Some of my friends are traveling to see family during the holidays. They might wish that their families got along like the ones in the holiday movies, the ones where issues get resolved in the last half hour, but they don’t. At most, they may be hoping for fewer pointed remarks, less drinking and more laughing, and not getting an upset stomach or headache. Many are planning a few extra days off to recover from visiting.
Why do they go at all? Partly guilt, but mostly love. Even though they may not like the way family members behave, talk, or feel, life is short and they still want to see them, even if only occasionally. And the visits invariably bring up sorrow at how different their family’s behavior is, compared to what they wish it to be.
In families where people stay in designated roles, those who have focused on self-growth and having better boundaries, may feel uncomfortable or no longer fit. Families can be rather closed systems, and introducing new behaviors might really blow things up. Feelings of estrangement make the holiday season extra painful for those who did not grow up in a Hallmark movie, which is actually most of us.
Someone, I can’t remember who, wrote that, “family is a bunch of people you grow up with that you would normally have nothing to do with unless you were related.” Plenty of people get along fine with family members, seek them out, spend a great deal of time with them, and feel extraordinarily blessed, which they are. For others, family is a mixed bag of personalities shaken together with no sort of homogeneity.
Add in holiday stress, unreasonable expectations, and unresolved childhood issues, and well, sometimes it’s not pretty. Focusing on love helps. Focusing on love helps people deal with crabby elderly parents and grandparents who think complaining nonstop means they care. Focusing on love helps people deal with drunken siblings, and arguments, and plans that keep changing, and burned dinners, and gifts that never got purchased even though someone promised to do the shopping, and unfair treatment, and a host of other unpleasantries.
Even when there are family members difficult to like, people still manage to love them anyway. And during those visits home, focusing on that fact helps. But if certain family members are too toxic for one’s health and sanity, they may need to be loved from a safe distance. Holidays are excellent practice in defining boundaries around love and family. Take care out there!