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Multigenerational Families Coming Together: How to Really Be With Your Family

Posted Dec 22 2009 8:25am

Holidays, birthdays, other celebrations when you’re having your grandparents, in-laws, teens, college kids, dates, toddlers, spouses and sometimes ex-spouses all under one roof–it can make you feel like you”re a lion tamer and you never know when one’s going to take a swipe at you.  You may be the primary caregiver, or the out-of-town sister, the peacemaker, the black sheep, or even feel like you’re the one who gets lost in the crowd. Families often bring out the worst in us, even when we’re really trying to be on our best behavior. So how do we come together–multigenerational famileis –and  really be together in meaningful ways?

How to Really Be with Your Family:

  • Be yourself. You don’t have to be rude and crude, but also try not to put on a front. Let them love you for who you are–warts and all. If they rib you a bit too much, say, “Hey guys, that hurts. Please don’t kid about that.” But go ahead and be who you are. It’s our quirks, our vulnerabilities, our oddness that makes us unique. So what if you’re divorced–again, if you’re gay, if you have a reputation for drinking a bit too much eggnog or if your housekeeping skills (or lack thereof are legendary) Let them talk. In the end, it’s better just to be yourself. When you like you–everybody else falls in line.
  • Embrace your wild and crazy relatives! While you’re with your family, decide to be with you family. No iPhones, Blackberries, Facebooks. Be present. Give smelly Aunt Gladys and great big hug and make her day. Don’t fuss about the 1,000 calorie casserole–eat a spoonful and enjoy it–or eat the whole thing and don’t worry about it. Sit among your aunts, uncles, ex’s, kids, grandparents and feel the connection you have–the DNA cocktail that connects you–for better or worse–and accept them as part of you.
  • Decide right now not to let anyone push your buttons. If you know someone really like to zero in and dig at you–then don’t hang out with that person. Get up and move. Ask someone to take stroll around the block, play chess with your dad. If you get cornered and they start in on you, open your arms and give them a big hug and say Merry Christmas and then walk away–even if they’re still going at it! And remember, if a good ole’ family fight breaks out, it’s par for the course and will give you something to talk about in years to come!
  • Do something together–play a game, charades, start singing some Carols, play Scene It or Wii. Pitch in and wash dishes so mom doesn’t have to. Or find someone who’s all alone–and sit with them–you may be surprised that they really do have a lot to say.  We tend to fight and nit-pick a lot less when we’re engaged, when our hands are occupied.
  • Find someone to give to. Look for opportunities to give–maybe your grandmother has Alzheimer’s. Get out an old album and look at each picture with her. Many times their memories go deep and you’ll find a connection, something  or someone from long ago. If your dad’s caregiving your mom, then hire respite care and take him off for the afternoon–to a car show or an indoor shooting range, or to do a little shopping.  The gift of your time and ability to touch someone’s life is the best gift you have to offer.
  • Put a time limit on your visit. If you have one of those families that things get ugly as the night wears on, then set a timer on your phone and leave before the werewolves come out to play. It’s better to be with your family for three hours–and then leave with good memories–rather than stay for eight hours and see the ugly side emerge. You’re also sending an important message–that you don’t have to subject yourself to verbal abuse and people acting in ways that are hurtful to themselves and others.
  • If your family gathering is at your house, then take a few “smoke” breaks. You know how smokers sneak out about every two hours and sit outside for ten minutes in the quiet? Who says we need to smoke to take a smoke break! About every two hours, slip outside. Bundle up and take a short walk. Go to your room and take a ten minute nap. Being together doesn’t mean you can’t get away and decompress. Trust me, if you step out for just a few minutes, you’ll come back refreshed.
  • Look for a “God moment.” That’s what I call that one special moment during the season when I feel the true essence of the holiday spirit. I’ve come to expect that holy sacred time to emerge when I least expect it. Sometimes it’s a random act of kindness from a stranger, other times it’s a red cardinal that lands on a frozen bird bath, or a child’s hug that simply takes my breath. We get what we ask for–and if you come to expect life to delight and surprise you, it will.

Yeah, our families can drive us crazy–but we love them, too. Love them for who they are. Be yourself and come together with all your edges, your oddness, your hurts–and spend just a few hours really being with your family. Then leave- with those new memories safely tucked away-before things go amuck!

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