Written by: Wendy, IBCLC.
Being a parent is hard enough, but when you feel unsupported or misunderstood by others, it can make things a million times more challenging. Unfortunately, even our own family members can end up knocking down our self-esteem at times or overstepping boundaries with our children or us. And, of course, this always seems to escalate around family gatherings and holidays.
IF HOLIDAY GATHERINGS ARE TRIGGERING FOR YOU, YOU AREN'T ALONE
As the holidays roll around, and many of us end up socializing more with family, we are likely to be facing all kinds of stressors. I remember really dreading family gatherings when I was a new parent. It seemed like I was always left feeling hurt, bothered, or misjudged in some way.
As a breastfeeding parent, in particular, it seemed that someone always had an opinion about what I was doing. “Are you sure he’s really hungry again?”, they’d ask. But things didn’t get much better as my children got older. There was always someone who had an opinion about what picky eaters my kids were, and someone always thought they could parent better than I could. Not only that, but they seemed to have no problem telling me so. Sigh.
WHAT SEEMS TO BOTHER PARENTS THE MOST
Of course, comments about breastfeeding or picky eating aren’t the only types of things that tend to get under our skin as parents. Everyone is unique in what tends to bother them, but there are a couple of situations that seem to come up frequently.
It can help to know that you aren’t alone as you experience these things! Here are a few of the most common situations you might encounter at family gatherings:
- Unwanted advice—very often about feeding and disciplining our kids
- Requests to hold or pass our babies around—really not something many of us feel comfortable with during cold and flu season!
- Kissing and hugging our kids without their consent
- Brushing aside bad behavior with sweets and gifts (grandparents are especially guilty of this!)
- Spoiling kids with gifts (especially loud and annoying gifts—and yes, again, grandparents are often the ones doing this)
- Not feeling appreciated for all we do as parents to pull off the holidays. Lack of appreciation can often lead to burnout.
HOW TO COPE
Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel. After a while, you get better at dealing with the uncomfortable situations that arise at family gatherings, either by being able to let them go or being able to draw clear boundaries with your family about what is and isn’t okay.
As I got a little more grounded and experienced as a parent, I felt more able to tell my family what types of things I wouldn’t tolerate—bribing my kids with sweets, especially right before bedtime? That was a big no. Expecting a shy kid to hug and kiss someone against their will? Definitely not.
At times, though, there are just some things that your family members will not be able to hear or understand. You can chalk this up to generational differences or just different parenting philosophies.
Once you realize that you and your family members won’t see eye to eye, you have two choices: you can either accept this reality and then try to let things go, or you can establish firm boundaries around family gatherings, including not attending them at all.
Getting to a place where you end up needing to draw deep lines in the sand with your family can be very uncomfortable and upsetting. But it’s important to understand that you are the parent here, not them. And if you feel that what is happening at these gatherings is harmful to you or your child in any way, it’s really fine to come back with a very firm “no.”
If you need further guidance about how to manage difficult family gatherings, checking in with a counselor or therapist can be very helpful. Most of all, keep in mind that these types of situations can unleash our mama bear instincts, and it’s important to remember that those instincts are there for a reason. Try to trust that you know what’s best for your child and your family, and the rest should follow.