Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Getting over family during the holidays

By H.C. Wang

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Can anyone believe that it is the middle of November already? With the air cool and dry and the colorful leaves swirling down from the treetops, it’s a little surprising that another semester is almost over. While I greatly lament that fact, the good news is that the holidays are right around the corner. I may not be religious when it comes to celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or any other end-of-the-year holiday, but I do love the atmosphere this time of year brings. Everyone knows that one’s own family is often not the easiest to get along with. Maybe it’s because a person’s family are the people who know that person best, and therefore know how to push all the right buttons. With the start of holiday season madness just days away, I bring some free advice.

To continue with my series of articles on how to better interpersonal relationships, the holidays are an especially crucial time for working on familial interaction. One reason for this is that conflict in a relationship is inevitable. Depending on the length of any given relationship, the people involved have an exponentially longer running tab on their opinions and observations of one another. An immediate family generally lives together, sharing a limited amount of space, very much involved in each other’s business. In just the standard-sized American family of parents and their kids, there is a complicated group dynamic that needs to be considered that is much different from a one-on-one relationship. There is, of course, that sort of relationship between the parents. Then there is the generational factor between parents and their offspring. If there is more than one child in the household, throw in the various types of sibling dynamics for even more craziness. And again, that is only the immediate family unit. Whenever the holidays roll around, the extended family adds a completely new level of potential dysfunctional to the mix. These are people that have existed together for a long time, with years and years to build up unresolved conflict. Getting the whole family together for a reunion with alcoholic holiday drinks on the menu could be a recipe for disaster. So how does one survive the holidays without too much of a scene erupting?

It’s always difficult when conflict between family members arises and there is no apology exchanged or other resolution reached. Even when all sides are outwardly polite and appear to have moved on, feelings of pain and mistrust are harbored. Family gatherings are definitely not the time to revisit these past hurts. This can be dealt with in one of three ways: The most obvious step is to confront and try to resolve the conflict. Although this is the solution that usually comes to mind, it is not always the easiest method. This works if, and only if, all sides involved are committed to working through the problems in a civil, mature manner. Get them on their own; don’t make grand gestures of public apology with the whole family to witness. That could do more harm than good because there is less control over the situation when a peanut gallery is present.

If that kind of resolution seems unlikely, then it is better to simply forgive and forget. I dislike the phrase “turn the other cheek,” but forgiveness is about being the better person. It doesn’t mean opening oneself up to be wronged again. It’s just about letting go of feelings of resentment and anger. It is possible to be careful with what to expect in the future from the person who caused offense without presently harboring ill will.

When all else fails, it may be necessary to do some social cleansing. This is hard when it’s a family member. However, I am of the mind that relationships with family members should be treated like relationships with any other person. If someone is opposed to being treated a certain way, should he accept it if it comes from family? Why should he have to? Family should be whatever a person makes it out to be, including whoever he wants to be a deserving part of it. Surrounding oneself with good friends can be a suitable replacement for woeful family units. Family is what one is born into against his will. Just because someone is related by blood, it is not a free pass for poor behavior. If what the other person did was abusive and there’s absolutely no remorse or reason to expect anything different in the future, severely limit contact with this person or cut off contact altogether. Just say no. Your emotional health and sanity will thank you.

H.C. Wang is a Collegian columnist. To get your question answered, e-mail [email protected].

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