They say it takes a village to raise a child and I can tell you, from personal experience, that this is true. Entering the unknowns of being a first- (or second-, or third-) time parent juggling careers, illnesses, dance classes, check-ups, preschool, and everything else that comes your way utilizing the experience, wisdom, and willingness of others can be a huge help to the overwhelmed parent.
That village, however, can come with some challenges. From an overstepping mother-in-law to a nanny who seems to have a never-ending supply of cupcakes, setting boundaries is a necessary task. Here are three steps to help you navigate the sometimes rocky waters of these well-intentioned helpers.
Be On the Same Page As Your Partner
This is a big first step to ensuring peaceful parenting. It may sound obvious, but sometimes we take it for granted that our partners are on the same page as we are when it comes to things like discipline techniques, diet, or screen time. I see so many posts in social media parenting groups that start out with “My husband told my mother-in-law that XYZ was ok without even talking to me….”
It can be tempting to skip over these conversations—afterall, when you finally have some downtime things, you probably want to lay in bed and watch Netflix and literally chill. But, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, energy and headaches by having these conversations. If you don’t want baby getting more than a half hour screen time during your daily work days, make sure your partner knows this before they OK the next Bluey marathon with grandma.
Voice Your Expectations and Boundaries
You are the parent. At the end of the day, how your child is raised and cared for lies completely with you. No matter how many people are involved in assisting in your childrearing, you and whomever you parent with are where the buck stops.
That being said, the other people who care for your child are not psychics and chances are they also aren’t clones of how you specifically parent so it’s important to do a good job your outlining expectations to others. Your household may be vegan, for example, but that doesn’t mean when your neighbor watches your kid for the night, they know what that means.
Don’t be afraid to be detailed when giving others instructions. “I know it is a little different than what you’re used to but she doesn’t eat meat, cheese or dairy. Thank you for accommodating this, I’m happy to pack her dinner when you watch her.” While you don’t need to explain your parenting choices to anyone, it can also be helpful to include some reasoning in your requests such as “When he goes to bed after 10pm he tends to be overly tired the next day. Please make sure he goes to bed by 9.”
Remember Help Usually Comes From a Place of Good Intentions
Ok, I know this is a hard one. Sometimes I feel like I have zero patience for other people because I pour so much patience into my three-year-old. When this happens I dig deep to remind myself that while it is super annoying that my mother makes comments contradicting my parenting, I know that she is saying this from a place of good intentions because she loves my child and truly sees whatever she is saying as the best course of action.
It’s easy to get angry, sarcastic or even passive aggressive in these moments but, in the end, who wins in that scenario? Try referring to the previous point and calmly voice your boundaries, “I appreciate your advice, but for this situation we are going to handle it this way.” or “I understand where you’re coming from, but that doesn’t work for our family.”
Even the most clear and respectful communication can be received with hurt feelings or defensiveness and if this is the case, it may be beneficial to step back from the situation until cooler heads prevail. You may also find that stepping away may give you time to identify a compromise everyone is comfortable with.
Setting boundaries in general can be difficult, and that is especially true when it comes to family and others you entrust your child to. Chances are your village is made up of people you love and care about so if you want to maintain their role in your child’s life you’ll need to be firm, but loving. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page, voice your boundaries clearly, and remember that your helpers are usually well-intentioned, just sometimes a little misguided in the execution.