Question: My parents and I supported opposing candidates in the election. In the past they have been babysitters for my children, and in this holiday season it would be of great practical help to have them do it again, but I am concerned about the difference in our political views and what kind of influence that would be on my children.
Answer: This is an excellent question and a very legitimate concern. Here are some things to consider as you make this decision.
1. Think about the results when they have babysat in the past.
Were you already iffy about having them babysit? It may be wise not to put this pressure on something you already considered shaky. For example, Carol noticed that whenever her daughter Sally had spent time with her aunt, she seemed to get into a fight with a sibling or friend shortly afterward. Carol was concerned that Sally was getting the idea it was OK to behave or speak in inappropriate ways. She decided to have Sally's visits with her aunt be during non-stressful seasons when she could monitor things better.
On the other hand, sometimes history tells you that you really don't have a reason to worry.
Do you see that your parents have been building strong relationships with your children over the years? It may be an important message for your children to receive that family bonds transcend differences in views and opinions. Matthew knew his father had different opinions, but Granddad was able to voice his own opinions and feelings as “I-messages” without attacking the character of those who held a different position, and so Matthew thought the benefit to his kids outweighed the differences in viewpoint.
2. Consider that you have been teaching your children daily all their lives.
Can you have some confidence in the upbringing you are giving them, and in the character and principles they are developing?
Rob and Karen had worked hard to define their own individual desires, principles and goals, recognizing and taking emotion into account but not being controlled by it. They used the election season as another opportunity to point out examples of emotional vs thinking-based decisions, and they felt confident that the good foundation they had been giving their kids would survive contact with any reactive emotionality their kids might encounter in family members.
At a family celebration, as his brother was “going off” about groups of people he looked down on, Rob was stunned to hear his teenager neatly defuse the uncomfortable situation by saying, “Gee, Uncle Greg, they've really got you tweaked!” Greg spluttered into silence and everyone breathed a sigh of relief!
3. Finally, know that children do best when connected to as many family members as possible.
This gives a base of emotional connection and the resource of a range of viewpoints and approaches for them to havenow and throughout their lives.
Even if the interactions seem “negative,” as long as there is no actual danger, anxiety is lowered and coping ability tends to be higher by maintaining contact.
This is true for everyone - extended social networks increase our overall resiliency and mental health - but especially important for children as they grow and develop in a complex world.
Angela struggled to cope as a single parent. Her mother tended to be quite critical of Angela's choices, and their interactions often had a negative tone, but Angela had less conflict with her kids than when there was “cut off” between her and her mother, and her mother had less hypochondriacal complaints.
What Angela came to see is that the relationship between her daughter and her mother was actually a strengthening and healing factor for the whole family, when she allowed herself to trust it and let it develop naturally.
Ultimately the answer as to how you want your children to interact with extended family members with whom you have difficult feelings and strained relationships will depend entirely on the family dynamics of your unique situation. Remember, however, that if you think things through carefully and trust your own inner sense of knowing you will come to the right decision.
And if you need more help navigating this or other difficult family issues, please know I am here to help. Sometime a supportive atmosphere and a listening ear with expertise in these matters can help you find healing and solutions that you didn't even think were possible. I am here to help. Give me a call to discuss private therapy options if you are in need of a little extra support.