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My Sister's Children are Out of Control

My Sister's Children are Out of Control


Dear Rachel,

I read your post about Badly Behaved Neighbors which I thought was excellent. I am hoping you will likewise be able to help me with my predicament. It is one thing when the kids who don't behave come to your home where you set the rules, but what happens when you are in someone else's home where the kids are out of control? Basically, my sister, who I dearly love, lives right near my parents. And since she has a large house, whenever we go to visit we have no choice but to stay there since we cannot afford a hotel for the whole trip. We are supposed to go again this summer and I am dreading it. Her kids are violent, disrespectful and basically, a terrible influence on my children. What can I do?

Miserable Sis

Dear Miserable Sis,

You are right, it is one thing to set the rules in your own home, but so much harder when you are the guests in someone else's home. Add to that a sibling, and you have a real tough predicament. To start with, you mention that you cannot afford a hotel, which makes perfect sense, but are there any other options of places to stay? Have you seen if you can rent a home in the area? Depending on where you are going, is there someone who is on vacation who will let you use their home? Alternatively, would it be possible for you to have at least one or two of your children stay with Grandma and Grandpa? This could be a huge treat for your children and might help diffuse the influence of your sister's children if they aren't all together in the house.

If you can avoid staying with her, that would obviously be ideal. Alternatively, if at least some of your children could be out of that home, it would also be better. Another possibility is looking into not going at all. I know that might not sound like an option, but you have to weigh how detrimental being in your sister's home truly is on your children. Perhaps it makes more sense to either have your sister come and visit you, or have your parents come to visit you. At least this way, if they are in your home or visiting you, you are more able to set the ground rules.

But for now I am going to assume that none of the above is plausible, at least not for the upcoming trip. So if that is the case and you will be in your sister's home with your children, what are your options?

Well, for starters, even if you can't tell her children how they need to behave, you most definitely can tell your own. And you can set your own rules for what your children are allowed to do. To make things easier, I would suggest speaking with your sister before you come. Based on your past experiences, it sounds like you have a good understanding of what the problems are that might happen again. Rather than telling her that she is not parenting correctly or that her kids are out of control, focus the conversation on your children. Tell her that you have been working really hard at having your children speak properly when speaking with you. It has been a challenge and they have come a long way, but it is imperative that they keep this up during the vacation. Ask her if she could help by maybe requiring the same things from her children during your stay to make it easier for your kids.

If you can turn the table so that she thinks she is helping you out in your difficulty with your own children, she might be very willing to establish rules for your sake, not for her own. If you ask her if she can please not allow certain toys, foods, games, or whatever the problem areas are, since you are concerned that your children will not handle them properly, then it takes the blame off of her and makes her your ally and not your enemy.

Since this is your sister, the more you can indirectly give her guidance and suggestions in parenting her own children, the better she will be for it. Again, I would most definitely stay away from telling her that she is doing something wrong, but by enlisting her help in carrying out the rules and regulations that you feel are necessary for both your children and her children, she will be able to parent in a different way while not feeling threatened by you. She may also be able to speak with you about her own difficulties with her children (we all have them, we are just not all able to admit or speak about them!) and if she does open up and ask you for advice, then you can carefully explain that maybe if she did things differently, her children would behave in a different manner. Remember with criticism that it has to be in a manner that the receiver can receive the direction. This concept is called in Hebrew, b'ofen hamitkabel. Great advice is only helpful when stated in a way that one can accept it. Furthermore, the word in Hebrew for criticsm, tochecha is explained by the Sages to come from the words toch and ahavah meaning "from within love." Make sure before you speak that you are being motivated by your love for your sister and not your annoyance or aggravation of the situation at large.

If, however, you see that your sister is not open to helping with your guidelines, then you will need to do it on your own. You still need to insist that your children follow your rules, even if that means that they are not allowed to do something that she is allowing her children to do. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I'm sorry, but my kids are not allowed to play with that" or "I know that your cousins are allowed to stay up, but I am your mother and I am telling you that it is now time to go to bed."

And if your children misbehave, there should be consequences as well. Maybe a statement such as: "If you don't know how to follow our rules when you are here, then we won't be able to come and stay here again" can serve both as a threat for your kids to get their act together, as well as a way out of future visits if your kids misbehave.

While it is not going to be easy, the best thing you can do for yourself, your children, and ultimately your sister and her children, is to insist on your kids following your rules in your sister's home. Even though you can't tell her what rules to set for her children, you can most definitely show by way of example. Stay strong in what you expect from your children and teach them the important lesson that no matter where they are, at home or with their cousins or in camp or anywhere else, proper behavior is absolutely expected!

Much luck and keep me posted with how the trip goes!


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Lisa Providence, RI January 1, 2011

"BAD" Children Did you try to talk to your sister about her childrens's bad behavior? If so, did your sister ever listen to your complaints? Did you also talk to your parents about it, telling them you shouldn't have to tolerate it, and you think you should ban them from visiting you because of it? Have you ever thought of no longer visiting them?

You need to tell your sister you're NOT a child hater, but you have rules in your house, and you have the right to ban "bad" children from visiting your house, and even refusing to visit her house because of it! Tell her you should NEVER feel obligated to have to put up with badly behaved children!

You need to explain to your children that some parents do a better job controlling their children than others, and their cousins's behavior is NOT acceptable or tolerable. You do have choices, whether your parents and sister like it or not!

I would ban them from visiting and stop visiting them! Reply

Erica Fairfax, VA November 29, 2009

misbehaving kids I can really understand this mother's predicament. I have zero tolerance for situations like the ones she's facing. Truly the easiest thing is to cancel the trip, without lengthy explanation, and save one's self the aggravation and exhaustion such a stay creates -- because really no one has fun during them. After awhile, if the family is caring, they may want to enter into a conversation about it. People often put their perception of the family's feelings before their own and it is to everyone's detriment. And I'd be willing to bet that no one including the sister and the grandparents in this situation like what's going on with the misbehaving kids. Maybe the mother in this article is just the ticket to start some healing of the situation by standing up for herself and her family. Reply

Anonymous March 8, 2009

Badly Behaved Children It can be a real challenge dealing with badly behaved children when their parents are around. I sympathise with you.

We have this problem too at our shul. I find it stressful, especially when children get aggressive, even to adults. Leaving the matter of dealing with your children aside, I can share that I try to feel confident by behaving as I know I myself should when I HAVE to deal with these children. I ignore what it seems ok to and try to focus on other things; good things. Reply

Ilana Sobel June 24, 2008

More ideas ... Your sister probably has *some* rules. If your children happen to break one of your sister's rules, you can make sure your sister knows that you take that seriously. Explain to your children (in your sister's presence) how important it is to follow her rules in her home, and apologize to your sister for any infraction. She will probably feel more respected and open to your rules.

Depending on the ages of your children, you could also try talking with them ahead of time about the problem. Of course, you won't tell them that their cousins are ill-behaved wretches. Rather, you could tell them that you've seen that they sometimes find it much more challenging to maintain respectful behavior when they visit their cousins. You could explain that it's very important that they continue to be respectful to the people surrounding them, and solicit their ideas about how to make sure they do. At the very least, they will be prepared this way for your disciplinary efforts during the visit.