2013’s holiday season is here, and for many NotMoms, that includes at least one event with family, extended and otherwise. Often, a year-end holiday visit marks the first time relatives have seen you in a long time. In their attempts to “catch up”, they may also piss you off.
When a Wall St. Journal reporter talked earlier this year with adults challenged by critical siblings and friends asking probing questions, one of the most hated intrusions was this: “When are you going to have kids?”
Ah, family. You can’t kill ’em, so what to do?
Set some boundaries and let people know what they are. Then, enforce them. But first, get a plan. And, if your stomach aches at the thought of standing up for yourself to the people who raised you, memorize this advice from a licensed clinical social worker: “You have a right to set the boundary…No one has ever died from being disappointed or offended.”
Chances are, you already know the Problem People in the family, and you know the types of unwanted comments they’ll drop with a mouthful of green bean casserole. Danu Morrigan, a self-described daughter of a narcissistic mother and author of You’re Not Crazy – It’s Your Mother shares that one of the first boundaries to be set is often “what I am and am not prepared to listen to.”
In my family, for example, my mother was the screamer. Especially with some alcohol in her, she let people know her insights, desires and disapproval at the top of her lungs, usually by telephone. I hated it but took it for years. At last I told her that if she hollered, I couldn’t talk with her anymore. Too many decibels and I would interrupt, say goodbye, and hang up. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t. Ultimately, though, it worked.
Life coach Cheryl Richardson offers worksheets to clarify your objectives as you figure out what you’ll say and how. (No surprise, they’re available at Oprah.com.) Be clear about what you want. Draft how you will deliver the message.
Practice it. Role-play with a friend might help, too. A Pennsylvania psychologist warns that over-explaining how you feel can be counter-productive. “If you explain too much, people will focus on your explanation and forget your original position,” he said.
The professionals say that it’s best to assume that the ‘offender’ has positive intent. Comments and questions that hit your ear as just plain nosy may come from their concern for you. If your aunt genuinely believes motherhood is the best role any woman can ever hold, she wants to be sure her beloved niece experiences that lofty position, not realizing how rude or hurtful her probing may be.
Start your speech with a positive tone. California State University professor Jerry Cook suggests this intro:
“Our relationship means the world to me. But what you said bothers me, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again because I value our relationship.”
BUT – If you try to talk boundaries in the heat of the moment with smoke still seeping from your eyeballs, your emotions are out of control and a good outcome is unlikely. At that point, just walk away. If there’s anything to be said, keep it short and sweet. Like, “This conversation is over. Let’s talk later.”
And DO talk later. Calm. Determined. Prepared. Large and in charge.
Some people aren’t good students, and your power speech may need to be delivered more than once. Back up the words with actions, rewarding positive behavior and sticking to your guns when it’s bad. Boundaries are a sign of healthy relationships, but most of all, they demonstrate self-respect. How can you demand respect from others if you don’t demand it from yourself first?