Whenever I return to my hometown, I get anxious. Why? Because I worry about the differences in opinion between the way I raise my child and what my parents or in-laws think.
"Why she never call me?"
"She's so clingy. At that age, you weren't like that"
"Need to discipline her more, otherwise she's going to be so spoilt"
"I'll give you sweets if you stop crying"
"Need to teach her to stay up later so that she can join our Lunar New Year reunion dinner"
These are all statements that have caused simmering resentment in the past. I've struggled to know how to react in these situations, torn between the desire to be my child's supporter and advocate while also showing respect. A lot of this struggle is rooted in patterns that have been set in childhood and wider cultural conditioning that requires us to be filial and 'give face'.
If this is something that you struggle with as well, first off, know that you're not alone.
Family dynamics are always tricky to navigate, so I won't pretend that there is a cut-and-dried solution. It requires us to embark on the inner work of examining our own attitude to boundaries as well as reconciling with unresolved family issues that can trigger us in the present.
Here are some actionable things to do during interactions that I've found helpful as I continue to find that elusive balance:
Know and stand firm in your values
I find that getting clear on my personal and family values has been the single most important step in dealing with hurtful or unsolicited external advice. When we are clear about what we stand for, it's easier for us to set and hold boundaries with other family members. For example, we believe in supporting our child's rest so that they can show up as their best and not become overtired. So when a well-meaning elder suggests that we should get them to stay up later for a family gathering, we can return to our foundation and let them know that, while we appreciate the intention, it's not in our child's best interest so we will be leaving earlier so that they have time to wind down before bed. By staying true to our values, we can decrease the indecision and questioning that leads to resentment later on.
Support and advocate for your child
Our children need our support in situations where there are conflicting adult views. We can do our best to keep them out of the cross-fire by shifting these discussions away from their immediate vicinity. Another thing that helps is to prepare them in advance. For instance, perhaps we know that addressing elders is something that will come up during an upcoming visit. Talking to our children about it and role-playing the process of meeting and greeting and coming up with an alternative greeting, like a high-five, help them prepare for it, without placing pressure on them to perform on the day. When the situation inevitably crops up, we can try not to cave to pressure to perform, and instead include our child, which might sound like "How would you like to greet yeh yeh (grandfather) today, with a greeting or a high five?" And if this isn't well-received, we can be direct and let other family members know what our child needs, like "It looks like she might not be ready to say hi yet. She'll let us know when she's ready"
Set respectful boundaries for yourself and your family
Setting boundaries is an area many of us struggle with because we've been taught that respecting our elders means being compliant and obedient. I now believe that respect looks like respecting ourselves enough to set boundaries around areas that are important, and trusting our elders to be responsible for their own feelings and reactions. Direct and honest dialogue that happens up-front is better than lingering bad feelings over things left unsaid. This could sound like "I know you love my son and want to stop him from crying, but we believe that in our family, all feelings are allowed and that he can cry if he needs to. I'd appreciate if you didn't offer him candy to stop him from crying. I can move into another room to help him calm down if the crying bothers you."
I'll be honest, I still haven't worked my way up to this one yet - but I'm giving myself grace and allowing myself to figure out how to have these conversations.
Is this something that you personally struggle with? I'd love to connect with you and to let you know that we're in this together so do drop us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org .