Some of us were fortunate enough to have been raised in loving, functional families. Our relationships with other members are generally cordial and satisfying. We get along the vast majority of the time. Differences tend to be resolved quickly. Holidays are pleasant affairs.
Others of us, however, hail from less stellar households. Perhaps substance abuse or mental illness rendered certain members incapable of relating in an appropriate, caring manner. Difficult personalities may have made certain folks nearly impossible to be around. Or one person’s perceived unacceptable difference caused others to ostracize him or her from the clan.
Whatever the reason, the outcome is the same. Family members despise being together. Arguments, tears and hurt feelings are common occurrences. Fragile self-esteems are pummeled by others’ insensitive comments. Violent outbursts may require that the police are called to the home.
Needless to say, holidays are terrible experiences in these households. Everyone’s on edge from start to finish. Members avoid them like a case of shingles. When they do feel strong enough to attend a function, they require weeks to emotionally recover from the stress.
People from these homes often feel cheated. When the holidays roll around, they know that the joy of family togetherness will once again elude them. No matter how hard they try, things don’t get better. They sense an emptiness and longing where family compatibility is supposed to be.
That doesn’t mean they can’t ever find it. But it will probably never happen in the home where they grew up. Rather than continually searching for love and acceptance in their families of origin, they need to expand their circle of kinfolk beyond those who share DNA.
All of us have acquaintances who love and accept us. They inhabit all levels of our lives. They may be neighbors, co-workers, members of our church, friends with whom we walk our dogs.
The common thread is the good vibes we feel when we’re in their presence. We’re unconditionally accepted. We’re emotionally safe. We feel appreciated for the qualities that make us who we are.
We don’t need to turn our backs on our families of origin. Most likely there are good qualities to embrace. But we also have the family we’ve hand-selected for ourselves. Spending time with them this holiday season may finally provide the closeness and kinship we’ve been dreaming about for years.
WANT TO CREATE A NEW FAMILY FOR YOURSELF THIS HOLIDAY SEASON? TRY FOLLOWING THESE TIPS
Identify your closest friends. Sort through your various contact lists. Everyone you know is potential grist for your familial mill. Select those with whom you feel an emotional connection and who might be available to join in your plan.
Share your vision. Express your goal of creating an extended family with potential candidates. Provide as much detail as you can. Explore others’ needs and hopes as well to uncover areas that overlap.
Enlist suggestions. Like-minded souls will invariably have input. Compile all the ideas into one mental folder to sift through as needs arise. This will allow your dream to evolve as it gains momentum.
Host a casual introductory gathering. Unless everyone is previously acquainted, they’ll benefit from a meet-and-greet time. Spending an hour together at a local coffee shop lets everyone meet new faces and share enthusiasm for your goal.
Be creative. The sky’s the limit when it comes to celebrating with your family of friends. You may opt for a potluck at your home or a hike in Montaña de Oro. The event can be traditional or completely free form. You might select a date before or after Christmas. Or perhaps you celebrate on Christmas Day. You take the reins; make it just as you want. Others will follow your lead.
Be flexible. As with all families, flexibility is the key. Allow others to join in as they are able and interested. Excessive rigidity diminishes the very acceptance you want to create.
Don’t get discouraged. Traditional families develop for generations. Don’t expect yours to gel overnight. Instead, stick with your dream of creating your own clan. Then allow it to evolve at its own pace.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.