Happy November! This month we focus on setting intentions around Family (piece of cake! or pie...) November kickstarts off the next couple of months of the holiday season for many people, which can bring up stress, disappointment, obligations etc. However instead of focusing on what drives us crazy about our families, lets explore a little deeper within our family…
Fill in the blank-
A good parent does _________.
Children should be able to ___________.
__________ is essential in a healthy romantic relationship.
My role in my family is ____________________.
Chances are, we will all have a variety of different answers for these statements. Consider what messages you received in your life, direct or indirect, that led to your answers. Perhaps you are mimicking what was role-modeled for you? Perhaps you have intentionally pulled a 180% and are creating roles the exact opposite of what was role-modeled for you? Are you trying to fill a need you have by playing a certain role? Is there a fear if you don’t play a role, everything will fall apart?
Many of us play a variety of roles in our lives, the flexibility to try on different roles and adjust them or outgrow them is healthy. However, when we remain stuck in certain roles, and our family members resist our attempts to change, there are often similar patterns across families. Ever heard the term Caretaker? Lost child? Golden child? Scapegoat? Clown? (Imagine a conflict in the family- who gets blamed, supported, forgotten about, enables, or distracts everyone by being a jokester)? These tend to spring up in families with addiction struggles or other areas of impairment. Interested in learning more? Look into family roles in Family Systems Theory. (Or watch the Christmas episode in season 2 of The Bear for a very intense look at unhealthy family systems!)
We all play roles, roles are not necessarily bad, but it’s important to explore where they come from. Its also important to ask ourselves how we feel about playing this role, and if we want to keep doing it or not! People might not like it, but we have the ability to pick up or put down a role if it is not longer serving us or the family dynamic.
Compassion over Agitation:
Do you typically enjoy certain family members most of the year, but really dislike how intense and controlling they get around the holidays? It is so easy to put up our walls and get defensive. However, just for a moment, take yourself out of this situation so that you are an observer, not a participant. What do you see? What do you know about how the Holiday Tyrant was raised? Did they cope with anxiety by being a perfectionist? Is there more drinking in order to soothe some sort of loss? How might they be feeling about aging and the family changing?
So maybe their VERY heightened intensity (that probably decreases the enjoyment for most) is more a result of them dealing with their issues with grief/conflicts/traumas/family systems/family roles, as opposed to them not caring what the people around them need or want. This can create empathy, which we all need more of, and lower your own defensiveness.
Lets try to give each other grace during this time.
Giving grace should not however mean that we are harmed in the process! Boundaries are getting a lot of traction lately, for good reason. And the cool thing about them is that they can look so many different ways! We get in trouble with boundaries when we are using them to control how other people act. I WISH that I could control how other people act! But no one can. So the boundaries aren’t actually about them, they are about us. What do we need in this dynamic to feel safe? An allotted time that we are visiting? Permission to ourselves to sit at the kid's table if that is more fun than whatever chaos is going on at the grown-up table? Bringing your own dish that meets your dietary needs because your family always “forgets” yours?
My favorite boundaries quote is by Prentis Hemphill who states boundaries are "the distance at which I can love both you and me simultaneously". So what distance do you need to create in order to love your family and give love to you and your needs simultaneously?
Need some additional help? Check out these resources from the expert herself! https://www.nedratawwab.com/
Another cool thing that happens as we get older, we get to define our family. Many of us have complicated relationships with family, however that structure is ultimately loving and physically/emotionally safe. Some of us do not have that though. You mourn the love and safety you should have had (NOT your fault- YOU are not unlovable, THEY have a lack of love/understanding/empathy/capacity that stems from their wounds).
You also get to build your family! Friends and partners and coworkers and lovers and support groups and pets and activism and shared passions can bring about a surplus of love and empathy and understanding. Embrace your found family! They are lucky to have you.
What traditions do you love? What do you hate? What do you want to start? What are your in-laws passionate about and you try to be supportive but could really care less? (Any Thanksgiving episode on This is Us!)
I'm a big fan of tradition, but I'm also a big fan of letting things go that have outlived their usefulness. So ask yourself, what traditions are important to you to uphold, what do you want to be flexible on, what do you want to start, and what do you want to let go of?
Some traditions I love- looking at Christmas lights while drinking hot chocolate.
Some I'm letting go of- getting dressed up in an uncomfortable outfit to spend all day in.
Some I'm starting- acknowledgement and discussion around indigenous land that we live on
Some that have diminished but that I want to bring back- instead of getting adult family Christmas presents donating the money instead. (I'm getting so anti-stuff as I get older! We have enough.)
Let us also hold hands and hold space for those of us missing family. Perhaps this is the first holiday since your kid went to college. Perhaps your partner is traveling for their job. Maybe you are in the middle of infertility and the family you desperately want hasn't shown up yet. Maybe this is the first holiday since your divorce.
Many of us have also had family members pass away. Whether it was this year or 30 years ago, the holidays can feel heavy with sadness and grief.
Through distance or separation or even death many people cannot be with the people they most want to be with this holiday season.
If this is not you, you probably know someone going through this. Reach out to them. Invite them over. Plan a coffee date. Send a funny meme or even just a “thinking of you” text. Remind them that they are not alone.
If this is you, you are not alone. This season will be very hard. However, it is one of the universal truths, missing and grieving is part of being human. It connects us to literally every other person on this planet who has had or will have a similar experience. It is the flip side of another human experience, love.
If you need additional support: https://grief.com/
Wishing you resilience, enjoyment, boundaries and fun! Happy Holidays!
one tool that can help us explore mental health, identity and relationships is through T.V! (Finally, one self care tool I'm already doing;) For shows on family dynamics I previously mentioned This is Us and The Bear- if you are watching these with your family have some discussions afterword, there are a wealth of topics! But my fav might be the Netflix revival of One Day at a Time. Pretty much every episode I laughed, I cried, and I took notes on conversations I could hopefully have with my family one day!