Do you ever feel like your family is under the microscope at holiday gatherings?
Your lively kids – in unfamiliar places, without their usual toys – often reflect the stress all around them, which can mean they get loud, obnoxious, and argumentative. The icy stares or sidelong glances from relatives — especially your parents — can communicate, “That is soooo disrespectful, and clearly needs some firm discipline.”
You may even get some direct comments like, “Aren’t you going to deal with that?” or, “You really shouldn’t tolerate that disrespect!”
You know that you are learning more graceful, wisdom-building ways to parent and you want to stay the course, but you don’t know how to respond without sounding disrespectful to your parents. You may even second guess yourself and get harsh or firm in unnatural ways with your kids, just to avoid the criticism.
So what can you do?
1. Stand confidently in your parenting and in what your kids need. Set boundaries clearly ahead of time about activities and length of stay. Know that however you decide to parent needs to be with conviction that this is how God is calling you to parent. That takes some thoughtfulness on your part, and you may even want to memorize a scripture or two to keep you strong or even articulate that calling. (Examples: Luke 1:17, Eph. 6:4)
2. Appreciate and acknowledge your parents’ intentions. They care about you and your kids and may sincerely believe that “obedience or else” parenting is truly best for your kids. So what can you do to acknowledge their good intentions while giving them insight into your parenting strategies?
Here’s how it might go: “Mom/Dad, I know you are truly concerned for our kids, and want the best for them. I’m so glad that you care enough to express that. Parenting is a different ballgame now than when we were kids (give examples re: media and peer influences if needed). We are really trying to focus on building wisdom in our kids and that’s a slower, messier process. We ask more questions. We try to help them realize when they have done something hurtful and guide them to make it right. (If you have a good example of this you could share it.) We work to stay connected so we don’t lose our heart level influence like so many parents are these days.”
3. Provide your parents with a few practical tools and insights to engage well when they see a problem, especially if you’re not around. Here are a few examples:
- “Looks like there’s some big emotions here. Why don’t you take a break and think how you might solve this in a way you’d feel really proud about?”
- You may want to send your parents our short ebook “Four Messages Every Child Longs to Hear – A Discipline That Connects overview” ahead of time and ask if they could read it to better understand what you’re trying to learn.
- If you have a sensory child that fits this description, you could forward this article.
- You can also help your parents understand your kids’ strengths and gifts better. For example, if your folks are frustrated with a particular strong-willed grandkid, how have you noticed that child using that strong will in an honoring or positive way?
4. Help your kids hold on to what is true, if you anticipate there may be some harshness or criticism from your folks during your visit.
- Your perspective makes the biggest difference with this – If you believe your parents’ responses will be damaging to your kids, they will sense your anxiety. If you view this challenge as a good learning opportunity, it greatly decreases any unspoken negative messages like, “What’s wrong with us or with Gramma and Grampa that this problem is happening?”
- So from a place of peace, you can talk about the holiday tension “elephant in the room” with your kids beforehand. “We sure love Gramma and Grampa and it can be a lot of fun, but it sometimes gets a little stressful at their house, doesn’t it? What’s good about being there? What’s hard about being there?” Validate any difficult feelings without blaming anyone.
- You can ask your kids, “So what’s true about you if someone gets upset with you when we are there?”
- Even if someone is not talking to you in the best way, they might have a good point about something you did wrong that you can make right. When you choose to do that it blesses everyone involved.
- It’s a good opportunity to learn to respond well to different kinds of people.
Above all else, you and your children can all keep in mind that no matter how it goes,
- We love each other
- We don’t have to be a perfect family
- We are learning and growing together
- Jesus came to a messy, sinful world because he loves us sooo much!
Download the short ebook Consequences That Actually Work to learn three consequences that teach, rather than simply punish.