Our families can provide us with laughter and memories that only a family can appreciate. Sharing your history, watching each other’s children grow and reminiscing about that time that Uncle Frank crashed the motorboat can not be replaced.
There is also a sense of anxiety when we gather with our families. Old wounds and resentments that can be hard to forgive, siblings that have grown apart or in-laws that once introduced into the clan can make for challenging relationships. Again, who hasn’t these common experiences? My grandmother used to say “family is like fish, after four days they start to stink”.
How do we negotiate these ambivalent feelings? Can we find a way to enjoy this one week off we have all summer family vacation despite the anxiety and aggravation of so-called family?
As a family therapist, I have worked with many people struggling with these issues. One of my biggest suggestions is to have clear boundaries. A boundary is an imaginary wall surrounding you. There are those who have trouble respecting that wall, they crash through, push you into a corner and are unable to hear what it is that you are saying. For example, your third cousin who doesn’t have children wants to take your kids to a midnight movie the day before you are scheduled to go on an (already paid for) excursion. This is when your boundaries need to be strong. You gently say, “No thank you, my kids need their rest. I know they would love spend time with you, maybe we could do an afternoon movie on a different day.” Many people struggle with setting this boundary. They don’t want to offend the generous offer of the cousin, everyone knows what a blast it will be, but you know your kids best and you know they will be a wreck for the excursion the next day.
I also recommend to my clients that they make sure they take some time for themselves. Go on a walk, read a book, sit by the lake; whatever works in your world, but make sure you carve out time for you amidst the meals, chaos and well, family.
Family is great. Who knows you better and loves you warts and all? Being aware of some of the pitfalls can make for a much more fun and calming vacation. Enjoy! Have fun, and don't forget the sunscreen.