There is nothing better than being with family. The memories together, the fun times when every one is laughing and joking around. But there is also nothing more stressful. My daughters and I have been talking about what it is that makes it so stressful.
During the holidasy all of us have expectations about what it will be like when we are together. We all want it to be loving, fun and "miraculous". I know how excited I was to have my kids all together under the same roof for the first time in a long while. And it was a lot of fun. Of course, it's gotten very complicated. My oldest daughter has to spend time with her husband's family. MY twins have to spend time with their Dad and his family at their various get togethers. My step children are all obliged to be with thier other family, too. Then of course there is my parents and siblings, and my husbands family and siblings. It gets even more complex when you add in OUR step parents.
During all those get togethers the expectations is that every one will be happy and everyone will get along. Luckily, mostly they do in my family. Too much time together can make it ugly, but the amount of time we end up spending with each of the above groups tends to go smoothly.
The realities freqently end up quite different than our expectations. And, just becauase of the expectations, we tend to be on edge, trying to control everything to make sure it lives up to those expecations. Attempts at control, however generally lead to disaster since insistance on control is an addiction to a fantasy.
My kids love each other butu don't always communicate that well. I laugh at this since I am supposed to be a communicator, but I have brought up children that don't know how. Communication requires being willing to face inconvienient or unwelcome differences of opinions. My daughters tend to avoid these. Hmmmm, wonder where they got that.
So many of us are anger phobic. This tends to force us into manipulating the situations around us since being direct could incite someones anger. Then, when someone is unhappy, we are unhappy with them for not going along with the program.
Being willing to listen to another's anger is a gift few of us are capable of giving, yet the bottom line of good communication and good relationships.
Not letting ourselves listen to another's anger is one of the ways we think we are "protecting ourselves".
Jenna and Doug
Jenna was really unhappy with the way Doug was acting when he went to her parents home. Their 3 year old son had gotten in an altercation with his younger cousin, who was about 17 months old. The younger child had taken something from their son and Doug was furions. He could not understand why Jenna's parents didn't jump up and punish the 17 month old for this behavior. Doug was sure that this, like many other instances he could recall, just validated his belief that Jenna's parents favored the 17month old cousin over their 3 year old son.
Jenna could not understand why Doug was so unhappy. She continually told him that he was wrong for feeling the way he did, and expecting unreasonable behavior out of the 17month old.
Then Doug got to what was underneath. Doug had been feeling left out of Jenna's family for a long time. He felt that they had never quite accepted him and he felt hurt and alone at family get togethers.
The consequences of holding back truth
Jenna had thought that Doug was just unreasonable and irrational. She had been uncomfortable for years when they spent time with her family because he had never acted like he wanted to be there. Doug had never told her about his feelings, or the pain that lay underneath. His parents had often left him alone in his bedroom on Christmas day as they drank their way to obliviion.
Jenna gave him the best gift he could have recieved for Chrismas that year. Listening to his wounding and holding bach her reactivity long enough to listen to him allowed her to present a precious gift to him. She gave him compassion.