I am back on the beam today...
I have given you my thoughts on taking care of ourselves, our kids, our exes over the stressful holidays. Now let’s turn our attention to the extended family. All that I am about to say is also applicable to the greater family at large...as well as the parents (his and hers or his and his and hers and hers).
Let’s start where most of us live...having a mixed bag of feelings about our former in-laws. Just like most of us, if we are honest, have about our own families. Perfection is a concept that is often applied but a bar that is rarely met...in either camp.
Seems most appropriate to break it down into two groups...that are super over-generalized, the ex-laws we liked and got along with generally and the ex-laws we didn’t like and didn’t get along with...
Let’s take the more common one first...
Ex-Laws we didn’t really care for all that much:
I know you tried. I am sure they tried. But after years of trying, the result is the same. You never really got each other. Their family dysfunction rattled you, hurt you, alienated you, abused you, isolated you, and left you feeling like you were not a member of the family. Whole articles could be written about this...and have. We are not going to re-invent the wheel here...this is a limited scope...how do you get through the holidays this year while still having to deal with your awful ex-laws?
Let’s start with gratitude...yes, I just said that. You can start this year with being grateful that this is the first year that you really don’t have to deal with them if you don’t want to. All the holidays you have suffered through to date, over! This is something to celebrate. You are free! Act like it. Appreciate that the holiday dysfunction you have been mired in for years has now released and you are free to enjoy your own family (or not).
Of course, I am being somewhat tongue and cheek, but on a real level, feel grateful that you now have one less intimate relationship that is horrifically dysfunctional in your life. Oh, they will still have sway. They will still impact your life. But at the end of the day, they are not your problem anymore and you can decide to allow your ex to be responsible for his or her parents and siblings. You don’t have to play anymore.
Ex-laws that you do care for and like:
It is going to be a hard year. Accept that. You like them and they like you and now you are divorcing their child. And, no, it doesn’t matter that he or she is 50...they are still their child and no matter how bad their child may be behaving, they will always come first and that is how it should be. Do not try to insert yourself between or in their family anymore. You will find a place if and when the dust settles. This year compassion is the ticket to a successful holiday season with them.
Go for compassionate understanding that their family has just been up ended and is hanging in the balance. They don’t like it anymore than you do. They are grieving a loss just like you are. They don’t know what to do or how to act and are terribly afraid that anything they do or say will be misconstrued as aligning with you. Appreciate this is a very hard place to be, most especially at the holidays. By the way, this also works to apply if you don’t really like them or they don’t really like you...
Family is a hard thing. And for most of us, we didn’t get the one that we wanted. Holidays are more opportunities for heartbreak and dynamics of dysfunction than cherished gatherings of loving members. Maybe we rise above a great deal and get through with a pleasant yet challenging day. Perhaps it might be best to walk into the the coming days with an idea that even though you probably didn’t get the family you wanted, you do have people who care about you and love you regardless of their level of functioning (or not). We don’t get to choose our families...and if there is one thing that I have come to see over the years, almost no one is completely comfortable or happy with how their family does the holidays.
This year you may be included or an outcast. You may be “forced” to attend or banished for life. It really doesn’t matter...I think the most important thing is to really spend some time thinking about who you want to be...this is your new life after all. You can continue to behave the way you always have...or you can use this year’s implosion of your pending divorce to make some changes.
My suggestions regardless of whether you love them or can’t stand them:
1. Be authentic. This does not mean telling them you can’t stand them...it means keeping your distance if you can’t be nice and personable. Attending out of obligation is a trap. Obligation is just another word for resentment in my opinion. The best thing I can do is to show up in my authentic skin. Be me. And if the me I am going to bring is seething with anger, resentment and rage...probably best just to opt out this year.
2. Be compassionate. With everyone. Just give all of you a pass this year. To get it wrong and right. Do the best you can and recognize that they are doing the same...even if they aren’t.
3. Be charitable. Yes, give them the benefit of the doubt, most especially if they don’t deserve it and stand on a long history of behaving badly. You will be better for your charitable heart.
4. Be kind. To all. This includes you. Your divorce is happening to you. You, your kids and a whole bunch of other things are riding on your ability to weather this current domestic crisis...do not overcommit and kill yourself at the holidays. You are going to need your strength in the coming weeks and months, be kind and hold back a little at this time of the year. Divorce is hard. Divorce at the holidays is harder.
5. Do less. I am not sure if you are aware but a pandemic rages while you attempt to leave your spouse...this is the perfect year to do less. Don’t travel. Stay home. You have a built in excuse to just take it easy. When was the last time you did that? Watch movies, go for walks, play games, play cards. Bake. Nap. Whatever you can do from home, do that.
6. Be generous. In spirit. In relationship. In your heart. This does not mean buy them a whole bunch of crap. No, be present and thoughtful in your generosity...the most amazing gift you can give is that of your authentic self...even if the other person doesn’t recognize it in that moment as a gift. Fling open the doors to your heart and just give everyone, including your ex-laws, a pass this year. Let them behave however they behave and let that not be about you, even if they tell you a million times it is...their reality doesn’t have to be your reality...unless you let it.
7. Be forgiving. No one walked this marital path intending to end in divorce...even if they tell you they knew it was doomed from the start. Even those people showed up at your wedding and at least paid lip service to your union. No one wanted it to end like this. Everyone is grieving this year for a variety of different reasons and your divorce is one of them. Allow them their pain. It is theirs. You didn’t cause it, can’t control it and can’t cure it. Just let them have theirs and you yours. Forgiveness is really giving up the wish that things could be different...
8. Family isn’t everything. While you may be walking out of a Norman Rockwell painting right now, that is not everyone’s experience. For many people, the holidays are lonely and completely devoid of family time. This is because of abuse, dysfunction, addiction and death usually. Be mindful that just because you think that everyone on the planet is surrounded with those they love on the celebrated day, doesn’t make it true. Family is one way to celebrate, there are many others. If you find yourself alone this holiday, find a new way to celebrate that suits you. My favorite is to go on a long hike alone...there is something that nature provides me that family never could.
9. Love anyway. Regardless of whether you miss them or are glad they are gone. Love them. From across the room, table or the other coast. Love once was the basis for these holidays. It was why we all got together before it became all about the outfits, food and gifts. Even if the only one you can love this year is you. Do that to the best of your ability. If you can express love to others, do that also. You will feel better for any love expressed...no exceptions.
10. Release expectations. All of them. How it should be. How it always was. The way you think it should be now. How they think it should be now. Just let it all go. There is a flow to life that has nothing to do with you. I know this seems like an affront. But it isn’t really up to you anyway. You are just a small part of a greater whole. Try to remember that and let go of all the things you think you know or need or must have. Perhaps your greatest holiday ever is waiting just on the other side your expectations. Perhaps just allowing it to unfold will provide you all you need, even if it isn’t all you want.
Ex-laws will be part of this season whether you like them, hate them or wish they moved very far away. Perhaps the kindest most holiday thing you can do is just allow them to be who they are having whatever reaction they are having to your divorce and grant the same grace to yourself. This year doesn’t have to spectacular...there will be other years with new traditions and new people and celebrations. Perhaps this year, you just allow it to be whatever it is without adding anything extra. Perhaps if you can let go, so can they. Perhaps you have something valuable to teach them while they are teaching you things you do not want to learn. Maybe, just maybe, this year, the holidays and ex-laws are your greatest gifts even if you really want to stand in the long return lines to give them back.