Everyone wants their family to resemble the family in the show “Modern Family” - quirky, even ridiculous at times, but still getting together for family dinners where everyone vents and gripes about their “hilarious” lives. I don’t know about you, but my family has definitely had its “Modern Family” moments. We’ve also had the messy and ugly moments that aren’t ready for their TV debut. The truth is, navigating relationships with family, especially as an adult, comes with challenges. The cute family dinners are suddenly filled with the uncomfortable probing questions of “When are you settling down?” or “Are you guys getting ready to have kids yet?” or my favorite, “Is this really the job you want to be doing as a career?”
Over the last few years, I've asked myself, “How do I have a healthy, mature relationship with my family?” There have been times where I was incredibly enmeshed, calling every day and never wanting to leave home. I've also spent time completely removing people from my life. I wouldn’t encourage either extreme, but I have learned some things as I've struggled to live in “the middle.”
Relationships don’t have to be as complicated as we make them out to be. For a while, the only things my family knew about my life were that I had a job, a dog, and a handful of friends. When we'd meet, I would focus the conversation on what was new with them and keep my personal life close to the vest. This was not so much about hiding things from my family as it was about keeping myself and the details of my life “safe.” This leads to my next point:
Sometimes, the most loving thing you can say to someone is “no.” When we’re clear and upfront with ourselves and others, it keeps conflict low, and it gives plenty of room to restore relationships and trust. However, if someone crosses your boundaries, it is crucial to uphold the consequences of those actions.
There are people we encounter in our lives which I will refer to as “Steam Rollers.” They are the type of people who openly voice how they feel and actively seek to be the “most hurt person” in the room. Steam Rollers have a hard time with boundaries because they believe their feelings matter most (just picture a toddler who doesn’t get their way or a 40-year-old narcissist). When you keep your boundaries around the Steam Rollers, and you can approach them with a loving “no,” you protect your boundaries and encourage others to do the same.
I’ve often tried to be an example to my family on how to keep boundaries. One of my boundaries is - I won’t respond to messages that are meant to manipulate me into behaving a certain way. When I initially set these boundaries, my brothers thought I was acting harshly because I wouldn’t respond to text messages from specific people. But once they started getting the same messages and manipulation, they began to understand why I put those boundaries in the first place. Keep your boundaries clear, reasonable, and consistent because everyone deserves their boundaries to be respected.
As painful as it can be to include people in your life after they hurt or neglected you, it’s essential to start with an open bridge to communication. For me, it is so much easier to keep everything to myself and not let anyone close. But the real change started when I began to let people back in. When I took the risk and decided to trust others, that was when I saw the most growth in myself. To this day, this is where I struggle. My natural instinct with conflict is to shut down and shut people out. I’m a processor, so when I’m having a hard time in a relationship, I usually need to take some time to think about why I’m actually feeling the way that I do. I also do my best to take time to pray and ask God to reveal what I may be missing or need to understand at that moment.
I know that navigating relationships and family is a challenge when it feels like we are forcing a change. There is an ebb and flow to relationships with family, and seasons of closeness and distance. When we truly let ourselves grow and learn in whatever season we may be in, instead of pushing back, we can create healthy relationships with one another.
Wife, daughter, dog mom. Kids ministry is my jam and I speak exclusively in TV and movie quotes.