Q: Do you have suggestions for inevitable holiday-related conversations about boundaries with family members, specifically around telling relatives that our toddler does not have to hug them or eat anything he doesn’t want to? I have some very opinionated people who will be spending time around my child at Thanksgiving, and I’m mentally preparing myself for these tough conversations.
A: Thanks for writing in! There’s no doubt that many of us are not raising our children the way that we were raised; many of us were brought up to hug, kiss, sit on laps, eat what was on our plate and talk to adults, whether we were comfortable or not. We were taught, fairly early, that our bodies didn’t quite belong to us; they were the property of our caregivers. Our misgivings, hesitancy and fear were inconvenient, and many of us are still living with those trespassed boundaries today. And because there have been dramatic shifts in boundaries and children in the past 50 years, it is not uncommon to have widely varying norms under one roof during the holidays.
The first thing you must do is not take the behavior of other family members personally. This means that you are assuming that your family members aren’t consciously making you or your toddler feel uncomfortable, and that their behavior isn’t really about you. When you decide that their behavior isn’t personal, you will be free to create and uphold the boundaries that feel right for you and your child.
Second, if you decide that your child will hug if he wants to and eat what he wants to, how can you smoothly handle this so that you aren’t purposely shaming your family members? If you open the holiday season with lectures about boundaries and bodily autonomy, I can almost guarantee a miserable dinner. Instead, […]
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