Permissive relatives and the holidays

Holidays are a time for celebration, and while they’re underway, a certain amount of indulgence and rule-breaking is generally expected. The problem is that not everyone has the same ideas about what that “certain amount” should be, and sometimes during the holiday season, parents find that relatives are a little too lenient for their liking. If you start to notice this happening, there are a few do’s and don’ts that might help you make it through the holidays with your parenting style intact.

What you should do

When a relative does or permits something that you don’t normally allow, it can be helpful to:

  • Have healthy limits and expectations in place: One of the best things you can do to minimize potential holiday damage is to already have a system in place at home where Baby knows the rules of the house and the consequences of breaking those rules. This obviously takes some time to establish, but it will come in handy when you’re in an unfamiliar environment, and the stronger it is before the holidays come around, the better a chance there is that it’ll weather the storm.
  • Consider the situation: Everyone has different rules in their house. Before you react, think about the circumstances. Maybe elbows are allowed on the table in this house, or extremely decadent sweets have just been brought out for this holiday. In some cases, it’s best to let the little things slide. Your toddler is smart, after all – they can recognize that they are in a different environment than usual, and should be able to recognize that this new place may have different rules from the rules at home.
  • Decide if it’s worth the energy: Other adults have their own ways of living and parenting. You have to be careful to pick and choose your battles, not just for Baby‘s sake, but your own – you only have so much energy during this fairly stressful time of year. If there are one or two issues you feel very strongly about – like keeping a reasonable bedtime – it can be most effective to save your efforts for the things you’ve decided really matter.
  • Have some lines prepared: If the situation calls for it, you might need to enforce your parenting philosophy. Since it’s difficult to think of excuses on the spot, prepare some lines ahead of time. Some options are, “no, thank you, we don’t do things that way” or “we have decided this works best for Baby.”
  • Acknowledge after the fact: If an adult does something that blatantly goes against your rules, feel free to talk to Baby about it afterwards, when you’re alone with each other. You can say something like, “I know that your auntie let you say that word, but we don’t say it in our house.”
  • Donate any extra gifts: It’s very common for relatives to spoil children during the holidays. Spread around the extra holiday cheer by donating excess gifts to children in need.

What you shouldn’t do

Here are some of the ways that parents shouldn’t respond when relatives are too permissive.

  • Preach or teach: Politics and parenting are just two examples of things that may not be worth discussing at length with certain family members. Everyone has different styles, and you’re probably not going to change anyone’s mind about parenting at a holiday party.
  • Be afraid to use a white lie: Obviously you don’t want to teach Baby to lie. But at the same time, a white lie might make it easier to get out of certain situations, so don’t feel like a bad person if you use one. Some examples are, “thanks, but Baby might not like that” and “no, that upsets them stomach.”
  • Worry about how this will affect Baby in the long run: In the grand scheme of things, the holidays won’t have that much of an effect on Baby. Sure, they might need a little time to adjust back to house rules, but as long as you treat the holidays like the exception that they are, you should have no problem with things eventually returning to normal.

If you really don’t like a relative’s behavior

Sometimes, a relative does cross the line, and in these cases, it’s okay to put your parenting foot down. Take the relative aside and talk to them in private, explaining what bothered you and emphasizing that you’ve chosen to do things a little differently with Baby. If you continue to have issues that really bother you or have an effect on Baby, you can definitely choose to minimize contact with this relative in the future. It’s not easy, but sometimes it has to be done.

The bottom line on relatives and holidays

Holidays can be draining, and when you’re the parent of a toddler, you have much more than just seasonal snacks on your plate. This doesn’t mean you need to spend too much time bracing yourself for conflicts at gatherings with your relatives, though. In fact, you’ll probably have some amazing moments watching your relatives interact with Baby – and for those other moments, here are a few ways to keep handling conflicts in a low-stress way.

  • “Holiday Stress & Solutions for Parents.” SCANVA. Scan of Northern Virginia, 2013. Web.
  • “Children and Holiday Stress.” AAHealth. Anne Arundel County Department of Health, Nov 2013. Web.

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