You never have an unkind word spoken at your holiday table or someone stalking away from the dining room screaming, do you?
Family dynamics, what was God thinking?
Do holidays with family remind you of a hamster wheel?
Here in traditional New England, we gather in many of the same ways every year. It’s sort of like the movie Groundhog Day where you know who:
- will arrive late
- get mad at what
- or pull a no-show
How do you deal with family stress?
Rather than ratting anyone out, I’ll confess my bad. As I rushed through my almighty to-do list the other day, I was good until Dad wanted to add to the list.
Without driving privileges, I’m his ride. Since we “stole” his independence, I think he feels we owe him.
There we were rushing down the highway, puttering through more stores than I’d made time for until I lost it. I don’t do that in front of friends, and I’m embarrassed to admit it, but screaming is normal behavior in my family.
Believe it or not, I have a counseling degree in seminary
One of the ways we learned to help others was by working through our own issues, counseling each other.
In a practicum, I tried to explain how I react and why.
“You don’t have to explain it all,” said the more advanced student sitting across from me. “We’ll experience your style of relating as we interact and go from there.”
That had never occurred to me.
Except for the screaming that I don’t do outside my family, my issues bubbled out. Instead of me telling him I deflected when I didn’t want to talk about something, I did it. He named the behavior and asked me if we could address what I was trying to avoid.
Because I wanted to learn how to communicate better and help others do the same, I let him show me how.
But you know what? Not everyone wants to change.
And while I’d like to deal with family stress by learning healthier ways to get along, I can’t the others join me in that.
And why is it that I offer so much grace to a friend, but struggle to do so with a family member?
How to deal with family stress
. . . so we aren’t the ones running from the table.
Remembering that it’s only ourselves we can change, what dynamic would you like to alter?
I’d like to quit yelling at my family.
But if I do, Dad won’t hear me. Then he screams at me. I guess that’s what he has to do to hear himself. But as we go back and forth, my blood pressure rises.
Poor Dad, with one eye, hears something different from what people say, God bless him!
And yelling in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It lets off steam. I actually had a counselor recommend one good scream a day, so that’s what I did in my car on the way home from work.
For 6 months, I let a beast loose. Then one day my scream sounded different. It didn’t have the angst behind it.
It’s like my reservoir of anger dried up through the screams.
Now I talk to God
He helps me put words to my emotions and I end up in a better mood.
First, I babble. I don’t listen very well until I get everything off my chest. (As if God doesn’t already know what’s there! 😜)
I blah, blah, blahed about what it was like to wade through all the stuff in my parents’ house, my frustration at the clutter, and the burden I felt ending with, “I’ve gotten rid of my stuff 4 times; how did I get this job?”
Inside I clearly heard, “One day, you’ll have a clean house, but you won’t have your dad.”
Woah! I sat down and let that wash over me a few times.
I won’t always have my dad.
God has a way of getting my attention. With that in mind, I had fresh motivation to want to change.
Then God said, “What do you want to decide now?”
That’s a thing between the two of us. God often prompts me to decide now so I’ll know what to do when similar situations arise.
As I thought about family gatherings, I realized I can:
- Do the same things and get the same results
- Avoid my family altogether
- Or-r-r I can decide now to
- make more realistic to-do lists
- add space for self-care
- allow interruptions and remember how God has surprised with some in the past
It’s not up to me to counsel my family, but I can change.
This new plan comes with less frustration and stress because my peace won’t depend on anyone else.
And ironically, or not, when I change, people around me often respond differently.
A while back, God prompted me to apologize to my dad. We didn’t use to do that. I argued, didn’t think I was the one that was wrong. Blubbering, I apologized anyway.
You know what? Before I could get all the words out, Dad said, “I’m sorry, too!”
Now we apologize all the time, clear the air.
Another family member asked, “How’d you get him to do that?”
I think this might be key: I went first.
Last weekend, I tried my new ‘how to deal with family stress’ plan. Here’s what happened . . .
I laid my expectations aside and stopped taking the burden of cleaning the house as mine. I relaxed. My sisters came. We worked together and we found treasure.
In the unfinished room off the end bedroom, next to my Dad’s rock collection and the Willow Ware China that was to be my wedding present, surrounded by every magazine Dad’s purchased in the last 20 years, we found a box of never-before-seen-by-us photos.
But even more precious than the pictures was the day spent with my sisters. We partnered as a team like we haven’t in a long time. We worked hard, but we had fun and made plans to do it again.
Look at this:
I don’t know who these relatives are, but see? Wanderlust is in my blood.
Travel, with and without family, is another way I deal with stress, by adding things on my calendar I can look forward to.
My takeaway and maybe one for you . . .
If we stop expecting others to be who and how they’re not,
we won’t be disappointed when they don’t do or say what we want.
I need to let my loved ones be who they choose to be.
And even though I feel like I get more done faster on my own and that working together is a little like making cookies with kids. Well, maybe faster isn’t the best goal.
Isn’t doing something fun together another great way to deal with family stress?
Maybe making memories should be my goal over the holidays because we won’t always have each other.
Before we go, can I pray for you?
Let’s take a few seconds and breathe. Doesn’t that feel good?
In this hectic season, woo us to Your side when we need it.
Help us regroup.
Give us cool God ideas about how to deal with family stress.
Remind us that we can yield everything to You.
You’ll trade it for peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7, The Bible).
That’s Your promise.
Related Post: God, Give Me Peace, Ple-e-ease?