Posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 at 12:22 am.
I’m guessing that you have a lot of people in your boat and their boat is weighed down just as much as yours. Even for those who haven’t lost jobs or had major cuts in income, the fear and stress of that possibility are there. Just ask them.
There are three issues that intertwine with your dilemma. The first issue is socioeconomic class and how “have-mores” relate to “have-lesses” around times of holiday celebrations and gift giving. The second issue concerns expectations of yourself and others and the need to be sure those are realistic in light of your changed circumstances. The third issue involves clarifying what you wish to express to those you care about and what the holidays mean to you and those you love.
Socioeconomic differences are generally a taboo subject for most people. We all know people in our personal, social and work lives who have more money or social standing than we do and others who have less. It’s hard to go from having more to having less in your own family. Often, it means not being able to do what you have been able to do for others in the past. This year, think about giving non-material “gifts” to those you appreciate: notes of appreciation, a home-cooked meal, or the invitation to spend time together sharing a meal or seeing a movie. Our time and thoughtfulness are really some of the best gifts we can give.
Next, examine your expectations. They come in two forms: the expectations we have of others and the expectations we put upon ourselves. Think about your expectations of others. I’m guessing that you probably don’t require as much material giving from those you care about as you may expect yourself to give to them, especially if you have had the means to do so. Working with our expectations and really asking ourselves whether our expectations are realistic can lead to a re-evaluation and revision that can make the situation less stressful for you and your family.
Third, your changed circumstances provide a really valuable opportunity to reflect on what the holidays mean to you and what it is that you want to communicate when you give to others. Giving material or monetary gifts can be one way of saying “I care about you, I appreciate you, and I want to give you something of myself during the holidays,” but these same messages can be communicated in many forms. Use your creativity to create new, non-monetary ways of being generous. The possibilities are endless.
Posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 at 12:19 am.
Question: Money is a big issue in our family these days. In the past, we used to buy gifts for immediate family members, close friends and even a few neighbors and the postman that brings our mail. Now that our income has been cut in half due to layoffs and payments on credit card debt, we can’t afford to give as generously as we used to, but I don’t want the people I care about to feel left out or unimportant.
Posted on Monday, September 26th, 2016 at 4:26 am.
Holidays seem to bring up a lot of feelings about our relationships, especially our relationships with members of our family. Joys, losses and unresolved conflicts all float into our minds. It seems like this is definitely happening for you. It is surprisingly common for family members to become estranged from each other for any number of reasons. Some of these ruptures last days or weeks, others can last for months or even years.
It sounds like you are at a point in your life where your relationship with your sister is more important than “being right” about a conflict that happened a long time ago. I encourage you to act on your desire to build that bridge, but it is important to keep a few things in mind. First and perhaps most obvious: just because you are ready to mend the relationship doesn’t mean she is also ready.
You can extend the olive branch in several ways. You could send a card or message affirming your past positive relationship and your desire to have her in your life again. It is often helpful to offer a genuine apology for your part in a hurtful situation or you can simply open the door to a new relationship with your sister by sharing some aspect of your life with her and inviting her to do the same. This is the part you have control over. You don’t, however, have any control over what her response will be.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are doing this out of love and to make things right. This action frees you from feelings of guilt or the pain of your part in an unresolved conflict. Unfortunately, she may or may not be in a place to accept your gesture of reconciliation. If you choose to take this risk, be sure that you are ready to accept the outcome, no matter what it may be. She may be eager to re-embrace your relationship, she may reject your invitation to connect, or she may simply not be ready to respond and do nothing. Feel good about yourself for making the effort. In the best of worlds, she will appreciate your effort and respond in kind—if not now, perhaps later.
Posted on Monday, September 26th, 2016 at 4:25 am.
Question: My sister and I had a fight about 3 years ago and we haven’t talked since that time. The issue we fought about, which seemed really important at the time, doesn’t seem so important now. I think about her a lot, especially around the holidays. I want to reach out to her but I don’t know how and I’m afraid she will reject me. How can I build a new bridge between my sister and me?
Posted on Monday, September 26th, 2016 at 4:23 am.
It sounds like you have a loving but difficult relationship with your family. You will probably need to make a choice this year between spending the holiday with your family or with your boyfriend’s family due to the distance between the households. Of course, there is also the option of having an independent Thanksgiving and spending that time with your boyfriend and some of your mutual friends.
Here are some factors to consider in making your decision.
1) Are there any special reasons that it would be important to go to your family’s Thanksgiving this year, rather than his family’s gathering? Some reasons might be that this is the only year (or last year) that certain members of your family will be at Thanksgiving. This could be due to a family member having a terminal illness, a relative who will be moving to live abroad, or a special relative you really want to connect with who is rarely at your family’s gathering.
2) How well do you feel you can handle the inevitable stress associated with seeing your family this particular year? If you are in a pretty good place and don’t have too many external stressors in your life, this might be a good year to participate in the family Thanksgiving. Another year might not be so good. Perhaps you can create a new set of expectations with your family around this tradition. Instead of attending your family’s Thanksgiving every year, perhaps you could alternate spending Thanksgiving with your family, your boyfriend’s family and possibly even going away for Thanksgiving or celebrating with your own friends some years.
3) You love your family, even if you don’t always like them. You should think carefully about the fact that you love them and want to have some kind of meaningful relationship with them and how this balances against your own separate needs and comfort or discomfort in being around them. Sometimes it is more important to express our love through action even if this produces some discomfort than it is to avoid that discomfort entirely. It may be a matter of scale: how severe the discomfort and the relative importance of being with your family on the holiday.
Keep in mind that you can also carve out quality time to spend with your family at other times, either near the holidays or in between the holidays. These times can sometimes be less stressful and more time-limited: a few hours rather than all day or all weekend. I would also suggest considering your boyfriend’s feelings and the how his family feels about being with the two of you on the holidays. If this is also important to him and to his family, it is also important to take his family’s needs into account. These decisions are complicated and require self-honesty and communication. Whatever you decide let your families know with tact and kindness.
Posted on Monday, September 26th, 2016 at 4:22 am.
Question: I love my family, but sometimes I really don’t like them very much and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. My parents live about 2 hours away. I am 33 years old, I work full-time and I am in a good relationship with my boyfriend of 3 years. He doesn’t mind going to see my family for Thanksgiving, but it is stressful for me. It’s more enjoyable to be around his family and they live a few hours away in the opposite direction from my parents. What should I do?
Posted on Monday, September 19th, 2016 at 8:55 pm.
It sounds like your Dad may be an alcoholic and that your Mom really doesn’t know what to do about it. Alcoholism is a disease that affects the mind, body and spirit of the alcoholic. Alcoholics are not “bad” people. In fact, many people suffering from the disease of alcoholism are really good peoples who are responsible, loving, kind family members when they are not drinking. People who do not have alcoholism can drink and not have to go overboard. Alcoholics are unable to stop drinking once they start. This has to do with differences in brain chemistry between alcoholics and non-alcoholics as well as other factors.
The truth is that once your Dad takes his first drink, he loses control over how much he will drink or how he will act when he gets drunk. Even though it seems like Mom should be able to stop or control how much Dad drinks, I bet she has tried to do this many times and not succeeded. She does not have the power to stop his drinking no matter what she says or does. All she can really do encourage him to get help and get help for herself and give you resources that can help you and your brother and sister cope with Dad’s drinking. Fortunately, there really are ways to help your family heal and find recovery.
Posted on Monday, September 19th, 2016 at 8:53 pm.
Question: I am in high school and I live at home. I have a younger brother in middle school and a younger sister in 6th grade. My problem is that my Dad drinks all the time and my Mom doesn’t do anything about it. I love my Dad, but when he is drinking he yells and acts like an idiot. Sometimes he blames us kids for things we didn’t do and gets really mad at us. I want my Dad to stop drinking and I am mad at Mom for not making him stop. I need some advice.
Posted on Monday, September 19th, 2016 at 8:51 pm.
Most of us go through cycles of confidence and fear. In our periods of confidence, we feel that we are fundamentally OK, our bodies and our lives are basically intact, and things in our lives will turn out just fine. In our periods of fear and doubt, we tend to focus on the worst possible outcomes to everything going on in our lives: thoughts that we may lose our jobs or that minor physical ailments signal a much worse underlying health problem. We may even the fear that death is just around the corner for us or for our loved ones when there is no rational reason to worry. There are several reasons why these negative thought phases might occur.
Some of this can just be chalked up to being human. Unlike other living creatures, we have a great capacity for reflecting on past events and imagining future ones. This is both a blessing and a curse. Thinking about the future allows us to plan and achieve goals, look forward to our children growing up to be adults, and think about things like retirement and travel we might want to do in the future. Unfortunately, it also allows us to worry about what is going to happen, to remember bad things that have happened to us and to other people, and to project our fears onto future events that may or may not happen.
Most of this is in the normal realm of human experience and behavior, but if you start to feel that you are too stuck in fear and it is not balanced with normal optimism, there may be something wrong. Scary or traumatic life events can trigger us into a phase like this; so can changes in the chemistry of the brain. Often, these feelings can be relieved by talking out loud about our fears to a friend or family member, but if you do not get relief you might consider seeing a counselor. A counselor can help you come to terms with events in your life that may be triggering fear and can help you determine if you may have developed a biologically-based obsessive thinking disorder that requires treatment. Either way, there is a way out of the forest of emotional and psychological suffering.
Posted on Monday, September 19th, 2016 at 8:49 pm.
Question: I don’t think I am a hypochondriac, but lately every time I have a symptom I immediately get a feeling of doom and think the worst. It seems to be getting worse, too, and I’m spending a lot of time worrying about things that eventually just go away. How can I stop this process?