The holiday season is upon us, and while managing a packed calendar and getting those gifts bought and wrapped in time makes some of us head to the cookie plate for solace, another factor often up the holiday stress ante--when friends and relatives criticize your parenting.
When you get in a group of people who don't see you and your kids day in and day out, it's easy to feel like your parenting skills-and authority-aren't respected. Maybe your kids weren't "grateful enough" for your grandmother's liking when they opened a gift. Or maybe they'll be so enthusiastic they'll let out a squeal that sets off your cousin's dog a-yipping. Maybe your relatives will criticize your lack of a routine, or your decision to loosen your usual standards and let the kid have a sip of soda. Maybe they'll think you're too rigid because you insist the kids make their usual bedtime of 8 PM even in the midst of a celebration. Or maybe they'll just oh-so-helpfully-but annoyingly-try to "help" by inserting themselves in every parenting situation.
When it comes to dodging the barbs of OPP (Other People's opinions about your Parenting) there are a few rules you'd be wise to live by:
1) Assume positive intent. Your mother-in-law isn't slipping your child candy to make you mad (probably). Your cousin doesn't have kids, so how could he possibly know that tantrums are normal, even in unspoiled non-brats? Sometimes you'll just be fooling yourself if you go into each scenario assuming the other person only has the best possible intentions, but if it means you manage to keep your cool-and your relationships intact-who cares?
Also keep in mind that sometimes, your perception of disapproval might be off-base . After all, your uncle Bob might have that weird look on his face because he's hit the eggnog too hard and is trying not to throw up, not because he thinks your kids are monsters.
2) Disengage and Distract. If things get heated and you find yourself sucked into an argument, you can always back out and try some evasive action: "You know, we've decided to do things this way, and it's the right decision for us-I'd rather not talk about it anymore. Anyone want a piece of pie?" Somebody is going to want pie, so you're pretty much guaranteed an "out".
3) Save the "Big Discussions" for later. A family gathering is not the time to try to lay down ground rules with meddling parents or have a big ugly air-clearing exercise with the in-laws. Save it for after everyone's gone home and you've had a chance to really think over what you'd want to have happen differently next year. After all, some of the issues that come with having small children will come to a natural end, and others might not seem like such a big deal after you've had a chance to calm down.
Sometimes despite your best intentions, you'll have a hard time keeping your cool. When you arrive at the party, scout out an exit strategy you can enact if you feel your face getting hot and an angry retort forming on your tongue. Hint: An emergency diaper change makes a great excuse and can buy you a good fifteen or twenty minutes alone in a back bedroom. If you really need some space, you can always run out to the store when you realize you "forgot" the wipes!
--Meagan Francis is a mom of five and the author of The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood (coming April 2011.) She blogs at TheHappiestMom.com.