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.