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When someone crosses a red line with your child, it is OK to set a firm, loving limit. If you’re facing challenges with the people closest to you, remember that peaceful parenting isn’t just for our children. We can set firm, Empathic Limits for adult family members as well. We can do so with love, respect, and crystal clear communication of our expectations and boundaries.
Toxic or simply unwanted behaviors might look different in any family, and it feels different for every parent. A grandma who bribes, yells, or even spanks her grandchildren. It might be an Auntie who tells them they need to lose weight, and models terrible self-loathing. It could be a grandpa who calls them names, laughs at them, has too much drink, or forcefully pulls them onto his lap.
Let me say this again, it’s OK to set limits with the people you love. Ultimately, as awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, it’s OK, and it’s part of our job as parents.
How to Set Boundaries With Your Family Members (other than your children)
Here are some examples of what you might say.
“Please stop making comments about my daughter’s body.”
“I can’t let you pull him onto your lap. He’s saying ‘No!’ “
“We can’t come over if you’re not sober when we’re here.”
It’s OK to say “No.” It’s OK not to come, or to come on your own terms, at the location and timing of your choosing.
My favorite way to set a loving limit is to set a boundary sandwich, which looks like this. “Yes…No…Yes.” You start by affirming, or giving some sort of loving feedback. Then, you give a clear, firm, undeniable NO as to what you don’t agree with. Finally, you end on another YES note, that is affirming and connecting or something that you CAN agree to. For example:
“You’re such a playful grandpa and the kids just adore you. I can’t let you pull them onto your lap or hug them when they’re choosing not to. What they really enjoy is playing chess, tag, or uno.”
“It’s so incredible generous of you to cook for everyone over the holidays. Our kids can have one candy each, but no more. Thanks so much for making such efforts for us to be comfortable.”
“I really appreciate that you’re concerned about my daughter’s health. Making any comments about her food, her body, or her looks is completely counter productive and really out of the questions. But she loves discussing the books she’s reading, her science project, and anything to do with horses.”
“Yes, we would love to see you over the holidays. We will not be coming to your home. We would love to go to a concert together.”
“You know how much the kids love playing with you. We can’t see you unless you’re sober. We’ve really missed our time together.”
Even though most well-phrased limits may fall on deaf ears, because some people just have a toxic dynamic with us and the best thing we can do is to limit the time we spend with them, and to do so on our own terms. We can spend time together on our turf, or on neutral grounds. We might need to pull away a bit when needed to disconnect, and to protect ourselves and our kids.
Gimme your BEST boundary sandwich example in the comments below. Bonus points if it’s one you would really like to or need to set with a loved one!