Tips for dealing with the changes, challenges, and opportunities of family gatherings

The holiday season is upon us. For many that means family gatherings and celebrations. Part of this busy time is how we deal with changing family as we face aging issues. In his new book “Raising an Aging Parent: Guidelines for Families in the Second Half of Life,” Dr. Ken Druck provides incite about how to foster an atmosphere of love, understanding, and peace in our families in the second half of life. Whether your family is facing new changes, old challenges, or fertile opportunities, here are some of Dr. Druck’s dos and don’ts for making the most of your time together while avoiding joy-robbing drama:

Dos:

  • Start thinking about your next family gathering by taking a deep breath. Some things have probably changed, and some things probably remain pretty much the same. Relax and focus on the opportunities at hand for family closeness, celebration, and love.
  • Ask the host if there’s anything you can bring or do to help make the gathering wonderful and share some of the load.
  • Greet each family member with as kind, loving, and compassionate a heart as possible.
  • Volunteer to do and/or bring something that invokes a sweet remembrance of a beloved family member who has passed — or welcomes a new member of the family.
  • Make the decision to be pleasant and even-tempered. Do your best to forgive the pain of the past and make peace with your family by being as caring, respectful, honest, attentive, and encouraging as possible.
  • Clear the air of any hostility, blame, and/or guilt you may inadvertently and unknowingly bring into a family gathering. Make peace by leaving resentments, anger, hurt, grudges, and so on at the door.
  • Stay calm when someone says or does something insensitive, rude, or inappropriate and resist the temptation to jump into the fray.
  • Visualize having a good time — if not a great one! —  with your family. Picture smiling faces and open hearts, including your own. And then, bring that attitude (and a nice house gift, yummy dish, or nice bottle of wine) with you.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t imagine the worst and build a negative emotional charge before a family gathering.
  • Don’t use your family gathering as a stage for acting out old family rivalries, grudges, dramas, or differences.
  • Don’t talk shop. If some members of the family are in the family business, put business matters on hold for discussion at a later time in another setting.
  • Don’t engage in small talk, reckless gossip, rumors, attacks, or harsh judgments about others.
  • Don’t succumb to the temptation to use hurtful humor, ridicule, teasing, or sarcasm.
  • Don’t be drawn into arguments or political discussions with family members who are trying to convince you that your position is incorrect or crazy.
  • Don’t arrive at a family gathering already intoxicated or completely exhausted.
  • Don’t perpetuate dismissive and ageist beliefs, myths, stereotypes, and/or misconceptions about either older or younger members of your family.
  • Don’t waste this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fortify your family with love, kindness, understanding, and humility.

“Put these dos and don’ts into practice by being your best self, lightening your heart, leading with loving-kindness, disciplining your negative impulses, containing your knee-jerk defenses, defusing brewing arguments, exhibiting patience and compassion, and imagining all the good things that are going to come out of this family gathering,” Dr. Druck says.

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