What if COVID is giving you a pass this year that relieves you? What if you’re glad to miss a family holiday? One listener hates Christmas because of her overbearing and difficult mother? How do you set boundaries with your parents? And is it ever too late?
We’ll answer that question in this week’s episode of Flusterclux with Lynn Lyons, the show for real talk about worry and another big feelings in parenting.
Lynn Lyons 0:25
Hi, I’m Lynn Lyons. I’m an anxiety expert, speaker, Mom and author. I’ve been a therapist for 30 years.
Robin Hutson 0:31
you’re here because your family has some anxiety issues, or you want to prevent them. I’m your co-host and Lynn’s sister in law Robin, and
Lynn Lyons 0:38
I’m here to ask your questions. Parenting can be a Flusterclux, and I’ll help you find your way.
Robin Hutson 0:46
Lynn, it’s nearly the end of 2020.
Lynn Lyons 0:47
Are you glad? Yeah, of course, I’m ready for a change. But you know, the impact of 2020 will still be with us
Robin Hutson 0:53
You mean on our mental health?
Lynn Lyons 0:55
Yeah, right. I mean, we want to kick 2020 to the curb, but we have to do the work. First, there’s got to be some personal reflection on the anxious habits and patterns that showed up for us and maybe got way worse.
Robin Hutson 1:06
Yeah. Well, you’re the one to lead us out of this.
Lynn Lyons 1:09
I’m excited for my course in January, this workshop will take an audit of the way anxiety showed up in your life this year, and then how to disrupt it in 2021.
Robin Hutson 1:17
Do you think this is just for adults?
Lynn Lyons 1:19
Well, we’ll do more later for kids and teens too. But I see a real need to help the parents first after the year we’ve all had, I want to help them feel bolstered for the New Year sounds like something we all need. When we’re grounded, we can be more helpful for our family.
Robin Hutson 1:33
If you want to reset sign up for our newsletter at Flusterclux.com to get all the details first.
Lynn, I always say that our show is for people who are parents or have parents because it’s really sort of universal for everyone. And this question will definitely resonate with many people.
Lynn Lyons 1:52
Robin Hutson 1:53
How do you let family members who have different views of what the holidays should look like know that you don’t value those same ideas? My husband and kids who are young adults now and I simply love fun family time together, especially on the holidays. My mother has her own very loud, obnoxious ideas about what Christmas should look like.
Yes, I could benefit from years of therapy due to the relationship with my mother, we always get bullied and guilted into doing things her way and end up miserable and grumpy and irritated by the time we leave her house and always has to be her house. I’ve come to hate Christmas.
I’m selfishly happy beyond belief that we can’t see my parents this year due to COVID. But no, it’s only a temporary fix. How do I effectively tell my mother that other people have ideas about what Christmas day should look and feel like, by the way, she is always right and never listens to others’ opinions? She uses my dad’s declining health as a way to manipulate us. And no, I’ve never tried to talk to her directly about it. Because I don’t want my dad to get upset. We are a very messed up family.
Setting Boundaries With Parents
Lynn Lyons 3:02
Wow there’s a lot here. Yeah. So, the first thing I’m thinking of is that this this COVID. And the way that we have had to adjust things is sort of enlightening for some people, isn’t it that you begin to recognize, gosh, maybe I don’t need to have my kids in five after school activities, or Geez, my teenager really is in a better mood when he’s getting more sleep or you know, all these things that we sort of recognized during this huge social change that we’ve had to go through.
It also reveals a lot of the anxieties and patterns and things that that are, as I say, turning cracks into chasms.
All right. So, here’s the thing. This is about Christmas, so to speak. But this is obviously as you know, listener a much broader issue, that your mom is very strong and opinionated. And it’s really hard for you to set boundaries. And it sounds like this is always been the case. It just happens to show up a lot around Christmas because this is her thing and she’s in charge.
So, the question you have to ask yourself and this is the big question you’ve probably been asking yourself is how do I set boundaries with people that force me to do things that then I feel bad or guilty or resentful or angry about and how is it improving the relationship to continue to do what she wants so that I just continue to feel mad and angry and guilty and resentful?
If you were in therapy with me And believe me, I this is not an unusual conversation for me to have in therapy. It really is about you being able to tolerate your mom being mad at you. And you not feeling guilty about the fact that you’re setting a boundary. Now that’s no easy task because obviously for years and years and years, you’ve relented to her demands because there’s a price to pay.
You are paying a price regardless all I think you should do is pay a different price. So rather than paying the price of your whole family having to cooperate with her idea of what Christmas should be, the price you pay for that the price you pay for cooperation is that you feel guilty, you feel angry, you feel resentful.
You are to the point now, where you’re so happy that there’s COVID, that you don’t have to see your family. That’s the price you’ve paid. I want you to think about this as paying a different price. What if the price you had to pay was your mom being pissed off at you?
What if the price that you had to pay was you having a conversation with your dad that said, Dad, I am sorry, that we’re not going to do it exactly the way that mom wants? But it’s really important for me and for my family to have some carved out moments in a way that we really enjoy the price, you’re going to pay for that as your mom’s going to be pissed off, she’s going to ramp up her manipulation, she’s going to throw the guilt out at you.
But you don’t have to accept it as your reality just because it’s hers. So, what are you willing to experience, because it’s not like it goes great. It’s not like when you cooperate, you’re really happy and thrilled with it, when you cooperate, you’re still pissed off. So, you just have to decide who’s going to be more pissed off you or her, I would imagine that she feels kind of angry regardless.
Because if this is a mom, that is this controlling, and this demanding, and this opinionated, people are always letting her down. People are never giving her fully what she wants. So, this is how she spends her a lot of her emotional life, you being able to show your kids in a very healthy way, that it’s okay to set boundaries. And I don’t know exactly how your kids are. But if you’ve got kids who are entering into relationships, who are choosing partners who are entering the workforce for the first time, who are going to be navigating and negotiating relationships in their life, show them how you set boundaries, it’s one of the most important skills that you can do in a relationship, you will pay a price, although the price you pay will actually have some positive outcome, rather than the price you’re paying now.
Robin Hutson 7:17
Well, great response, I have a couple of friends whose family dynamics are so similar to this. And I can imagine, as like, I wonder if they wrote this question. I don’t know. That would be funny. I think that the one thing to also consider is do you prioritize the relationship with your kids or your parents? Or do you prioritize the relationship with your children? Right? Because what are your even though they’re adults, what are they experiencing, too?
I mean, if they’re going and they’re actually having a great time at Grandma’s, that is somewhat telling that this is more of a personal thing between their own relationship. But if the young adults are also, they’re just going with the flow, and this is what they’ve always done.
Lynn Lyons 8:04
She says— and I don’t know if this is… she says the word we, so this is an important… you’re making a point important. She says we always get bullied, guilted into doing things her way and end up miserable and grumpy and irritated by the time we leave her house.
Robin Hutson 8:17
Yeah. So, if everyone feels that way, I know how if I’m, if I’m pretending that one of my friends who has a similar mom wrote this. I know that this must feel so hard and daunting, but who really hear what you just said, Lynn. Because what are you modeling for your kids for their own life, too? You’re showing them that their own happiness and their choice for happiness, and their choice for a simple, fun and playful opportunity gets thwarted by somebody else’s negative traits?
Lynn Lyons 8:52
Robin Hutson 8:53
And she has control here.
Lynn Lyons 8:54
Robin Hutson 8:55
I think that’s the thing too, is I think that when you have a mom who’s so dominating, you forget your own agency.
Lynn Lyons 9:01
Well, and it’s been like that since she was right. This didn’t show up when this, when this daughter was 42. The mom didn’t become dominating and opinionated. I think it’s a good reminder to say to her, you do have your own agency, you just probably never experienced it. Yeah.
And I think the you know, as I said, I think the interesting thing about these situations is that people will do what the dominating, opinionated, bossy person wants, because they’re like, “Oh, I just don’t want to have a conflict,” as if doing it makes everything feel great. Right as if you have the choices. I’m going to do what my mom says, and then we’re all going to have a great time, or I’m going to stand up for myself and we’re all going to have a miserable time.
Those aren’t the two choices.
Robin Hutson 9:46
Not At All.
Lynn Lyons 9:46
Right? So, it really is there’s something I think actually and there’s another thing too is that not being together for this Christmas is going to give you a little opportunity to say to your mom, it was really hard not being all together for Christmas, but what, what I really was able to recognize is that we have some traditions and we have some things that we like to do.
So, as we go forward, because Christmas 2021 is going to be different. Let’s, I’m really going to think with my family about what we really want Christmas to be. So, you’re blaming it a little bit on COVID. And saying, boy, it was really an eye opening experience,
Robin Hutson 10:26
I would also have a really heartfelt conversation with my adult children and say, “Guys, this is our Christmas, where COVID has given us an opportunity to have a clean slate and celebrate how we want. What would be the most fun and most joyful way that we could do that together?”
Yeah, and really make the most of this and show yourself that it was always the better path to do. And then next year, if things are more normalized for 2021. Personally, what this looks like and what you’re suggesting, there is nothing wrong and you are not a bad person if you say to your parents, “You know, we really enjoyed Christmas last year, you know, December 2020, we really enjoyed 2020’s Christmas, we’re going to do that again. But we’d like to do this with you all blah, blah, blah,” right. And they will go crazy. Right? But that’s okay.
Lynn Lyons 11:18
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s that that’s a really important point is that no matter what you say to your mom, she’s dissatisfied with it. Again, you can either do what she wants, and everybody be pissed off or do what you want, and only 50% of you be pissed off. She’s going to be mad; she’s not going to like it.
This is why setting boundaries is hard. When you set a boundary with somebody, they don’t go, Oh, you’re right. I mean, sometimes they do, but unhealthy. People who don’t respect boundaries, when you set a boundary, they get pissed. That’s why we don’t set boundaries. Because it feels hard. It feels awkward.
Robin Hutson 11:51
When I think of other friends I know who have had similar dynamics, each of them had to kind of break when they became young adults in their 20s, they sort of broke from their parents for a while, you know, for a prolonged amount of time in I think it was, I would say give or take in each case, it was actually about a year.
And then all of the ways that the parents used to control and dominate and communicate, that did go away, the child who had become the adult took that time. And then when they finally said, I’m ready to re-engage with you, and this is how I’m willing to re-engage with you. The good news is I can say 20 years of having a relationship with their parents, on their own terms did result from that very difficult boundary making. People do it all the time. But it’s really hard.
Lynn Lyons 12:46
It’s hard. I have a few women that I’ve worked with that, you know, clients of mine that have really worked hard to do this. And every time we move into the holiday season, they’re like, Oh, I’m so glad that I have been working on this. I could never go back to the way that it was. But it’s hard it you know, it’s the ability, it’s the ability to step into this and know that you’re going to piss your mom off. But you piss her off all the time anyway, I’m sure.
Right, unless you’re completely obeying what she wants, she’s irritated and she let you know. So, take the risk, and say, This is the price I’m going to pay, because it’s going to give me the outcome, I want versus this is the price I’m going to pay and just stay in continue to stay in this negative cycle. It’s hard. It’s your heart. But you know, the time is nigh. Here we go.
Robin Hutson 13:37
On a lighter note. Yeah. Aren’t you dying to know what her mother has very loud, obnoxious ideas about Christmas? What does that mean? I totally want to know what that means.
Lynn Lyons 13:48
I think it’s the turducken. I think she insists on the turducken. If you don’t know what a turducken is, you can Google it. But it’s when you stuff a turkey with a duck? I don’t know. I don’t know. That would be interesting. Yeah, you know, me and Christmas. Like I’m a very simple Christmas person. I don’t really love Christmas anyway. So, I can’t imagine
Robin Hutson 14:11
Don’t say that; I host Christmas.
Lynn Lyons 14:13
Well, no, I don’t like the trappings of Christmas.
Robin Hutson 14:16
Lynn Lyons 14:17
I don’t like it. Don’t say that; I host. So, Robin, I need to tell you right now that I feel like you’re bossy and that you’re making me do Christmas. No, I love the Christmas that we have because we’ve created this really fun connected Christmas where we play games.
I don’t like the whole consumerism of Christmas. I hate to shop. You know, when I taught spinning my quit a few years ago, but people would stop coming to spin classes. You know, during these the days like the month of December, and I people would be like, Oh, I’m not going to be in class. I have to go to the mall, and be like, Oh my god, I would say why don’t you come to class and then go to the mall. They’re like, Oh, no, I’m too busy. And I just thought, Oh my gosh, we’ve got it backwards.
Yeah, I’m all for eliminating gifts, as you know, I, I didn’t like how my family celebrated Christmas for a lot of dysfunctional reasons. It was all about consumerism and just like room full of presence, bleeding from the tree. I hated it.
Robin Hutson 15:16
So, we don’t exchange gifts. We fill stockings for our kids because that’s like small and fun. But you know, what we do is with you and your family as we now have a gag gift exchange. I really enjoy that. That part’s really fun. And then it’s all about games. Yes, simpler. You make Christmas, the more fun and connective It really is.
Lynn Lyons 15:36
We’ve created some rituals amongst our grown family with our kids that are that are really nice. That one I’ll tell you this one funny thing with my kids one Christmas, they decided they were I think you know this, but they were like, I think nine and seven. And they said that they didn’t want to know when Christmas was because they felt like the build up to it. There was too much anticipation. It was too stressful. So, they didn’t when they were little enough that so they were little enough that they would get off for school vacation and they would lose track of the days. So, they said we don’t want to know when Christmas Eve is, we don’t want to have any Christmas Eve celebration. We just want to wake up in the morning and be surprised that it’s Christmas morning because this is too stressful for us.
Robin Hutson 16:19
I remember that.
Lynn Lyons 16:22
So, we said okay, so it was Christmas Eve we felt a little weird, like not putting cookies out for Santa or anything like that. And then they went to sleep and I went upstairs and I put a big red ribbon across the top of the stairs so that when they woke up, they would see a big red ribbon and know not to come downstairs. But I’ve never heard of any other kids doing that. They were just like, it’s too stressful. We don’t want to know. The anticipation is too much. Okay, yeah.
Robin Hutson 16:45
That was an elimination strategy I’m surprised you went along with.
Lynn Lyons 16:48
I know. It’s true.
Robin Hutson 16:50
So, join the Facebook group so that you can ask Lynn your question on an upcoming episode.
Lynn Lyons 16:56
And thanks for joining us for another episode of Flusterclux.
Robin Hutson 17:01
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