Complicated relationships in your extended family? Do you worry your kids are too much? Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells?

Perhaps your mother-in-law thinks you’re not hard enough on your kids and tries to make up for it by yelling at them. They’re just being kids! And, frankly, you’ve got this.

Maybe your dad has always been critical of you and your parenting- and he doesn’t even seem to enjoy the kids. 

Or maybe you grew up in a “children are seen and not heard” kind of household and your children can certainly be heard! Your brother makes sure to roll his eyes and mutter something about discipline under his breath.  

Or it could be that they are fine with your children, but you don’t exactly see eye to eye with Uncle Bill and you’re dreading the time you’ll need to spend together. 

Not only are you dealing with the stress of getting everything done, and your child’s big emotions- you have to navigate the complicated relationships in your extended family. 

Here are some practical ways to deal with these challenges as well as some mindset shifts that will help you

A note: If it’s toxic or dangerous, and you’ve tried all the tips I’m about to give, consider whether the relationship is something you want to continue, now or in the future. No one deserves to be treated badly. You might need a little distance.

Let’s start with the mindset shift for dealing with difficult people:

Remember that everyone is doing the best they can.

Your mother-in-law loves your kids, but she doesn’t actually know how to get them to listen without yelling. That’s how she was raised and how she raised your partner. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that she is doing the best she can. This isn’t for the benefit of your mother-in-law, it’s for YOU. You will find that if you give other people as much compassion as you can muster, you will feel better and have more strength and energy to deal with the situation.

Then what can you do? 

Manage Yourself.

You can only control yourself. Most of the time we are trying to change a situation by trying to change the other person!. (It never works!) But if you make a change, the relationship will change. The first step is to learn to not act when you are upset.

You WILL get upset; it’s your job to manage your feelings. How do you do this? STOP-DROP-and-BREATHE.

Stop what you’re doing (snappy retort, raised voice?)

Drop your agenda. You don’t have to solve things right this minute.

Breathe. You need to calm yourself. It will FEEL like an emergency because you’ve been hijacked by your body’s fight-flight-freeze response. Take a few deep breaths or take a break if you need more time to shift your energy. Laugh, cry, meditate, talk to a friend.

(If this is particularly hard for you, check out my How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids course. It works for in-laws and extended family also!)

Next, focus on connection.

What do you like about the challenging person in your family? We often spend most of our time thinking about the negatives. But if we focus on the positives, we will have an easier time. Make a list if it helps! “What you focus on grows.”

If you don’t see eye-to-eye on hot topics? (Politics, religion, ahem.. parenting?) You don’t have to agree to love someone. Politely agree to disagree. Don’t take it up with that person if you sense that a polite disagreement isn’t possible.

We also need to put kind, firm limits in place.

As adults and parents, we are in charge of taking care of ourselves and our children. That means setting healthy boundaries and standing up for ourselves and our children. This can be really hard!

If the environment is feeling too stressful, take a break. Give yourself and your children a time-in.

Good boundaries are also psychological.

If you have someone in your life who is truly challenging no matter what you do, put on your invisible forcefield! 

Surround yourself with light, love, energy and know that you are safe. Take some time to process all the difficult feelings that this person might bring up in you.

Do some preventive maintenance. 

A parent in my community talked about the ‘culture shock’ that can happen when we are all together for the holidays. 

Small children can be hard when you’re used to a quieter lifestyle. 

Try taking the kids out of the house, or to another part of the house if possible to give everyone breaks. 

You can also feed the kids early and put on a movie so that you can have an ‘adults only’ meal. 

If your family is critical of your kids or of peaceful parenting: 

Make sure they understand what peaceful parenting is! Let them know that things have changed and expectations are different. And that it’s not a criticism of them.

Send the blog post ahead of time about “What Is Peaceful Parenting?” to your relatives with a note: “This is the approach that we’ve decided works really well in our family. And I know it looks a little bit different from how you raised us! You were a wonderful parent. And we’ve had a lot of advances in brain science and a lot of advances in psychology and things might look a little bit different today.”

If your relative still tells you you’re ‘doing it wrong’?

Kindly but firmly tell your relative, “Thank you. I appreciate your concern. I will take that into consideration. I know you have our best interests at heart, but don’t worry! So do I! I’ve got this.”

Here’s a hack from a parent in my community for when they try to take over:

Tell your mother-in-law (or whoever) in a very kind and generous way, “You worked so hard when you were a parent.” We want you to be able to enjoy your grandchildren without having to worry about discipline or limits or rules. So please leave the parenting to us. If there’s an issue, come and get us. We will deal with it. We just want you to enjoy this visit and your grandchildren and not have to worry at all about the heavy lifting. You have already done the hard parenting work.”

Don’t forget to give yourself some compassion!

If we have someone in our lives who is truly challenging, no matter what we do, we need to give ourselves a big dose of self compassion. Remind yourself that ANYONE in your position would be having a hard time! (Click here to learn more about taking a self compassion break). Tell yourself “Even though I am having a hard time with my family, I am still worthy and loveable”. 

When things feel hard with someone- stop and remember that they are doing the best they can. Manage yourself and your reaction to the challenging person in your life. Find ONE THING you like about about them. And put up those kind, firm boundaries. What I am asking you to do is hard and requires an enormous amount of reflection and work. But you can do this!!

  1. Guiliana says:

    Thanks, but what if the problem is your PARTNER — bullying the kids, being dismissive towards you and not listening in general? Don’t say divorce – we haven’t been together for a very long time, but are stuck together (sharing the house) due to finances.

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