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Modern Parenthood

Christmas travel: How to parent when your parents are watching

Christmas travel: Holidays can be fraught with anxiety when a look or a comment from a grandparent can trigger self-doubt in your parenting abilities. Here are a few tips for ways to stand your ground and avoid conflicts during the holidays.

By Guest Blogger / December 17, 2013

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

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff


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?

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Guest Blogger

Bonnie Harris, a parenting specialist for 25 years, is the director of Connective Parenting and is known for her pioneering mindset shift out of the reward-and-punishment model to a connected relationship. She conducts workshops and speaks on parenting topics and is the author of "When Your Kids Push Your Buttons" and "Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You'll Love to Live with. She is the mother of two grown children and lives with her husband in New Hampshire. Click here to learn more about her.

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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.

This may not be a big problem and it only lasts as long as you are all together, but when it interferes with your handling your children in the way you have chosen and having the support of your larger family network, then you are jeopardizing the messages you send your children. What they get is: You’re different when Grandma and Grandpa are around; You care more about them than me, something’s wrong, it’s not fair.

They’re right. It’s not fair that you give priority to your parents’ feelings over your children’s. Not to mention having to compromise yourself with your parents, resenting them, and not having the relationship and support you need and want from them.

What to do? I know many suggestions may seem impossible or too risky to try, but if the outcome is resistance you haven’t lost anything. If the outcome is positive, you have gained more than you can imagine.

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