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How to Have Healthy Boundaries with Intrusive Family Members

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“When my kids were young I made them do chores before they could watch tv.” “Nurse that baby, honey. It’s the best thing for her.” We’ve all heard unsolicited advice from well-meaning family members, friends, and even complete strangers. When the advice comes with a tone of criticism and you’re left feeling small, it’s time to put up boundaries.

And how about the relative who disciplines your child in front of you? Or the person who gives them sweets before dinner or a game that goes against your values? How can you be both firm and loving with the people with whom you and your child are going to have a life-long relationship?  Here are some strategies for enforcing healthy boundaries with intrusive family members.

The Overly Helpful

This is the person who always has more advice to offer than is helpful. Acknowledge them for being more experienced than you at parenting and don’t take it as a criticism for yourself. Say something like, “I appreciate your experience and the years of lessons you’ve learned while raising your children. I’ve really thought about how to best handle this situation but I will certainly consider coming to you the next time I’m not sure what to do.”

The Critical

This is the person whose “advice” makes you feel small and inept. Most likely, you’ve had a history with this person’s criticisms. You will need to be bold in confronting them. Their criticism of your parenting in front of your children isn’t healthy. That conversation needs to happen away from your children and may have to look like, “I know you don’t approve of how I handle certain things, but you’re going to have to keep your comments to yourself while you’re here with us.”

The Self-Imposed Discipliner

One time when my daughter was around six, my dad smacked her right in front of me. It was totally against the means I used to discipline her. And it happened before I had a chance to handle the situation myself. I had to pull my dad aside and tell him firmly that it wasn’t okay that he stepped in to discipline her in front of me and it was also not okay that he hit her. I told him I didn’t want him to ever do that again. The whole time I was shaking inside (after all, this is the man whose raised eyebrows turned me to jelly as a kid) but I knew I had to choose my daughter over my fear. Then a little later in the day, I talked privately with my daughter and explained that it wasn’t okay that Grandpa had hit her and that I had told him so. I also explained that her behavior was also not okay.

The Inappropriate Gift-Giver

Having to watch your child’s eyes fill with surprise and joy as an oblivious relative gives them a violent video game you will have to take away is no fun. You’ve just been set up, albeit unintentionally, as the bad guy. The best way to handle this situation is immediate. Kindly thank the relative for their thoughtfulness and explain that this type of gift is something you’ve decided you don’t want for your child. They will be embarrassed and your child will be angry. Validate them as generous and express how grateful you are for their generosity. Suggest that you all go together to exchange it for something that does meet your approval.

When have you had to have boundaries with intrusive relatives?


When do you feel most respected by someone?

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