Holiday Family Gathering Conundrum

     I have started hearing it when I walk through the stores, stand in line for groceries, and talk to co-workers. It may be said differently, expressed in a plethora of ways by all, but has the same meaning and connotation no matter how it is communicated. It doesn’t matter where you live, who you are, or how much money you earn, it is universally felt. If you have family, and you celebrate the holidays, you are about to enter a season of life that may include groaning, crying, screaming, grinding of your teeth at night or simply medicating yourself to cope.

It is the holiday season—a time of year when families that have been brought together by no fault of their own, not of their choosing, but simply because of DNA, are guilted into spending time with people they may purposely avoid the rest of the year. Don’t get me wrong. I KNOW there are families that actually like one another. But, that seems to be the exception, not the rule.

The longer I live, the more I become aware of the baggage that continues to build the longer a family has known each other. The first few years are like the honeymoon stage. Apologies are quickly given and forgiveness easily extended. But what happens if true forgiveness is not extended? Eventually, a mound of bitterness, that has been hidden in the dark festers, bubbling up and eventually erupts out of nowhere like a volcano. Whether you are the eruptor or the eruptee, the fallout is not pretty.

So, how can we make these holiday season interactions different from the previous ones?

  1. Our first option is to move far away and ignore anyone that might possibly set us off or be set off by us. Not being much of a people person, this option is my favorite. But we were designed to be social beings, so I’m not sure this is a very viable option.
  2. Our second option is to keep short accounts with our relatives. We need to not only make sure we are letting people know when they’ve hurt us-in a tactful loving kind of way, but to make sure when we extend forgiveness to others for hurting us that we have truly forgiven. Let me preface by saying forgiving does not mean forgetting. Forgiving means not bringing it up again…to the offender, to others or even ruminating it over and over silently in our own minds.
  3. Our third option is to remember the proverb, ‘even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent.’

What if the hurt and pain feels like a lump of coal deep down inside of me and I’m not sure I can ‘play nice’ this year at the family gathering? It seems that every couple of years I receive an email bomb in the mail from one particular relative and each year it gets more and more difficult to diffuse. This year, not even the best SWAT team could have saved me from this blast. Therefore, our family has decided collectively that perhaps it’s best to sit this holiday gathering season out for a change. The great thing about coal is that under pressure, heat and stress it transforms into a beautiful diamond…but the transformation takes time. If there is a person in your life that you need to take a time out from—take the time. There is nothing heroic about being pummeled over and over again each year. Don’t be afraid to say, “You know what, this year it’s just not going to work for us to come over. But thank you for the invitation.” Getting into the proverbial ring with them and duking it out will not help anyone. You might feel better for the moment but once the interaction is over and done with, the wounds that have been given and received will leave permanent emotional scars.

What about you? Are you a diamond in the rough? Or are you the doing the roughing up? What will you do today to make this holiday season different from last season?