Taking care of the crazy
First things first, everyone’s family is crazy. The question becomes how do you cope with that family during the crazy-inducing holidays?
How do you deal with the parent who won’t stop with the “are you pregnant yet” line of questioning, or the nutty uncle who spends more time putting back the Miller Light at every family gathering than catching up with the fam? We posed these scenarios and more to Chris Morton, a licensed professional counselor based out of Eagle-Vail, to get some tips on how to survive family time during the holidays without strangling anyone.
The child/adult relationship you share with your parents when you’re young is quite different from the relationship you share after you’ve become an adult, Morton said. Still, it’s easy to fall back into those time-honored family roles. Morton recommended setting a verbal boundary with a parent that methodically asks invasive, sometimes hurtful questions.
“It’s good to validate a parent’s feelings – saying ‘I certainly hear you, but that’s not your choice, and that’s not my path right now.'”
In certain instances, Morton said it may be appropriate to be fairly blunt. “Especially if the person feels they are living a happy fulfilling life, it’s O.K. to say ‘it gets on my nerves that you’re (asking these questions) all the time, I’m O.K, and if (I get pregnant/married or find a new job) you’ll be one of the first people to know.'”
On the parent side of things, it’s important to “let go” as your children get older, Morton said.
“You treat a teenager different than an elementary school-aged kid. You start to be more of a consultant than a dictator and you should start letting your kids learn to be responsible for their mistakes. You’re there for them, but really you’re trying to help them get ready to be adults and once they’re an adult, it’s important to treat them as such.”
In general, Morton said he’d recommend still trying to include the spouse with the family. They’re adults, he said. Let your spouse, and your family, know that you care about them.
“Maybe saying ‘this is tough for me, but I’m not going to get in between you guys or chose.’ That’s kind of a glib answer, what if the parents are inappropriate and mean? Who knows? But typically as a child your parents are your most significant relationship and that does change and should change.” Once you get married, your most significant relationship should be your spouse, Morton said, and your parents should respect that.
Before Buck has a chance to crack his first beer, Morton recommended pulling him aside for a little one-on-one chat.
“Any family member who I felt had any sort of an addiction issue, I would come from a caring place and let them know my concerns before the event. Before the drinking starts, let them know, ‘I care about you, I enjoy your company, but I like your company more before you’re three sheets to the wind.'”
If they insist on getting drunk, give them a ride home or find a safe ride for them, even if the event isn’t over, he said.
It’s also important to pick an appropriate time to talk to the family member about getting help with their drinking problem and, if they decide to get help, to offer support during that process, Morton said.
A great first step is to set ground rules, Morton suggested. If you are hosting, ask your family to agree to avoid discussion topics that cause conflict.
Then he recommended starting a neutral conversation – maybe “how have your kids been?” or “what’s new in your life?”
“The bottom line is setting the boundary and then getting agreement from everyone to stick to it, and then trying to start things off on the right foot.” If you make it through the dinner without any heated hiccups, thank everyone to reinforce the idea that in the future, you’d like to continue this new, non-confrontational approach.
“Maybe say, ‘I really enjoyed this dinner, it was really nice to enjoy it without a heated discussion.'”
Picking a time to speak with the sibling alone about the behavior is important, Morton said. Let your bro or sis know who you feel about the showboating, and how frustrating the fights are.
This may be a behavior that has gone on for a long time. Hopefully, you could have a discussion about how this is no longer necessary at your current ages.”
Morton recommends telling your sibling how valuable it is to you to know what is going on in his or her life and how you want to be able to share your life with them as well.