Posts Tagged ‘holiday gatherings’

The holiday season is generally associated with the idea of bringing families together, but sadly, these gatherings have gained a reputation for frequently unraveling into a contentious, and at times hurtful, mess.  I wish I could make a solid case that this is an unfair stereotype, and in some cases it undoubtedly is; but many times it is not.  As I’ve pondered the reason for this unfortunate pattern I’ve begun to notice how differently people seem to handle familial relationships as compared to other associations.  Aesop asserted that “familiarity breeds contempt,” but I would say that it more often breeds complacency and presumption.  When interacting with family members we often presume to know their story, and thereby conclude that we know what they’re thinking or feeling.  Sometimes we even presume to know why they think the way they do.  We seldom seek to understand their position because we assume that we already know it.  And too often, we presume that our shared history and/or heredity gives us license to forego common courtesy in the way we express our viewpoints.  Most of us are apt to approach neighbors, classmates, coworkers, and even strangers, with a great deal more consideration than those who are closest to us.


I’m sure that most people can think of an obnoxious non-family member that they’ve been required to deal with, and chances are those folks were extended far more grace and patience than a parent, sibling or child might have received.  On a daily basis we associate with people who may be a challenge for us, yet we usually learn to deal with them in a way that at least preserves the necessary connection.  Unfortunately, we aren’t always willing to expend that kind of effort on our own families, even though those are the relationships that should be most valuable to us.


If you’ve ever seen a couple walk through a genuine period of courtship, it is a lesson in being invested in a relationship.  The best marriages I’ve seen are those where the spouses never quit courting each other.  The best parental relationships I’ve seen are those where the parents treat their kids with the same kind of consideration and respect that they expect from them.  But for too many, that’s way too much work.  It is easier to try to manipulate or to evoke some sort of positional authority.  Inevitably, we reap what we sow, and that is especially true within our families.  If we don’t like how family members treat us, it may be worth taking a look at how we are treating everyone else.


I continue to marvel at the petty little things that keep families torn apart, sometimes for generations.  Even though many would site the deterioration of the family unit as a root of a lot of of our social ills, there seems to be little sense of urgency in cultivating and maintaining the family bonds that remain.  In fact, the dysfunction of the family has become a punchline in popular culture.  At this point, our young people have been raised with the idea that this is just how families are.  I believe this is why so many of the emerging generation are no longer bothering with the institution of marriage, and that many of those who do take that step often do so for the purely pragmatic incentives of gaining insurance benefits and such.


As we head into the heart of yet another holiday season I would suggest that the greatest gift we might have to offer our families is a renewed commitment to the relationships of those who are nearest to us.  Instead of rehashing all the old issues that have kept us splintered, maybe we could remind each other of what makes each one precious.  Maybe we’re too jaded to get our families to resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, but surely we can do better than a rerun of “Modern Family”.

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