If your family is anything like mine, the holidays often feel like an annual trip in a time machine. But instead of everything looking cool, like in Westworld, you return to being a 12-year old at the kids’ table. You fight with your siblings over control of the remote. You get sucked into arguments with your parents about how often to call your grandma. You likely spend at least an hour explaining to your aunt (for the 1,000th time) why you’re approaching 30 and not married. For me, sitting at the proverbial kids’ table means enduring the razzing of my older brother. He likes to remind me that even though I make a living as a coach helping people to think big, I was a pretty whiny kid. Someone almost always ends up in tears. It’s usually me.
It happens every year. But you and I are not alone. It’s difficult for a family to break out of a system of relating. The $20 counseling term for it is homeostatis. No matter how much individual members change, we default to familiar patterns. Which means, even though we’re #adulting in our lives away from home, once we’re home, we play our old childhood role.
But this is the year to flip the script and officially move up from the kids’ table. Here is how to connect with your family in a way that honors the adult you are today:
1. Know what you’re about.
Take a moment before you walk through those doors to do a gut and heart check. As you’ve built your adult life there must be some purpose motivating you or giving shape and vision to your life. Some people refer to it as their calling, vocation or life’s purpose. Whatever you name it, tap into it before you’re home. That way, you can walk into that holiday dinner clear on who you are and the person God has called you to be in the world. For example, I recently helped one of my lifeplan clients discover her big life purpose. She learned she exists to “share and connect experiences to help communities encounter adventure.” (Not a bad life purpose, if I do say so myself.)
That means when she goes home for the holidays, she’s going to focus on sharing her latest adventures. She’ll also invite family members to open up about their experiences. With her eye on the prize of purpose, she’s guaranteed to feel fulfilled. And her family will take her seriously as she does what God has called her to do. If you aren’t sure of your life purpose, or you need a good resource to help you refine where you’re headed in life, I offer a free Roadmap to Refining Your Life Purpose e-course you can start today just in time for the holidays.
2. Connect through your unique talents and skills.
Forget about mom and dad understanding all your political views. They also won’t get why you are super into micro brewing. That’s for your friends to celebrate. When you’re home, focus on what you bring to the table that no one in your family does quite as well. Are you the person who always lightens the tension? Do you always have a new and interesting fact? Or are you the peacemaker smoothing things over when conflict runs high? Whatever your unique talent is, deploy it as your primary weapon of choice when you go home.
For example, one of my talents is “communicating insight without judgment.” When I’m home, I seek out opportunities to share my perspective. I also let my family know I hear and affirm who they are. I don’t worry about trying to entertain everyone. Although my New York friends find me hilarious, I accept that my brother will never think I’m funny. At least not as funny as my best friend thinks I am. That’s OK. But what he does appreciate in me is that I’m wise, empathic and discerning. So that’s what I bring to our interactions.
3. Take the focus off of you.
In our generation, people are feeling perpetually isolated, misunderstood and unknown. In Brene Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, she calls loneliness the great spiritual crisis of our time. Over 40 percent of Americans report feeling lonely. And loneliness is becoming an epidemic across the world. If you want to sit at the adult table, help others break through isolation. Make your primary aim getting to know your family deeper. And knowing them means letting them do the talking.
A great way to do this is to connect around their passions. Instead of gossiping about the latest town or family drama, ask questions. Find out how they spend their time when you’re not visiting. What do they dream about? What gets your family members excited or where do they find hope? When you start shining the spotlight on others, they feel seen. And that feeling is addictive. They’ll love having you around so much they’ll ask you to pull up a chair so they can tell you more.
Let’s be real. Going home isn’t always easy. It can be frustrating to get back into old rhythms we thought we’d outgrown. But remember you are an adult. You are competent, confident and accomplished or you wouldn’t be surviving out in the world on your own. If all else fails, it’s only a few days and then you’ll be back in your adult groove. Good luck and happy holidays!