Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Make Family Gatherings Better

The difficulties that arise at some family get-togethers are often the result of tense relationships between siblings and cousins. This tension - or even outright dislike - can stem from childhood memories of misbehavior and rivalry, memories that set the tone for how everyone gets along as adults. In some cases, differences of opinions, and goals that differ widely from the “family norm” maybe judged as weird, or even disloyal. Not all families grow closer with time.

The fact is that, first and foremost, we are each very much individuals with unique characteristics, who happen to also belong to a family. Our society admires us when we are strong and self-reliant, and our education is geared toward this goal. Ideally, the family supports each member to grow his or her own wings.

This is, of course, not true for everyone. In addition, who we actually have become as adults is more likely to be accurately discerned by friends or one's partner.  “Family” has always known who you are, and they are quite convinced that they are right, because they have known you from childhood. Growing differences in personality can become a point of irritation rather than curiosity.

It is not unusual that for some, sharing accomplishments and financial successes is less about making Mom and Dad proud, and more intended as a poke in the eye for the rest of the clan. Take that!

Knowing the dynamics and undercurrents that maybe present at your family celebrations, and understanding that we really don't  know all about each other, is the only way to achieve a permanent turnaround.

Treat your family members like a new friend, in whose life you are very interested.  You can make a good start by asking questions like, "So what does your day usually look like when you get to the office?" Ask about their favorite Christmas present. What was their most embarrassing moment? What do they like to read just for fun that isn't either educational or for work? To what part of the world would they like go for a month, if everything was free? What other type of work would they like to try, if it was possible?

Give the long answer to a question directed at you. A short throwaway answer will make no one come back for more. Don't be afraid to give a thoughtful compliment.

Make a start for change if your family gathers because they think they should, but not because they want to. They will catch on to the direction you want to take it, things will be more interesting and harmonious, and I bet you will actually have some fun. We are very complex beings, and sharing the little things brings us closer. It’s never to late to start actually enjoying your family!


  1. Hello Dr. Heidi,

    I am constant reader of your blog and I like your postings. I use Google Reader or any other offline/online rss reader, but I found that rss update is unreadable in a sense that random "blank spaces" are missing in the text so that makes it impossible to read. I wonder if you could do anything to fix this updates, and my guess is something is wrong with rss feed coding.

    Thank you.

  2. Thanks so much for these lovely questions to put in my toolbag for the holidays. Now I just need to remember to really listen to the answers.