If you celebrate Easter, you might be feeling a little nervous. Extended families will be coming together, and that might create tension. Our generation of parents is rethinking parenting and trying to do things differently from our parents. And change creates friction, especially when your child’s grandparents think “I did my best, and you turned out just fine”.
There are massive generation differences in values, parenting styles, approaches to discipline, and lots more. But extended family or other members of your community may not like that change, and may push back against you in toxic ways. How do you deal with that in a way that creates safety, respect, and shows your kids how to handle conflict?
DEFINE YOUR TERMS
The first step in dealing with toxic pushback from family, is to clarify your values and expectations. If you don’t, you will be on your heels and scrambling to explain yourself in an emotional situation. Not a setup for success.
- Write it down - What are your values? What are the rules or routines you expect others to follow around your children? What words, phrases, or topics do you want people to avoid using around your children. Writing all this down will help you commit to supporting your own expectations and standards. Keeping it all in your head also keeps it squishy.
- Align - Another upside to writing it all down is that you can share your thoughts with your partner or other family members who you trust. If you don’t align with your partner ahead of time, tension with your family may also create problems in your own relationship.
- Choose your words - How will you communicate your values and expectations with family? Choose simple words and mantras so you don’t have to brainstorm on the spot. Consider rabbit holes you don’t want to go down with people, and how you will avoid them.
- Be ready to walk away - The hardest part of defining your boundaries is you have to be comfortable walking away from a situation or person if you feel they are emotionally or psychologically unsafe for you or your family. Accepting this early with yourself and your partner will help you navigate this decision if it’s needed down the road.
If you are the change-maker in your family or community, then you need to take ownership of the situation. Rather than waiting to see what happens or hoping someone will read your mind, it’s up to you to share your values assertively and generously.
- Acknowledge your own fear of conflict - This is critical. Your own fears about defending your expectations as a parent can paralyze you in the moment and turn your feelings into unresolved resentment. The resentment will build and lead to a potential blow-up that can cause irreparable damage to family bonds. You can avoid this by facing your fears and addressing issues when as they arise.
- Be consistent - Once you’ve written your values and standards down, you need to apply them consistently. This will help everyone learn and remember them. If you find you are selectively applying rules for specific people, then it may signal something deeper that needs to be addressed with this person.
- Be direct, kind, and firm - Communicating effectively through conflict and push-back is so hard. Focus on using simple, direct language. Don’t over-explain or expect them to excitedly agree or approve of your boundaries. That’s not the point. Your goal should be to lead them to reach a place of kind clarity, agreement is optional and in most cases, unrealistic.
MODEL HEALTHY CONFLICT AND COMMUNICATION
Tension with your family feels awful, but it’s also an opportunity to teach your children how to deal with conflict directly and courageously. Kids and babies are acutely aware of tension and conflict and observe it carefully. Show them how to be brave and strong, but also show them when and how to walk away and protect your peace with dignity.