If you’re like me, holidays mean much more than filling Easter baskets with goodies, or cleaning out the pantry for Passover. They mean family time, and I mean LOTS of family time. Family members gathered together, traveling long distances, sharing meals, stories, and who knows what else. These groups of people are related, but are not necessarily similar. In fact, they may be so different that their time together is difficult, challenging, and something I call heavy lifting.
Heavy lifting is when you know your in-laws, sisters, brothers, or even parents, will act some way that is trying. It may be the same way they have always acted. Perhaps you have parents that bicker, or perhaps you have a sister-in-law that tends to get “too honest” after a few drinks. You know it’s coming. You prepare. And, you dig in your heels and smile with clenched teeth throughout the whole holiday. Almost like an old television re-run where you keep hoping the ending will change, but it never does.
There are countless movies about this. One of my favorites is when Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon spend time at 4 family Christmases enduring everything ranging from physical pain to emotional torture. Of course, we as the audience laugh and shake our heads no doubt seeing a bit of our own holidays somewhere in there.
Believe me I’m no exception. I work very long days, but will still have a house full this weekend. And like many others, my family has a host of personalities each one dealing with their own personal crises as we try to enjoy our holiday together. Sometimes its quiet, but sometimes the emotional explosions make it feel more like the 4th of July!
So why do we do it over and over again. I know I’m not alone in this. I talk to lots of people all day long, many with laundry lists of complaints and suspicions about the same relatives they move mountains to break bread with several times a year. Well I think the answer is plain and simple.
They are family.
And that still means something.
Even though how we define a family has evolved and grown over the years, the one constant is that we feel very connected to the people we call family. They are, quite simply, the people who deep down you believe should be there for you at all costs. That is why they can also disappoint and hurt you the most. I have many cases involving family members, and they are by far the most emotionally charged. As I remind clients over and over again, investigating family members can be painful both in what is discovered and the ensuing confrontation. But what I am continually reminded of is that it is these cases where the client is most deeply hurt, believing wholeheartedly that family should protect and never disappoint.
But they do
And those same people will be celebrating with you – maybe this weekend!
So how can we lighten the load a bit – besides an extra tip of the wine bottle? Here are some ideas:
- Dig deep and be honest with yourself going into the holidays. We cannot pick our relatives, and they cannot pick us. Find some empathy for anything they are going through, and try to leave conflicts at the door.
- Instead of breaking your back carrying the burden of everyone around the table, try to use the time to build new memories without past baggage.
- Talk to your spouse beforehand about your concerns so you are not in it alone.
- Realize you are not alone and try to find the humor in the dysfunction
Of course, if all else fails, and you find yourself feeling crushed by the burden of family at your holiday table, grit your teeth, dig your heals in, paste a smile on your face, and be happy that holidays only come a few times a year!