Managing Family Tensions in the Holidays


The holidays are generally a time of connection with family and friends.  it brings family together from out of town that you do not see very often.  and at times, this can also bring tensions, picture this…

you have a newborn only a few days or weeks old, it is baby’s first Christmas, a special time although all the baby cares about is being on your chest.  your in-laws are coming to stay with you for a week for Christmas and to meet baby.  you get on OK with them but they have very different ideas to you about parenting, for example, they formula fed their babies and have a strong formula feeding family history.  you have chosen to breastfeed, including in public and for an extended time, allowing baby to naturally self-wean.  a common thing i have heard about this generation is that they are not good at censoring themselves or what they say so they can be quite confronting with their views and they let you know that you breastfeeding your baby in front of them makes them feel uncomfortable.

keep these things in mind these holidays…

1.  it's you not me

realise it is their stuff not cannot control other's words or actions.  you can only control your reaction.  when they say something inappropriate or confronting, physically step to the side and imagine their words whizzing past you and not hitting you, take a deep breath and say something like ‘i know you guys did things differently but we are choosing to breastfeed and to help normalise it by doing it openly, but, I am hearing it makes you feel uncomfortable, would you like me to let you know when the baby needs a feed so you can go and make a cup of tea or something?’

that way you are acknowledging it makes them uncomfortable and allowing them the space to leave the room if they want to.  this may be a little difficult if you are at their house so instead you could say ‘i know you guys did things differently but we are choosing to breastfeed and to help normalise it by doing it openly, but I am hearing it makes you feel uncomfortable, whilst I would like to not be excluded if baby needs a feed, i am happy to go into the bedroom to feed if you would like me to?’.  this will hopefully illicit a response that means they do not want to ‘exclude’ you and you can feed openly, this is a very good word to use to try and gain empathy and help make steps to change the baby feeding ethos in the family.  

2.  remove yourself from the situation

“i better check the food”

“i better go and check if (inset host here) needs help” (if you aren't at your house)

“baby needs changing (or a nap), i will just be in the bedroom”

3.  you are a good parent

sometimes we just need to hear this as everyone seems to have an opinion or a judgement about something our kids are doing or the stage they are at at the time and what they should or should not be doing or you might be breastfeeding and a family member struggles with that being normal.

4.  in-law out-laws

as alluded to above, sometimes our biggest struggle can be with our in-laws, if this is you, breathe, feel your feet on the ground, self soothe, keep conversation topics light and general.  have a code word with your partner when you are reaching your limit - you have the best excuse being pregnant or with a baby or still napping toddler to take yourself off to put them down for a nap and 'accidentally' fall asleep with them too.

5.  change the subject

if family stray on to a topic that is contentious, change the subject.  obviously it is better to express than repress your feelings but often times this takes energy to enter into the process and the other party can not actually hold themselves to be conscious participants in a repair or conflict resolution process and expressing will not actually get you anywhere. 

6.  stay grounded

we are much less easy to rattle if we are grounded, take 3 deep breaths before you answer a question or remark that makes your blood boil.

7.  keep visits short

if you are visiting a family member that there is frequent trouble with then keep the visit short, exchange niceties, small talk, gifts, a cuppa and Christmas fruit mince pies and then high-tail it out of there!  obviously, this is not an option if you are staying at their place or vice versa but refer to above for coping mechanisms!   

i hope these tips help you traverse the tensions that the holidays can bring and that you make it through with your sanity and family relationships in tact!