“I love my family — but from a distance,” I chuckle.
For many of us, the holidays can be emotionally harrowing. We confront our past — strained relationships with siblings, an uneasy coexistence with our parents. As festive lights glimmer, we stew over petty grievances and simmering resentments.
Flying into Minneapolis for the Thanksgiving holiday, I was anxious about seeing my immediate family. Since my mother’s passing, my brothers and I have slowly drifted apart. Four years following her passing, there is a coolness — even chilliness — rivaling a Minneapolis winter. Greeting my siblings for the first time in a year, I questioned how, and whether, I could contain the bubbling emotions.
As family dynamics swirled in my head, I warmly greeted my beloved aunts and uncles in the hotel lobby. But underneath the jovial greeting, there was a painful acknowledgment of the strained family dynamics. “Matt, this is going to be interesting Thanksgiving,” my sardonic uncle teased.
Interesting indeed. As I nervously chuckled, I simultaneously winced: How am I going to play simpatico with my prickly brothers?
Well, my brothers and I survived Famageddon (not without consternation). As you and your loved ones gather ‘round the holiday table, here are strategies to preserve your mental sanity:
- Call 1-800-FRIEND. For many of us, friends are our second family. In many instances, they know us better than our immediate family.As emotional headwinds threatened to topple me this weekend, my Seattle girlfriend was my lifeline. As I confided in her about broiling family dynamics, she provided much-needed perspective. Acknowledging my trepidation, Jen reassured me that my unease was warranted–and an explosive reaction was not.
But let’s say your most trusted friends are mired in their own family melodrama. How about talking with a Warm Line counselor? Trained in counseling techniques and empathic listening, these selfless volunteers provide measured advice. Now that is something to be thankful about.
- Have a communication plan. Instead of detonating family landmines, look for safe, neutral topics. In my case, my brothers and I share an interest in politics, travel, and sports. We can exchange destination deals or banter about the Hawkeyes’ unfailing embrace of mediocrity. Find a more appropriate time to discuss thorny family issues.
- Be realistic. As the holidays approach, we envision a cheerful home with savory smells wafting through the air. Something resembling a Hallmark card or a Lifetime movie scene right? We all–myself included–cherish close-knit familial relationships. But family relationships–like any Thanksgiving feast–require blood, sweat, and tears. After years of estrangement with your not so loved one, it is time to temper those sky-high expectations. And acknowledge that, yes, it may take a lifetime for that Lifetime moment with your family.
- Practice self-awareness. Yes, you are permitted to be frustrated, exasperated, or indignant at the latest family indignities. Even all of the above. But do exercise restraint; you–and you alone–know what snide comments nudge you from simmer to boil. As the conversation veers into unchartered territory, take the necessary precautions to manage your impulsive emotions: deep breathing, a calming image, and a walk around the block are immediate strategies.
Unlike those ill-advised $200 jeans you purchased this Black Friday, you can’t return your family. And you can’t put them — or your family’s salient issues — on layaway either. But with these pragmatic tips — admittedly easier said than done, you can love your family from afar. And, yes, like them ‘round the holiday table.