When we’re young, we often fantasize about how we’re going to do things differently when we get older and have children of our own. Perhaps you hated having to sit through family reunions or you weren’t a fan of your parents’ approach to discipline. If you’re now a mom, you’ve likely adopted parenting practices that work for you and your household. Unfortunately, aunties, uncles, and grandmas aren’t always in alignment with your values.
When this happens, how can you maintain a relationship with your family while also honoring your needs and that of your kids in the process? Two experts spoke with ESSENCE and shared some actionable tips on how to go about it.
It can feel easier to assume your family members know the rules, practices, and values you live by as a parent than simply telling them. Communicate clearly and directly about what you’d like and don’t mince your words. Aaliyah Maura, MS, a marriage and family therapist, provides an example of how to do this.
“This can look like saying, ‘Please don’t allow our children to drink soda at your house. That’s something we don’t want our children to have,’” she says. “It’s really important to be direct, especially if the behavior you want demonstrated may be counter-cultural to what your family is used to.”
You can communicate both physical and emotional boundaries with your loved ones as it relates to your kids. An example of an emotional boundary may be avoiding name calling when your child does something wrong or giving them the space to be upset without minimizing their feelings.
Have a Strategy for Dealing With Pushback
“Though this can be frustrating, one way to handle this is by having an open conversation,” she says. “Go into the conversation with an open mind but also understand that a closed-minded family member may criticize your parenting method.”
It may also help to prepare what you’ll say and how you’ll respond if your loved ones push back so you aren’t caught off guard. “Maybe providing some sort of education could be beneficial or just simply reiterating that you have made a choice and that you have a right to do so,” Maura says. She adds that remembering why you’re setting the boundary and the importance of upholding your family values can help you when your loved ones aren’t cooperating.
Continue Reinforcing Boundaries
If you grew up in a household where talking back was a criminal offense, it may be difficult for you to handle pushback and continue communicating your boundaries. However, when family members ignore your requests or criticize your parenting style, that’s when it’s most important to stand firm on your boundaries.
Edmonds says if you continue to reinforce your boundaries to no avail, it may be time to pull back.
“Dealing with pushback and arguing with the family about your parenting choice is taxing, so to protect yourself and your children, simply remove yourself and your children from the environment and conversation,” she advises.
Give Your Loved Ones Time to Adjust
We often forget that old habits die hard and new ones take time to form. So, if your family members are used to interacting with you and your kids in a certain manner, they may not change their behavior instantly. Maura says it’s important that you’re patient and extend a little grace.
You should also be open to the possibility that family members may never agree with your parenting approach or respect your boundaries because you share different values.
Be Ok With Distancing Yourself or Cutting Ties
If you’ve tried everything possible to work with your family and they’re still not respecting the boundaries you put in place for you and your kids, it may be time to think about how to proceed. You’ll know when you’ve reached the end of your rope as you may find loved ones’ dismissal of your boundaries is negatively affecting your mental health, leading to abuse or causing chaos in your household, Maura says.
In these instances, remember that cutting family off or distancing yourself is an option, and it’s not a selfish one.
“Most people are conditioned to believe that because you’re family, there is an obligation to family,” Edmonds says. “With this, you tolerate disrespect and crossing of boundaries.”
Cutting people you love off is a last resort after you’ve exhausted all options and it can be incredibly hard Edmonds adds.
“If you’ve shared your values and expressed your concerns with family members who don’t respect your boundaries, you can walk away gracefully, knowing that you’ve done your part.”