OK. Imagine this. You’re hosting a summer BBQ. It’s scheduled to start in one hour. But you haven’t done a thing to prepare.
Not one thing.
There’s a knock on the door. Your family arrives adorned in cute sundresses and carrying bowls of fruit salad. You’re lying on the sofa watching a rerun of “Grey’s Anatomy” in your sweats. (Not even your cute ones!) You offer (by pointing in the general direction of the kitchen) your guests a glass of red wine from a bottle you opened days earlier which is starting to go south and shout to them they can help themselves to leftovers in the fridge.
Would you (if you weren’t in your early twenties) ever do that? Of course not! Well guess what?
Many of us are so emotionally unprepared for family holidays and/or vacations that we might as well be un-showered and in old sweats. So why are we so woefully underprepared? Are we depressed? Annoyed? Angry?
No. It’s worse.
We believe we have NO control over what happens.
Good news—it’s not true! And I’m going to give you a few tips on how to prepare for the summer time spent with your family and make it is as great and connected as it can be, no matter what your situation.
SUMMER VACATION SURVIVAL GUIDE
1) Design your vacation! Have a vision of your vacation. Sit down with a piece of paper or i-Whatever and write out how you want your week, your night, your 3 days, etc. to unfold. Write it in the present tense and be specific. Don’t slip negative digs into your dream, ie, “My mom doesn’t drive my sister to tears this year.” Instead, write, “My family is happy, connected and we have the best week at the beach EVER.” Spell it out. It’s your vacation. And then see what promises, actions you can put into place so that you can realize your (operative word) dream.
Many, many family meals later, my family has finally learned what it takes to source a great gathering. [Okay, the jury is still out for Passover.] Sure, we all go to the one sister’s house who loves to host, cook, and get clapped for. But not just that. We’ve learned the hard way that if we don’t curate one common conversation that everyone can participate in, my two sisters and I end up happily (and selfishly) yacking away, my mom ends up in the kitchen cleaning, my father ends up in another room alone with a TV, and my husband magically can’t make the next meal. It took a few grunting men for us to finally figure out that we needed promises around meal time and how-tos around our conversations to cause a connected evening. From sharing our most magical moment from the week, to the most proud moment, to rewinding a moment in time, to what tattoo you’d get and why … whatever the conversation, our family gatherings are now connected, loving, and (virtually) men and mom friendly.
We haven’t had an issue since.
So, don’t hesitate to put in rules, especially If there are things you are worried about. For example, if mixing pinot grigio and politics creates loud heated debates in your family, then you gracefully, compassionately, and lovingly have a conversation with the two main political instigators in your family prior to the week at the cabin and ask them for a moratorium on politics this summer (particularly this one).
2) Expect the expected and don’t get annoyed when it happens! Sometimes the holidays can feel like deja vu. For example, your dad might be telling the same story he tells every year about accidentally burning the burgers to a crisp, while your mother is on her third helping of potato salad all while explaining how great she has been doing on her diet. Instead of going down the same rabbit hole you do every year, stop and consider how to make the same scene fun. Don’t get annoyed. Have a sense of humor. Laugh, even. This requires a lot of perspective and compassion but the good news is, when you lighten up about the negative tendencies of your family, you can lighten up about yours too. That gives you a way better chance of intervening in both. Grow up your emotional intelligence. The difference between, “So what? They are cute and I have my own version of them” AND “How could they be this screwed up?” is where your personal CHOICE lives.
Choose to see the good and let some things slide.
3) Beware of any pity-parties you feel you are entitled to throw yourself this year. Self-judgment is very popular when we’re on vacation with our families, especially as we compare our lives to where we were last summer or if we believe we aren’t where we should be. If you’re disappointed in some area of your life, trust me, you’re not alone. Everyone is disappointed about something from this past year. The good news is that time is a continuum and today is just as good a day as any to start a better habit and/or to stop berating yourself (it does no good anyway).
In the meantime, when you’re with the family, here’s a trick: stop focusing on yourself and pay attention to what’s going on with the people around you. My husband sometimes has to remind me to shift my focus this way. He’ll say, “It’s not about you, Lauren.” Maybe someone close to you could remind you if you too forget?
4) Relax and think beyond yourself! Do something special that would make people happy. And just so you know, this coaching is for me too! Figure out what festive thing you could do that would surprise people. Like, bake a pie for your new neighbors you haven’t met yet. Or volunteer to help your husband do something that would totally surprise him like clean out the garage or go to a horror movie he is dying to see but you would rather pass on. There are so many potential options to relax and have fun this summer. You still have time. Start today!
Don’t wish you had another shot at the end of summer. Show up as your best self now. What have you got to lose? Righteousness?
P.S. If you think the issues in your family are too far gone to fix, think again. Learn how five of my clients took their relationships with their parents, children, and spouses to a whole new level in my new book, Maybe It’s You.