Q. I hate taking my kids to my sister-in-law's house. Her children are poorly behaved and I feel like it rubs off on my kids. Plus, I really don't approve of her parenting style: She lets the children stuff themselves with junk food. She's always inviting us over. What should I do about this?
A. Attacking anyone's parenting style will hurt your relationship more than help the situation. And before you speak up, try to remember that your sister-in-law isn't trying to annoy you or harm your kids -- she's opening up her home and welcoming your children.
I'd address the junk-food issue first. Mention ahead of time that your kids are "chipped out," so you'd prefer that she serve a healthy treat. Or offer to make your own snacks and take them for all of the kids.
Snacks, of course, are the easy part of the problem; her kids' behavior is decidedly trickier. Before broaching the subject, keep in mind that she may have different standards or may simply not be aware of what her kids are doing. Open up the conversation with a specific incident, and try to keep your voice concerned but calm. For example: "Last week, Billy pulled my kids' hair and it really upset them." Letting her know what doesn't fly in your family can help her respond accordingly with hers.
And if you're both in the room when an incident occurs, tell your sister-in-law you don't like what's going on. If she seems surprised, explain why.
A final option is to have your nieces and nephews come to your house more often. It's a lot easier to control the situation when you're the boss.
Julie Mazer is a mother of three who lives in Short Hills, New Jersey.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, February 2005.