I thought it would get easier as we got older. However, our family dynamics seem to be becoming even more challenging as we age. As we get older, we become more set in our ways and are also becoming less tolerant or less interested in spending time with people we don’t like. Sadly, many times the people we don’t particularly like are our family members. It causes a real dilemma.
One of my favorite teachers, Harvard Professor Robert Kegan, talks about the competing commitments we have in our lives. We are always faced with choices about what matters most. Kegan suggests if you watch what people do, you see what they are most committed to.
I’m very committed to family harmony and family holiday gatherings that allow us all to stay connected to Grandma and Grandpa and our family heritage. Our family has enjoyed holiday gatherings dating back to the 1960’s at my grandmother’s house.
Recent conflicts in the family lead my aunt to contemplate canceling the event for the first time in over 50 years. I was suddenly confronted with the idea of the family holiday party coming to an end. I was very disappointed.
As I thought more about it, I thought how important it was for our family to stay connected even if it’s once a year and at a holiday gathering. The recent conflict was more about individual value differences, yet it didn’t need to impact the larger family community and holiday tradition.
I realized my sibling and I don’t always live our lives the same way. We have different values and different preferences about our political parties, TV shows and friends we associate with. At the same time I realized I really do appreciate our common heritage, what our extended family has meant to us and what it could and should mean to our children.
If we allow our style and value differences to lead to unwillingness to break bread at the holiday season, I think it would be a disservice to our family and our children.
So let’s get back to the subject of the holiday dinner. It’s not always easy spending time with people you don’t have the same values and preferences with. In fact many of my coaching clients ask me, “How can I be true to myself and authentic while pretending I like my sibling while sitting at Thanksgiving dinner?”
So how about this? Sitting with you at Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t necessarily mean I like you but it does mean I love you. It means I am committed to staying in a relationship with my family because family represents something even bigger and deeper than hanging out with people I like. That’s the kind of example I want to send to my children and nieces and nephews.
Our recent conflict is most certainly a precursor to the kinds of style and value differences that could happen to my children in another 25 years. I want my son to stay connected to my daughter. I want him to love her like a sister and be there for her, even if at times they’re not getting along due to some value and preference differences.
One of my highest commitments is to a strong and healthy extended family. Sometimes when we can stay in a relationship with people we don’t always see eye-to-eye with we are making a commitment to bigger and more important things like family and our family heritage.
I look forward to our holiday gathering. I look forward to the opportunity of giving my siblings a big genuine hug because I love them. Hopefully we’ll see past our recent conflict and read the bigger message of our long-term enduring relationships.
Giving a big hug and genuinely wanting for their well-being is authentic. My view of our recent conflict hasn’t changed. I still feel strongly about that matter. I feel more strongly about our family traditions and want to put aside our short-term conflict for our long-term family.
Staying connected to the family and creating a harmonious extended family takes work — it’s not easy. It would be easier to make an excuse or to hope that we just give up on putting up with each other. Greatness never happens by taking the easy road. I think we have a great family and my commitment is that we have a great extended family going forward.
I’d love to hear your views on this? Can you go to Thanksgiving dinner even though you don’t like your family? I think so. Let me know what you think.
Pete Walsh is a demanding, courageous and playful Master Coach in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the founder of Peak Workout Business Coaching and the Family Business Performance Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.