Family life is full of challenges. And once we’re the grandparents (the elder statesmen and women) it can seem as if we have very little clout. We remember the days when we made all the important decisions and were in charge of things, but those days are no more.
And let’s face it, family relationships are tricky. There are the sons-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, there are brother and sister-in-laws. There are uncles and aunts who’ve never lived under our roof, but can make family gatherings a bit dangerous. We may not share the same life goals or values with these people. We often don’t understand them. How can we smooth the path to more comfortable relationships with these people we may not even like, let alone love?
Counselors and other mental health professionals are quick to remind us that we can’t really change another person. That means we need to reach deep inside ourselves to come up with attitudes and strategies to cope with times when we need to be together.
In any group of people, even those in the same extended family, you’ll find points of conflict. They may be issues of personality—introverts vs. extroverts, those who are judgmental vs. those who are tolerant. Or, the conflict may revolve around explosive issues such as political or religious differences, levels of education or family values. Within the family there may be financial pressures, issues of trust, past histories, parenting issues…the list goes on.
How can we move positively forward with our lives when we have to spend time with people we don’t approve or appreciate? We have choices:
- Accept the status quo:
We can acknowledge the things we don’t appreciate about another person and just leave it there. We can choose to enjoy our family times even though we aren’t especially interested in being close to that particular person.
- Change our attitude:
We can accept the person for who they are and agree to disagree on certain topics. This means a level of tolerance for another’s point of view of for behavior we’re not necessarily comfortable with. We give room for the person to be different than the norms we would choose.
- We can confront:
Sometimes the issues are so overriding and important that we can’t leave them unsettled. In cases of anger or inappropriate language, violence in any form, abuse, neglect, we need to act. We can insist on family meetings to discuss and modify behaviors and in extreme cases we can make referrals to authorities to get help for the situation. Sometimes a private family meeting, where opinions are clearly expressed are all that is needed to remedy the situation.
- We can get professional help ourselves. If we have problems with communication, anger issues, fears, depression anxiety or a host of other problems, we can learn to control our own behavior in uncomfortable settings. Workshops, counseling, classes, may help us to deal with our particular problem without bringing it to the entire family.
Tense family gatherings are no fun. And when problems surface, the younger family members are definitely affected in negative ways. It takes courage to deal with these circumstances with tolerance and kindness. Take a look at the resources below to find more options with dealing with uncomfortable family relationships.