Tag Archives: holidays

‘Tis the Season for Compassion
Holiday Hug

Expectations are always high at this time of year. It’s the season for joy, friendly people wishing each other cheer, generosity of spirit, and family gatherings. But just as often, it’s not for so many.

The stress and tension of buying gifts, satisfying expectant children, and anticipating family gatherings fraught with anxiety and judgement are also heightened at this time of year. Loneliness, grief, and loss feel heavier now than at any other time. Suicide statistics peak. And on top of all the usual stress, we are in our second holiday season marred by a world-wide pandemic with a new and possibly scarier variant at our doorstep. The unhappy and the sick feel more isolated, rejected, and angry at this time of year.

Now that I have fully depressed all of you, I do not mean to be a downer. What I want is to prod your compassion and empathy to understand that this season is just as hard for many as it can be joyful for others.

Can you allow a family member’s, even your child’s, sadness, depression, anger, without allowing it to spoiling your own happiness? Can you be the support that a loved one needs without worrying you must do something about it, feeling guilty and then backing away because you don’t know what to do? Are you free to feel how you want without fearing the judgment of others?

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Nov ’19 Q&A – Managing Family Disapproval at Holiday Time

Q. I have worked hard to raise my boys, 5 and 8, very differently from how I was raised. I have followed your principles of Connective Parenting and want to stick with them. One of my boys is very strong-willed and, as you say, “won’t take no for an answer”. The other is a gem, so easy to get along with. With holiday gatherings coming up with old-school parents and in-laws, do you have advice on how to handle unwanted, critical remarks that leave my 5 yr. old feeling angry and reactive whenever they are around—not to mention what a failure I feel like.

A. When you choose to parent differently from the methods of your parents, you are always at risk for being criticized. Your parents and in-laws likely feel threatened by how you are raising your boys and assume you disapprove of how you were raised (this may be very true). If you are not asking their advice and following their traditions, you are clearly going your own way, and they may feel discarded and even wronged. The hard part for you is to stay neutral and not take their criticism personally—it is all about the one giving the criticism. You do not have to buy into it.

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Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house you go!


Holidays mean relatives; Relatives can mean conflict. Now is the time to create supportive relationships.

When you anticipate getting together with your parents or in-laws at holiday time, do you get tense and stressed just thinking about it? Are you afraid your child will misbehave, they will not understand, and you will buckle under pressure from your elders to parent in ways you have been working hard to avoid?

So many parents are looking for new ways to parent—ones that feel right and are more respectful of their children—that might be quite different from the way they were parented. But something happens when the generations get together and we revert to old patterns. Holidays can be fraught with anxiety when a look or a comment from a parent or in-law triggers self-doubt. You cave under their authority and treat your child how you assume your parent or in-law thinks you should.

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 that authority thinks should happen, and parents behave in the way 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 for your child. 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 yet learned that you are not responsible for your parents’ problems and feelings.

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. You slip back into old impulses with your child and your child reacts.

This may not be a big problem and it may only last as long as you are all together, but when it interferes with handling your children in the way you want and having the support of your larger family network, then you may be 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 of these 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.

Think about whether it would be better or easier if you talk about this before the visit or wait for an altercation before saying anything. Also it might be something you keep to yourself if you can gain the inner strength to simply manage your children’s behavior the way you want.

Things to say to gain cooperation without conflict:

I totally get that you want only the best for my kids. I am trying some different approaches and what I need most from you is your support.
I’m finding that Sadie has a very difficult temperament. In order to gain her cooperation, I find that I need to be understanding of where she’s coming from first.
I have tried what you suggest and it only exacerbates the problem with Jason. He will make the rest of the day miserable for all of us if I put him in his room.
I know you think I should be harder on her but I have found that that only means she will be harder on me.
I’ve been learning a new approach and it’s really hard to change old habits so I’m not getting it just right yet. I would really appreciate your patience and understanding that I am a work in progress right now.

You may not approve of how I am handling the situation but it is my choice for now, and I’d really appreciate your support rather than telling me what you think I should do.

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