the gifts & challenges of family
The holidays are upon us, and most of us will be spending time with family in the weeks ahead. For some of us, that stirs up feelings of warmth, happiness, and comfort, while others among us may approach the holidays with more trepidation. Challenges with our living family aside, this time of year can bring up a great deal of mourning for those of us who've lost loved ones we can no longer share this time with in the flesh. That merits a whole blog post onto itself. For now, I will focus on our relationships with our living relatives.
If you are reading this blog, chances are good you're on a path of personal growth. You're most likely a spiritually-minded person with a caring heart and a mindful presence in this world. If you've wondered what is one of the best ways to test just how far you've really come on your spiritual journey... spend time with family! It's easy(er) to apply all the skills you've masterfully practiced over the years for fostering harmonious relationships and communication with friends and acquaintances. When these really get put to the test is when you spend time with your family of origin!
I had the great joy this past weekend of spending three days in Seattle with my mom, both sisters, and my brother (plus one of my nephews). It had been over ten years since all of us had been in the same place, and it was the first time I can remember that it was just my mom and her four children (my nephew notwithstanding) - without partners and extended family. You can imagine my mom was over the moon!
Our weekend together was beautiful. And, because it's family, of course, it had its challenges, too. Family is where a lot of our wounds get uncovered and stirred. (It's also, of course, where we have some of the greatest potential for growth and healing!) For some reason, we feel comfortable saying things to family members that we would never say to anyone else in our lives! We make little jabs... we point out each other's flaws... feathers get ruffled... and, sometimes, feelings get hurt. It's part of being with family. Because it's family, however, we also get over it, make up, and keep on loving each other. (There are cases where that's not the truth, and certainly instances where one would do better distancing oneself from their relatives; but, for most of us, we do love our family members dearly, despite any challenges, and we come back around to each other after times of conflict).
It was fascinating to observe our dynamics and notice how, so many years later, our roles and patterns really hadn't changed all that much. Being with family can feel in many ways vulnerable for me, stirring up old insecurities from childhood. It can leave me scrambling to show up as the best version of myself, while trying to honor my own needs and navigating dormant feelings that are being reactivated; feelings that are usually neatly tucked away in the far end of a drawer that doesn't often see the light of day.
What I noticed in our time together was that, despite the familiar patterns we fell into, we did catch ourselves more quickly when one of us inadvertently said something that struck a chord for another. None of us seemed to hold onto hurt very long, and we were more quickly and gracefully able to redirect the conversation, rather than let a trigger lead us down a rabbit hole.
While all of us are far from perfect, our weekend really was perfect, because we were together. We came together from two different continents, and we celebrated our time with each other, relishing all the special little moments: the sacred ordinary (a phrase I've adopted from one of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd). Those moments included walking through town in the rain, enjoying the beauty of the colorful fall leaves scattered everywhere, my three year old nephew digging in the dirt with great glee, eating delicious fresh seafood, walking through the market, cooking together, reading poetry to each other, switching bed partners every night, giving each other massages, sharing our dreams, aspirations, and hopes for our lives, as well as discussing our challenges, taking fun pictures in various different constellations inside a cozy coffee shop and not caring what the other patrons thought of us, making friends with strangers (my family are all very good at that!), telling each other how beautiful and special we are, and wrapping up our time together with a group hug (there wasn't a dry eye, of course).
My brother and older sister flew back to Germany and Austria yesterday, while my little sister, nephew, mom and I stayed on an extra day. We would have loved to keep the other two with us until the end, but, as it was, we got to savor every moment with them and not have to worry about packing up and cleaning all our stuff out of our adorable Airbnb until after they had left.
Today, I took the plane back home to San Jose. Back home to my kitties, who are snoozing peacefully on their respective cat towers as I'm typing this. It's raining here tonight. The first rain of the season. It makes the transition from Seattle feel seamless (it rained the entire time we were there). It's not as much of a culture shock. I'm enjoying the gentle pitter-patter of the rain as I am sitting here on my couch in my cozy apartment, typing away, fondly remembering the memories we created over these last few days, and getting ready to delve back into my work week tomorrow.
Whatever your family situation, I hope you find joy in your interactions this holiday season with the people you love. I hope you can look back and see how some triggers that could have easily led to discord in the past didn't lead to lasting disconnect this year. I hope you count more blessings than challenges in the time you get to spend together. I hope you cherish the sacred ordinary. I hope you tell each other how much you care; share laughter and kindness and point out all the things you love about one another.
Here's to more love - starting with love of self. I hope you really appreciate yourself this year and know just how much of a difference you make in the lives of the people around you. So much love to you.
Angie K. 💗