Moving Forward When Going Home
- Tuesday, November 28, 2000
Holidays and family get-togethers can be wonderful times of closeness and reaffirming family ties. Much joy can come from grandparents and grandkids being together, cousins, aunts and uncles enjoying a meal, returning to see houses and neighborhoods we haven't lived in since our youth. Of course, not all families enjoy being with one another. Many people still have difficulty being around parents or other family members and often restrict their time with them during holidays. For some, visits are ruled out all together. Whether the extended family ties are close or wounded, holiday visits can be an important point of growth.
Many of us, when referring to our parents' home, say that we are going home for the holidays. We often still refer to their home as our home because we grew up there and we still have emotional attachments formed as children. Yet, it may have been years since we have lived in this home and we have formed our own family elsewhere. Accepting our parents as having their own home and returning to their home (not to ours) is an important psychological adjustment necessary for the leaving and cleaving experience to occur.
Family of origin issues are strong and will tend to surface around holiday planning and holiday visits. In a marriage, jealousies can occur when visiting with one family when a spouse sees strong bonds their spouse has with someone in their family of origin. Mental comparisons can be made and the temptation to be envious of what another person has arises. The ability to feel less important and to see these renewed bonds acted upon can also make a person feel left out. Unfinished emotional business will frequently be tapped so that issues of control, rebellion, of being free from the parent-child role, and adopting an adult role can come out. When we have not made the emotional transition of reintroducing ourselves to our parents as adults we are still bound by the older parent-child roles. These roles and old issues interfere with the demands of adulthood and the task of parenting our own children.
Some families will need to be very careful about the amount of time they spend visiting members of their extended family. Each couple should be sensitive to one another in talking about the issues that arise with family visits and seek a workable solution to these plans. For many people, visiting certain extended family members can be downright painful. Some people are still stuck in very unhealthy behaviors and attitudes, and these extended family members would not be people we would associate with outside of the family. But the fact of their being a family member puts us with them like it or not.
Many people from a Christian perspective struggle with this because they mistakenly believe that the Bible's command to "Honor your father and mother" somehow requires you to be with them, enjoy your time with them, and spend any opportunity you have visiting them. It is important for Christian adults who have parents or other extended family who are consistently rude, rejecting, controlling, or exhibit behaviors such as problem drinking, etc., to know that we can honor their position as a parent but choose to restrict, or even in some cases eliminate, our time with them. So many people I have worked with over the years are compelled to continue to call and visit parents who are terribly unhealthy and even downright abusive. These adults still feel a childlike fearfulness and feel guilty when thinking of limiting their contact. More than once, I have helped people prepare themselves to tell a family member that (for instance),When you drink excessively, it frightens and embarrasses me and I will not choose to visit you during Christmas if you do that." Or, When you yell at me and openly criticize me repeatedly in front of my children it hurts me and I will severely limit my time with you if this is what I can expect."
Stressful trips become more difficult when combined with the emotions that can be brought up visiting our family of origin. Husbands need to pay attention to food preparation and clean up. Women traditionally do this and are, quite frankly, stuck with it. Men tend to disappear while the women clean up. Guys should treat their children to a new role model and your wife to some help. In fact men, why don't you initiate some help with the cooking or the cleanup and surprise the whole family? You may find that some women will refuse to let you help, holding down the kitchen as their special place of confidence. Of course, many women will simply be shocked and pleased that you would do it and will gladly let you help.
As you plan for the holiday season, be careful not to be compulsive about having to see everybody on the list and extend your traveling where it becomes unreasonable for your family. Be sure to give yourself permission to ask questions like, "Do I really want to go see these people?" Or, "Is this really important for our family?" Perhaps staying home is the best option for the family. When you feel like you absolutely have to do something be careful because usually we don't. Be sure to talk this out with a friend or with a spouse so that you can pay close attention to changes in yourself when visiting families of origin. Ask your mate to give you feedback about what he or she observes. Be careful to make her feel special when you are at your parents' home, rather than simply regress back to a time where you were taken care of. Any change is stressful to some degree, and visiting a new place and living out of a suitcase carries stresses. Frequently traveling during the holidays can be an ordeal for many families, presenting a combination of boredom and excitement, trying to stay civil in a car for hours on end. Take care to plan with this in mind. May your holidays be progressive and not regressive. Happy Holidays.
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