When Family = Stress

A mother plays the guitar while her two daught...
If only it was really this calm! Image via Wikipedia

No matter how much we look forward to visiting our distant family members, (and many of us do), there’s often a whole pile ‘o unexploded ordnance lying beneath that linen-covered holiday table: resentment, envy, insecurity, fear, doubt.

No matter how much we’d love to ignore them, they often blow up when you least expect them, or want them to. Here are some of the old standbys:

When are you getting married?

You still don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend?

How’s that “freelancing” thing working out for you?

We had such a great time in Paris — how was your summer?

You’re still ABD?

Billy just got a promotion, and a bonus. Did you find a job yet?

It’s so great they’re making plus-size clothes in such pretty colors these days. Love your dress!

Having just survived the latest “helpful” advice from one family member — which left us both shouting in rage (nice) — I know all too well the joys of spending time with relatives who have firm and fixed ideas about how much more effectively or wisely one might behave.

It takes a soul of steel, (not to mention duct tape), to not let old patterns re-emerge, snitty comments get under your skin or ancient feuds simmer to a boil with the addition of alcohol, overeating and too much time in a small space with people you never got along with in the first place, shared genes be damned.

Right now, my mother isn’t speaking to me (I’m her only child); my half-brother insists it’s him or me at Christmas and none of my husband’s relatives (all two of them) could bother attending our recent wedding.

Family, schmamily.

What are you most looking forward to when you gather for Thanksgiving?

What are you dreading?

11 thoughts on “When Family = Stress

  1. I’m looking forward to spending my Thanksgiving with my Family-By-Choice. Which is quite another thing from having family “thrust upon ’em.”

  2. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Ireland but we certainly have family occasions that can rapidly descend into a line of intrusive, leading questioning! I think the added pressure of an “event” only fuels latent feelings that are content to simmer beneath the skin for the rest of the year.

    I do think the idea of thanksgiving is a lovely one though. Last year, I did a little bit of research into gratitude. I found out that ‘thinking’ and thanking’ have the same proto-indoeuropean root “tong”, meaningto feel. However, the word ‘think’ preexisted ‘thank’ which makes it all the more satisfying to consider gratitude to be something first considered, then automatic. You can read my article here if you like: http://katekatharinaferguson.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/cheers-to-thanksgiving

    I hope you and your mother start speaking again.

  3. Kate…what an interesting insight…thanks for sharing that.

    I wish my Mom and I could reconcile, but I’m no longer willing to put up with the BS that accompanied my docility. So I’m not holding my breath.

    I do have a post ready to put up on Thursday naming some of the many things for which I’m grateful. I like very much the idea of a day devoted to family (or friends!) and dedicated to enjoying a good meal with loved ones. I’ll be spending the day with friends of friends in Brooklyn.

  4. Family events can be fraught. I truly empathise with your predicament. Hopefully Thanksgiving is a peaceful and happy time with friends and none of the baggage that goes with families. Christmas is a enough in the hot weather here without Thanksgiving as well…something to be thankful for 😉

    1. I’m really looking forward to Thanksgiving tomorrow with friends of friends. The couple who invited me are people I love dearly…I’ve always been fortunate to have dear friends who are closer to me than my own family.

  5. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Portugal but I feel very aware of it as many of my clients, contacts and friends are stateside.

    I recognise your sentiments though from Christmas festivities…. I guess you’ll be looking forward to that one next!?

    I love Christmas as I have two young daughters but as we live abroad I kind of dread those christmas decisions and then the execution … shall we go home, who will we spend THE day with – who wants to spend it with us? How much do we want to travel around, pack and unpack and how can we make relaxing as well as fitting everything and everyone in… and then of course the questions, opinions, discussions!? …. Feeling exhausted already!

    Having already had one xmas family debate and felt slighted by the outcome I have decided the only way to get through it all is to smile and let it all wash over me….. hard at first but as long as my immediate family are happy I have decided then so am I.

    1. I grew up as the only child of divorced parents and Christmas was exhausting…Xmas Eve and Xmas Day was divided between mother, Dad and my maternal grandmother, none of whom were fond of one another. I used to get sick at Christmas, and I suspect it was from stress. Right now, we’re (happily!) booked for a meal with good friends here for Christmas Eve and if we do not go up to Canada to my father’s, we’ll spend it here as a couple, which we’ve done for years. I hear you on the endless decisions about where to go (if), when, to whose home…Crazy!

      For many years, we went up to Toronto (from NY) to spend Christmas with my father and his wife and son, but she’s now dead and he’s the brother who refuses to be around me, so that makes our decision easier. Jose is my family in the truest sense so spending it quietly with him is fine.

  6. We no longer do family Thanksgivings. I decided when I hit 50 that I did not need the drama. Now, my wife, daughter and I eat out for Thanksgiving and enjoy the no fuss, no muss. Our very last family Thanksgiving, a child of my brother and sister in law ran his toy truck over our dining room table…repeatedly while his dad watched. When I found out, I put a stop to it, but not until the table was ruined. My brother in law said, while chuckling, it is now “distressed.” Believe me, if I’d had one more beer in me, he would have been distressed! As to talking to your mother, my step dad and I did not speak for two years. It was great! Now, we’re speaking again and I have to listen to the crap that flows from his mouth. Did that sound bitter! Sorry! You see, you’re getting my Thanksgiving drama! Sorry for unloading…it begins already!

    1. I’m shocked by your story.

      My step-mother died 4 years ago. Now my Dad and I have an unmediated relationship and it’s the best it’s been since I was a teenager. My mother is making her own choices and can live with the consequence of those.

      This is the year I finally said enough, and meant it.

  7. Every year it’s the same thing, I dread the Holidays. Thanksgiving being one of them, but Christmas being the worst to the point that Christmas tends to be my least liked Holiday. This is because of family, distant and close, though my close family have the worst blow-ups during the actual holiday ever.

    Ever since I’ve met my fiancee I’ve tried to turn this around. He loves Christmas with a passion so I’m trying to look at it in a different light… though it’s not easy.

    1. Ouch! So sorry to hear this, although it’s why I posted this…I knew many others are not having saccharine moments out there!

      I think what happens for many families is that years, if not decades’, worth of unaddressed emotions get compressed and explode in those brief moments when we are all together — when, as adults, we’re often stressed already by work or health or our own issues. Then it costs $$$ to travel (when we might prefer to stay home or go elsewhere) and we’re suddenly expected to be on our “best behavior” no matter how we really feel. No wonder it gets so crazy…

      You’re fortunate your fiance feels differently. My worst life experience with my mother happened on Christmas Eve and, knowing this, my husband proposed that night to give me a newer and happier memory instead.

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