Spending time with family members over the holidays can be stressful for some parents that are choosing to raise their children differently from how they were raised or how their other family members are raising their children.

Differences in parenting styles and societal changes can make things difficult. We have all heard our parents, or another relative say something to the effect of, "Well, we did it this way and you all turned out fine." And sure, that may be the case. But the world is different. We have more knowledge on the dangers of certain things like plastics, how harmful chemicals can affect our bodies, and how car seats can save our children's lives when driving - even when driving just a mile down the road.

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Especially in light of quarantine orders and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more crucial now than ever before that we, as parents, stick to our guns when visiting (or not visiting) families for the holidays. We may feel pressured into making a trip to visit extended family members. If you do decide to make the trip, you want to be sure that you are taking all protective measures for the entire family, not just your immediate one, to keep everyone safe- even if they don't agree.

As with all extended family situations, it is important to go in with a level head and a set of expectations. It is also important to make sure you have some tolls in your back pocket to help you deal with differences among family members and your style of parenting or, in the case of the global health crisis, the health of your family.

Here are some things that might help you navigate through the holiday season with your extended family (or just a regular Sunday dinner with them):

It's ok to say no. You may not have seen extended family in months due to the global pandemic. The holidays are already a lot of pressure in terms of family visits, and you may feel even more pressured to do it this year because you haven't had the regular visits that everyone is used to. But if you feel as though it isn't safe for your family to make the trip, don't. Your extended family may be upset, or even angry, but a trip during the uptick of a global pandemic is not the safest choice. If your state has quarantine guidelines you should follow them accordingly to make sure that not only your family is safe but also that other peoples' families are safe. A holiday marked by illness or something even worse is not the kind of holiday you want to remember.

There are several ways you can still connect with family over the holiday season even if you aren't together. Here are some ideas to help connect with family even if you can't be in the same house.

  • Zoom present opening
  • Facebook Portal to show holiday pictures in real time
  • Swap family recipes and make them together over Facetime or Zoom
  • Have a socially distanced drive-by for the holidays
  • Have a socially distanced fire pit and movie night for extended family whereas everyone sits in their own circles 6 feet apart and you watch a holiday movie together.

Some things that might help:

Have compassion for your parents and in-laws. They may feel that your choice to "do it differently" is a negative judgement on their own parenting choices that they made with their children. (It's not that a different path was chosen because they 'did it wrong,' a different path was chosen because you are a different parent than they were. And that's okay. You grew up differently than they did. And your children will grow up differently than you did.) This goes doubly for anyone who is currently raising young children. Not everyone understands that it's okay for different people to make different choices for their families and you don't have to convert everyone else in order to be making the right choice for YOUR family. "I love how you raised me and wouldn't change anything, but this is how I enjoy parenting." "I love how you raised your son, he's an amazing man and I'm so thankful for everything he is. This is how we enjoy parenting, though."

Understand that they are still your parents/your partner's parents. They may still feel that it is their job to teach and to guide. It roughly translates to "I am older than you and feel like I have to give you wisdom and advice. I've never experienced what you are experiencing but it is my job as a parent to teach you about things. So here's this thing I heard on this show or read on the internet something that sort of fits what you're going through. I didn't spend too much time researching it because it's not relevant to my life but it makes a lot of sense." Some people don't let go of things easily, either. Don't let it make you feel like you are "doing things wrong." You know the reasons you have made the decisions that you've made. You don't need to change them because of different advice.

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Some people love to give advice. Which is awesome if their advice works for you. If you're a very different parent from them it's okay to redirect the conversation to a different type of advice that you will find more useful. How to refinish furniture, where to buy a car, recipe planning ideas, what to look for in an accountant, what type of diaper works best at night. Once they figure out that there are certain areas that you LOVE their advice in they'll gravitate more towards those areas and less towards trying to change things that you don't want to change. "That sounds interesting.. Hey, while you're giving advice I have really been meaning to ask you.. Your house is SO clean. What's your secret?"

You CANNOT follow everyone's advice. It's impossible to be a consistent parent and follow 100% of all the advice that you will get. It's okay to ignore the advice that doesn't mesh with your parenting style. In fact it's REQUIRED to do that. If you start trying to follow everyone's advice you'll be exclusively breastfeeding with bottles of soy-dairy formula while using CIO to rock your baby to sleep in a crib that's in your bed in a car seat balanced on top of your drier with white noise silence playing loudly but quiet in a very dark room with a night light. It doesn't work. One piece of advice that doesn't fit is enough to create complete and utter chaos and unhappiness. Choose the advice that you follow wisely and discard the advice that doesn't work. "I'll need to think about that and how it would fit in with what we're doing."

It's okay to listen to your child first and everyone else second. Listen to what your child needs both through what they say and what their body language is telling you. It's a great chance to teach your child to peaceably advocate for themselves and their autonomy and health. "Oh it's so sweet that Gramma is offering you a cookie, maybe you can say 'thank you gramma! I need to eat dinner first, I'll LOVE the cookie later!'" or "Oh look! It's Auntie Susan. I think she'd like a hug. Hmm? Not yet? I think he's saying 'I'm sorry Auntie Susan, I don't know you well enough to give you a hug hello. Let's play together and I will probably give you the biggest hugs later." Your child doesn't have to be rude to not hug Auntie Susan, but he also doesn't need to be forced to hug Auntie Susan. "Ooh look! It's Auntie Susan. She's asking if she can hold you. Oh. I think you want to get to know her a little bit first. That's okay. Let's go over here and you guys can have a chat and when you're ready she can hold you."

Your job is your child's parent. Your most important job right now is to be your child's parent and to protect, care for, and teach your child. This doesn't get suspended just because it's a holiday. It's okay to evaluate each situation and make sure that it will allow you to meet your child's needs. Family gatherings are full of learning experiences and opportunities for your child to interact and learn about family and traditions.

Remember your toolkit. Before you walk into the gathering remind yourself of what your tools will be. What stresses you out when you visit with family and friends over the holidays? How do you help yourself and your children get through things with less stress? Having a plan for dealing with things helps make things go more smoothly.

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