My teens are beginning to realize that I do not get along w/a certain family member, ”Sherri” even though I try to hide it. While I am somewhat relieved that they know what’s going on how do I manage my behavior in front of them, is it ok to talk to them about my feelings – even though I don’t want to influence them or have them use this relative as a way to get back at me.
This is a tough question because I always feel that honesty is the best policy with kids. But, I hate for my kids to see me not getting along with a family member because family is so important to me.
I think you can share with your kids your struggles:
“I think you have noticed that I am having a hard time getting along with Sherry. It is between the two of us and does not need to include you. I really don’t like to talk about this too much because I am uncomfortable with the situation. I just want you to know I am doing everything I can to maintain a relationship with her. This does not need to affect your feelings for her. I know you love her and you should continue to have a good relationship with her.”
You can also state your value:
“Family is really important to me. That is why I am doing everything I can to keep this relationship going. “
You can also show your kids that you are not infallible:
“Even though it is important for me to get along, I am not always sure what to do. Sometimes I am going to make mistakes trying to get along with her and hopefully sometimes I will get it right.”
If they do use it against you, you can admonish them:
“I shared with you my difficulties with this person because I felt you were mature enough to understand. Please remember that the next time.”
In general, I think it is one of our important jobs as parents to role model for kids how to get along with difficult people or just people who rub you wrong. I am always thinking about this and try to teach this to my kids in a variety of ways.
When my kids have a tough teacher that they complain about, I empathize with them. When they have calmed down, I tell them:
“You probably don’t want to hear this, but having a teacher that you don’t like, is not all bad. Down the line it will be easier for you to get along with even the most difficult people.”
I also like for my kids to know what you need to do when you are having a rough time with someone. Recently, I was working with a difficult person and I would share my struggles with my family at dinner (I wouldn’t use names, especially if you are talking about a family member):
“This person is driving me crazy! I just keep on telling myself, this is a good opportunity to work on the virtues of patience, tolerance and respecting others. That is the only thing that it keeping me sane now!”
My husband always tells my kids “Sometimes people come your way that you might not like. You don’t have to like everyone but it is important to respect them.”
This is a value we try to espouse in our home.
Along the same lines you can teach and role model for them, how to make boundaries with difficult people:
Again, you do not have to speak about Sherry specifically but just make general statements around the dinner table.
“I am really have trouble with so and so at work. She talks and I never get any work done. I have learned that I have to ask her questions by saying I have only 5 minutes to talk then I have a meeting.”
Speaking to your kids directly about the situation, being open about how dealing with difficult people can make us better people and having a general policy of respect and tolerance in the home, can go a long way in making the whole situation a lot easier to manage.