You have a crazy family. At least, I’m betting you do if you’re reading this post. And it’s a relatively safe bet anyhow, since just about everyone I meet has at least ONE crazy family member that drives them up a wall. They’re there, they’re family, and they are NOT going ANYWHERE anytime soon. You’re stuck with them, and you’re dreading (or not exactly looking forward to) the next encounter with them as well.
Think you might benefit from a few thoughts to get you through the next time you have to interact with your crazy family? Here are 3 things to keep in mind to keep you sane the next time you visit grandpa (or another of your oh-so-loveable relatives).
1. Set your expectations before you go.
“Families are Forever – I wonder if the slogan was meant as a promise or a threat.” – Brady Udall
Sure, you may be going for a “vacation,” but you know full well that the time there is going to be anything but vacation-ey. Or, you may find yourself simply needing to pick up the phone to check in with the family. But when it comes to crazy family members in general, you know you’re going to have that feeling in your gut, just before you talk to them, that feels something along the lines of a mix between first-date jitters, and just finding out that you have to go to jail.
Listen to that feeling, and do yourself a favor: set your expectations low, and set them realistically. Family does not always equal fun. You can’t return your father-in-law to the nearest Costco (about one of the only things you can’t return there). Realize that much of what family represents is duty, obligation, and ultimately a connection that transcends the happiness that we feel when we’re with friends. Such connections demand more of us than we want to give sometimes, and yet we need to.
Why? I’m not sure any of us really knows the answer to that question, but setting your expectation right off the bat that fun is not the goal is going to help when you’re plotting out what you’re going to get from the experience, and who knows, maybe it will turn out better than you hoped (and planned!) for.
2. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
Boundaries are THE most important part of dealing with family members that you dread to see by far. For the uninitiated, a boundary is simply a rule (made AHEAD of time) that you set for yourself (and for your family) that governs how you will interact with another person or group of people.
Examples: a healthy boundary with family might be that you’re willing to get together once a month with them (but not once a week like grandma wants so she can show off her weekly quilt creation), or perhaps you decided that you’re willing to have conversations around only certain topics with dad (time to snip that politics talk in the bud, has it ever turned out good in the past?), or maybe a family member will simply not stop being rude (in which case a firmer boundary than usual might need to be set, and yes that may include not seeing that person in the future).
No matter whether you’re dealing with likeable or barely-can-stand family members, boundaries are crucial, since you’ll know how to address the difficult and awkward scenarios before you see them, and not have to figure it out when you’re in the moment.
3. Forgiveness is essential.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes
As difficult as it sounds, forgiving your most difficult to interact with family members is going to be very important for future relations – not necessarily for them, but for you. Understand, you only have so much emotional energy for any given day, and family is one of those things that can drain you dry faster than your second cousin at the local pub. Forgiving your family is a direct assault against allowing them to invade your mind and your thoughts, since the alternative (not forgiving them) creates levels of anger that is hard to ignore or repress. Think of forgiveness as the ultimate anger-reliever (and you can’t find it in pill form).
Remember too that forgiveness is NOT becoming new best friends with your extended family member, nor is it forgetting what the person did. Rather, it’s the idea that you will not hold them responsible for their actions, and the promise that you won’t use it as “ammunition” in the future to bring them to the righteous justice that they so richly deserve.
Ultimately, what we’re really talking about here is empathy, the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Maybe grandma has a real personality disorder. Perhaps your sister-in-law has had some real trauma in their past. Maybe that cousin has his OWN family members that constantly get on his nerves, and he’s just taking it out on whoever is around. Who knows, but the point is, if you can at the very least get a partial sense of where that family member is coming from, it’s going to be easier to interact with them, since you’ll be seeing more clearly the humanity that you both share, and not just the all-too-obvious weaknesses that come to the surface every time you see them.
When was the last time you had to deal with a crazy family member? Did you come out unscathed? Any advice for the rest of us to get us through our next encounter with family? If so, share below!