Maybe you have the perfect family. Maybe every gathering is wonderful, joyful, and without any drama whatsoever. Maybe your family’s interactions are a beautiful harmonious show of love and affection. Or maybe that’s not the case at all.
I’d like to think that most families fall somewhere in the middle, including my own. You love each other very much, and your family always wants the best for you. Their hearts are in the right place, for sure. But sometimes the way they show their feelings can leave you hurt and ashamed. With the culture of “never enough” that we seem to live in today, it’s hard not to feel ashamed at times, especially when someone is telling you that the way you are living your life is wrong. Now, they don’t mean that you are not enough, or that you should be ashamed of yourself, or that you are a total screw up. They mean that they think they have more experience, and that they know best, and that you should just go ahead and listen to them. But that isn’t usually how it comes across.
If you have a well-meaning family that sometimes leaves you hurting, it might be time to set some healthy boundaries to help create more love and balance in your relationship. But boundaries are a tricky thing. You have to tread lightly, because I know the last thing you would want to do is make them feel the same way they made you feel.
The first thing you need to do is reassure them that you know their heart is in the right place, and their intentions are to help you to live up to your full potential. Even if you don’t necessarily believe that, this can help them to be more receptive to what’s to come. If you go in with a negative attitude, they will pick up on it, and for the vast majority of people, it will turn them off to whatever your message is. Wouldn’t it do that for you, if the roles were reversed? You don’t like being told you are doing something wrong, neither do they.
Pick and choose your words carefully, the whole way through. You are a family, and you love each other. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t go through the process of setting boundaries, you’d just cut them off. Be kind, and remember that this is going to be difficult for them at first. You are asking them to completely change the way they approach your relationship. There will be a learning curve.
Set clear boundaries. Brainstorm, and write down, the 3-5 areas of your relationship that cause the most hurt to you. Is it criticism about your home? Your discipline methods? Your child’s nutrition? Your education choices (homeschool anyone??)? Once you have those areas that you would like to improve, write down the best way that your family can share their thoughts in a way that will keep everyone happy. If they criticize your messy home, you could tell them: “I appreciate your concern, and I know you have Bobby’s best interests in mind. I love when you come visit us, but it is not ok for you to criticize the way we keep our home. If you think we forgot to clean the toilet, you can pull one of us aside and say, ‘I think you forgot to clean the toilet’, but you may not belittle us for having a messy house. We are doing the best we can with our busy lives right now.” If it’s your discipline methods, you could say: “I appreciate your concern, and I know you want to see Abigail succeed, but she is our child and we will choose how to discipline her. You had your chance to choose a discipline method for me when I was young, and now it is my turn to choose, along with my husband, the best discipline method for our family. This is what works for us.”
Be Consistent and Patient.
Just like with a child, you must be consistent. You are trying to break habits that could be several years old, and were probably learned from their own parents, so have been embedded in their mind for the past 20+ years. It will take time for them to change. Remind them before you have a big family get together what is expected. Don’t get frustrated with them. Be kind and patient. Remember that you love each other.
No family is perfect (if yours is, please tell me your secret!). But using these simple tips, you can lay the groundwork for a healthier and happier relationship.
Do you struggle with family boundaries? Comment below with your experiences…