December Holidays are days that we are meant to spend with our loved ones, but in many cases, these gatherings can get on our nerves. Family members asking awkward questions, criticizing our life decisions, and the list goes on. Sometimes, rather than a family reunion, it feels like entering the butcher.
I want to share with you the story of one of my clients, who was dealing with this type of situation. Let’s call my client Tamara, just for the sake of our story.
Tamara is a very confident and outgoing person, but every single time that she has to meet with her family, she feels small and uncomfortable. She says that they make her feel like a kid again, even though she is almost 40 now.
In our sessions, we have been working on getting her out of her comfort zone. One of our mantras is “the only way out is through,” which means that in order to get rid of discomfort, you should face whatever is bothering you. That was the plan for New Year’s dinner with her family.
“Enough is enough,” she said “I am not taking criticism nor judgment towards the life that I have built for myself. I am old enough to know what’s best for me, and it’s time for my family to respect that.”
Of course, this is easier said than done, but man, she deserves a round of applause for the way that she handled everything. Let me tell you what happened.
Tamara got to her parent’s house, which is usually where her family meets for December Holidays. Her aunts and uncles are always making jokes and comments about her life choices. Her uncle is always asking about boyfriends, marriage, and sometimes even judging her outfit. Last year he told her “Are you actually into men? Because you have never presented us a boyfriend of yours. Please tell me that you are not a lesbian.”
These comments make her feel not only uncomfortable but also angry. She explained to him that because of her work as an entrepreneur, she doesn’t have enough time to be dating, but that it doesn’t make her less happy. She is a successful businesswoman, and she is proud of her professional achievements. On the other hand, her aunt always starts talking about how a ridiculous decision it was for her to become vegan. Tamara told me that last year they even tried putting tiny pieces of ham on her smashed potatoes, telling her that they wanted to make her eat meat for her own sake.
Tamara has countless anecdotes like these ones, but this year she decided to change the story.
Her aunt sat next to her on the table, and asked her “So tell me honey, when are you leaving this phase behind and start eating meat again?”
Tamara laughed and responded, “Never auntie, this is not a phase. I have been vegan for 6 years already, and I’m not going back to eating meat.”
“But sweetie, that’s not healthy…”
Before she kept on going Tamara interrupted her and said “Listen, I have been going to a nutritionist and I have had my blood work done ever since I decided to become vegan, and I am perfectly healthy. Trust me, there’s no one who cares more about my wellbeing than me, so I would really appreciate it if you respected my life decisions and if you trusted my judgment, rather than making fun of me. It doesn’t make me feel good when you do that.”
She stood up from the table and went to the bathroom. I got a text from her in the bathroom, saying: “I DID IT!!!”
When she came back, she saw that her family was gathering around her aunt, and that she was whipping the tears off her face. Her aunt saw her and hugged her, she said “Honey, I never meant to make you feel bad. I love you, and I want what’s best for you, but you are right. I shouldn’t make comments about your life decisions unless you ask for my opinion. I am so sorry for pushing you away by making you feel uncomfortable.” Tamara hugged her back and whispered “Thanks.”
What started as small talk, ended up being a heart-felted conversation with the entire family. Everyone opened up and set some healthy boundaries that would help them feel more comfortable and united.
Tamara says that she was taking the burden just because she felt that it would be disrespectful to contradict the elderly, but once she spoke, she realized that her relationship with her family felt stronger, and that the awkwardness was gone.
I encourage you to set some healthy boundaries yourself. It will make your family gatherings what they are supposed to be, moments of joy and bonding with your loved ones.