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November 28, 2009

a great message and timeless advice, ladyJ
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Spiritual Zen

Avoiding Family Drama Over the Holidays

Posted: 26 Nov 2009 01:46 PM PST

Baboon family

The smell of turkey roasting in the oven. How wonderful. My wife and I decided to spend most of Thanksgiving day with just ourselves, here at home. It was fun getting up early, just the two of us and making the stuffing (my moms recipe). It was actually the first time I’ve ever really stuffed it inside the bird. We got a 22 lb turkey… seems awful big for just the two of us. My step-son, his wife and our granddaughter will be over later, so we’re cooking up a feast for them and ourselves. Saturday morning we leave for a week vacation in Cozumel so the kids will be staying here all week to consume the leftovers. It worked out well.

Most years we travel to see family, which can sometimes be stressful. This time of year I hear it a lot, how family stresses people out. My family usually gets together for the normal holidays, there’s only about 15 to 20 of us regulars. I come from a small family, just one sibling, so it’s pretty low key. My wife’s family is larger and she has quite a bit of experience and wisdom when it comes to dealing with family. So we put our heads together and came up with a few ideas of how best to handle family members that seem to get under our skin around the holidays.

Avoid It
Maybe avoiding family members who irritate us seems obvious, and to some, selfish; but lets think about it. Remember that you are not responsible for someone else’s feelings. With that said, you should never do something that deliberately hurts someone either. We all have a right to say no.

We often travel to see family over the holidays even when we don’t want to. I know, I know, family is all we really have right? The least we can do is suffer through the resentment and guilt only family members know how to surgically inflict. We hurt the ones we love right?

At what point do we stop trying to improve relationships, family or not, that do not seem to add value or grow in any positive direction? That question really becomes hard when dealing with family. But isn’t family about unconditional love and being there no matter what? I guess I just struggle sometimes with the whole “we should go visit family” mentality when it only causes resentment and anger. Life is too short for things like that. With that said, I am the first one there when a family member really needs me… but then how will I know if they really need me if I don’t work at a relationship with them? Hmmm, seems like a paradox. What do you think?

To some family members, drama is like oxygen. You know the ones who just can’t help themselves? The uncle who constantly brings up the time he bailed you out of jail or that everyone is sure the cousin who moved to California has joined a cult. When the zingers start flying, you have a choice to participate or not. The best way to deal with these situations is come up with a plan!

Have A Plan
Decide before hand how you’re going to handle the uncomfortable situations that always seem to get to you. Talk about your strategy with your spouse or immediate family members. Being prepared is the best way to handle stressful situations with grace and dignity. One of the best ways of diffusing uncomfortable situations is with kindness. If your uncle brings up the time he bailed you out of jail, tell him thanks, and that you really appreciated him being there for you. (and avoid the sarcasm) No, my uncle never bailed me out of jail… not that I wasn’t ever in jail, but it was my dad who had to come get me and now that I think about it, I need to thank him for that.

Remember, your family members know how to push your buttons better than anyone. Be prepared and have a plan.

Be understanding rather than understood
I guess it all really changes when you have children. Which I don’t, but I do have a granddaughter and step-son/daughter, whom I’m beginning to love. It makes me feel good when they want to hang out with us and stop by to visit or stay for dinner. So maybe dealing with family members over the holiday’s has a lot to do with “be understanding rather than understood.” Try and understand where your mother-in-law or parents are coming from when they insist you come to visit. Even if you don’t want to. At the same time, we also need to watch for resentments which only bitter the relationship.

Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that we’re grown ups and can do what we want. This can be hard when our parents can still push those guilt buttons. A good test is to think about what memories you have or will have of times spent with loved ones. I have many good memories of times spent with my cousins and parents over the holidays, but none with just me and my wife. Until today.

In the end, memories are all we have anyway, so spend time making good ones.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar
If you’re wondering why I chose a picture of baboons… well, honestly, I hate looking for pictures for these posts on flickr. I got tired of looking for one of a family… and I like baboons. It’s the worst part about posting; I’ll spend twice as long looking for the right picture as I do writing the post. I guess I just need to bite the bullet and pay for some stock photo site.

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