To quote Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” This can describe family get-togethers. Visiting and staying with family, no matter what the occasion, can be stressful. Following are some tips that I have learned from experience and from professionals to cope.
1. Establish Boundaries
There are three main boundaries we can establish: Time, Location and Topic.
a. Time Boundaries
Decide just how long you are going to stay. If, in the past you have felt obligated to stay the entire day, you can choose to shorten your stay. Yes, you may hear the cries, “Oh, why do you have to leave so soon?” or “Where’s the fire?” I have found that simply saying I have another obligation is answer enough. It may take time, but eventually they may get the hint that you don’t want to be around them, which is okay.
b. Location Boundaries
When different lifestyles are involved, get-togethers can be even more stress-filled. Try staying in a hotel or a Bed & Breakfast instead of with family, if finances allow. And always have your own transportation so you won’t be dependant upon anyone for a way out. Have your own way out. Additionally, you may feel obligated to entertain guests if they are staying with you. Decide and agree beforehand just how much you will accompany guests and family on certain outings. Once gain, it is okay to get away by yourself and establish “downtime.”
c. Topic Boundaries
Remember the old adage about not talking about politics and religion? Add parenting, how to manage your money, and any other topic that gets your gander up. Comprise your own list of hot topics and than when asked, you can reply, “I prefer not to discuss that topic.” If pressed, keep repeating yourself. Unless discussions are facilitated in a calm, frank manner, there will be defensive and hurt feelings.
2. Intruding Questions
Speaking of defensive and hurt feelings, family members know which buttons to push, don’t they? When a family member asks questions about finances, sex life, or other areas you prefer to keep quiet about, mention that you prefer not to answer. It is okay to stand up for yourself and have your own values. Just keep repeating yourself and eventually, they might get the hint. If they begin to talk behind your back-let them. The truth and your life will eventually showcase the results.
3. Get an Ally
“Two are better than one” goes the proverb. If you can bring a friend along, that would be good. That person can be your out. If not, have telephone contacts, people you can talk to in case you get into a tight position. This outside person can provide perspective and keep you from saying something you may regret later.
4. Detach from trying to fix them.
How fun it is to look at the sawdust in someone else’s eyes and ignoring the log in your own. Even if we are looking the logs, my challenge is to desist from telling other family members how to raise their kids, how to live, etc. What I have found useful is to just share what is working in my life and what isn’t. I love a saying that goes “practice what you preach, but don’t preach.” Pray for them and let others experience the result of their poor life choices. Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.
5. Common ground
Do activities that you mutually have in common and enjoy. By concentrating on what you have in common rather than differences, this makes the event go smoother.
6. Do Visualization Exercises
a. In your alone time, (remember those time boundaries?) we can do breathing exercises and visualize a positive outcome to every situation and can pray for healing and harmony. This may not change the situation, but may certainly change our moods and outlook. We may even begin to have compassion on the people who are difficult.
b. A fun exercise to do as well that helps our mental state is cutting out pictures from magazines or coloring with crayons. Ask the kids to join in if you want. Create a poster of beautiful places and peaceful situations.
7. Don’t get caught in-between.
When family members argue, there is a tendency to triangulate, or take sides. DON’T! Doing so is like grabbing a dog by its ears when it is fighting with another dog. You get hurt. Of course, if a family member is killing themselves with alcohol, drugs or anorexia, speak up, but pick your battles wisely. If it is not a subject or event that directly affects you, my suggestion would be to stay out of it.
8. Thank you for Your Advice (That I didn’t Ask For)
Family members mean well when they give you advice. They love us and want what is best for us, that is usually the underlying motive. Or they may like to just control our lives, but even under the control, it is a desire for us to be okay. I have a friend who offered me a great retort to say when a family member is giving unwanted advice: “well, there’s a suggestion.” This validates that we have heard the advice but that we don’t necessarily have to act on it. Or simply saying “thank you for the advice” sometimes suffices. This acknowledges you will take responsibility for your own decisions and life and not blame them.
9. At Your Service
It’s not all about you. The truth is, everybody, and I mean everybody, has something they are going through. Find ways to be of service to family members. Ask if you can baby-sit or if you can run errands, or if it is warranted, if you can lend money. Even sending an encouraging card can help. It is good advice to serve rather than be served. It is a spiritual axiom that when we help others, we ourselves are helped.
By following these suggestions, I hope that your family get-togethers result in harmony and loving relationships and that you find inner peace by knowing you did your part to make the get-together an enjoyable event whatever the outcome is.
In a nutshell:
1. Establish Boundaries: Time, Location, Topic
2. Handle Intruding questions
3. Get an Ally
4. Detach from trying to fix them.
5. Establish Common Ground
6. Do breathing and Visualization Exercises
7. Don’t meddle in arguments
8. Validate Advice-giver
9. Be of Service