Establishing and holding boundaries can be challenging, especially when those limits need to be set within family units. 

Dr. Emily Upshur, my partner from our group practice Upshur Bren Psychology Group in Westchester, NY is back to help one mom who writes in looking for help establishing boundaries with her in-laws. We’ll talk about strategies for engaging grandparents while also maintaining appropriate boundaries, the difference between internal and external boundaries and how you can integrate both into your life, and concrete steps for addressing excessive gift giving, unaligned parenting values, opposing political views and more.

Dr. Emily (00:00):

There’s a lot of value in telling people exactly what is okay. Right. Exactly what you can do for both the child and, you know, in this case, the grandparents, right? These like these things, aren’t so okay with me. But here’s exactly things that we think are, okay.

Dr. Sarah (00:21):

Boundaries are difficult to navigate for so many people. And when those boundaries we set, or maybe just wonder if we should set are with family members, it can make for an even more charged and overwhelming situation. So I think this episode is really gonna strike a chord with a lot of you. This is an answer to a listener question who writes in asking for advice on how to keep her parents and in-laws engaged with her young child while still setting appropriate boundaries. From receiving excessive and unaligned gifts, to feeling like an outsider at family functions, all the way to her fear that their opposing political views will rub off on her child – there is tons to unpack with this concern. Dr. Emily Upshur, my partner from our joint practice Upshur Bren Psychology Group in Westchester, New York is back to help me answer this mom’s questions and hopefully provide her with the support reassurance and the solutions she’s looking for.

Dr. Sarah (01:18):

Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two in this podcast. I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.

Dr. Sarah (01:52):

Hello everyone. Welcome back today. We have our wonderful Dr. Emily Upshur with us to answer one of our listener questions. Hello, welcome.

Dr. Emily (02:02):

Hi guys. Good to be here.

Dr. Sarah (02:05):

So today we’re gonna be responding to an email that I got from a listener named Jenna. And Jenna sent an email about getting clarity on how to keep grandparents engaged with your child while still setting appropriate boundaries. And this is something that comes up a lot for me, Emily. I’m sure you too.

Dr. Emily (02:21):


Dr. Sarah (02:22):

Oh yeah. Even in our own lives, right? Like we’re human beings. We have in-laws we have parents and we have families, so it’s always like a dance. But Jenna brought up a lot of really good points that I wanna bring up. Cause I think they’re pretty universal. Right? I think that they’re things that people experience. So she is looking for ways to deal with excessive gifts and toys that don’t align with her parenting philosophy that are coming from her in-laws sometimes, she feels like an outsider at family gatherings and sometimes, she feels like the way that her in-laws are, are interacting with her child. Don’t don’t feel very good to her. And then she’s having trouble navigating different political views and values that are coming up within the family systems. And so she was just posing a number of questions that I thought we could touch on a lot of these things because, I could feel the heads nodding out there in the podcast universe. Cause I’d be like, yeah, I know what you’re talking about there.

Dr. Emily (03:22):

Definitely. I mean, I love that she had a broad range of questions in this as well, because I think a lot of these things come up in, even in the healthiest of relationships. So it’s great to be able to sort of hash out a strategy ahead of time.

Dr. Sarah (03:39):

Yeah. So let’s break it down. I think let’s, why don’t we start with the first little bit of like sort of this broad strokes. Like how do I keep my family engaged while I don’t always wanna be having them in my life all the time? Like I wanna have these boundaries, I wanna have some separation, but I don’t want my kids not to have a relationship with their grandparents. Or to take this and sort of extrapolate what if we have grandparents that live far away and we don’t have an opportunity to have them in their lives. How do we help keep an engaged relationship with our kid and our grandparent, whether we have boundaries by choice or boundaries by geography or whatever it is.

Dr. Emily (04:12):

Sure. Yeah. I think that’s a great question. And I think this writer was saying, you know, her parents, this particular case, her parents were not as involved. Right. And maybe more physically distant, but also just sort of like more emotionally, a little bit less involved. And so either way, I think a nice way to have sort of a connection and, and it’s pretty easy, frankly, is I always used to love sending like just big manila envelopes of my kids’ art to my in-laws. Right. It’s like a really easy way to like, they send so much home. All of you, preschool parents know what I’m talking about, right.

Dr. Sarah (04:47):

Yeah. You’ve got a surplus.

Dr. Emily (04:48):

Yeah. And even in elementary. So I would literally just get a manila envelope, put every extra piece in there and then, you know, and they used to send it at the end of a cycle or the end of a unit and I would send out the art and that was just like a nice way to keep the thread alive. It also helps to have like a very concrete thing for the child and the more distant parent to talk about, if you do have a phone call or a video session, cuz they can say, oh, I love that thing you drew. And so it just makes it very grounded and connected to the child’s real life and what’s happening. So that’s just one little strategy that I do a lot.

Dr. Sarah (05:26):

Brilliant. I’m going to start doing that cuz that’s brilliant. Cuz I don’t know what to do with the piles and piles, piles, piles of it that I have.

Dr. Emily (05:33):

Right. Like it feels really good to just be able to be like, oh this is a nice thing. They like love it. Right. And they, you know, and it’s nice and it does give you that concrete connection, which I think is nice thing, a real world connection.

Dr. Sarah (05:46):

Right. And then I think, you know, if they do do like a FaceTime and the child sees their art on the other side of that screen, that’s like a good indicator, like this is an important person right. In my life. They have a piece of me with them. I see myself or something I created with them. That’s a real message. Right. That this is safe.

Dr. Emily (06:03):

Yeah. And I think at the same time it’s boundaried. Right? You know, no matter how your relationship is, it does allow you as the parent to sort of modulate that relationship in a way that feels good to you, you know, while still keeping the other party involved and in a sort of intimate way, but with enough boundaries.

Dr. Sarah (06:25):

Yep. Love it. And I think, you know, I’m looking at our notes and I’m like, okay, time limited calls. Like talk to me about that. That’s a very, I like that. I think that’s good for kids.

Dr. Emily (06:37):

Yeah. I always find that like there’s a little bit of a, like if you have a little bit of a strained relationship or if it feels like it’s too much of a relation, you know, too much closeness, it’s nice to have boundaries in a time limited way. So a nice way to do that is to actually schedule calls like before a thing like, oh, 15 minutes before bedtime or dinnertime. Right. So that it has a natural quote unquote natural ending so that you, you don’t feel like you can, you don’t have to confront it directly necessarily like, oh this has been going on too long or, oh, you know, I can’t stand to this person or, oh, you know, I want this to be less intense. You can say, oh, you know, we’re gonna have a quick call. We just wanted to call you before dinner just to see your face and say, hi over FaceTime. You know, just to say hi, give some quick updates, but you know, oh, we’re gonna have to run out to X activity X dinner. So it gives you a little bit, you can get through anything for 15 minutes. Right. So it sort of gives you a little bit of a modulation. That’s external, which helps a little bit.

Dr. Sarah (07:39):

Love that. And I think pivoting over to this other point that this listener brought up of like, how do you deal with all the excessive gifts that maybe they don’t align with my parenting values? Or maybe they’re just too many. That’s a tough one because, and this, and again, like to, to take that concept and, you know, expand it outwards. I think this comes up with birthday parties and with like holidays, right? Like when I have a birthday party for my kid, like I there’s this influx of gifts and I it’s too much, it’s overwhelming to my kids. It’s definitely overwhelming to me. So like, I think a lot of these same issues that we might be talking about can be kind of brought into lots of other situations too, around gifts.

Dr. Emily (08:23):

Yeah. I like that you brought in birthday parties. That wasn’t on the front of my mind and I think that’s extremely that’s right in this category. One of the things just while it’s on the top of my mind, one of the things I love about birthday parties, and I think I talk, I think, I think about this a little bit in terms of like the boundaries as well, which is, I like to introduce the idea of experience gifts, right. So I will often say like, if we have a birthday party at a venue, I’ll say that’s the gift, right? Like the gift for the child is this like going to bounce, you, you know, like that, that’s like a, the experience together. And I think you can extend that out to grandparent relationships as well. I think, you know, if you’re, it’s very common to get like lots of toys you don’t want, right. So you might wanna encourage like, oh, you could take them to the park or the zoo or a show or a special dinner, or even, you know, doesn’t have to be fiscal. It could be a sleepover at their house or a tea party at their house. You know, I think there’s a way of making, like introducing this concept of connection and experiences being the gift. So that’s just a side note of, you know, I sort of don’t wanna get us off track, but I think that’s a little bit of what my strategy is for that kind of thing.

Dr. Sarah (09:38):

Yeah. Yeah. And I think there’s like, okay, so you have people, let’s say you’ve got a family member who is giving gifts that feel inappropriate to you either they’re way too expensive, or they’re totally misaligned with the way you’re parenting. Right? Like, you know, tons of bells and whistles. If you’re trying to have a more, you know, child-led play environment or they’re, you know, electronics when you really want your kids to be using, you know, analog toys. I kind of feel like there’s two different strategies to this, right? There’s like the, okay, this is not worth a fight. I’m not gonna confront this. I’m gonna do something on my own end or this has become such a pattern and it’s, it’s worth bringing up and I actually need to have a confrontation. And by confrontation, I don’t mean a fight. I just mean a conversation where we discuss some type of mismatch, misattunement here. Which that is a confrontation. Right. I think people have a misperception that all confrontation has to be aggressive. And I think we can have healthy confrontation.

Dr. Emily (10:50):

Yeah. I think that, I think of it the exact same way. I think that you sort of have a decision tree. Do I wanna sort of do a work around here and sort of like, sort of deal with it right. And figure out a way to deal with it in the best way for my family, or do I wanna try to change the behavior, the external behavior of the other person? Do I wanna say, like, please don’t give me these many gifts. So I think we can talk about these two in two different ways. I think the sort of less quote, unquote confrontational way, if you’re not really trying to change the, what the other person is doing, which can be hard. Right. We know we can’t change other people’s behavior very well. One of my favorite hacks is to just take batteries out of noisy toys. Right? Just take out. It’s no big deal. You take out the batteries, you can, I’ve even been known to sort of like put tape over lights or, you know, so you can make something a little bit more analog that, you know, that might otherwise not be. The other piece of that is, you know, maybe one bells and whistles toy is okay with you. Right. So I say like, get a bin, throw all the extra, you know, auxiliary, too many of those toys in the closet and just take one out at a time for your child to play with. Right. Like you can do, I call it a closet rotation. It’s actually a good idea to do with all your toys because they become novel. You don’t have to have so many sort of, it sort of reduces that a little bit. And so that can sort of limit, make you feel like, oh, I don’t have to have all these bells and whistles and lights and all these things sort of like in my playroom or in my living room, you know, like that’s a really nice way to sort of modulate that. And the other thing, you know, it took me a long time to sort of accept this is like, it’s okay to just donate some of these things. Right. Like I will literally take the gift and bring it right to the donation place, you know? And it makes me feel, look it’s a nice thing to do. It, you know, it feels good. Sometimes I’ll involve my child in that. If it’s not too difficult for them, you know, frankly, to part something. But that, I think that’s okay too, right. Like again, this goes to what feels okay inside for you, you know?

Dr. Sarah (12:58):

Yeah. And I think there’s lots of different ways to do that sort of pruning of the toy strategy. Like I think there’s yes, like when you, like, I do this a lot when there’s a, like one huge influx of toys, like a birthday or a holiday, and it’s like, it’s like, my kids even can acknowledge that it’s overwhelming. Like, like this is too many toys. Like this is too much stuff it’s overwhelming. We can’t fit all of this in our space. So let’s go through it and pick out a couple things that feel really special to us. And then let’s think, and pick out a couple things that we would really love to give to a kid who maybe doesn’t have any presence right now. Or doesn’t have that many toys to play with, like what would be really nice to give away. And it’s not like, what are you gonna not have? It’s like, you, you think of it from sort of an abundance mindset perspective. What do we wanna take from this pile to give to somebody who would really love to play with this too? And I think the younger, you start this concept with kids, the easier it is, and it can be something that is a part of your ritual when you have these big milestone, present, gathering moments. And it can help like it, it helps teach gratitude, it helps teach generosity. It helps help, you can start conversations about, you know, having and not having, and like how there’s a lot of inequity in the world, you know, obviously developmentally appropriate stuff. Kids can handle these conversations. But I do think that there is a little bit of an art to getting kids on board with donating. And I think sometimes that’s better than just like all the toys disappeared. Where did my toys go? Although I have been known to disappear toys, you know, I’m not, zero shame to any parent who has done a toy sweep and they’re just like, and your kid’s like, where did that go? And I’m like, I have no idea. Hmm. I don’t know. Must be lost in your mess.

Dr. Emily (14:58):

I’ve definitely used that. And I love the idea of the collaboration though, because I have, you know, one of my strategies is I have had birthday parties, like this moves into our sort of our second category, which is like, how do you confront or like change the other outside behavior. And like, for in the birthday party sort of celebration, holiday zone, I have been known to give like a little bit of structure to the gift giving, like we’re having a birthday party. We’d love only books. Thank you so much for coming, books would be great. Anything else, we’re really, we’re tip top full, you know. And sometimes I’ll collaborate with my kid in advance. Like for an older child, I’ve had a child I’ve had birthday parties where like, for my own son where I’ve said, we’re gonna ask people for a donation for your birthday party, but you can have one gift. Like what big, you know, what gift would you really like? And what place do you think you’d like to choose to donate something like a basketball camp for underserved kids or a book collection, or, you know, like, and getting them involved in the location. We’ve done that in the past, in my own family. And they kind of like it, you know, like it’s a really nice thing to do. People feel good about, you know, donating to your kids’ cause, and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. They can still get a present or two out of the deal.

Dr. Sarah (16:20):

Right. And I think it’s important that kids get presents. Right. I think it’s important that they feel that they, if it’s always giving away, they’re going to feel…

Dr. Emily (16:29):

Of course. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (16:30):

The it’s it’s like restriction, right? Like if we never get to have something we want more and more and more, it’s like, we really want them to have ownership over that day or that holiday, it’s okay for our kids to get things. But I think it’s also okay for us to modulate how much and for us to say like, Hey, you know what, for your birthday, as a family, we’re gonna get you one big present and we’re gonna take the presents that come in from your birthday party and donate them to something. Or maybe you can pick two or three that feel really special to you and we’ll, you know, donate the rest. Or even if we don’t wanna donate, like sometimes I just like take the presence and I put them away in a closet and I bring them out and they can unwrap them for like a doctor’s visit that was really tough or like a sick day or just like,

Dr. Emily (17:17):

Or for a plane trip. Yeah, totally.

Dr. Sarah (17:18):

Right. Like bring one on a plane. Absolutely. Like I sometimes, but I, I have to do this tricky thing cuz I’ll have to like unwrap them so I can figure out who sent what and send a think you note and wrap them up again and then tuck them away. And that’s just fine. It’s just the way it goes. It could be a lot.

Dr. Emily (17:35):

Yeah, I totally agree. And I also think the other thing, like if we’re talking about something a little bit more intimate, like family, right. Presence like from grandparents, for example, I think giving like, you know, this is like a soft confrontation quote unquote confrontation, right? Like I think you can give a little structure like, oh, you know, my child is really into painting. We love paints because that’s your values. Maybe that’s what you’re, you know, like there’s a little bit of structure you can give to the gift giving. Oh, they really loved it. Last time when you gave blocks, you know, is there a different kind of blocks that you can give something along those lines.

Dr. Sarah (18:12):

Or like more of the same? Like if there’s certain things like in my family, my go-to is magna-tiles I’m like, first of all, I’m like, I cannot have enough magna-tiles. I’m obsessed with magna-tiles. One day I want a million magna-tiles in my home. And I wanted to throw away all of my other children, all of the rest of their toys and just have a whole room full of magna-tiles. But it’s a great gift where you could be like, you know what, we could always use more magna-tiles totally. Or like we could always use more blocks. Like there are certain toys where like, you can’t have too many of them. And so like building a collection by having a grandparent, give the same gift every year and having it be their like signature, I’m adding to your collection. There’s something really special about that. And like, you know, magna-tiles are not cheap. So like, you know, that’s a big gift. If you get a big whatever, like I’m obsessed with magna-tiles. But there are other things that can be collected.

Dr. Emily (19:04):

I will give you reinforcement that magna-tiles last a really, I have an 11 year old and magna-tiles are still a happy, happy toy.

Dr. Sarah (19:10):

I’m 36. And I love them, so.

Dr. Emily (19:15):

I will say, and I also think like another way to sort of subtly reinforce that with grandparents is like send a video of your kid playing with the toy that you liked best that they gave or take a picture with the toy that you liked best. Right. So again, you’re saying we really enjoyed this and, and subtly what you’re saying is this also aligns with my values, right. This also aligns with what I love for my child to engage in. And we do more of that. That would be great. Like that is sort of where this, this sort of the underlying message that you’re giving with that, but in a very positive way.

Dr. Sarah (19:51):

Right. And I do think like in certain extreme cases, or maybe in some, not so extreme cases, but just cases where like, this is starting great on you and you actually need to just straight up say, you know what, I appreciate the sentiment and I know how much you love my child and taking care of them. And it’s so obvious in, in your generosity. However, I really need to ask you to stop buying these, fill in the blank, these expensive gifts, these, you know, really, really, you know, developmentally not right gifts. Like they’re not, they’re not aligned with his developmental place or they just feel overwhelming to me, you know, they’re too loud. They overwhelm. They create so much stimulation in our home that it’s, it’s hard for us to deal with. So I just need you, whatever it is, fill in the blank. I need you to sort of stop sending these gifts and you can say it in a way where you and I always kind of give, like whenever I’m asked, and I think this is true for like other boundaries we’re gonna talk about later, you know things that are a little bit more like, you gotta set that boundary. Not that you don’t like, it’s sometimes very appropriate to set a boundary around gift giving. But you know, I think there’s, there are other strategies to try as well. Some things there are no other strategies you just have to say, no, I’m not okay with that.

Dr. Emily (21:21):

Yeah. And I think just, I would add that, like, you can also have that very direct conversation and it can be about quality, like what you’re talking about. Right. Like I don’t the type and the, you know, but it could also be about quantity. Please only send one, right. Like that might be an effective way to help contain the other person. Like they’re gonna do it anyway. Maybe you’ve said this conversation in the past. Right. And they haven’t sort of abided by it or whatever. And so maybe the other strategy is to say, please only send one. I remember one year I told all of our family. You can only send four present each for Christmas, that’s it. Four presents. So, you know, make your list, right. Like please only send four and you know, maybe you’ll get six, but at least it limits it. Right? Like it gives a little bit of a structure that if you can’t eliminate it entirely, it does help to modulate it.

Dr. Sarah (22:15):

Yeah. But like, let’s, I feel like this is like a nice segue into talking about situation where like, let’s talk about where their boundaries are not so wishy washy, right. Like where it’s, it’s really cut and dry. Like, I am not okay with this, like this listener talked about a family member, like taking her kid away from her, at family gatherings and how that didn’t feel okay to her. And, you know, that’s, there are, I’m sure lots of other examples of behaviors that our family members or other people in our lives may engage in that we’re just really not okay with. And we have to set a boundary. We have to say no to that. What are some things like in general, like what are some things that we can do when we have family members who really kind of cross lines for us and remember like, just because they’re, they might feel, the other person might feel like that’s not a big deal. Right. So for them it’s not an egregious, you know, thing that they are doing, but even if it is for you, something that makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay for you to say, Hey, this thing doesn’t work for me.

Dr. Emily (23:27):

Yeah. I mean, I think, I always say like fundamentally, the first place to start is to get on the same page with your partner, if you have one, right. Because it’s really hard to implement set boundaries. If you guys are on different pages. I also think the other strategy is to be really planful. Like, like, you know, if you find yourself this, read this listener, you know, it was sort of like, I find myself at my in-laws and I feel my child be swept away. Right. And I think being planful about that visit, go in talking to your partner about how to help modulate the grandparent interactions or how the level of involvement that you would like and seek. And maybe you state that to them at the front end of things, you know, is a really, really helpful thing. And I think that being a little bit more mindful and planful around the visits is, is gonna be like an important piece of that. And you can make an announcement about that either before, say like, just want to let you know, you know, my child has a nap time at this time. He’s not gonna be able to like, play with the cousins for hours and hours or, you know, whatever frame feels like is more modulated for you. And talking about that with your partner, I think is extremely important ahead of time. Now, the other piece is like, again, I think going back to our, do you quote, unquote confront the person? Or is this something that internally you can say, okay, well I know my child is gonna get swept away. I’m gonna limit this visit to an hour. Right. Like, I don’t like this feeling, but I know I sort of have to tolerate it. Maybe there is some benefit for my child even, right. Like, I don’t love it, but my child, you know, this, even this writer, this person who listener, who wrote in said, you know, like this is a loving and doting family, right. It might be too much for her, you know, but there is some benefit. So maybe you set an internal boundary that you said to yourself, like there is a benefit to this, but maybe I limit it. Right. Or I go in with a structure that feels okay to me.

Dr. Sarah (25:23):

Yeah. And then I think if you’re gonna have to have an external boundary there’s you know, if it’s something that really is makes you incredibly uncomfortable and you need to say no to something, and I think this comes up a lot when it comes to like body safety rules, like for us, I mean, my family we’ve been really clear about it and I haven’t had much pushback on any of this. Both my parents and my in-laws are really aligned with this way of being. But I, it comes up a lot. This idea of like, when a grandparent is like, you gotta gimme a hug, you gotta come gimme a hug, or I’m gonna give you a kiss, whether you like it or not, or you hurt my feelings if you’re not gonna gimme a hug. Like, so that, I think there’s a lot of boundaries that we do need to set on behalf of our kids when there’s these kinds of, you know, and again, like these are loving grandparents. They’re not trying to be disrespectful or, you know, cause any harm at all. This is coming from a loving place. And I think that’s a really important place to start when we’re setting a boundary. So I teach like a three step framework for like setting a boundary. And the first one is always like, find the good intention, give the benefit of the doubt. Like, can you, can you sort of help them, let them know you understand that they’re, they’re trying to be create connection here. But then you say what is happening and either how it makes you feel or how it makes your child feel or in this case, maybe, you know how it doesn’t work for your family. Right. And then three is say very clearly what you wanna see going forward, what the behavior is you would like to see. So giving them a specific redirect. So that might look like something like, you know, Ugh, Grandpa, Denny, like, I know you love this kid so much and you just really wanna like smother him in hugs. But when you, when you come in at him and you wanna hug and he doesn’t wanna give you a hug in our family, we allow him to sort of pick his comfort level. And we allowed him to decide when and how he shows affection and we respect his sort of choice there. And then the third thing is, how do we, you know, what do we wanna see you going, going forward? So when he says, no, I really need you to respect his no, and give him some space. So you’re giving him the benefit of the doubt, which helps him not be defensive and shut down. And then you’re saying what it is that the problem is, and kind of giving some explanation for the reasoning that you have, and then sharing exactly what you wanna see different. We need you to give him a little space when he says, no.

Dr. Emily (27:55):

I love that. And I think there’s a way we could add on to that a little bit at the like number three, the third point, really, which is like, maybe we can also collaborate with our child, right. So we can say, you know, you could give a high five if you’re comfortable or you could wave or a fish pump or, you know, whatever. And I think that in this situation that this writer or this listener was communicating, we could also say, you know, if you’re gonna confront, just like you’re saying your three step module, you can also sort of say, all right, well, you can go with your cousins for 20 minutes or you know, like there’s, it’s, there’s a lot of value in telling people exactly what is okay. Right. Exactly what you can do for both the child and, you know, in this case, the grandparents, right? These like these things, aren’t so okay with me. But here’s exactly things that we think are okay. Right. And these are ways that you could achieve them. People do really much better with that structure and sort of like an executable than they do in a vague, like, please don’t do that, you know. It’s confusing and harder to understand. And it also makes them feel probably a little bit bad. Right. But if you say, but you can take them to get their nails done and come back or you can, that would be great. We would love that. Or you can, you know, take them for a dinner or a snack, or why don’t you change their diaper this time. That would be lovely, you know? That gives you just a little bit of something where your boundaries are respected and they feel like they’re still engaged.

Dr. Sarah (29:26):

Right. Right. Cause I think, you know, we have to think about too, like, you know, it’s kinda like you’re juggling three balls all the time. You’re juggling the relationships, right. You’re juggling your objectives. Right. I need to maintain my family values. I have these things. And then you’re juggling like your own self respect and your needs to honor your own feelings. Right? Like I’m not comfortable with this. I have to validate and honor that this is my experience. So you have, and it’s not like one, it’s not like if you prioritize one of these three balls, you’re juggling, you have to drop the other two.

Dr. Emily (30:02):

Totally. It’s a juggle.

Dr. Sarah (30:03):

Right. So if I’m like, I’m gonna prioritize how I feel in this moment. I have to drop the relationship and drop, you know, my objectives. But I think we have to sort of understand, like sometimes we’re gonna prioritize one thing more than another. So if this is a stranger in the park and they’re like, you know, crossing a boundary, I’m gonna be like way firmer. And I’m gonna say, absolutely not. I don’t know you and you can’t come near me, whatever, like, or you could be kinder, but like whatever you could be really clear about, I don’t need to preserve the relationship here. Right. I don’t have to protect this person’s relationship with me to set this boundary. An in-law very different. Right. I do need to protect that relationship. Even if I don’t even care that much about that relationship, I need to protect it because I, cause that other piece is that I’m trying to juggle like family harmony and being able to have my own sense of like peace at family gatherings and not feeling like an outsider or not feeling like this is incredibly painful and uncomfortable to be here now because I, you know, the relationships are so strained. Like we have to, there’s a little bit of like, okay, it’s politics sometimes. You gotta kind of like play this game of like, I’ve gotta manage the relationships. I have to manage my objectives of like choosing certain values for my families and choosing certain ways that we’re gonna behave and be, and I have to make sure that I’m feeling comfortable and it’s trickier.

Dr. Emily (31:30):

Yeah. I mean, I love the juggle cuz I actually think it really feels like that internally for a lot of parents. It feels like, well, I feel really strongly about this, but I still have to weigh the relationship. And I would pull this out even a little bit more to even your childcare provider, like that can come up a lot within your family, like as a tertiary member of your family, you know? Is like, how do I manage that relationship, preserve it? But also like instill my parenting values and try to insert that the fourth ball though, I’m gonna like totally mess up your juggle because the fourth ball is like, when you have an older child, they have their own strong opinions. And they’re one of those balls that you have to sort of like float in the air and juggle and sort of keep in mind developmentally as they become more independent, you know?

Dr. Sarah (32:17):

Very good point.

Dr. Emily (32:18):

And holding that in mind is also a really tricky balance, you know? And I love the analogy of a juggle because it truly does feel like that.

Dr. Sarah (32:26):

It does. And I think that, you know, following that metaphor. It’s like, you’re not always holding every single ball that you’re juggling.

Dr. Emily (32:32):

Yeah. I love that. Yeah. Like you might, but it doesn’t mean you had to drop it either. So I love that, that too. Like, right, like one be a little bit lower, a lot less prioritized. But you still have to take care of it.

Dr. Sarah (32:45):

Yeah. Yeah. And I think this goes, this, you know, this idea of internal versus external boundaries is really relevant here as well. Right? Could you, are you able to have, so the difference in my mind between internal boundary and external boundary is an internal boundary is something that’s private. It’s just for you. It’s some type of way that you can like separate and create space from other things inside of yourself. Like I’m not gonna let that in. You know, that’s their belief. It’s not mine. But I’m, I can sort of, I can create separation from internally from that. I’m not gonna let that kind of upset me. Or if it upsets me, I’m not gonna let it ruin my day. Right. I’m gonna let it, I’m gonna pick it up and I’m put it over here in a box, set it aside. That’s an internal boundary and external boundary is something that requires cooperation from the other person in order for that boundary to be held. Right. I’m asking you to do something too. And the problem with external boundaries is it’s dependent on another person’s cooperation. So a lot of times we could set that boundary, but that other person may not respect it. And so then we’re kind of put in another position where we have to decide, well, how do I respond to that? How do I tolerate that? And does that mean my boundary has to be a little bit more internal or does it mean there has to be more of like an environmental boundary, like a physical barrier? Like you said, like maybe we’re gonna limit how much time we spend with this person because they can’t respect our boundaries. And that’s hard when it gets to that point.

Dr. Emily (34:21):

No, I think that’s really hard. And that’s where it’s like, how much is the ball in the air of maintaining that relationship? How much weight does that have in terms of the scale of your value? Right. And it might be that that relationship has to suffer a little bit. That just might be how this plays out. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing if your value sort of overwhelms that you know, your value is overwhelmingly more important to you in that moment. Right. And again, these things evolve and change. So I, I, you know, I think that that’s an important thing to think of like families grow, we grow as families, you know you know, extended families grow and change. And so you can always revisit it and try it again with it. You know, it doesn’t have to be excommunication again, like into this. Like, is there a way we can be a little bit more, more flexible around trying and boundaries and trying again, maybe and a boundary.

Dr. Sarah (35:16):

Yeah. The last point that this listener brought up was this, you know, navigating different political views or different values. And I think obviously we live in the climate right now where this is really, really central in a lot of families. This is maybe more than it’s ever been. This stuff is coming up for people and it’s creating, you know, it’s forcing people to have to have these conversations and to really sort of whether they say them out loud or they’re just having them with themselves to figure out like, again, where’s my juggle here, what is my priority? How do I feel comfortable in a situation I’m really not comfortable? And how do I get a little bit more comfortable?

Dr. Emily (35:56):

Yeah. I mean, I think this is such a hot topic. Right. And I think it’s so tricky and I think, you know, we really have strong feelings about it. Right. So I think again, like we always talk about sort of self-regulating in the moment ourselves, the parent is extremely important. The other thing I like to do just to spin it a little and not to invalidate how tricky it is is to reframe it a little bit as an opportunity, right? Like I think if we don’t talk about difference, then we don’t really have experience talking about difference. Right. We don’t have experience saying, this is why we believe this. We just say, this is why we believe this. Not other people believe other things. Right. So I think in some ways it gives us this opportunity to talk about differences, to talk about our family values, to sort of solidify even, you know, like as we grow as a family, like solidify our family values, if we don’t ever have an opportunity to see differences or talk about things that we don’t agree with, you know, it’s, it’s pretty myopic. And I think so in some ways I think, you know, we can use these as opportunities either to hone in on our own family values. Oh, well, we really distinguish ourselves from other people in these ways or from other belief systems. And how do we interface with that? That’s a skill, right? How do you interface with people with differences, different political views, different values is a complete skill. And it’s tricky for us adults. We can’t imagine how tricky it is right. As a child. So I think sort of getting that as practice is not a bad thing.

Dr. Sarah (37:24):


Dr. Emily (37:24):

You know, on the other hand, there are, there are people that are, aren’t approaching it right. As open minded as that on the other side, you know, potentially. And I think then I think it’s okay to limit your access to those people. Right. Again, that’s a firm, you might feel really strongly about that. Or like to your analogy with the, you know, juggle like you, there might be values that are just non-negotiables for you. Right. And so that’s kind of okay to have a firm boundary on those, whereas others might be a little bit more flexible. And so I think keeping in mind that it’s not all this black and white situation that there might be a lot more nuance in trying to tease out, you know, where your values are and how you talk to them about them and the boundaries that you set externally.

Dr. Sarah (38:09):

Yeah. Yeah. And another thing to think about, like this listener brought up the question of like, if my child’s around these very different viewpoints politically, or value wise, is that going to like somehow, you know, disrupt what I’m trying to teach them, you know, and what our family values are. And you know, I think it’s a very valid question, but I also think it’s important to remember that, you know, you are likely with your child far, far more often than they’re with these individuals. Certainly if you are setting up certain boundaries as well, but even if you’re not like, even if you’re just like all internal boundaries, like I’m just going to like really take breaths while we’re here. And like kind of like Zen out and like tolerate. And I know my child’s gonna be exposed to things that are not aligned with our parenting values which is totally okay to do, you know that I think we have to remember that there’s two things that are really important. One is our family values are going to be exposed to our child through our own modeling and our own lives so much more robustly than anything else. That’s just, they’re gonna have a greater exposure to it. And two, they don’t need to live in like an information silo, you know, for them to have your values. In fact, I do believe that being able to be exposed to a wide range of values and then being able for you guys to have like a conversation about that and what that means and what that was like for them to hear those things and what they thought about it and how does that work for our family or not work for our family? Like these are really rich opportunities actually kinda like what you were saying, Emily, like talk about the differences. And actually foster empathy and foster perspective taking and foster critical thinking. Um so it’s almost like grist for the mill, if you will, like, you know, you can always talk to your child about what it was like for them to hear certain things and what they thought about it. And I would debrief, you know, if you are out with family or friends and your children are exposed to something that you would particularly happen to feel was somewhat inappropriate to you or misaligned with your values to you. And again, that’s objective, talk to your kid, check in with your kid, debrief with them afterwards, you know, in a calm, connected moment when you guys are back home and say, Hey, I heard some people talking about this. Did you notice that? What did you hear? What did you think about that? You know, and have a conversation.

Dr. Emily (40:42):

Yeah. I think avoidance of it is precisely the thing that perpetuates the danger of it. Right. And so I think that, you know, just to exactly your point, Sarah, like the cognitive flexibility that you get out of debriefing discussing, you know, knowing the other, right. Like exploring why would someone else have a different belief than me does in and of itself inoculate almost right. Your child against the risk that something will just rub off on them. Right. By having that sort of value and life, lesson and experience with you, that’s very unlikely to occur.

Dr. Sarah (41:18):

I love that. I think that’s so rich. This is all so helpful. And I think, yeah, I mean, I hope that this listener finds this to be, you know, a resource. We’re not giving like a single solid, hard and fast answer to any of these, and maybe that’s frustrating for people who are listening too. Just like, ah, can you just tell me what to do? But like, it’s, there’s so much nuance to all of this stuff. So my hope is that there’s a mix of sort of really concrete strategies that you can try for some of these things in here, and also a way to kind of look at it from multiple angles and try a bunch of different things and see what works for each individual family, because it’s always gonna be different.

Dr. Emily (41:59):

Yeah. I totally agree. I think it’s important to keep this a dynamic system right. An ever changing and dynamic system it’ll change as your child grows and develops it’ll change as you grow as a family. So keep on your toes, I guess.

Dr. Sarah (42:13):

Yeah. And that’s modeling flexibility, you know, that’s a good trait to model you know, open-mindedness flexibility ability to like kind of move with fluidity and be willing to change and be willing to try new things like that’s resilience right there. So your kids are watching you do that. So it’s gonna, it’s going to be have benefit also.

Dr. Emily (42:36):


Dr. Sarah (42:37):

All right. Well, thank you so much for coming and I’m sure we’ll be hearing from you very soon.

Dr. Emily (42:43):

It’s great to be here. Thanks, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah (42:51):Do you have a question that you want me and Emily to answer on the show? You can always DM me on Instagram @drsarahbren or head to drsarahbren.com and click the podcast tab to submit your question there. And while you’re there, feel free to click around to find additional parenting resources like free guides, workbooks courses, and workshops. There’s lots of support for you there at drsarahbren.com. So thanks for listening. And until next, week don’t be a stranger.

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52. Setting boundaries with your parents and in-laws: Navigating family dynamics Q&A with Dr. Emily Upshur