12 December 2015

Families--Strategies for Getting along

When I think about families, of course the first thing that I think of is my own.  If you can imagine a hugely dysfunctional family with tons of issues, then you have my family.  In many ways, my family has made life difficult for me, especially in my young adulthood.  I went through many issues that other people never have had to deal with, and there were times when I thought that I wasn't going to make it.  But the simple fact is that my family is my family.  There's not a thing that I can do to change that fact, and not a thing I can do about what's happened in my life.  So my choice now is what to do about my family--allow them to continue to make my life difficult, or accept them for who they are and still have them as a part of my life.

I do have to say that even with the dysfunction, there has been no systematic abuse in my family, so accepting them is not as difficult for me as it may be for others who have abusive parents, for example--including emotional, sexual, or physical abuse.  So what I say here has to be tempered with that realization.  The line "That's easy for you to say" is an important one to keep in mind when talking about dealing with issues in our lives, for we cannot know what other people have gone through and the difficulties they face as a result of their pasts.

But that said, I've found some important strategies of dealing with my family that help me to understand them better and get along with them better.  And here are some of them.

I leave the past in the past.  What happened, happened.  But today is not thirty years ago.  What happened when I was a kid is long gone, and it's important that I relate to my family members based on who they are and who I am today.  If I keep things from the past in mind, then relating to them is tempered by resentment, anger, frustration, even fear.  So when I'm with my family, the past is not with us.  That's not true of them--they often dwell in the past and bring up old resentments--but I refuse to play that game.

I take my leave when I need to.  One of the times when I need to is when they bring up old issues from the past.  I find something else to do when this happens--I go read or take a nap or go for a run or a walk.  I let them hash out that junk, and I come back when things are no longer focused on old issues.  Sometimes I get frustrated with the way my father talks to my mother--but that's something they're both okay with, as they've been together for many, many years, so if I don't like it, I go into another room to do something else.  Years of experience have taught me that saying something will change nothing and will lead to arguments and confrontations, so I don't bother.

That leads in to the next strategy I've developed:  I let them be who they are, and I don't try to change them or the way they do things.  They are pretty much set in the ways that they act and the things that they do, and it's not my job to change either.  So I don't try.  I don't necessarily like things that they say, especially when there are racist or hate-filled ideas involved, but their ideas and beliefs are theirs, and it's important that I accept them as people, even if I don't accept some of their ideas.  And not accepting their ideas doesn't mean that I have to correct them--again, my experience tells me that correction will have no effect other than making them upset, so I just do my best to change the topic to something more pleasant.  I can tell them that I don't agree with them, but I can't tell them that they should change their ways of thinking--that's their business.

When I'm with my family, I watch and listen more than I talk.  One of the things that I notice is that they still do things and say things that they did and said decades ago.  They've developed their own strategies for getting on in life, and I've found that things that I used to think were personal are actually pretty impersonal--it's just the way they are.  Things that they said to me, they still say to other people--so why should they hurt me at all?  And even if they seem to be hurtful, often the intent is not to hurt at all--it's just been the way that I've taken things that has made them hurtful.

When I'm with my family, I do my best to say only positive things, to bring up only positive memories, and to not bring up past pains of resentments.  If I'm with them today, why do I want to bring up yesterday?  They don't need to apologize to me for the past, for they were only doing the best they could, no matter what mistakes they might have made.  I don't need them to make amends--if I do, then my acceptance of them and love for them is conditional, and then my conditional love becomes another barrier between us.  And we certainly don't need any more barriers!

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