Holidays tend to bring families together, whether they like it or not! Turning challenging family gatherings into a positive experience does not necessarily have to be difficult. Through good times or bad, happy or not so happy, families want something from each other. I think most all of us long to belong to something greater than just self, partner and children. The extended family helps create memories, gives a sense of back up and a hopeful place to go when life hits hard. Most of us tend to hope holidays will be a time of coming together in unity and love. Many family celebrations are created around the sharing of food. Good food and good drink can facilitate tricky family situations. Of course, the opposite can be true as well: drink allows for behaviours and words best not used to find their way into the conversation and it can become almost fatal in some cases. I find it interesting to observe the behaviour of people who come together to celebrate and create memories. I dream their stories. Some stories I know and some I make up.
Clo’s family lives in Quebec and we go there each Easter. Sometimes we share brunch together and sometimes it is an early afternoon dinner. Mr. Couture is the host and he chooses the venue. This year, as in the past 5 years or so, my daughter Michelle, son-in-law Andrew, and 7 year old Sydney, were invited to join the Couture’s for an Easter dinner. About 23 people participated in the celebratory event by the end of the meal. Some drifted in and some drifted out, but everyone made an appearance. Teens from both cultures chatted about sports and if they could sneak some alcohol from the adult table. The little ones played hide and seek under the dinner table, between adult legs. Clo’s family generously attempted to stretch into the language barrier and gregarious Andrew used some French words he knew, sign language, smiles and nods to stay in communication.
At one point Clo noticed that Andrew was smiling quietly by himself. He was obviously deeply moved. Clo asked him what was pleasing him and he told her that he has always wanted to be a part of a big family. In the seating arrangement he and his family had been placed in the middle of the group. Like most of us, he comes from a family that has had many challenges over the years. He was in a glorious position to make up any story he wanted to about the family who invited him to join them today. His story included trusting he belonged and knowing he was wanted. He, as do we all, has always longed to feel like he belongs.
Quebecois families value their time together, whether they like each other or not! My American family holds family in high regard, with a caveat that we get together when we are all feeling loving and open to each other. Clearly not just couple’s need guidance in communicating with each other. Families too can use help in learning how to feel safe with each other. Sometimes we need to learn how to integrate new members into the family group. Andrew assumed admittance into the family circle and it pleased and comforted him.
Over the years I have worked with families, but have never really felt like I specialize in that. Time, wisdom of age, lots of observation, and creative juices have all come together to make this be my moment. I am ripe to work with families with adult children. Helping to ease the pain and smooth the interaction between parents, adult children, and siblings is exciting work. I want to do more of it as I continue my own learning and growing. Andrew’s longing was more than wanting to sit in the middle of a big family, but it was also to feel included, to feel seen and wanted. He was intentional about attempting to do his share in creating that connection. He accepted what he recognized was being offered to him. Out of this holiday dinner that blended two very different families, has grown a connection begun between two cultures who often times do not understand one another. Andrew, and his immediate family, and Dominique, Clo’s brother, and his family founded a friendship that surprised us all and absolutely warms all of our hearts. The caring these two families has shown each other clearly helped to heal the fear of not belonging for several of the members of both families.
As I was walking in the rain at the cemetery this morning with Aimee, the cutest puppy on the planet, I got to thinking about the evolution of my work in juxtaposition with the evolution of me. As I was learning to heal myself, I worked with individuals; as I yearned to heal my relationship, I began working with couples; and now, as I see my own family healing and growing and coming together in their maturity, I am ready to facilitate families. I am acutely aware that we all create our own reality. Every one of us can decide mindfully to be positive rather than negative. Negativity does not get us what in the end of it all we really want for ourselves. Being positive and taking intentional action in favour of self is far more likely to get us what we truly want. Just ask Andrew, it worked for him.
I am continuing to help heal my own family as I witness and facilitate the growth and healing of other families. To be intentional and mindful and positive is the key. For families to work, each member needs to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Every one person must be aware of how they include or exclude themselves and others. Ultimately, what do you long for? That is what Andrew asked himself. Ultimately he longed to belong, and hopefully belong in a large family. So he took a risk and placed himself there. He was pleased with the results.
Life truly is a mystery, while simultaneously being a challenge, a joy and delight, and filled with lessons. I am responsible for what I make out of my life. It is amazing! If we refuse to focus on the negative, as Andrew did in the midst of cultural and language differences, we can instead find joy. He refused to feel left out. He called attention to himself and magic happened. As Andrew refused to see himself as an outsider, but instead placed himself in the middle of both families, he was saying to us: we can do this in harmony and laughter. He made a lovely unspoken statement of hope just by being himself and assuming that the story he made up was the same story we all make up. His positive assumptions worked. It is always affirming when we accept that the cup is half full rather than half empty.