“I feel out of sync with my family of origin around the holidays, when I spend more time with them than usual,” wrote one reader recently. “They aren’t interested in honest communication, working on relationships, or other things that are important to me … How can I deal with this in a positive way?
This question is a very common one, and one that usually arises sometime in the course of any relationship, not just family. We all grow at different rates and have different values. If they’re like most of our families, your family of origin has entrenched ways of seeing the world and “rules of engagement” about how they communicate, ranging from deafening silence to titanic battles. In any case, though, in learning to communicate clearly with your original family, know that you’re training for the Olympics of human communication!
One graduate of our coaching program shared a great insight when she returned from a holiday visit to her family in the Midwest. She’s a long-time student and practitioner of Buddhism, a spiritual lineage far removed from the traditional religion of her Kansas farmland roots. She said, “When I tried to tell them about Buddhism and why I valued it so much, they hated it. When I just remembered to act like the Buddha, feel compassion and not try to convince them of anything, they loved it.” It’s a good thing to keep in mind around family visits.
Another thing to remember is that no matter how old you get or what you accomplish, you’re going to be seen as a kid by your family. It took me about 40 years to figure this out. Whenever I’d visit the Southern family I grew up in, I’d often get triggered by things they said about race and politics. When I’d try to “set them straight” they’d start bringing up dumb things I’d done when I was the third grade, times I’d struck out in Little League, etc., all with the theme of “Who are you to be telling us how wrong we are?”
Here I was, thinking I was put on this earth to educate and change them, while they had exactly the opposite view: They were here to change and educate me. I reluctantly gave up arguing with them, even though I had the urge about once every ten minutes. I put my attention on just appreciating them for being who they were and thanking them for the contributions they’d made to me and others.