your aunt is doing, is preventing outbursts - outbursts which would not take place if she was being treated in such a way that did not tolerate them.

    Good for you. I think that the next step will be to maybe write her a letter or chat to her about what it is that she's doing *exactly*. People are sometimes really obtuse about this stuff.  

  2. # Blogger JM

    Good for you! Sounds like this aunt of yours is an interfering little turd. I applaud your ability to not toss in a name or two along with your outburst. Standing up for yourself, and your right to have your parenting directives respected, was the right thing to do.  

  3. # Anonymous Ness at Drovers Run

    Whoops total typo there - with a tense change thrown in for good measure.

    My pediatrician says, "Is my behaviour encouraging the behaviour to continue, or to encourage it to stop?"  

  4. # Blogger Rachel

    This type of behavior would make me so incredibly mad. Everything you've done sounds reasonable. I also worry about the clear favoritism for your oldest. We had a (very wealthy) relative who favored one sibling to the extreme (think things like inviting only one child to vacations, etc.) and it created a huge rift in the family.

    Have you considered writing your aunt an e-mail and CC'ing the rest of the involved people (or at least your mother)? The problem with family drama is that you know if you confront she's going to immediately pick up the phone and call everyone else and complain, so if you do it in an e-mail and they've read your reasons for being upset they will at least be able to make their own call rather than get angry after a game of telephone (or alternatively confront her in person with the rest of the family there).

    I think that aunts who have never had their own children but have endless ideas about good parenting are a perpetual problem. We fight non-stop about sugar with my in-laws (for a 3-day visit my MIL bought a Costco-sized container of apple juice and sugar cereal for my not-yet-12 month old. Oh, and non-fat milk even though she's exclusively breastfed and has never had milk) and also my daughter's daycare, but I just don't see the reason to give her juice or pure sugar at this point. She can't ask for it, doesn't know what she's missing, and isn't nearly active enough to run it off yet. Treats on special occasions of course, but she's just too little to have candy, sugar cereal, etc.  

  5. # Blogger Mom24

    Don't give a inch. You are definitely right. There's not room to negotiate. You have tolerated way more than I would have. I would not allow her to isolate Isabella anymore. I'm so sorry. Why can't people see themselves???  

  6. # Blogger Melissa

    Good for you!

    I would have had a difficult time biting my tongue for as long as you did, and then I would have said A LOT worse to her. You handled yourself incredibly well. And I agree that you need to have a talk with your grandmother, mother, and aunt about the exact things they're doing to undermine your authority.

    Oh . . . I'm so glad the majority of my family lives too far away to visit regularly!  

  7. # Blogger Jesser

    It's hard because I know with my kids we definitely have more lax rules about things when they're with my parents ... a "what happens at Grammy's stays at Grammy's" sort of policy. But this goes beyond that. They spend time with my parents about 1x/week and though they get more books and are able to sleep wherever they like and have ice cream after dinner as a rule and not a treat, it's OK because it's just once in a while ... and they would never question me if I said "not today." That shit has to stop. I seethe for 24 hours straight if my aunt tells me what to feed my dog ... I'd probably flip if she told me what to feed my kid. Geez.

    Also, probably a good call on the juice. That is all Tabby ever wants to drink and I know she gets it at her sitters, so I don't keep it at home. She also will now drink unsweetened herbal tea (practically water) ... but the conflict is a pain in my butt.  

  8. # Blogger Marie

    It all boils down to respect. They're showing you & Rich ZERO respect!

    Good for you for speaking up.

    Of course you want them to be loved by their extended family. But don't they see that they're jeopardizing their time with the little ones by not respecting their parents' rules & wishes?  

  9. # Blogger Holly at Tropic of Mom

    That really sucks. Your aunt is being unfair and selfish -- even while she thinks you're the one being unfair and selfish. I get undermined sometimes too, but not to this degree. Wow! Maybe your aunt will listen to you now.  

  10. # Blogger Pregnantly Plump

    How odd that your aunt would do that. You certainly should have stuck up for yourself. And I would have done the same thing, wait until my breaking point was way in the past and start yelling.
    I'm sorry you have to go through that. Hopefully she won't pull that with the twins.  

  11. # Blogger annie w.

    Oh, Kristi.. you are in a very difficult situation. Bravo for standing up for yourself, tho I am amazed you lasted as long as you did. I couldn't have.
    I'm really sorry the women in your family aren't supportive of how you are raising your little ones.
    You aunt is acting very creepy..seems very bizarre that she steals Isabella away at every function. I's just not healthy. And is reinforcing that you and DH are the 'bad guys'.. to get her favor. wtf???

    Kristi, be strong in your beliefs. Could it be you need to back off the family functions for a while?

    hugs, girl...  

  12. # Blogger Simply-Mel

    You waited 3.5yrs to do that? Hell, I think you were insanely restrained. If I had started I would not have been able to stop.

    I must say, people without kids are the.worst. They just dont get it that parenting is not about *being nice* all the time.  

  13. # Blogger Christine

    Blerg, I hate that you're in this difficult position. I hope that hopefully this will help your family see that your decisions as to how to raise your children are you and Rich's alone.

    We have some giant family drama in famiglia mia, too, so I don't really have any advice on how to handle it. Maybe giving everyone a call while you're not actively involved in the situation and not around the kids is warranted.  

  14. # Blogger Andrew

    eh, some people dont respond to anything but yelling. you're more patient than i. and i would've given my mother what for after that ridiculous comment.  

  15. # Anonymous Lisanne

    I am *soooo* glad you said something. How weird is that? I don't understand! I feel fortunate that my parents have respected our preferences as our children's parents. Sure, my dad has mentioned a few times that we're doing certain things wrong, and that pisses me off ... but overall, they are good about respecting our wishes. I am so sorry. :(  

  16. # Blogger Sunny

    I don't blame you one bit! That would drive me absolutely CRAZY. Because of all the time you spend with your extended family, setting appropriate boundaries between them and you is completely called for.  

  17. # Blogger Nonnie

    I think you're just amazing for being able to hold your cool for as long as you have. It's really not normal the way she treats you. My family knows our rules, and they always ask Jason or me before bending one. If they do something we don't like that they were unaware was off limits, then they never question us again after we let them know it wasn't what we would have liked. For instance, my in-laws kept LG once and let her watch "Tom and Jerry". She doesn't get to watch shows like that...shows with absolutely no value at all. We told them, and now they pretty much ask us before they let her watch any television at their house. You definitely need to be shown some respect by your family. I definitely don't handle parenting the way my parents did. Times change...they know this and respect my decisions (or at least appear to). I can't wait to hear if this actually makes an impact in the long run for you and your aunt!  

  18. # Blogger Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog

    I am sending you my kudos, babe. And support because this will not be a fight that is easily settled. But it IS one that you will and MUST win. Isabella and everyone else in the family must understand that though they all love your kids, ONLY you and your husband can make the final decisions. I agree whole-heartedly with you and your aunt sounds like she has issues with having never had children of her own.

    My heart breaks for you, though, because I know what it's like to have an Italian family. Sending you my strength, babe.  

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