Dilemma: my daughter-in-law undermines my son's authority

Katharine Whitehorn / 01 March 2016

A reader writes to agony aunt Katharine Whitehorn with concerns that her daughter-in-law is undermining her son's authority.



Dilemma: my daughter-in-law is not strict enough

My son has been married for seven years and we get along well with him and his wife; but I am really worried because my daughter-in-law seems to undermine my son’s authority. 

When our five-year-old grandson knocked a vase off a table by bumping into it, my son shouted. I had to mop it up and then my daughter-in-law told the boy to come to her as “Daddy will only shout again.” The little boy was never asked even to apologise. 

The velvet glove is there all right, but where’s the iron fist? How do we deal with this?

Katharine Whitehorn's advice

You don’t. You simply stay out of it. 

It’s seldom that the older generation’s view about how the young should behave does anything but turn up the heat under an already tricky situation. 

Each set of parents thinks of “our son” or “my daughter”, and forgets that they are the dreaded in-laws to one of each pair – I doubt if you would have welcomed your mother-in-law’s views about how you should treat your child. 

You see the incident you described as being about your son’s “authority” and the mother’s “undermining” of it; another point of view might be that generally he is inclined to be too stern and she is always the one who has to do the comforting. 

And you see only the odd incident, but you can’t know all that goes on. By all means insist the little boy says sorry and tries not to knock things over when you’re in charge, but otherwise leave the parents to work things out for themselves – as they will have to anyway, whatever you try to do.

Read our guide to grandparents disciplining grandchildren.

Our reader's say...

We also asked our Facebook followers for their advice...

"You don't - you support your son and daughter-in-law in the way they bring up their children and always be there for your grandchildren."

"Nothing worse than an interfering mother in law. Take a look at yourself. Maybe the real issue is no one was ever going to be good enough for your little boy. Oh, by the way kid gloves is all we use now the iron fist kinda left with the Iron Lady."

" You don't, you will cause friction between you and your son and his wife, how would you have reacted if your mother-in-law had tried telling you how to bring up your child?"

"As a grandparent you keep your nose out of how your grandchildren are brought up and love them unconditionally, as they love you. Isn't that in the terms of the grandparenting contract?"

"You can't do that otherwise you might not see them again or your son. I don't think you will want that will you? So but out and let them bring the children up how THEY want not how you want them to be brought up."

"I'd say you keep out of parenting decisions and be a good grandparent by loving the child and having fun."

"You will have the sense to realise that it is none of your business - the last thing they need is an interfering mother-in-law. They have to do it their way. If it was an accident perhaps shouting at the child was not the best way to handle it, hence the mother's response but that is for them to work out."

"Quite simply you don't, there is nothing worse than an interfering mother-in-law. If you interfere you are more than likely to drive your daughter-in-law away and this can prevent you from seeing your grandchild. Bite your tongue and say nothing."

"Just mind your own business, your grandchild not your child , you are there to spoil and enjoy with out the worry."

"I almost can't believe that was a genuine question! It's absolutely none of your business how your son and his wife parent their child. None. Of. Your. Business. You did it your way with your son, now it's his AND his wife's turn. Maybe some people think the little boy should have apologised - but for goodness sake if he didn't do it deliberately, why the big fuss and why would your son be so stern? Maybe it's he who's in the wrong, not his wife."

"Agreed - stay out of it. Not your child. Not your business. You have no idea what has or hasn't happened at home, that day or within the relationships! Let them be."

"You don't, and you shouldn't try! As long as the children behave in your home when they visit (and I suggest you remove anything breakable before they arrive!), how their parents supervise them is, frankly, none of your business. You've had your turn at raising children, and if the next generation's ideas of discipline don't match your own, that doesn't necessarily make them wrong. Try to enjoy your grandchildren...that's what grannies are for!"

"Sorry but you don't, you have to let them make there own mistakes. You just visit them leave them to bring their children up their way, rightly or wrongly. You have had your children and you brought them up your way. Let your children do the same."

"You don't! How they bring up their children is entirely up to them... In my experience you keep your nose out!"

"As hard as it may be, you just don't cross that line. It is their life and way of dealing with it even if it doesn't seem right to us. Just try supporting them."

"Depends on how old the child is. If the boy is very young then he needs all your love and affection. If he is becoming a yobbo in his teens he needs a serious talking to."

"Let a mother run her own life, if she needs you then she will ask. Different people have different ideas, is there really a right and a wrong? Black and white with no grey?!"

"Bringing up children now is also very different to doing it one or more generations ago, so different rules probably apply! Today's children have so much pressure put on them at such a young age now, their behaviour is more challenging and erratic as a result. The academic pressures are far greater, they are exposed to social media, technology and most likely have 2 working parents due to the greater cost of living."

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