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Christmas travel: How to parent when your parents are watching

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

(Read caption) Cassidy Randall joins her great grandmother Mary McDermott and 13 other family members celebrating Christmas at Sunrise Assisted Living in Norwood, Mass., in 2006.

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When your parents or in-laws visit for the holidays, do you anticipate tension and stress? Are you afraid that your child will misbehave and that you will buckle under pressure from the elders to punish or shame your child?

So many parents are working hard at finding a new way to parent – one that feels right to them and one that is quite different from the way they were parented. But something happens when the generations get together. Holidays can be fraught with anxiety when a look or a comment from a parent or in-law triggers self-doubt, and you cave under their authority and treat your child how you assume your parent or in-law thinks you should rather than the way you know your child needs.

When parents are not yet confident or fluent in their new parenting approach, they feel vulnerable in the face of one who was the authority figure for so many years. The temptation is often too great to resist what the authority thinks and parents do to their child just what they have been struggling to avoid.

When this happens to you, it is evidence of how responsible you still feel for your parents’ feelings. You care more about rocking the boat than sticking with your chosen plan. You have learned well to behave in a way that pleases them, that does not cause conflict for them – even when it does for you. This means a healthy boundary never got established and you have not learned that you are not responsible for your parents’ problems.

So if you buckle under the pressure you feel from your relatives – spoken or unspoken – you are under the spell of their authority and have not yet gained your own in that relationship. You remain in fear of what they will say or think about you if you disagree.

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