We made it through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with great amounts of family, food and festivities.
What can go wrong when we combine our extended family into one house for 48 hours? Introverts mixed with extroverts? Strong personalities mixed with the passive? The fiery Irish, the passive Scandinavian, the emotional Italian, honestly rainbows and unicorns, right? Add the elephants in the room and you’ve got all the “fun” in dysfunction pumping away to the beat of the explosive undercurrent of decades of unstated emotion.
But what I have come to realize in my wisdom (older age), is our family is not unique. Most families have some drama that goes unsaid or accepted. In the Midwest, it is just how we love each other.
So, I adore the dysfunction of my family. It is mine. It has made me into who I am. I would not trade my crazy lot for anything because without them…where would I be?
So why then do the holidays seem so hard sometimes?
Why does it feel like so much effort to be together?
As I look at my oldest now, I realize what a learning process growing up really is. I see him pushing away from the things we teach and the way that we are. Are there clues from my past to help make things better for my three? For me?
I started out part of a family that did things their way. I believed our way was how all people approached life. I thought everyone was like us. My life had been protected which gave me no other reference point for comparison.
When I went off to college, I was exposed to many challenges to my family way of life, my way of thinking and communicating. Growing up was hard. It still is.
Then, I started dating. As I started spending time with another family, I realized that my one true right way was not even adopted by those who looked and lived like me.
Let’s take those communication styles…my husband grew up in a household where you don’t say exactly what you mean. You say what you think the other person wants to hear. It is kinder that way. Then that person responds with what they think you want to hear. This goes back and forth until you come to a decision in the middle of what both parties want and need. This is a lovely communication style, if you understand it. Almost like a dance.
I was raised in a family where you say what you mean, unless you can’t. We don’t do emotion. So if the thing you need to say is emotional, you say nothing. At all. In fact, you run away from the conversation until you are forced into confrontation kicking and screaming. Then, you explode into a fiery mess and all the emotion detonates like fireworks on the fourth of July. Spectacular. This too is lovely for communicating facts. But when life gets hard, then we struggle.
So when the two of us decided to get married, things began to get especially fun.
I said “Let’s just elope, I don’t want a big wedding.”
My husband to be heard something like “Let’s have a big wedding, but I want you to agree to the entire thing,” so he responded with, “No, no, we will regret not having a big wedding.”
I hear, “I really want a big wedding and I feel very strongly about this.” I hear “feelings” and I run from the conversation.
He takes me running as agreement. Wedding planning begins and he plans two things. I think this means he really did want this big event. I am glad I agreed to give him what he wants. Life is good. We are good at this.
The months go on. He lets me plan everything else. It is my big day, after all. I freak out from all the planning I didn’t want to do. He looks at me freaking out 4 weeks before the wedding and says, “We should’ve eloped.” I loose my mind, explode at him in a big ugly cry. To which he responded, “I didn’t realize you said what you meant.”
We have now been married 17 years and we are just starting to get the hang of our own hybrid communication style. And when we spend time with our extended families, we get exhausted trying to remember to interpret all the old language into all the old ways. Are we dancing? Are we running?
Sometime around the age of 13, I stopped showing my family my true self. I hid. I stopped communicating, too much emotion I guess. I built walls and pretended not to need anyone.
I see this with my older teen, so I believe this can be part of the process of how kids spread wings and leave the nest. (Believe me, I see the irony of hiding to break free)
But, I also believe my walls have stayed with me well into adulthood. I forget they are there until we are all together again as a big family. And I realize hiding gets exhausting too.
Our families of origin are our best support, but they are often most likely to see us as we have always been.
So it is hard when we gather to realize that my newly minted teen is no longer a sweet, cuddling preschooler or my aging parent is no longer the strong matriarch we all relied on for years.
Once we are all together, I see the passing of time and the changes so clearly. And mourning what has been lost is exhausting too.
So as I sit here this week and rest from all the good that was Thanksgiving; I also reflect on all I have learned and I wonder…
Can I learn to communicate with my kids in a way that doesn’t get stuck in the same old ways?
Can I break down walls and be myself in the present day so my kids can see a model of what it means not to hide behind old walls?
Can I let my family members be who they are today and not who they were to me in the past?
Can I see my kids and my parents for who they are right now without mourning who they once were or who I thought they should become?
Maybe if I can do these things, then I will be less exhausted next year.
Otherwise there is always coffee…