Saturday, April 11, 2015

A to Z Blogging "I is for..."

"...In-Laws and Extended Family Members...Setting Boundaries"
From "Lifehacks for Christian Moms"
by Shelly Burke, RN, Author, and Publisher of the Nebraska Family Times newspaper

In-law issues have been a part of life almost since God created humans--and they sinned. In Genesis 29, Jacob's prospective father-in-law made him work for seven years to earn his daughter for a bride--and then tricked him into marrying the wrong daughter! Jacob, however, loved Rachel so much that he worked for another seven years to earn her. In Genesis 25, Rebekah helped her favorite twin son, Jacob, trick his father out of his brother Esau's birthright. The Old Testament is full of examples of lies, manipulation and deceit among family members. 

Extended family members can be a blessing or...not a blessing! On the good side, you have a history of shared joyful and sad events, you share the burdens of "dirty little secrets" and help each other through hard times. 

On the other hand, extended family members can have a significant negative effect on your family. Some do not respect limits or seem to enjoy embarrassing others, or manipulating or expecting you to conform to their idea of what is "right". Some relatives criticize, manipulate and interfere so much that to protect your immediate family, drastic measures are necessary. If you are troubled by family dynamics but aren't sure if or how they're affecting you or your family, speak to your pastor or a Christian counselor. 

Setting boundaries is just one way of dealing with difficult family
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members. Setting boundaries means clearly establishing the terms of your relationship and interactions, shows your independence as a family and sets limits on the behaviors that you will and will not tolerate. When you've made your beliefs and expectations clear, no one has any false or unrealistic expectations. 

  • will be different for each family. Some parents don't mind if their kids stay up waaaayyyy past their bedtime, and have donuts for breakfast when they're with their favorite aunt; others may not want their kids to adhere to a strict bedtime and have a balanced breakfast. 
  • may change as circumstances and issues change throughout the years. 
  • can be easy to set; safety issues, like using a car seat or seatbelt, should be non-negotiable and not open to discussion. Others may be unique to your family. Few boundaries are "right" or "wrong" but if they are "right" for your family, it's ok to insist on them. 
  • should be agreed upon by husband and wife; showing a united front is vital to protecting your family from manipulative or bullying family members.
  • will probably elicit protests and arguments from the people for whom you're setting the boundaries. Don't argue or give in; repeat what you've said and stick to your boundaries. 
To set boundaries: 
  • Consider how often you see the person (or people) that cause stress. It might not be worth conflict to insist that once-a-year visitors don't bring candy to the kids, while stricter limits might have to be set with someone who is a frequent visitor.  
  • Consider the seriousness of the issue. My son's grandfather talked for weeks about how he was going to give our weeks-old son a taste of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. While I wouldn't have chosen to give him any solid foods when he was that young, I realized that a small bit wasn't going to hurt him. 
  • Consider the person who needs the boundaries. Some people
    (from Google Images)
    understand exceptions to the rule (like an occasional late night) while other people, given an inch, will take 10,000 miles. 
  • Discuss the boundaries with your spouse and, if age appropriate, your kids. Define the consequences if the relative breaks the boundaries and determine who will talk with the person about the boundaries. 
  • Some boundaries might be "private"--known only to you and your husband, like an agreement that neither of you will commit to going to a holiday gathering without talking with the other, or that you will pick the kids up at grandpa's house by 4 PM because he routinely gives them a bowl of ice cream at 4:30 and ruins their appetite for supper.
  • Remember that you might have to remind people several times of the new boundaries. 
  • Prayerfully ask the Lord to guide your words and your attitude. Remember the wise words of Solomon, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs anger." (Proverbs 15:1). With difficult family members it's often tempting to speak harshly or critically, which will not get your point across and will probably lead to another argument. Plan your words and speak objectively and firmly and unemotionally. Don't get caught up in an argument; you have the right and responsibility to protect your family physically and emotionally. 
  • If a family relationship is destructive and it seems nothing you try helps, consider talking with your pastor or a Christian counselor, with that person (or people) if they are willing. 
What to say when setting boundaries:
  • "The kids are too young to understand the danger of guns. It's not safe for them to be anywhere if the guns are not locked up. We cannot allow the kids to be at your home until the guns are under lock and key."
  • "We usually don't let the kids eat doughnuts for breakfast but it's ok if they do for a treat, when they stay over at your house. But please also give them a glass of milk or a banana or some yogurt so it's not all sugar!"
  • "You're distracted when you drive and you drive too fast. It's not safe to ride with you. You are always welcome to ride with
    (Google Images)
    us but we will not be riding with you." 
  • "No, we don't allow smoking in our home, but you can go out back and smoke." 
  • "Please call before you come and visit to be sure that we don't have other plans", or, "You don't have to call ahead to visit; just please don't come before 9 AM or at nap time, 2-3PM." 
  • Be kind and considerate when possible; "I would like to host holiday meals at my house from now on; you've done it for many years and deserve a break! Will you continue to bring your famous dinner rolls?" is much more likely to result in change than, "It's always hours later than planned when we eat and it grosses us out when the dog eats from your fork, right at the table."
  • "Taking the Lord's name in vain offends me. Please don't do it anymore! If you continue to, we will ask you to leave." 
  • "We have all been hurt by the negative and critical remarks you make about our jobs, weight, or the people we've married. We want you to attend family get-togethers, so please, don't be critical at the next reunion. If you are, you won't be invited to them any more." 
Enforcing boundaries can be difficult if you feel intimidated by others, but if you're doing what is best for your family, you're doing the right thing. 

Have you had to set boundaries with extended family members? 
How did you do it? What are your hints for doing so?

This post is an excerpt from the book “Home is Where the Mom Is; A Christian Mom’s Guide to Caring for Herself, Her Family and Her Home” by Shelly Burke. This post is part of “Lifehacks for Christian Moms”, available for download May 1st.

I’m also blogging the A to Z Challenge at Nebraska Family Times, with the theme, “Words Matter.” On Tuesday ("L"  Day) the post will be "Limiting or Cutting Contact with Family Members". 

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