9 Tips to Stay Healthy, Sane & Joyful Around Family: A Year-Round Survival Guide.
I moved across country two years ago after a lifetime of living near my family.
I experienced a lot of personal growth and expansion in that time, and noticed when I went home to visit that things were not the way they used to be. Rephrase: I wasn’t the way I used to be. And I didn’t quite have the skill yet for my new self to seamlessly ripple into my family life.
I felt judgmental, frustrated, and found myself struggling in interactions that brought out my hurt child and rebellious teenager personas.
I want to be my fully embodied self, and yet I found it really hard to let all of me out. When I tried, I felt tongue-tied and uncalibrated. One time, a simple discussion with my mother ended with me screaming, slamming the car door behind me and in full-blown tears.
All the inner work I had done, all the work to build my confidence, self-worth, ability to not take things personally, and accepting others where they are — it disappeared in the flip of a switch. Why is that?
I had a lifetime of habits and behaviors that easily got triggered when I went back home. Going back to the environment where I developed these habits made it challenging for me to lead from my Woman in Her Rightness persona. Despite all my inner work to be my own independent healthy-minded person, I struggled to remain emotionally clear in the presence of my family.
In hindsight, my relationship with my mother was the place my soul craved the deepest healing. I love her so much and wanted us to enjoy each other. All the work leading up to this had been practice. And I was in boot camp.
After the slamming-the door-and-crying incident, I learned a great lesson: minding my own business. Getting involved in trying to help my mother is a slippery slope that always leads to judgment, frustration and controlling behavior. And then I hate myself for acting out and trying to tell her what to do. It’s a cycle of addiction that ends in confusion and disconnection.
So how do we visit family and have the connection we truly desire without ending up emotionally depleted or turning into a monster at the dinner table? Through a lot of trial and error and many visits home, I found a sweet spot of self-care and humility that helped me stay healthy, sane, and experience connection that has brought me a lot of joy and personal fulfillment.
Here’s some tips on how I learned to visit with and really enjoy my family.
1. Embody Our Inner Queen
Treat ourselves like a queen. What makes us feel good? Doing those things while visiting family is one of the keys to sanity. Maybe it’s a trip to the market to get our favorite organic foods, exercising, having sex, or drinking coffee the way we love it each morning. Maybe it’s taking an evening walk, some alone time, or calling an Uber to an art show for the afternoon.
The idea is to give ourselves the precise self-care we need to feel great. Staying connected to ourselves gives us more of a reserve to connect with others from.
2. Practice and Rituals
Keep up with daily practices and rituals. Visiting family is the time to be fierce with standing up for ourselves. Continue to take that mile-run, practice Yoga, write or meditate every morning — whatever you normally do. Or maybe it’s an evening ritual like taking a bath, exercising or writing about the day. Continuing to do these practices while visiting family is essential for keeping our heads clear.
They are a way to healthily move all the emotions that generally arise while we are with our families.
3. Observe and Laugh
Observe our own behavior. Simply notice how we behave in the midst of the quiet, the chaos or the confusion. Notice when we get reactive, annoyed, or go into our own familiar relationship patterns. This time can be used as a way to see what you personally want to work through next. And there’s no rush. We can be gentle with ourselves here, and even laugh.
Laugh at ourselves, at the silliness, at the complexity of our own human behavior. Some of the best seemingly crazy family moments can be transformed into connection with willingness to laugh at ourselves. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about ourselves and not be so serious.
4. Desire, Desire, Desire
Focus on desire. What do we want to do while together? Write down our desires — nothing is too big or too small — places to visit, favorite foods, movies to watch. Share them with our family before visiting. Invite others to share their desires too. Then when we are looking for something to do, there’s a bunch of personalized ideas to draw from. Desire is our compass and our fuel.
5. OMG Please Don’t Talk About That
Let’s face it, there are some topics that families cannot talk about without people getting really upset and hitting all their patterns. Yep, that one. So, don’t talk about it. It’s okay to do that. If someone baits us on a sensitive topic (some folks love a good bloody battle), be honest and share that this is a challenging topic for you and you’d rather not talk about it. Take a walk if needed. Boundaries are healthy.
It’s okay to say No and agree to disagree. No need to hash it out for the millionth time and spin our wheels. Live and let live.
6. Be Curious and Listen
Ask questions of those around you. Be genuinely curious about other people’s lives. People love to talk about themselves, and it’s fun to learn something new about a family member. Listen, and ask follow-up questions about things you truly want to know more about.
Curiosity about others takes the attention off of ourselves and gets us out of our own heads, which makes us infinitely less judgmental and more connectable.
7. Don’t Try to Make Others Happy
It doesn’t work. It would make sense to hide parts of ourselves that we know will cause a reaction in others, because that keeps the peace. But hiding ourselves has us feel disconnected from ourselves because it is deeply inauthentic, and that feels terrible inside. The idea is to be as authentic as possible.
Others may not like it and that’s okay, but it is better to be honest than to be manipulative and have our family think we are someone we are not. Be yourself.
8. Progress, Not Perfection
We are human. Sometimes we mess up. We may hurt someone’s feelings, interrupt while someone is talking, or act impatiently. We are human and it’s okay to falter. Take responsibility and admit our part, as soon as possible. Spend a few minutes connecting with someone it feels strained with — your quality attention can go a long way.
It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being patient with ourselves as we learn from our mistakes and move forward from there. Every moment is a new moment and an opportunity for connection and forgiveness.
9. Communicate #1-8
Let people know in advance how we plan to take care of ourselves during the family visit. It’s nourishing to know we are taking care of ourselves. There’s an inner peace about putting ourselves first that has us inevitably feel more enjoyable to be around. And isn’t that the point? To feel good so we can truly enjoy our family and let them enjoy us? To have connection and maybe even fun
There’s a lot of fear and negativity around family get-togethers. Many people get really anxious heading into a family event, or avoid it altogether because they simply can’t handle all the emotions that come up. There’s another way though, and there’s a lot of joy available. It’s possible to be with family if we are willing to prioritize our needs and have healthy boundaries.
From a place of self-love and deep nourishment, we have more ability and space to connect with those we love. So, go on, plan that family trip!
Brenda Fredericks is a teacher and Transformational Coach for moms. She guides women to live more authentically, and have better sex and more freedom. She is permission for mothers to be a fully expressed woman and know that anything is possible. She founded the Mother Daughter Closeness Project with her daughter, and works with women to heal their mother-daughter relationships. She’s a goddess, a mother of two, a former middle school teacher of 22 years, and has been on a 10-year journey of claiming her power as a woman and mother. Learn more and connect with her via her website.