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Managing Difficult Relationships at Family Gatherings

Managing Difficult Relationships at Family Gatherings

The holidays and family friction. It’s not uncommon, and they seem to go hand in hand. As a new mom, exhausted, busy, and navigating your own new dynamic, this family time can be particularly challenging. While it’s wonderful to gather together, it can also trigger feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed. We are confident when we say, at Mommy’s Bliss 360, we’ve been there. Laurel Johnson…help!  Our expert Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional is here to do just that. Read on… 

The holidays are traditionally a season of many family gatherings, events, and time together. While these gatherings can bring together people you love, it can also bring about challenging family dynamics, difficult relationships, and high expectations. This can be an especially stressful time for new parents, who are managing the additional demand of postpartum and adjusting to life with a new baby.

If you are feeling overwhelmed thinking about the upcoming holiday season, you are not alone. With some preparation and intention, you can learn how to mitigate the stress of these situations and discuss your support needs with your family

Set Boundaries

Boundaries, which can be thought of as guidelines that honor and respect your needs, are a part of all healthy relationships. They are especially important during postpartum when the demands on new parents can be overwhelming and the opinions from others seem unfiltered.

Deciding ahead of time what boundaries are important to you can help you feel prepared to set them when the moment arises. You can also make your boundaries clear before gatherings so that family members or friends know what to expect when you see them. Though it may feel uncomfortable to set boundaries beforehand, it can take the pressure off of you or your partner to have to set the boundary in the moment, and can prepare others to respect your boundaries. Practicing firm but loving phrasing you would like to use can also help you feel empowered to speak up when your boundary is at risk of being crossed.

Deciding on your boundaries around common issues can help you clarify where you may need to communicate with others. If you are in a relationship, you and your partner can discuss your boundaries beforehand and communicate about how and when these boundaries will be set with family members. Here are some common boundary issues that come up, though you can also add your own to this list:

  • Who is allowed to come visit after the baby is born, and when are visitors welcome or not?
  • What holiday gatherings or traditions are important to you to attend?
  • What topics feel off limits to discuss with others (ex. labor and delivery experience, struggles you are currently having, controversial topics such as religious choices around the baby)?
  • Is there anyone who you are not comfortable with holding the baby?
  • Are there schedules you would like to stick to in order to prioritize you and your baby’s sleep?
  • How do you feel about pictures of your baby being shared to social media?

Keep in mind that you don’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology for your boundaries. Your loved ones respecting your boundaries is a sign that they want to engage in a healthy relationship with you, and the way they choose to respond to your boundaries is outside of your control.

Give yourself permission to walk away

You never have to stay in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or causes you stress. If a situation or conversation arises that feels distressing, give yourself permission to disengage or walk away. That may look like changing the subject, excusing yourself to talk to someone else, or taking a break from the gathering all together. Sometimes a walk around the block or a few moments in a quiet area by yourself can help create some emotional separation from a difficult dynamic.

Decide what you want to share and stand by your parenting decisions

Oftentimes, new parents are met with probing questions and unsolicited advice. Family members may want to know everything from your birth story to your sleep choices, your feeding choices, and more. While usually well intentioned, these questions can feel uncomfortable, judgmental, and even inappropriate. The good news is, you don’t have to share any information with others that you don’t feel comfortable sharing! If people ask a question that you don’t want to answer, you can simply say “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that” or “I’m not ready to get into that today” and change the subject to something that you’d rather discuss with them.

Along with the probing questions, new parenthood may come with the stress of unsolicited advice and opinions. These comments may increase during family gatherings, when you may be seeing people for the first time since the baby's arrival. If you’re met with unsolicited advice, you can kindly reply by saying something like:

  • “Thanks, we’ll consider that”
  • “We always consult with our pediatrician before deciding what to do”
  • “I’ve got it covered but I will let you know if I need advice”

Remember, YOU are the best parent there is for your baby. Even if someone disagrees with your parenting choices, that does not mean your choices are wrong. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but you are the one who gets to choose what is best for your and your family. Trust your instincts and stand by your parenting decisions.

Ask for support

If you have trusted members of your family or a partner that will be at gatherings with you, ask for support ahead of time. This is especially important if you struggle to set boundaries for yourself or tend to engage in people pleasing patterns. It can be helpful to outline potential interactions or questions that you would like to avoid, and ask for your support person to step in if they see them taking place. This may also look like asking your support system for help with the baby or with household tasks so that you can have a little extra space for self-care or a moment to breathe if you begin feeling overwhelmed.

Above all this holiday season, remember that taking care of yourself comes first. Focus on the things that are in your control, and make a plan for how to prioritize your needs when difficult situations arise. Know your limits and check in with yourself to identify if you need additional help. If you need guidance or tips on how to start asking for help and setting boundaries, check out this article.

Learning how to handle difficult family relationships and navigate challenging interactions, while hard in the moment, can be beneficial in the long run. When you choose to honor your needs and boundaries, you set an example for how you want to be treated by others. With time and practice, you will become more confident in your ability to handle difficult dynamics, perhaps making family time more enjoyable and fulfilling for you.

This site is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician or other health-care professional.

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