Home Perspectives Advice Setting boundaries can improve family dynamics

Setting boundaries can improve family dynamics

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Scene from 'Everybody Loves Raymond' SCREENSHOT
Scene from 'Everybody Loves Raymond' SCREENSHOT

Dear Ella,

Sometimes I feel like I live in an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. My mother-in-law has no problem dropping by whenever she likes without any notice.

When she’s here, she proceeds to criticize everything I do, especially when it comes to my kids – and she does it “nicely.” She did a crappy job raising her own kids, so why would I listen to her advice about mine?

My husband doesn’t mind his mother’s meddling, but I feel like I’m going to blow. I don’t want to create a rift, and she is welcome here, but I would like some rules in place, and I don’t know how to tell her. Truth be told, she scares me, and I need her to help out from time to time. Thoughts?

Sincerely,

Meddling Mother-in-Law

Dear Meddling Mother-in-Law

Your letter has a tone of resentment, and that’s never a good place to be when trying to fix a problem. Take a step back, remove the emotion and make a plan. You want to create boundaries, but allow for an inviting, swinging gate.

This is very realistic and achievable.

It sounds like your mother-in-law has passive-aggressive tendencies. She masks her disapproval by cloaking it in a well-meaning, friendly manner. There is no reason for the criticism to escalate to an argument if you handle it properly.

First, she can’t and shouldn’t be there all the time. It interferes with the harmony in your home. You and your husband must have that discussion and form a united front, which may be the bigger problem. Together, tell her how much you appreciate and love her, but it would be helpful if she would stay away at dinner time, or homework time. Whatever boundaries you create, make them clear. Then follow it with, “You are more than welcome after school. The kids love to be with you.”

Choose the times that are appropriate, and stick to them. She can only intrude as much as you allow her to. It may be uncomfortable and difficult at first, but if you set parameters and follow them, you will improve the sanctity of your family and take back control. Do it lovingly and with understanding, and listen to her response. She probably had no idea she was creating friction. I’m sure that was not her intention.


Dear Ella,

This is hard for me to discuss, but here goes. I’m overweight and have been struggling ever since I had my second child.

When my husband and I met, I was 18, a baseball player, runner and loved sports. However, over the years, between stress and children, I’ve gained over 50 lbs. and can’t seem to get back on track.

I know, and I struggle with this problem, but it makes it worse when he is constantly reminding me and watching everything I put in my mouth. It’s reached the point that I avoid him, because I can see the disapproval in his eyes. How do I get him to understand he has to lay off.

Sincerely,

Weighty issue

Dear Weighty Issue

There are two things going on here: first, your husband’s constant nagging about you having to lose weight, and second how you feel about yourself.

Let’s start with your husband. He may be concerned about your health, or he may be concerned about how attracted he is to you now. Whatever the reason, he’s crossed a line you are uncomfortable with. Your body is your business, and you need to make that very clear to him. You’re not stupid. You have eyes and feelings, and he needs to know that this conversation is off limits to him.

Now let’s deal with how you feel. No amount of nagging or diet and exercise books are going to make you happy. You have to decide for yourself that you are ready, and when you are, tackle this problem head on. If you choose to make your husband part of the solution, that should be your choice. When you are ready to work on losing weight, you will. Take back control. You’ll be glad you did.


Ella is the author of Hidden Gold – A True Story of the Holocaust. Her advice is not a replacement for medical, legal or any other advice. For serious problems, consult a professional.