In the fourth edition of our series on relationships, Jim and Karen discuss our relationships with our extended family – just in time for the holidays!
“Welcome, newcomers. The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!” ~Frank Costanza, Seinfeld
They say every family has that odd, crazy member and if you think yours doesn’t, that’s because it’s actually you. In our family of “overachievers” we have an above average number of odd crazy people. We usually tend to marry the crazy ones in but once they’ve joined the gene pool there’s no stopping it is there? At least they are never, ever boring!
There is, however, the occasional family member who is crazy and eccentric but not in a good way. You know who I mean, the odd uncle or sister in law that you avoid most of the year but have to run into on holidays. (If my family back home is reading this, clearly I’m not talking about any of you. I mean other people’s families). I hope they bought that. Anyway, there is always that one person who stretches the limits of patience; making inappropriate comments, asking uncomfortable questions, drinking the last of the wine, or not ever offering to help with the dishes.
You also have to love the folks who somehow feel that just because you share a little DNA they can somehow pass judgment on your life choices. I experienced a lot of this when I was younger as my choice to go live in the woods of Maine, chop wood and grow vegetables was a direct contrast to the middle class, minivan, “keeping up with the neighbor’s existence” that much of my family back home had. So I, and then eventually my children, often found ourselves justifying our choices on what we ate or didn’t eat, went to school for, did for work, or who we were currently partnered with.
My favorite conversation always went like this: Relative “I don’t know what to feed everyone because not everyone eats meat, what do you cook for them.” Me “Everything else on the planet” and then I’d start listing everything else; “vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, cheese, nuts, grains, pasta” . . . . . Relative “how about chicken, do vegetarians eat chicken.” Me “no chickens are not vegetables.”
When all is said and done however, these are the types of things that with a little love and patience you can usually put up with for a few days in order to spend time with people you actually do care about and don’t get to see often enough. (Of course I’ve probably just blown all of my future invitations).
For some people though, the problems with their extended family members go way beyond differences of opinion. For some, spending time with certain family members can trigger anxiety and bring up years of unhappiness, unhealthy relationships or even abuse. For those who had a childhood that was traumatic in anyway, getting through the holidays is anything but enjoyable.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to go, really!
It is very freeing to get to the place where you are comfortable enough with yourself and your own belief system to do what is best for you and your own family. You don’t have to put up with negative or unhealthy people in your life. You don’t have to bring your children to visit people that aren’t a positive influence on them just because you think you are “supposed to.” You can say “you know what, the environment there is very uncomfortable, Uncle Bill drinks too much, Aunt Fran yells at everyone and I’m sorry, but we can’t attend.” Of course it won’t be that simple. Folks may try to argue with you, lay on the guilt, but that’s okay, stick to your guns. I’ve had this experience, when invited to a family wedding I knew was going to be a nightmare to “get through.” People were shocked “you mean you aren’t going? You HAVE to go.” No, no I did not and I didn’t.
I have finally gotten to a place where I’m going to do what makes me and the people in my immediate circle happy. I’m going to surround myself with thoughtful, caring, positive people. I’m also going to have a home that is peaceful and welcoming and if you aren’t on board with that, don’t feel obligated to show up to anything I have either. It’s really okay. Cause guess what, its your holiday, and you can do what you to!
“Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.” ~Frank Costanza, Seinfeld
Stay tuned for part 2 of our discussion on relationships in our extended families when Jim LaPierre comments on Karen’s piece and adds his own words of family wisdom!