My dad has this quote that I'll never forget. "You didn't choose your family and you don't have to like someone just because they are in your family." While this may seem harsh, it's true. When put into perspective, we give many of our relatives a " family pass" where they get away with crap any other average person would probably not get away with.
Think about those huge family functions during the holidays, birthday celebrations, weddings, and the like. When a family member says or does something that is a bit out of line, we don't always call them on it in the moment. Instead, we end up "letting it go". This is usually because they are our family and we feel like we have to just accept and love them. Another reason we let it go might be that we don't want to hurt their feelings OR we actually think they are just shallow or too plain ignorant to realize that they even have something to be accountable for. Why even waste our time if hey just don't get it? Who
wants to talk to a wall anyway? Maybe we don't want to start an argument because we know they have a short temper, so at the end of the day, we simply love them by keeping the peace. This can be true even with the family members that we don't know that well. We may be a little more generous just because we don't know them that well....just because they are "family".
So let me just get to another thought here...for those of us who have a pretty large family (this includes cousins, aunts, uncles, extended family) there is usually a circle of members who keep in close contact for a number of reasons. Maybe it's relatively close geographical distance, familiarity, or commonalities (sometimes we just click with people who get us). That's all good. How about the family members who are not geographically close? How often do we stay in touch with them? If the answer is "rarely", think about why. Is it just the distance? If it is, that's understandable. We do get caught up and busy in our own lives and although it doesn't take much to pick up a phone or get online we just put it off for some reason, but that can easily be addressed. What about our family members who don't live that far away that we don't stay in close touch with? Either we do try and they don't don't respond so we give up, or again we're too busy and just caught up. Another reason might be that we don't care to keep in contact with them. If that's the reason, we should examine why.
While there are many reasons we don't stay in touch with family, there are also reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with distance or being too busy. Some reasons may include past experiences from the interactions that we've already had. What were those like? What do we talk about when we are with certain family members? How do we behave? Being that sometimes they don't really know us that well even though they are our relatives, has it ever occurred to us that we may have done or said something to turn them off (or maybe vice versa of course...but let's just focus on ourselves here for the sake of reflection and what we can control).
So, I'll direct this to YOU for self reflection. Think of some of your relationships with family members. Is there anyone you would like to have a closer relationship with or is there someone who it always just feels a little awkward with? Does it ever feel like a person avoids you at family functions? Below are some reflection questions that might feel hard to answer truthfully, but just really think about it and be real with yourself. When you get around some of your family, do you ever do any of these things?
- Talk about yourself/accomplishments a lot?
- Only ask how people are doing because it's polite, but really don't wanna hear the response if it's more than a few words?
- Actively listen?
- Give people a hard time about how they don't stay in touch?
- Talk mess about other people and act like it's all good with those same other people in front of the person you told the "mess" to?
- Shoot down what someone has to say because you disagree?
- Have the answers for everything...like a know it all?
- Constantly talk about how hard you work, try to stress how important your job is, or try to impress people by talking about the "important" people you know?
- Criticize people's food, fashion, or lifestyle choices?
- Speak in a way that might be condescending...projecting an older and wiser attitude?
- Talk about how great a parent you are?
Now put yourself in the shoes of who you might do this to. Does anybody really wanna hear this type of sh$t or could they just be acting polite to you? Why should you wonder? Well, what if you are indirectly insulting the very person you're talking to without even realizing it? DING DING DING! You guessed it. Maybe that's why it feels like they avoid you or wont stay in touch! Maybe THAT'S a reason that they don't really like you. Okay, this is the moment where you say "ouch" out loud.
Now, all of this said, take a deep breath and know that it's not the end of the world. If you've been honest with yourself so far and if you are indeed in that place of "ouch", there is hope for you yet! You're not alone. This post is not about making you feel bad. Hey, I need this reminder myself. Look at it this way. Examining our own shortcomings can definitely make us feel yucky and uncomfortable; however, being uncomfortable is an opportunity for growth! This post is about taking an opportunity to make a positive change that can benefit you and your family.
The holidays are coming and this is a great time to make some meaningful connections with family that we don't get to see often or better yet, family members who might not like us...I know, I said it again, but it's true, somebody really might not like you and they keep pretending they do, but you may really get on their last nerves. They probably love you though. After all, you're family. The good news is that you can turn this all around; that is if you can lose your ego or just try a different communication approach. It's so worth it...you'll see!
You know, it also doesn't hurt to give those that get on your nerves another chance; sometimes again and again unfortunately, but hey it's not like you have to go out of your way to connect with them. Just give them a chance and try to connect when you have to see them. Maybe things will eventually change; especially, if you can tactfully speak up to help them understand where they go wrong with you. If not, as long as you believe they aren't purposely disrespecting you and it's clear that they are only disrespecting you without knowing because they lack a filter, communication skills, or just common sense, suck it up and know you wont have to see them again until the next big family function. We all have faults and we all "F" up. Even when we come from the very same family, individuals can grow very differently. People in our family can be living lifestyles that bring about a different truth for them or way that they choose to walk through the world. Despite what we think or even notice as a fact, some people feel that they're just fine and don't want our "help", so...we can give that "family pass" and if they get out of line we can give the gift of honest (and respectful) feedback to help them reflect or realize the impact they are having on us...then move on. Just try to enjoy their company during that time you have together. It could be the last. Not to be morbid, but we're not promised everyday. What do you want people to remember about you or what kind of memory do you want to have about the last way you treated them?
So, what should you take away from all of this? First and foremost it may be a good idea to do some self reflection (the reflection questions above are a good start) to make sure you have the impact you really want to have on others. It might make a difference about who chooses to keep in touch with you. Not only do I challenge you to take a hard and honest look at yourself and your impact on others, but don't forget to give grace to the family members in your life who ruffle your feathers as well. I'm going to do the same.
Good luck and cheers to keeping it real...if you have the guts. Otherwise, don't worry I'm sure you will keep getting a "family pass". Just remember that whatever you do, whether you like it or not, you do have an impact on others with everything that you do and say...what do you want your impact to be?
If you liked this post and want specific communication examples, please share in the comments section. I'd also love to know what worked for you if you try a new approach! :)
Helpful link with practical help: 10 Ways to Being a Good Listener