Family As Strangers


If you think you’re enlightened,

go spend a week

with your family.

Ram Das


Growing up among cousins is a gift I wish I could give my own brood. While I have fond memories of this in my childhood, I look back as an adult and wonder, “How did my aunts, uncles, and grandparents navigate the politics of living together?” This Powerful Goddess is so blessed by her constant charm, beauty, and a super tight-knit extended family.  I tell my young adults:  That’s the kind of family you want to marry!

What is their magic?

We put our best face forward, stretch patience an inch farther, and find that extra ounce of consideration to bite our tongue around strangers. Yet after a work day wearing the mask of diplomacy around colleagues and clients, some come home to snap at whoever greets them at the door, forgetting that this person has had a long day, too.

When we are around our supposed loved ones, we feel way too comfortable to be ourselves and toss compassion to the wind. Our lives are so intertwined with theirs that we sometimes confuse their choices as personal affront. Who left this cup in the sink I just emptied again?!!!  It is scary knowing that they see all of who we are, they’ve seen us at our worst, and they know the precise combination of buttons to push us over the edge. Then there’s our human tendency to slack off and stop trying even as we expect these same people to hang around us in tough times.

Venting, while convenient in the moment, will naturally corrode any relationship over time. Pressing the pause button instead of exploding? There’s a gift we all can use more of!  If nobody is in the mood to see the situation from a different perspective, take a deep breath, go for a walk in the woods, and do what you need to distract and reboot.  Later, when everyone’s in a more receptive mood, preferably well-fed and rested, explain to the person how you feel when they act a certain way and what you prefer they say/do next time instead.

While who we are and whom we live with may already be baked in personalities, I hold on to the hope that each time I take a deeper breath and bite my tongue a bit shorter, the next generation might be watching and learning how to make a habit of compassion and assume the best of intentions in the closest of their relationships. Self-compassion and empathy are essential ingredients in this magic brew.

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