Wondering how to handle toxic family? Parenting is an adventure of its own but adding in figuring out how to deal with toxic family members can make life much harder. There is just something about toxic family members that adds a layer of frustration to parenting. Not only are you protecting your peace, but you also have to protect your child’s peace. Here are a few tips on how to handle a toxic family as a parent.
Protecting Kids from Toxic Family
** Important disclaimer – Every family is different! While I can offer some tips and tricks from our experience it is important that you set boundaries that work for your situation. Toxic families can be unbearable to deal with. It is important to speak with a licensed therapist. They can help you to establish boundaries that are best for your unique situation.
Start with boundaries with toxic family
Don’t start at ending a relationship. Setting boundaries is a good first step when dealing with toxic family members. This will look different based on the type of toxic behavior they engage in. Spending the time to set boundaries is your way of saying to them that they are valuable to you and you want to preserve the relationship. Setting healthy boundaries can be a game-changer for the relationship. Here are a few tips for how to set boundaries with toxic family members.
- Put it in writing. – Having a conversation is great but with toxic people, it is helpful to have it in writing as well. This can mean sending a text message or social media message detailing the boundaries you are setting. This will help you if you need to reference the boundary if it is questioned or even violated.
- Explain why you are setting boundaries. – Boundaries are only offensive to those who haven’t been respecting your boundaries in the past. Taking the time to communicate why you are setting this boundary can be a big help. We like the saying, “I value our relationship enough to set boundaries to try and maintain a relationship with you.”
- Boundaries can vary based on the situation. – It could be that you need to say no phone calls after a certain time, no unannounced visits, or no gifts without clearing it with you. Set the boundaries that will help you to maintain a healthy relationship with this person.
Are they healthy for your children?
Many times people will say, “It’s their (grandma, aunt, uncle, grandpa) so they need to be allowed in their life.” I want you to understand that if toxic family is not healthy for your children it doesn’t matter who they are. Would that behavior be acceptable for your children from you? If it were their spouse or friends would you accept it? When you realize your family is toxic here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Are they causing emotional trauma to your child? – So often people who are toxic are dismissed as “old school” or “not aware.” It doesn’t matter. When it comes to your children, protect them from emotional trauma at the hands of someone who loves them. We should not teach our children that it is ok for people to hurt them. Intervene and protect your child when needed.
- Do they respect physical boundaries? – Not all children like hugs, want to sit on uncle’s lap, or want to cuddle up to read a book. It is imperative that they have the right to say no to any touch they do not want. If a person in your family violates this boundary repeatedly, this may not be a healthy relationship for your child.
- How do they behave with your child when you are not there? – The way family members behave when you are not supervising could be potentially damaging. It is important to have an open conversation with your children about how things are handled when you are not there. (Dysfunctional families repeat unhealthy cycles. It is important to keep that in mind when making your plans.)
When should the relationship be put on hold?
One of the hardest things about a toxic family is letting go of toxic family. It is painful to own the fact that that person is supposed to treat you/your children a certain way and they can’t. Being hopeful for a person to get better should not keep you in a relationship that has become overly unhealthy. In fact, severing the relationship for a time or for good can be necessary. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you think it might be time to cut ties.
- You aren’t depriving your child of something. – When family is toxic, one of the biggest feelings when severing a relationship is the feeling of guilt. “Children should have a (grandma, aunt, uncle…)” will be said frequently to try and guilt you into reuniting with that family member. Some responses we use are, “Yes, children should have a HEALTHY grandma, aunt, or uncle” or “while I respect your opinion, you don’t know the whole story and I am protecting my children.” You aren’t depriving them of that relationship. You are protecting them from an unhealthy relationship. Toxic family relationships are not healthy.
- Is the relationship causing more damage than good? – Don’t make excuses for toxic family members. If they are doing harm to your children, they need to take a break from being around your children. You aren’t being mean. You are protecting your kids. This can also apply to how they treat you. When your children are watching you being disrespected, they are still being hurt by that person.
- Are they repeatedly disrespecting boundaries? – If you set boundaries and they are not respected that says that they don’t have the capacity to show you or your children respect. This means they need to go for a season or for good if they can not handle respecting boundaries.
How do you know?
When reading a post like this it can be easy to ask why the author feels the need to address it or if they know what they’re talking about. I have been exposed to a great deal of toxic family. If my family were a deck of cards, I was given a toxic full house. For the last sixteen years since I got pregnant with my daughter I’ve had to navigate some incredibly toxic relationships. This is some of what I learned.
- You can’t reason with a narcissist. – There is a family member who is an extreme narcissist. this family member has repeatedly violated boundaries, hurt me, and more importantly, hurt my children. Letting her be around myself and my children has caused damage that we are still in therapy for. If you are dealing with a narcissist please know that silence may be your best tool after ending the relationship. A narcissist can only control you if you give them the ability to engage with you.
- You can’t save an addict. – Another family member is an addict and incredibly dependant upon their drug of choice. The trauma and pain caused to myself, my spouse, and my children is next level. We had to understand that until they were willing to do the work, we had to step out of relationship. You can’t get someone clean if they don’t want to get clean.
- You can’t make someone want you. – One of the hardest family relationships is the toxic family member who is simply aloof. They aren’t emotionally or physically available unless it benefits them. Set boundaries with this person and stay in an arm’s length relationship with them. It’s important to note that as your kids get older, they will notice and you will have to have some hard conversations.
How do I handle toxic family dymnamics?
Family gatherings can be a difficult time when dealing with a toxic family member. There are those who will go out of their way to support a toxic person. There’s a certain level of blindness to the behaviors of an unhealthy person. It’s easy to feel bad about setting boundaries and making healthier choices. Cutting off contact or setting strong boundaries isn’t easy but it’s possible.
- Be honest about a toxic family relationship. – Don’t gossip about a rough situation but don’t sugar coat someone’s choices either. Someone has made you feel unsafe because of toxic behavior, domestic abuse, or other harm. Be clear honest with the rest of the family about why boundaries are established.
- Protect the children. – Toxic people love to share information with children in order to have someone on their side so to speak. Set clear boundaries and be non-repentent about enforcing them to protect children from toxic family and toxic behaviors.
- Keep in mind that emotional abuse is still abuse. – Don’t let someone use their connection to you to cause emotional trauma to you and hurt you because you deserve to be healthy.
Start with boundaries. If you are struggling with healthy boundaries, take the time to reach out to a licensed therapist for assistance. They will be able to help you understand what your role in those relationships should be.
When asking if family is toxic, it is important to take a look at the interactions you are having with them. Are they leaving you feeling unsafe, unhealthy, or emotionally broken after interactions with them? Are they refusing to honor your boundaries? Are they willing to change harmful behaviors? These are important factors that can show family is toxic.
If you have tried to find a way to be healthy in the relationship and it is not healthy, it is ok to let go of a toxic relationship. Maintaining a relationship with someone who is toxic to you is unhealthy and unsafe. It is ok to put your health and safety first.
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