Difficult family situations. It would be rare not to have them, especially when military families spend so much time geographically separated from their families of origin. In today’s Monday Minute with God, Morgan shares some practical advice to rise up from difficult family situations modeled after Jesus’ own actions.
Grow and Plant Boundaries with Family
by Morgan Farr
“I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams”
Even without my love of Bing Crosby (which is a serious love, y’all) this familiar refrain brings a lot of emotion to people. Movies, advertisements, and even holiday music tell us that the holiday season is for family and friends. For most civilians that is absolutely true, but for people in the military world, holidays can be a mixed bag.
Most military families have had to celebrate holidays away from family and friends at least once or twice. Many people in the military community are unable to travel back to their home state due to work schedules, finances, or a lack of leave time.
For our nine years in the Army, we have been home for Christmas just once.
We have spent Christmas with friends at Fort Bragg, on the beach in San Diego, and quarantined with snow in Pennsylvania. In military life that is totally normal! In fact, military members have had to build entirely new holiday traditions. This means when they do get the opportunity to return to their home state for holidays there can be a lot of challenges.
Around this time each year we are flooded with depictions of happy families having a wonderful time together. If this is an accurate depiction of your family, I am so happy for you! If your family doesn’t mimic a Hallmark movie, that is totally normal. As you embark on military life you are likely to grow and change. While this can (and often does) cause conflict for families, it doesn’t have to.
The way to deal with these issues is to set and maintain boundaries. For a lot of people the struggle happens when they try to justify boundaries against their Christian faith. Many people feel afraid to set boundaries, as if that is somehow against God’s rules.
Guess what? It isn’t.
Here are a few examples of how Jesus used boundaries while he was in ministry:
Being Direct- Jesus said let your yes be yes and your no be no, in Matthew 5:37.
Divisive Questions- He didn’t answer the religious leaders’ questions intended to cause problems in Matthew 21:23-27.
People Pleasing- In John 5:44 Jesus warns about working for the praise of man rather than the praise that can only come from God.
Physical Safety- When he walked away from the crowd that wanted to throw him off a cliff in Luke 4:28-30.
So using Jesus as our example, let’s talk about how to set and maintain effective boundaries using the acronyms GROW and PLANT. I think of creating and implementing boundaries like growing a seedling in a greenhouse and then planting it in the ground.
Preparation for difficult family situations can make all the difference!
Here is how we can Rise Up when faced with difficult family situations.
GROW is the legwork you do beforehand, the thinking and the planning. All of that is great and wonderful, but then you have to actually interact with your family, and that is where things can go sour. This is the work that you do ahead of time to help smooth the way.
Get a jumpstart
Do not wait until you are on your way to, or already at, your family event to start setting boundaries. That can lead to frustration and anger on your part.
Think back on past interactions with family. What areas have been difficult in the past? Do you have an uncle that brings up divisive politics? Is alcohol a problem? Do you want your children to experience certain things or avoid others?
What are your off limits topics, issues, or events? This might be that you will not talk about politics. You will leave the event if the alcohol is causing a problem. You will allow your children to say what they do/don’t want to happen, and you will enforce it with family. The important thing here is that YOU get to decide what is off-limits for you (and your children if you have them).
Write it down
Now that you know what you are uncomfortable with, you need to decide what to do and write it down. According to research you are 42% more likely to follow through on your goals if you write them down. So write these out to help you maintain your boundaries.
If someone is being ugly to you, changing the conversation or walking away might be appropriate. If you struggle with alcohol, choosing not to drink might be your boundary. These are your action items that you do to keep yourself safe.
Moltke the Elder, a German field marshal, said “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.” PLANT is my acronym for what to do on the actual day to help you maintain positive boundaries. I like to think of it like keeping your feet firmly planted.
Prior to the family event, pray. Pray for your heart. Pray for the hearts of your family. Pray for your interactions. Pray for peace. You cannot go overboard with prayer.
Think through some basic logistics. Are you taking a car to the event so that you can leave when you are ready or if it becomes necessary? If not, do you have Uber or Lyft app on your phone? If your boundaries are around one person in particular, make sure that you are not sitting beside this person during the main event. Try to limit exposure, especially if the relationship is toxic.
Communicate your boundaries to your family. Let them know that “X” is not something you will participate in. For example, in teaching my children about bodily autonomy and consent, I do not force them to hug relatives. In order to prevent hurting a family member when we greet family I say, “Hi Aunt Sarah, we are learning about having control of our bodies. William, would you like to give Aunt Sarah a hug or a handshake?”
Be understanding that it may take your family a minute to get used to your boundaries. When I first became a believer and stopped taking the Lord’s name in vain, I communicated with my family that I wouldn’t participate in conversations where that happened. But I also had to understand that some of the people involved had 50-70 YEARS of this habit built in and that the change wouldn’t happen overnight.
However, the caveat to this point is when the boundary is a safety issue (like not drinking and driving). At that point, extra chances and accommodations do not apply. Safety is crucial, regardless of other people’s feelings.
If your clearly announced off-limits issues are happening, boundaries are repeatedly crossed, or safety is an issue… it is time to terminate the interaction. This may mean choosing to leave a conversation with a particular family member while remaining at the event. It may look like leaving the event all together. Saying something like, “I love y’all but I am not comfortable with (insert whatever the issue is) so I am going to head out”. Make it clear and concise, with minimal emotion. Then leave the situation.
Finally 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Your behavior (and how you respond to hard situations) can be a light into the darkness. Do not be afraid to uphold your faith and your values, even when tested. This is where the boundaries come in. When you interact with family, you can bring glory to God by rising up to GROW your boundaries first, so you can PLANT them when the time comes.
If you need prayer for your own difficult family situations please email us at Planting Roots, we would love to pray for you and your family members!
Father, You are the God of the universe, creator of the mountains and sky… and yet you care about my interactions with family. You care when my heart aches, you care when I cry. Thank you for your care. Thank you for giving us an example in the way Jesus handled difficult situations. Thank you for modeling boundaries for us. Thank you for your enduring mercy for our failures and attempts to try again. Give me the strength to honor and glorify you in the way I behave with my family during positive and negative interactions. Amen.
Morgan Farr is a Texas-loving, succulent-cultivating, book nerd, and aspiring author. Stationed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this Army wife is learning to train dogs, developing her four young children, and tackling homeschool life… while moving all over the country. You can find more of Morgan’s thoughts on her blog.