At the end of the year, when most of the world celebrates family holidays, you can’t help but revisit the status of your own family relationships. As marketers work hard to paint perfect relationships in every commercial that comes your way, you almost become convinced that the need to navigate the complexities of yours is an exception rather than the rule.
The truth is, all family relationships are multidimensional structures where often polar feelings fit together. Kids love their parents but also hurt them the most. Parents want the best for their kinds but often confuse it with what’s best for them. We have a lot of expectations for our family, and stakes are high. That’s why it is hard when we struggle to connect with them.
Every time you feel an ocean-wide gap between you and someone who shares the same blood, it’s not a moment to withdraw further with a sigh “Well, this is my family.” It is a rather good opportunity to re-examine the beliefs you hold about your family and what makes a family strong.
Below are simple and actionable reminders that, at those very moments when you feel like your family is messed up in some unique ways, will help you strengthen your bonds with your relatives instead of weakening them.
1. Shared DNA Does Not Mean You Will Want the Same
Let’s suppose you get angry when your parents tell you to keep your head down and quietly work hard at a job you don’t like. Or you get upset with your cousins who seem content with their lives and whose ambitions stop at finding a good discount on a pair of shoes at a store. Careers, life aspirations, politics, personal health – all topics where we constantly find ourselves disagreeing with our family members.
If we share the same genetic code, how come our views of these things can be that different? To avoid conflicts, we put those topics into an ever-growing imaginary jar of things we disagree about. And then we either tiptoe around it or minimize interactions with those who hold different opinions. Both make us feel more disconnected as if we can never have a genuine conversation with our own family.
The reality is, DNA is powerful but it is not the only factor at play when people form their views. Your family members grew up at different times, surrounded by different people, reading different books, and going to different schools. Realizing that, you can stop expecting them to want the same things as you do.
Instead of cultivating a mindset that conflicting views are a family relationship killer, you can try to see how differences make you more diverse and, in a way, stronger as a group.
Instead of taking on an impossible-to-succeed task of changing your family members, learn to value them for who they are.
2. Do Not Get on a Mission to Explain to Them Everything They are Failing at
Have you ever felt an urge to coach your family members about things they are doing wrong in their lives? The sense of responsibility to point out the mistakes on their path can be quite strong. Because, if not for you, who else would tell your single sister to go out more and try new places? Who else would make it clear for your father that he should have taken that job?
When you do it, your intentions might be good. That’s your way of offering support or sharing experience. You may even genuinely feel like you are providing solutions. Yet, on the other side, there is a person being reminded of some way she or he is inadequate in this world. Layer that on top of the issues the individual is already dealing with. No wonder they close down and pull away.
Understanding that it is not your mission to remind your family members of their failures is crucial for fostering relationships with them. They already know when they made their mistakes. Holding space for someone is different than initiating an unsolicited, impromptu “coaching session”. I
nstead of forcing someone into your interpretation of their wrongs, simply let them be. That means respecting your family members’ agency of their own mistakes, while not making them an agenda of every gathering. Your empathy is more valuable than your advice, however well-thought-through it might be