A close friend and associate shared recently that he was struggling under the weight of having established out-of-balance relationships with certain family members (not his wife and children). He acknowledged that his deep Christian faith reinforces his sense of caring for those extended family members in a way that has led him to feel like he is somehow responsible for helping to “fix” their problems.
That got me to start thinking about family, family connections, responsibilities, expectations, and so forth. I realize that it’s easy to sit back and share suggestions, but it’s oftentimes difficult to apply them to our own situation. So at the risk of being hypocritical, here are some thoughts I shared with my friend:
- Even in healthy relationships, setting appropriate boundaries can be uncomfortable, but they are necessary.
- In unhealthy relationships, it’s imperative to set up good boundaries whether it’s comfortable to do so or not.
- Establishing and holding to boundaries in family relationships is a good thing, just like when we use a calendar to set boundaries with our schedules. Boundaries serve to protect both us and the people around us. They ensure we maintain proper respect for other people, and that we don’t take ownership over something that doesn’t belong to us. In that way, boundaries help us to maintain accountability and keep us from getting burned out, burned up, or used up and abused.
- Caring about family and extended family members is a natural thing. You don’t have to be a Christian or religious in any way to do that. But as Christian believers, we sometimes feel like we have to take it to another level. And maybe we do if we’re aspiring to be more Christ-like. There is a difference, however, between being Christ-like and being Christ. We don’t have the capacity or the calling to carry the consequences of other people’s bad choices and destructive behavior. We can walk with them and help carry their burden, but that is different than carrying their load, as someone else once said. I see the former as empathy; the latter as atonement.
- As we all know, at least intellectually if not emotionally, saying “no” to someone else is sometimes the best answer they will ever hear. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. Quite the contrary. When we say “yes” to someone’s request or demand when in fact we know we should say “no,” instead of demonstrating how much we do care about them, we end up getting in the way of their growth and journey to wholeness. Instead we are hurting ourselves and them in the process. When we do a “good” thing, we may be getting in the way of someone else being able to do their “God-thing” – something they’ve been called and equipped for.
- Finally, we know family, and they know us. Maintaining objectivity in a family situation is nigh on impossible. We are creatures of emotion, and when we are heavily invested emotionally, we almost certainty will lose objectivity, at least at some point and to some degree. We all have an interesting way of viewing our family members through the lens of our experiences with them that, again, is often clouded with emotional overtones that may keep us from seeing them as they really are. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage in emotionally laden family situations. It simply means that we need to be aware or beware. Emotional hijacking is more the norm than we are oftentimes willing or able to acknowledge.
John retired from The Village Business Institute in 2019. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo where he serves as an adjunct faculty member. He is a motivational speaker with over 20 years of experience in providing training programs and consulting services in a wide variety of organization development scenarios. John is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator under ADR Rule 114, and is also certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.
Previously, John served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.