I haven’t spoken to my mom and sister in more than six months. Over time, I realized we have a real clash of moral values that has led to arguments and hard feelings. Lately, with it being Christmas season and a new year just around the corner, I’ve found myself wanting to navigate things a little better and stop avoiding them. It’s been mostly just between myself and them, so my wife and kids are pretty insulated from the ugliness. Do you have any advice for handling situations such as these? —Dave
Well, the good news is it doesn’t sound like you’ve had to spend a lot of time with them. So their influence over you and your household has been minimal. Still, things like this are painful. These are people you love, even if they are hard to get along with or understand.
I’m not a family counselor, but my initial advice would be don’t try to change them. And don’t take discussions too deep. If you get together, just keep things simple and on the surface. To the extent they try to invade your family, that’s where you have to put up a good solid boundary. You have to protect your family and try your best to keep bad influences at a distance. But I don’t think you’re going to fix them. Probably the best thing you can do is model sanity and reason in front of them.
A friend of mine who has some crazy in-laws says he adopts the bobblehead deal. He just sits there like a bobblehead and smiles and nods, no matter what craziness is swirling around. And that’s not a bad idea when you think about it. You don’t want things getting ugly if you can help it, plus the chances of you changing a lifetime of toxic behaviors in one brief interaction are very small.
Pray for them, too, Dave. Then, if they ask for help, maybe you could insert some gentle wisdom. Don’t tell them what they’re doing is wrong or that they’re bad people. Just describe things you and your family have done and how you’ve handled similar situations. But until they bring it up, I wouldn’t go there. — Dave