As we continue our Dreading the Holidays series, today we will be looking at how having differing values from our family members can cause extra holiday stress.
This one is difficult because as young children, we tend to adopt our parents values with black and white thinking patterns. Children don’t have critical thinking skills until about age 11 according to Piaget’s theory of development. 11 Is when we develop formal operations which is defined as being able to think in abstract and logical terms, theoretical thoughts, and can apply what we learn in one context to a different context that may be relevant.
Kolberg’s theory of development also states that until we become teenagers which focus on social contract and adults who focus on universal principles, school aged children focus primarily on authority and social order which means they are focused on the rules. We mostly learn what the rules are from our family of origin, meaning, our parents.
Furthermore, Erikson’s theory of development also shows that from approximately ages 13-21, we are focused on identity versus role confusion. This is specifically the stage of development were we begin to break away from our family rules and form our own identities, think for ourselves. It’s actually a very beautiful time!
But many parents are afraid of these things because change is, legitimately, difficult. Family systems, just like any other system such as a car or computer, likes homeostasis. When something is updated or broken, the system stops working for a brief time and tries to regain equilibrium through a number of dysfunctional patterns. Those dysfunctional patterns will continue until the update or brokenness is processed and, hopefully, accepted.
As I said, this one is difficult because at the end of the day, the best answer may simply be working towards agreeing to disagree. This is extremely difficult and our society is, admittedly, not good at this. Humans may never have been good at this, in fact. While we say we enjoy celebrating differences, there is a certain element that we like homogeneity. It’s a part of our nature in being social creatures a little bit similar to pack animals. We form tribes. Our tribes typically form out of common interests.
This is okay. But interacting with differences takes a lot of patience and a very open mind. The only person you can control is yourself. This is why this is so difficult. I’m basically asking you to be the bigger person.
No. It’s not fair. You’re possibly answering to your family’s personal traumas and are providing deep and long needed healing for them by not judging their responses to you. But I acknowledge how incredibly difficult this is when all you want is to be accepted by your own flesh and blood.
Perhaps you have recently begun to question your sexuality but you were raised in a very traditional family and no longer feel welcome at home. Perhaps you were raised in a particular religion but decided during college that you wanted to believe something different and constantly fight with your parents over your spiritual beliefs. Perhaps you chose a job your parents didn’t approve of and you can feel their judgment looming over you. Perhaps you chose to marry or date someone your family doesn’t like and you dread just the idea of going home for a visit.
My suggestion is to arm yourself with a plethora of coping skills. Consider even writing them down on an index card you can keep in your wallet or purse or tape to your phone case. The minute you feel this struggle coming on, consider asking to step out for a minute. You can make up a fake phone call or just say you need to use the bathroom or need a little fresh air. Then use your coping skills to rebalance yourself and jump back in. Rinse and repeat as much as needed.
Also consider radical acceptance. Again, this doesn’t mean we like what’s happening or it doesn’t hurt. But it may help us understand the why behind our family’s behavior.
Consider this perspective. What if your parent was raised extremely traditional? Let’s say they were brought up in a militant, religious home where there were extremely strict rules. Perhaps that parent at one point had same sex attraction and confided this to their parents. Their parents then found it appropriate, acceptable, and even righteous to beat their own child. Your parent continued to grow up then and became homophobic in order to cope with their own childhood trauma. However, this is something they would never tell you because Baby Boomers and Generation Xers hold privacy as more of a value than Millennial’s who value open mindedness.
If you are a millennial and going through something like this, consider that you are a healing balm to some of the previous generational patterns. We have a unique opportunity to show the world a different way, to actually learn how to agree to disagree. However, this means we will have to work hard at our own coping skills and learning how to radically accept the things around us. Otherwise, broken relationships with our own kin are at risk.
Stay tuned for more helpful blog posts like this to help you thrive during this holiday season. And as always, feel free to book a consultation or appointment if you need to process any of these topics!