And you thought romantic relationships were tough. For most of us, the challenges of dating or dealing with drama from a lover pales in comparison to the overwhelming baggage and potential for conflict that comes with spending holidays with family. More Americans travel for Thanksgiving than for any other holiday. Year after year, some family members look forward to spending time together, while others dread the experience and are more focused on getting it over with. After all, it’s one thing to choose to engage in unhealthy relationships; quite another to be born and raised into them.
It’s no wonder holiday gatherings can be so stressful for so many people. Time with relatives can bring out extremes like nothing else: tremendous joy and emotional pain, laughter and tears, compassion and conflict, acceptance and rejection, celebration and condemnation. Regardless of nationality, race and class, every family has its crazies—those who will inevitably be who they are, which happens to be pains in the you-know-what. The belligerent brother, controlling sister, hyper-critical mother, domineering father, alcoholic uncle, passive-aggressive aunt, out of control cousin—you know the labels you’ve attached to each of them, as well as the ones they’ve attached to you. The hard truth is, not all relatives (people you are connected to by blood, marriage or adoption), are family—people with whom you enjoy healthy, mutually respectful and loving treatment.
Even if you all profess love for each other, it’s rare for everyone in any family—and particularly large and/or blended families—to always like, accept or understand each other. It’s times like these that living in the Grown Zone—staying focused on self-love, better decisions and healthier relationships—is more critical than ever.
Despite any history of family drama or the potential for conflict, you can enjoy holiday gatherings. The key is to stop expecting your relatives to be any different than they choose to be, because each one of them has the adult right to the life they’ve chosen (or the one their parent/guardian permits), no matter how destructive or inappropriate you deem it to be.
What does it mean to live in the Grown Zone when dealing with family issues? It starts with lowering your expectations and not being overly emotionally invested in the choices and lifestyles others have the right to choose for themselves. Here’s how:
Decide now, to live and let live. Frankly unless they are your minor children, your relatives do not require your approval of their lifestyles or choices. Family gatherings are a good time to remember a key Grown Zone principle: It is not your responsibility, nor is it within your power, to change, fix or control the behavior of another person with your love—even if the person is your beloved little brother, whose girlfriend is beneath your standard for him.
Respond differently than you have. It is what it is: allow what is. Decide now to respond differently than you may have in the past to what they say, how they act and how they communicate with one another. If you have a “better” way, but others aren’t receptive to it, stop casting your pearls before swine. Your way is working for you, but they don’t have to do what you do. We each have freedom to choose.
Accept who they are, no matter what. They are who they are: allow them to be. What you see is who they are when you are not around. You know very well that it’s what they do all the time; it’s how they live and how things happen when you are not there. Don’t make their problems (or what you perceive to be problems), your problems, especially when you know that it is neither wanted nor appreciated. If you are not prepared to be responsible for their entire lives, don’t take responsibility for their choices and behavior during the holiday season.
Watch them like a movie! If you know you have family members who are drama magnets, then learn to enjoy the entertainment. Family can be stranger than fiction; the more bizarre the stories, the more fascinating. If you were sitting in a theater, watching a movie that kept you on edge of your seat, you’d be captivated right? Learn to watch your family interactions the same way. (But remember not to talk during the movie; your family will not appreciate your comments.) They are your family, not your project! Each of them is responsible for themselves, as you are for yourself. Be available should they choose to ask for your advice or insights on your approach to life, but stop allowing who they are and how they live to bother you. Learn to simply allow.
The holidays won’t make your life with family any more magical, so it’s a setup for disappointment to expect your Thanksgiving to be any happier or your Christmas any merrier. If it does turn out to be pleasantly different, be pleasantly surprised and thankful for that. However, be prepared with a healthier more self-loving purpose for going home for Thanksgiving—to increase your gratitude in anticipation of a new year, or for Christmas—to test and increase your ability to love others despiterather than because. To allow, to be Grown, requires you to gift forgiveness, compassion and acceptance to your family. (Acceptance is not approval. But again, unless they are your minor children, your approval is not required.) You can’t enjoy them if you are focused on judging them.
Most of all, be grateful for your family as a foundation, not a limitation on who you choose to be. Daily, you get to choose the life you live, even if members of your family choose differently. These tips are just the start of learning to live harmoniously with “those people” you love so much, but may often not see eye-to-eye with. The Grown Zone is where you learn even more.
Healthy relationship principles are the same regardless of the type of relationship, including parent-child, sibling, as well as romantic. If you haven’t picked up our book grab it now.