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Guidelines for Visiting Your Family at the Holidays or Vacations

It’s HOLIDAY (or vacation) time!

Most people want to be surrounded by FAMILY (whether this is their real family, chosen family or longed for family) at this nostalgic time of the year. (And if you’re a parent, you likely value your kids bonding with their siblings, cousins and other relatives and enjoy bringing everyone together.)

However, if you’re an adult child from a family where you’ve encountered reoccurring conflicts and unresolved hurts with your parents and/or siblings, you might also be experiencing a gnawing feeling of anxiety.

Have you ever wondered if you had any other options besides participating in the “same old cycle” with out of town relatives?

  1. Missing family (& romanticizing about your visit)
  2. Visiting family and feeling disappointed, hurt, or stressed out to the max!
  3. Feeling resentment and vowing to not visit your family again
  4. (Begin missing family again…) REPEAT with the same results

If you are interested in breaking out of a negative, disconnecting cycle with your parents and/or in-laws, read on for Dr. Harold Bloomfield’s “Guidelines for a Visit”

These guidelines are found in his powerful, timeless book, Making peace with your parents; The key to enriching your life and all your relationships, which is based on thousands of his clients’ success stories, in addition to his own!

Bloomfield explains, “In addition to making peace with the parents inside your head, a crucial step in improving your relationship with your parents is setting firm and effective guidelines for yourself to make each visit a success.”

Dr. Bloomfield’s Guidelines for a Visit- with Your Family

1. Before you visit, consider doing the exercises (in chapter 2 of his book) with the support of a therapist, coach, mentor, etc. to free yourself of some of the past pain you’ve been carrying around.

“The techniques for working through resentments, anger, guilt, and intimidation can eliminate much of your inner turmoil and potential conflict before they happen. Diligently using the exercises outlined in this book, you can safely assume that an ounce of prevention is worth ten pounds of cure!”

2. Set a definite time limit on the duration of your visit.

“Rather than spending your visit negotiating, defending, or apologizing about how long you will stay, focus on quality instead of quantity. If a ninety-minute lunch is the most likely setting for a successful visit, don’t feel guilty and spend six hours instead. If three days is the amount of time you and your parents tend to get along~”

“Don’t insist that love means having to stay under the same roof for two weeks”.

3. Let your parents know in advance what other activities and people are on your schedule.

“You don’t have to spend every moment with your parents. They have lives of their own. You may have a variety of things you want to do in addition to seeing them. If the entire visit is spent on obligations and seeing relatives, neither you nor your parents will be in the best of moods to enjoy each other. If you want to see old friends, have private times with other people or simply have time alone or with your spouse, you should let your parents know ahead of time so that your needs will be met without a struggle or hurt feelings.”

4. Don’t be afraid to set some ground rules.

“If your parents can’t help criticizing your home, its furnishing or your children, visit them at their home or at a neutral site. When you are going through emotional turmoil as a result of a divorce, job loss or illness and you are reluctant to listen to your parents’ advice, don’t feel guilty in delaying when you will see them or in limiting what topics you will discuss.”

5. If you are traveling to visit your parents, stay with friends or at a nearby hotel.

“By giving yourself the time to relax after a long flight, the space to unwind and defuse your upsets, and the opportunity to do the anger ventilation exercises when needed, you will be far more likely to enjoy the time you actually spend with your parents. Also, you won’t have to apologize for your, perhaps now very different, living habits, food preferences or needs for privacy.”

I’m AMAZED at the number of highly independent and intelligent adults who tell me this idea is “impossible!” or exclaim “my parents/in-laws would never allow it”. Who made this rule that adults have to stay in the same dwelling as their family of origin during visits, and how did you decide you have to follow it?! 

Bloomfield challenges this idea of family members continuing to be cut out to be roommates by standing up for the needs of adult “children” and also for the parents! He explains, “Nor should you assume that you are doing your parents a big favor with your visits. They may be as dissatisfied with the quality of the get-togethers as you are!”

6. Stay healthy and fit during your visit.

“Instead of allowing yourself to fall back into old habits, you may have had when you lived at home (and then resenting your parents for your weight gain or lethargy), remember to exercise, meditate, eat healthy and light meals, and relax whenever possible during your visit. At the same time, don’t try to “reform” your parents. They are entitled to their own lifestyle and health habits, whether or not you approve!”

7. Prepare your spouse [or partner] so you can support each other during the visit.

“Be sure that your partner understands and is ready to deal with any emotional upsets you might be going through. Be sensitive as well to his or her needs, in case your partner feels neglected, excluded or uncomfortable at any time during the visit. Watch out for the approval trap! Your spouse [or partner] does not have to fall in love with your parents, nor do your parents have to adore and admire your partner. Without having to mediate or justify anyone’s feelings, it’s okay if things are simply cordial.”

8. If you bring your children along, don’t put the burden of the visit on them.

“Sometimes you and your parents will avoid talking to each other and instead spend the entire time watching the children “perform”. Not only can that be tiring for the children, but it can prevent you from working through your problems with your parents. In addition, some couples act as though three days with their parents- who have different eating habits, discipline styles and rewards than they- is going to spoil or damage the children.”

“Instead of fearing that your parents are going to ‘ruin’ your children, focus instead on the feelings, resentments, and unresolved conflicts that are aroused in you by watching your parents play and interact with your children. You can learn a lot about yourself and your upbringing by watching closely, without having to ‘save’ your children.” (Bloomfield)

You might also consider focusing on the positive moments between your children and their grandparents and choose gratitude instead of resentment for their different parenting style. As long as the grandparents’ way of interacting with your children is just different than yours (versus abusive or neglectful) and your children seem to be genuinely enjoying their interactions with your parents, this might be an opportunity for you to work on acceptance. The bond between a child and their grandparent can be a really special one.

9. See the visits as an opportunity for growth, not as a painful burden.

“Rather than avoiding or resisting conflicts, accept that from time to time problems will arise. Indeed, assume they will! As you continue to make peace with your parents, see each potential upset as an opportunity for being more effective in expressing anger constructively, setting effective limits and learning to express your love and acceptance. Favor the positive but don’t be unrealistic in your expectations.” Bloomfield’s final message~

“By seeing the inner child within your parent and remembering to stop, relax, and choose appropriate responses, you will be rewarded with more feelings of love and peace of mind.”

10. You can find additional ideas for your family visit in my blogs and videos below:

“How Can I Forgive You?”

Do You Have a Mother-in-Law?

Have Your Partner’s Back and Heart at the Holidays and Family Events

Setting Boundaries with Your Most Difficult Family Members

The Couple Bubble” (Scroll down halfway for Youtube video)

In closing~

There’s a famous story about enlightenment and our family of origin.

A student of the Dalai Lama asked him, “How do I know that I’ve reached enlightenment?” 

The Dalai Lama responded, “Go home and visit with your family (of origin) for at least a week. When you come back, let me know.”

Even if your goal is not enlightenment, a visit to your family of origin or your in-laws will likely provide you with a growth opportunity as long as you go in with an OPEN mind and heart for connection and the courage to set some of the boundaries above for protection of yourself and others. And, just to clarify…

What enlightenment is not

Enlightenment is not allowing yourself to be an outlet for abuse or emotional neglect. In some families, one or more family members have been able to act in abusive ways under the guise of “I was just angry, upset, drunk, etc.” and others have protected that individual by excusing their behavior or demanding that family members all forgive and forget “because that’s what family does”.

If you are wondering, “What should I do with my family member who is unwilling or unable to change their abusive behavior, and yet I want to remain connected to my family?”

  1. Follow Dr. Bloomfield’s “Guidelines For a Visit” above
  2. Check out my blog on “Setting Boundaries with Your Most Difficult Family Members
  3. Consider the acceptance process.

Acceptance is one solution when a difficult family member won’t change~

Author and therapist Janice Abrahms-Spring explains in her book, How can I forgive you? The courage to forgive and the freedom not to, four options we have when we’ve experience profound hurt or violation:

1. “Cheap forgiveness- an inauthentic act of peacekeeping that resolves nothing.”

2. “Refusing to forgive- a rigid response that keeps you entombed in hate”

3. “Genuine Forgiveness- when the offender is willing to open his/her heart and participate in the process of earning forgiveness and the hurt party is also willing to participate in the steps of granting forgiveness.”

4. “Acceptance- an equally powerful way of healing an injury when the person who hurt you fails to participate in the process; a liberating, realistic and powerfully healing process that might lead to individuals stepping onto the path of enlightenment or at the very least freedom and peace.”

Abrahms-Spring further explains the acceptance process, which includes setting boundaries and “freeing yourself from the trauma of an injury…and deciding how to transcend the injury…with this freedom comes the power to decide how you’re going to live the rest of your life!”

I wish you all the best at your next holiday or family event!

If you would like help in finding your voice and/or developing a plan with your partner to allow you to both feel safe and enjoy your next family holiday or event, contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III today at 720.432.5262, [email protected], or schedule free 15 or 30 minute consultation here on my online calendar.