For many of us, the holiday season offers a second, or possibly third or fourth opportunity (depending how often a family gathers and how many family configurations exist) to try again and focus on what's really important at this time of year: cultivating a sense of gratitude whenever possible, practicing the art of self-preservation/care, and doing what we can to not make anything worse. For me, that sums up a good enough family gathering.
Without further ado: "Stuck at the Kids' Table," the next installment of Dawn's Personal Guide to Having a Good Enough Holiday Season. And thanks to Carolina Partners for their support of this series as part of their anti-stigma initiative!
Kids' Table: Not so Bad?
It Was The Best of Times...
Allow me two observations regarding this anecdote:
1. The dynamics within my immediate family that I found stressful have very little to do with me at 46 years old, or who my lovely parents are right now. The intensity of my internal reaction has everything to do with who I was when I was...
But if I'd tried to have that conversation while AT the wedding? I am 95% certain we'd have been looking at a MASSIVE FAIL. In these cases, timing is everything.
Which Leads me to the Subject of:
I'm picturing the space where my next family gathering will be held. For me, it's a dining room. I'm looking around the table, at each person, one by one. And I'm asking myself, what box do each of us inhabit? Who's the funny one. The (too) emotional one? Who's job is it to make sure that everyone gets along? That everyone is happy? Who values brutal honestly above all, and refuses to be "fake" in order to maintain the peace? Who talks the most? Who sits quietly?
And what's my box?
OK, I Get it with the Boxes....
I'd given this question some real thought before Thanksgiving. Generally speaking, my family shares similar political beliefs. But this is a holiday, not a random Tuesday.
I wanted a plan.
Here's what I did ahead of time. I thought of a really good memory I had of each person who would be at the table. I had it in my pocket, ready to go. Just in case.
And then it happened. My Dad and I disagreed. I felt a gust of air on my shoulder. It was my Mom engaged in not at all subtle non-verbal communication with my Dad, vehimently shaking her head from side to side. "Stop! End this conversation," she seemed to say.
I could feel the frustration rising in my chest. I'm an adult. I can have a reasonable, considered difference of opinion with my father. I'm doing nothing wrong. I didn't raise my voice. What the...
"Dad. I was thinking the other day about what a great job you did coaching my soccer team when when I was a kid. You really made each of us feel good about our skills on the field. And you encouraged us to play hard, but also to have fun."
Dad had his own memories to share, and picked up the conversation. And we kept rolling on. No yelling, no crying. Just a nice moment, a genuine compliment. Crisis averted.
Of course, my comment was a total nonsequitor. So I just now called my Dad to see if he noticed anything strange.
He remembered the disagreement. He remembered me bringing up him being a great soccer coach.
"Did you notice that I completely changed the subject?"
No, he hadn't noticed.
So I read him this part here about my plan. He started laughing.
"That's a good plan," he said. "I might use it myself."
It's the Sneaky Boxes that Nail Us...
But look! Now I'm on the couch watching my all time favorite Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life. I'm not being emotionally annihilated, or upsetting the delicate balance of kitchen power relations. In this moment, all is well.