You don’t have to live with family tensions year after year. It is possible to break old relationship patterns and build new relationships within your family by supporting yourself, taking the time to listen to your family members and giving them your love.
Changing family dynamics is often not easy, but it is a good and rewarding endeavor.
Take time for yourself
Start with yourself first. You know that you must take care of yourself first in order to be in better shape to help others, and yet it is so difficult to do. Remember: you won’t get far maintaining your connections and turning family tensions with an empty tank. So, before your next visit with your family, take some time to listen.
Ask someone you know who knows how to listen without advice if they are willing to trade listening time with you. [There’s more on why Listening Partnerships are so helpful here.] Divide up enough time so that your moves are the same. So if you have about an hour to spare, take 30 minutes at a time. You could focus on what it was like for you growing up and what your family is like now. Notice the feelings that come up as you speak. Taking this time to listen before your family visit can help ease the tension you are feeling and clarify how you would like to be with your family.
You will also need to eat a little each day during your visit. Nature walks, reading inspirational books, taking time to play, and other activities that do you good will all help you stay in good emotional shape so you can keep up with the ups and downs of family life.
Since these simple things can be hard to think about and remember when they trigger, make a list of your self-care plan before you leave. What do you need every day to feel good? It is also helpful to have a list of people to call or write to for assistance during the visit. You can also bookmark the hand in hand online groups so you have places to go for additional assistance.
Small steps towards closer connections
During your visit, you can work on creating a sense of security in your family by warming up your relationships.
Many parents feel that family tensions increase when they have children. Sometimes it’s siblings who have very different ideas about raising children, or parents who wonder why you do things so differently from them.
When family tensions break out due to differences in parenting styles, it is helpful to speak out what you love about how to educate them. Sometimes this can be a chore, but if you look carefully you can often see the love and care that drives their parenting, even if the way they react is not how you would handle it.
If it feels safe enough, you could even try having a dialogue with them about what they love about parenting / grandparenthood and what they are worried about. Remember to stay a listener! Your goal here is to build security and trust in your relationship, not to teach or correct them in their thinking. Remember, you are all doing your best, and all children will benefit most from making their family members feel good about each other.
Often times, when the relationship is warmed up in this way, the tension begins to ease so everyone can feel more relaxed. Once connected, they may be open to your views, but for now, your greatest success will be achieved if you just focus on relationship building.
One way to do this is to offer unannounced “special time”. Special Time is the hand-in-hand hearing aid that we as parents use to give our children individual and undivided attention. When you’re feeling well endowed, take some time (you could mentally give yourself a 5 or 10 minute time limit) to really shine on them, one at a time, with the love you have for your family.
You could take this time to really listen to them, show them affection, or do what they want to do. If you know your mom loves looking through family photo albums, take the time to do so with her. If your brother loves showing off his newest device, join his excitement with him. We all want to be seen and heard in a way that feels good. Try offering this to your family and see them light up!
Prepare to be “tested”
As you build closer, warmer connections, it can create fears in them (and you!) That might seem like your sister is commenting on what you are feeding your kids right after you have praised her as a mom. Or maybe your dad criticizes your new car purchase after thanking you from the bottom of his heart for how hard he worked to help you grow up.
Don’t let these tests get you down! (But reach out to a friend who can hear your frustration while still reminding you that it is worth keeping in touch with your family.) Imagine instead that you say, “I don’t know what to do with the love you show! “or” I don’t know how to deal with you in this new way. “
The more you work on your side of things, the more space you have inside to pass these tests with grace, humor, and patience. If your sister criticizes you, instead of feeling defensive, you can say with a wink, “I know! I shock myself sometimes! ”And then you have a good laugh, or if your father questions your choices, you could give him a spontaneous hug and say, with complete sincerity,“ Thank you for looking after me so much, Dad. ”You will be amazed at how much family members can learn to react differently when you take steps to change how they react.
Overcoming longstanding injuries
When family relationships have been marked by tension for years, decades, or even generations, they can feel too vulnerable to openly share and express care. If family tension has raged in your family for longer than you can remember, take it slow and remember that your self-care is a top priority.
Change is possible, especially in yourself.
If you focus on building support for yourself and taking slow, gentle steps to make warmer connections, you will do a good job creating more trust and security in your family that will benefit your children and future generations.
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