I have figured out the art of visiting my family and having a good time with them. I would like to share what always seems to work. I have given this advice to several friends and colleagues, and they all have come back saying how they had a very good holiday.
I used to be very anxious about going back to my parents' home for the holidays when most of my family was supposed to be together and supposed to have a good family time. I used to have a hard time, because my siblings seemed so much more connected with each other than me, and I felt like an outsider. On top of that, my parents seemed to enjoy watching my siblings banter around over my typically-serious demeanor. I am very much a "doer" type, and I always had a list of things I wanted to accomplish while back there, such as shows, people, places to visit. But with so many clashing preferences it rarely really happened. One of my sisters liked being bossy and trying to dictate what everybody must do. This used to bother the heck out of me. My mother often would get mad, because she used to be in charge of the dinners, and her offspring guests were not very helpful. She would feel very overwhelmed. This would turn out to be very unpleasant.
There are so many reasons many of us have a hard time spending time with family during the holiday season. We do it because it seems to be the right thing to do. Sometimes we even look forward to it. But more often than not, we feel bothered, upset, frustrated, left out, disconnected, misunderstood, and sometimes downright explosive.
This is what I figured out, and it always seems to work: Go with the flow, and it always works out in the end!
The above message means the following things:
1) Your primary goal is to build connections with your family. All other goals are secondary. Once you say that to yourself, all decisions become easy! When I go home, I dilute my other goals of visiting people, places, and shows. If some of them work out, great! If some fizzle out, that is fine too. What the family is wishing together comes first. If there is something important I need to take care of, I plan it with them in advance, and I make sure that I can take care of it with minimum inclusion of others. If it offends someone's sensibilities, I can always take care of it later!
2) Go in without a fixed set of expectations. When you expect certain behaviors from people or have pictures in your head about what it means by a perfect living arrangement, you are asking for disappointments. If my sister is bossy, I go with her suggestions, and it makes everybody happy. If I really don't want to do something everybody else wants, I do it anyway! Majority wins. If there are some serious boundary violations that are truly upsetting to me, I clear out of the room with a good, polite excuse.
3) Decide who you want to please the foremost. Is it your parents, your spouse, or your sibling? Once you know who it is, you can always make sure to explain things appropriately to the appropriate person. For example, if your spouse is unhappy about your parent's controlling behavior and you want to please your parents, urge your spouse to put up with it for those few days. Keep the spousal sensitivities in mind.
4) Enjoy the moment with open mindedness. Look out for the good things that are coming your way and receive them when they come. When I get a chance to have a serious conversation with my parents, I cherish that moment. When my siblings are bantering around, I laugh at that with my parents. When my mom gives me a gift, I appreciate it to the max regardless of what it is. If my sibling does not appreciate my gift, I feel upset but I just laugh it off as "it is just her." When I get to have a carefree cup of tea in the morning, I enjoy it to the "tilt."
5) "What about me?" does not have a place in this scenario. If you start getting bugged by "what about me?" remind yourself that there are other occasions for taking care of you; this may not be one of them! And guess what -- when you let yourself not be the center of universe, you become the "appreciated" one for making the holiday easy. Your "what about me" will be taken care off in the end.
6) In the end, it all works out! This seems like a statement of "faith," but that is precisely why it is "true." Try it! Your flights will take you there just in time in spite of the initial cancellation. Even if you reach late for an event, you will find abundant enjoyment and rest awaiting you. You will find a cab to reach the planned dinner on time in spite of the first cab breaking down in the pouring rain. The place you wanted to visit badly will be on your mother's agenda as well, and you will end up visiting it in the end, or if you don't visit it, you will find out that it has changed so much that it really was OK not to visit it! When you let go of wanting fixed things, a lot of joy can come your way.
Go with the flow, and it always works out in the end!
For more by Swati Desai, Ph.D., LCSW, click here.
For more on family, click here.