#26: Navigating Extended & Blended Family & In-Laws

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Show Notes:

Who else feels like one of the biggest struggles when it comes to our words is navigating family relationships?

Joe and I both have blended families, and today we share four pointers that help us make those relationships a safe space. We hope it helps, and we wish you the best, whatever your family looks like!

#1: Be secure in who you are.

Whether it’s parenting, or comments about your body, or comments about your job, your spending habits, your marriage, when you’re going to have more kids… family is always going to have an opinion on, and, sometimes, talk about your life.

Usually, that’s because they care about you, even if they don’t always get it or don’t understand.

In fact, I remember hearing on the 3 in 30 podcast once that “your children are trying to tell you they love you all day long.” Which stuck with me.

When they are whining or pulling or screaming or interrupting – they are trying to tell you, “I love you, and I want to be with you – not just in person, but in presence.”

And I’ve thought a lot about that when it comes to extended family. Even when it’s misguided, they are trying to tell you that they love you. So, keep that in mind.

But, even more than that, or even when they are being intentionally unkind, remember – you know who you are.

It’s important to listen to the people who care about you most, because sometimes we need outside perspectives. But, in the end, the decision about all of those things is yours.

Find what works for you, and then take and leave what you decide to take and leave.

And, you don’t always need to be vocal about that. You can be, and knowing who you are is going to help you distinguish when you need to be or not.

But, a really good friend and I talked about this recently.

I said, with everything going with politics, and faith, and human rights issues lately, I really want everyone to know that I love them. But, even when the conversation is values-based, like we’ve mentioned, I don’t always agree with someone else’s values or priorities. How do I say, you are enough, you are valid, but also, we’re different? How do I make that distinction without adding to all of the contention?

And my friend said, I just trust that the people I love know where I stand. I do my best to show them, and then we don’t have to talk about it.

Be a team.

And when it comes to being secure in who you are and knowing your purpose, in the context of a marriage, know your purpose as a team. Some conversations, you will want to have together, before all of the comments start rolling in.

When we first got married, we actually spent a few years several hours away from family, for school.

It was hard, but I think it ended up being a really good thing for our marriage. We knew who we were as a couple and as a team, and where we agreed or disagreed as spouses, before we had to face some of that familial “pressure” for lack of a better term.

#2: Let Go.

A simple way to start letting go is to know what isn’t your responsibility.

For example, you can’t change people who aren’t willing to change themselves. It isn’t your responsibility. You can offer advice if they ask for it, and advice is going to be more effective if it is requested, but, at that point, resulting actions and consequences are not your responsibility.

Another example is the amount of time you are willing to put in to educate someone about where you stand. If someone sincerely wants to know why you value what you value, you might explain it.

If you make a good faith effort and they don’t want to know, or it takes more emotional energy than you have to give, you can’t pour from an empty tank. It’s worth praying over, but it isn’t always going to be your responsibility to pull from the other needs in your life to fill that gap.

A third example is being a mediator! This can make a big difference, but, just like your emotional energy, it’s something you want to make a conscious decision about. I’m not responsible to mediate between divorced parents or estranged family members. I can, but I don’t have to. And it’s okay to let that go when I need to.

Also, allow people to do for themselves what they can. As someone who loves my family, hugely, this one can be hard. I want to make sure the people that I care about will be okay. But when we start doing for people what they can do for themselves, we rob them of the self-sufficiency they need when we aren’t around!

A safety net is an amazing gift, but along with that, equip your loved ones with the tools to not need that safety net forever.

Another example that can be really difficult is knowing when to let go of judgment. We spent a few minutes talking about our individual struggles with this, but I think the biggest takeaway is that: Forgiveness, trust, and love are all different. You can forgive and love and still not trust.

So, when it comes to some of those more challenging relationships, remember, it’s okay to set healthy boundaries for yourself and your immediate family, because trust is earned.

Sit with it.

Another thing worth pointing out is that being kind and letting go is not the same thing as SUPPRESSION.

I read this really great article a couple of weeks ago by Celeste Davis from Marriage Laboratory, and she talked about how often we act accusatory toward anger.

She said, what if instead of convincing ourselves out of our anger, we become its student and see what it has to teach us?

Anxiety, anger, fear – sometimes these negative feelings are trying to send us a message. 

My therapist actually said this to me when I visited last. I said, “I feel like I’m always losing it, and I can’t tell my anxiety apart from the things that I have a right to be upset about!”

She said, “Go home and write down how you feel, and we’ll see how much of it is just anxiety versus something that you might need to talk about and resolve.”

I was shocked after to find there were specific things that I needed to work through, not just unnamed anxiety I needed to “get over”. 

So, you can let go on a relationship level until you get more understanding, but maybe dive in and say what are my feelings trying to tell me? Then go back to it when you know more and express what you need out of that relationship.

#3: Ask for What You Need.

Which is perfect, because our third tip is to ask for what you need. And you have to know what that is before you can take this step! But, often, we unconsciously hold our family accountable to expectations or boundaries that we haven’t clearly defined.

When they are unprepared for your reaction, it activates our fight-or-flight and escalates rather than de-escalates.

So, how do we tell our family what we need in a way that doesn’t lead to added tension?

  1. We talked about making deposits and social capital last week, and I think that could be helpful here in both asking for what you need, and, if asking for what you need makes you feel guilty, remember that you need to receive as well as give in order to be your best self.
  2. Don’t attack. Make your boundaries clear before they are crossed, and at a time when it’s not so much of a hot-button issue to address.
  3. Think about how you would want to be told what you are about to say. What tone might you be most receptive to? What experiences would you want validated or taken into consideration?
  4. Just say it. Sometimes, we beat around the bush. We feel guilty when it comes to boundaries and needs. One reason for that is because we often get to this step too late! Don’t let it build so much that you stew and then blow up. If someone tooo all of these steps – made deposits, put themselves in your shoes – it wouldn’t be offensive to hear them say – this is a need I have that is really important to me, can you help?
  5. And, if they do take offense when you’re doing everything “right”, that’s on them. They probably have their own struggles they are working through – which goes back to being secure in who you are.

#4: Laugh Together.

We trust and we listen to people that we like.

We endure difficult circumstances because we enjoy being together. Yes, it is a conscious choice, but we need fuel in our tanks and light in our lives to make that choice.

Along with all of the hard, it is so powerful to make positive memories together, too! Are you investing?

One-Liner: The people around you take their cues from you – when your tank is full, and when you know who you are, you will all benefit.

Journal Prompt: We talked about knowing what isn’t your responsibility and letting go. For our journal prompt this week, think about your extended family commitments, roles, holiday arrangements or even emotional burdens that you might be carrying.

Brain dump for a few minutes, then take that list and ask yourself: is there anything that I can let go of?

I’ve heard from a few sources, Monica Packer, most recently, that saying “no” to something means saying “yes” to something else.

So, what do you want to say “yes” to? And what is keeping you from that that might not be a need?

You might also go through this prompt with your spouse, if you’re married, and make sure that you’re both on the same page.

Keep spreading love!

❤ Jenny & Joe


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