Dealing with difficult family members. Where do we set the boundary? When do we cut people off?

An open communication about toxic dynamics and putting yours and your family’s mental health & happiness first. Let’s get into it!

Everyone has a difficult relative or three. No family is perfect and that’s totally normal. But there is a point where you need to set healthy boundaries for these relatives in order to keep your mental health in check and happiness as a priority. Let me tell you, this is not an easy thing to do whatsoever and feelings may get hurt, but it’s necessary! You cannot let toxic people keep draining you just because they are family. You shouldn’t have to continue seeing and interacting with someone who makes you feel shitty or bad in any kind of way just because they are family. In my book you must earn the title- blood or not.

However, what about if it’s the children in your family that are the difficult ones? Personally, it’s easy for me to cut off an adult from my life if they’re affecting my (or my child’s) happiness and wellbeing in a negative manner or if they are constantly draining me mentally and taking but never giving. But children? I’ve never really had to deal with this so I’m very torn right now. Okay, let me explain. 

I have a niece and nephew (10 and 13 years old) who had and still have a tough upbringing which involved physical abuse. I even tried to adopt them and raise them on my own to provide a better life for them, but the parents didn’t want to give them up although they couldn’t provide for these children whatsoever. There were other children in each parent’s house from the step parents. (my brother and his girlfriend and her children. My brother’s ex and her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s children.) Very blended toxic families. All of these children deserve so much better than what they are receiving. However, that isn’t the point. The point is that because of the rough upbringing, these kids behave in a way that is “expected” from abused children who had to share every single thing with other kids, were hit on a daily basis, didn’t have much toys or anything for themselves, etc. They have bad attitudes, awful language & tone when speaking to others, very little patience, no respect for other adults, never wanting to share what they have, tantrums if they don’t get their way, etc. Not saying every abused child acts this way, some who weren’t abused behave this way! But I’m just saying this is what I have observed from them. It sucks and I really wish it was different. As an adult, I can deal with them and correct them in a loving way which isn’t a problem for me. I know these children need guidance and all the love they can get. But the problem I am having is having my 5 year old son around them. 

My son is growing up in a much different way than my niece and nephew. We do a mix of gentle parenting, we talk respectfully to each other, respect each other’s feelings, we are kind and caring. My son is the sweetest, gentlest kid who’s big on expressing his emotions and he loves talking to other people and kids. He’s a huge talker! I’m very selective with the cartoons my son watches, the types of things he’s exposed to, etc. I homeschool him so I have a lot more control of his environment which is awesome because I can protect him from things my parents couldn’t protect me from. I was bullied many times throughout my school years, but the bullying first happened by my cousins. Our parents called it harmless playing, but the mean things they have said and done to me has affected my childhood and even adulthood greatly, but no one wants to talk about it. Sometimes our family is our first bully in life which really sucks. Your family ‘should be’ your go-to. The ones that will always share some kind words with you, be a listening ear or just enjoy time together, etc. So when your family treats you a certain way that’s hurtful, that cuts deep!!

So the issue I am having is, bringing my son around my niece and nephew. The last few times we spent the day together it was always filled with unnecessary meanness and bad attitudes. They don’t have much patience for my son, don’t listen to him talk (because they’re glued to their phones or doing something else or literally don’t care, yes they’re that cold), they never want to actually play with him (they end up taking the toy, remote, etc. and not giving him a turn), they answer him in such mean ways, etc. For instance, my son was talking to my niece about his password on his tablet, and she responded, “I don’t care!!” to my son. Then my son plays his favorite song on his tablet and my nephew says to him, “Turn that off, no one wants to hear that!!” Mind you, my son is so innocent he doesn’t catch these attitudes right now, but I’m certain he soon will. I absolutely do not want to normalize these behaviors to my son. I teach my son to treat everyone with kindness and love. I don’t want to wait until he notices these behaviors and attitudes and it starts hurting his feelings, to do something about it. I always monitor their interactions and correct the kids when necessary, but I absolutely hate having to be on guard constantly watching the kids making sure they aren’t saying anything mean or inappropriate. I want my son to be able to hang out with his cousins and have fun (like he does with his other cousins who are also older than him!). I understand the age difference, but these kids are fully capable of playing games everyone can join in on because his other cousins do. It’s coming to a point where I don’t even want to bring my son around these kids because it’s constant abuse from them, but I also don’t want him to not have a relationship with his cousins! They’re my brother’s kids! I only have one sibling so it’s really just us and it hurts me so much that things are like this right now!!!! I’ve talked to my niece and nephew and explained better ways of talking to each other and how my son is a little more sensitive than they are, etc. I give them examples of how to say things in a nicer way, or I will ask them to please try to play with my son. I’m met with rebuttals as to why they talk like this or eye rolls and attitudes. You can’t correct a child’s behavior if they don’t see anything wrong with it and if their parents or guardians aren’t enforcing it at home. (I’m not talking 5 year old children, I’m talking 10+ year olds). These kids don’t respect what I have to say. I’m at a point in my life where I am so tired of drama and issues that I really keep to myself and am quick to just cut someone out of my life. But these are children!! Children who don’t really understand life. It’s not their fault. But is it my responsibility to change them or ‘save them’?! I’ve tried! But now I have my own son to worry about and my own life issues. I don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to take on this burden. And I really don’t mean to call these kids burdens because they’re not, but their behaviors are! It’s just weighing really heavy on my chest right now and I really needed to get this out.

I’m not really sure of my intention behind this post, whether it was giving advice to others to set healthy boundaries with difficult family members or if I myself needed advice on this. Either way, I hope something I said benefitted you in some way. And if you have some advice or thoughts on my situation with my niece and nephew please feel free to leave a comment. Maybe a different perspective could help! Let’s create open discussions on this blog together!

Thanks so much for reading through my rant and I hope your week is fabulous and full of love and creativity!!

xo, J

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