If you are a connective parent, you know the pressure from the outside to conform to traditional parenting styles. If your children are not behaving perfectly, it's because you're letting them get away with it, you're not strict enough. "What he needs is some discipline. He needs to know who's boss. Are you going to let him get away with that?"
When that pressure is on, you get tongue-tied, feel inadequate, and don't have a leg to stand on. You buy into the criticism because, let's face it, you're not 100 percent confident of yourself, especially when faced with the disapproval of one of your parents or in-laws. You question yourself, get stressed out, your child reacts to your tension, you snap and the cycle spins. Things that work at home suddenly do not. Children get confused and anxious – all hell breaks loose.
Hence, performance anxiety. How will your child measure up to family standards? How will you look? Pay attention to your stress level. If you anticipate a tough situation, have a talk with your child ahead of time and share your feelings. Know that if you are uncomfortable, your children will be, too. It's hard to look into disapproving eyes and explain what you are doing and why. If your parenting philosophy is different from how you were raised, your arguments can feel threatening to your parents. Not wanting to feel that old criticism and judgment, you back down and parent in ways both you and your children hate.
Anticipate difficulty ahead of time. Ask your kids what's been hard for them when families get together. Discuss past situations and how your child might handle it if it were to happen this year. Ask what your child needs from you and let her know what you need from her. Share your concerns and work out a plan to check in with each other at any time.
Here are some suggestions of things to say when faced with criticism from family or friends, no matter what time of year it is:
- This is a work in progress. I'm learning new ways of handling things and I'm not there yet. What I need most is your support.
- Sean has such different needs than any of us had. He has a passionate temperament and responds strongly when he feels restricted. I'm learning what works best for both of us.
- I know that you want a nice calm dinner, and I don't blame you. I'm thinking it might help to feed the kids earlier so they can come and go from the table and be less of a bother.
- Teens today are a whole new ballgame. I've had to learn what to let go of and what not. The most important thing I've learned is that maintaining our relationship is key.
- I know it's hard when the kids are running around during cocktail hour. Would you rather have us here with the chaos or have me take them outside to play during that time?
- She gets very stressed and wound up with lots of people and excitement. It helps when I can catch those cues of her revving up and can intervene. I missed it this time, so I need to take her out to help her get calm.
- He's a handful, that's for sure. His persistence will be a great asset when he's older – if I live through it!
- I know this is hard for you. Me, too. I really appreciate it when you understand how much I need your support.
Write some of your own. Practice saying them. Be prepared. Even if your relatives don't agree, if you say it with confidence, chances are they will back down. And remember, don't sweat the small stuff. Let them wear what they want and eat what they want (for the most part). It's just one day.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Bonnie Harris is the director of Connective Parenting and blogs here.