Disclaimer: I'm not great at this and I don't always do what I know is right. These are just some principles I've learned through trial and error - mostly error. I hope they are helpful to you. One more thought for you too. If you read all these and automatically come back with, "Yeah, but you don't know my family", you've totally missed it and you're more of the problem than you can imagine. All of these principles are about taking responsibility, not casting blame. Enjoy.
5 Ways to love those family members, both near and far:
- Put yourself in their shoes. Here's the problem. We get so annoyed by those insufferable family members because we filter all their behavior through our own situation. We think, "I would never act like that." Well, you're right. But you're also not in their situation. Try imagining what life is like for them this Christmas. You might even ask them about their situation and try to understand. Imagine that. I heard John Maxwell say years ago, "Hurting people hurt people." Do you really think your relative who deals out pain like second nature is doing it so you can have an unpleasant time? Isn't it more likely that they are hurting and you might be able to help?
- Think of yourself less often. St. Francis of Assisi brilliantly prayed, "O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be understood than to understand." This plays off the one above and could be a brand new way to relate to your family. I understand where you are because I'm the same as you. I go into almost every relationship, family or otherwise, with the filter of how that peson is efffecting me on. But, what I've learned is that is the wrong filter. You should learn this too. The more you go into your family relationships thinking about yourself and how it all makes you feel, the more frustrated and unfulfilled you will be. That is a fact and you can't change that. What you can change is how you look at those family relationships. Change your thinking. How are you making them feel? Not how are they making you feel.
- Limit the visit. This is purely practical. Even if you masterfully employ #'s 1 & 2 above, things don't become magically perfect. Why? Beceause you can only control 50% of the people in every relationahip you have. There is still the variable of that family member you're having trouble with. So, let's get practical. If you know someone is tough for you to handle, limit the visit. Three hours is going to be a better experience than eight. If they are far away, a two day visit is going to be better than five. You can set yourself up for success or shoot yourself in the foot. Which one sounds better?
- Invest in the connection. These last two are about those far-away family members we miss so much. My wife, Sara, has really taught me this lesson and I'm so grateful to her. When we moved to Oklahoma seven years ago, that put us anywhere from 1200 to 1600 miles away from all our family. I assumed that meant that we would be mostly relegated to phone conversations. Here's what Sara has shown me and what we've done. We've invested significant time and money into keeping those relationships alive, in person. For seven years now, almost every single family vacation and break has been one that involves significant travel to visit family. I'm talking abut six of us in a minivan covering 4000 plus miles in a 10-16 day time-span! I haven't loved every minute of it, but I've learned that the payoff is worth the cost. Giving up your time and money to be wth your far off and beloved family is worth all you'll spend.
- Move. Not possible? I beg to differ. Like I said, seven years ago, we moved to Oklahoma. Six years ago my parents did the same. Yes, they moved 1200 miles to be near us. They gave up jobs and sold two houses - one they lived in and one investment property - so they could be near us. It wasn't all roses. They've had some significant personal challenges along the way, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard them say (my dad, especially) something like, "I'm so glad we moved here. I just couldn't bear to be away from you guys." We live in a huge country, but it's a free country. You are free to move if you choose to. It's not an impossibility.