Sip Your Drink Slowly, and Other Tips for Handling Irksome Family Members.

Large Group of Happy People standing together.Things don’t always turn out how we want. Blah Blah. Heard it all before. Right? Make lemon drop martinis out of lemons… or something like that. But what about when people don’t behave how we want them to? Yes, if we’re honest, we must admit we have certain expectations about human behavior. Not usually our own behavior, no, our harshest criticism seems especially passionate when it comes to the folks who happen to be related to us.

It’s summer and the season offers plenty of opportunity for family gatherings, or at least the expectation of some level of family togetherness. And when it comes to family, what I seem to notice most consistently is the disappointment people harbor when it comes to certain family members.

“Why doesn’t he call more often?” “She forgot my birthday.” “He’s too busy and doesn’t make enough time for me.” “She’s spoiling her children.” “He doesn’t pay enough attention to his children.” “They only call when they need something.” “She’s so critical of everything I do.”

On and on it goes, an endless lament of unmet expectations sprinkled into a simmering stew of deeply held disappointments and grudges.

Welp, here’s the deal as far as I see it. When it comes to family, we’re kind of stuck. Unless there is some really hurtful dysfunction or brutality at work, a la August Osage County, it’s difficult to have relationships if we just pick up our toys and go home when others get on our nerves. Instead, consider a handful of coping techniques I’ve found helpful when tempted to complain about someone else’s behavior.

First, I’m willing to bet that most of the time another person’s behavior isn’t about me. It’s about them. They’re trying too hard or aren’t trying at all because they’re worried about perception or making a mistake. My mind can be hard to read and yours probably can be too. Heck, the people who live in my house with me are often unsure of how to make me happy. So how can we expect others to know exactly what to do or say to please us? Or maybe that person you’re annoyed with is just plain clueless and has no real intention of being helpful or hurtful. So what? Laugh it off. Give it a pass. Don’t keep a record of wrongs.

Second, generational and cultural differences do exist. So stop measuring other people by the social mores of whatever generation, town or religious tradition you came of age in. Be gentle, not condescending. And even when it’s difficult, try to give the old folks a break–for many reasons, but mostly because our behavior toward them is teaching our children how to treat us when we’re old. Seriously. Think about it.

Lastly, stop being pissed off that your family doesn’t mirror some romanticized TV version of unconditional campfire Kumbaya. The fact is many people simply cannot live up to the expectations we’ve set for them. Either because they never learned how or are emotionally unequipped to do so. So when we get anxious, angry or agitated because others are not meeting our needs, we’re being just as annoying as they are. Put yourself in their shoes and consider the source. Then consider the only true source of life, the creator and maker of all things who stands ready to meet our very real needs.

I pray blessings on all of your family gatherings this summer and hope we can be quick to forgive, offer kindness and seek a spirit of harmony. May our expectations be in line with what’s realistic and our concerns be more about how we can bless others rather than how we desire others to bless us. Oh, and if life give you lemons, be sure to sip your lemon drop slowly.

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It’s Only Temporary

My "temporary" home.

My “temporary” home.

For the third time in 15 years, it seemed as if my husband’s employer might experience a merger. But this time was different. Instead of the company purchasing or partnering with another, it faced the threat of being swallowed up by a corporation with a reputation for improving efficiencies by slashing payrolls.

We followed news stories and stock prices. We waited. And during the waiting, I had a sort of epiphany.

I recall starting out our married life feeling as if we had nothing to lose. We pursued job offers in a city thousands of miles from home. We spent an entire night filling a moving truck with what little we had and gave away whatever wouldn’t fit. We’d signed a lease for an apartment sight unseen. We sold my car before we left to avoid paying to haul it.

But then, the job I thought I had lined up fell through. So, with no vehicle and the hubs off to learn his new job, I applied for work in an unfamiliar city and studied the bus schedule in order to get to scheduled interviews. It was challenging but we viewed it as part of a grand adventure. We never doubted things would work out.

It seems people spend their early years dreaming of what is possible. We take risks and work through whatever challenges come along. Most everything–from housing to employment–is temporary, and that’s expected, even welcomed.

But then, we accomplish things like working years with a company that pays well and provides healthcare and paid vacations. We buy houses, cars, furniture and timeshares. We have children who become accustomed to things like groceries, sporting equipment, piano lessons and orthodontia. And suddenly, we think we have a lot to lose.

During those weeks when the hubs and I told ourselves we weren’t worried about hostile takeovers or job losses, I realized that I prefer the adventurous nature of my younger self. When did living become about holding on so tightly to what we’ve accumulated instead of believing, as we once did, that everything is temporary and that something even better is just around the corner?

It seems that potential corporate takeover isn’t going to happen, at least not right now. But the experience has reminded me that security is an illusion. The Lord gives and He takes away. Praise be the name of the Lord. I don’t quote those lines as some flippant response to the everyday agony endured by many, but as a reminder that His grace is sufficient. And that life is sweeter when each moment is enjoyed with fists unclenched of what is temporary. Let life’s joys and sorrows run through open fingers. We cannot grasp one and refuse the other. Being open to change, expecting it or even welcoming it, still can be part of life’s grand adventure.

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