Come November family gatherings are as inevitable as falling leaves. Airports and highways jammed with travelers heading home for the holidays are clear evidence of the human longing for attachment and connection.
Yet, it’s an axiom of modern culture that these gatherings are often more endured than enjoyed, a testimony to widespread SDD – Seasonal Detachment Disorder. No it’s not a DSM diagnosis, but the tension between a desire for attachment and the opposite desire for detachment is a malaise that affects many family gatherings.
We could take a lesson from the trees. The annual leaf detachment is not a disorder. Rather it is the natural order. As intended, trees produce leaves and/or fruit, live in close relationship with them for a season and – when the time is right – let them go, and repeat annually.
It’s not so simple for us. In healthy families we thrive as we grow in secure attachment to our parents and siblings. Given favorable amounts of security, self esteem and guidance, children mature into responsible adults. When the time is right, young adults leave their childhood homes, establish healthy adult relationships, nurture a new generation, secure in their connections with the older generation.
But since no family is perfect most of us struggle with the relationship to our family of origin at times.
Some parents cling to adult children, unwilling to let them move into their own lives. Or children, unsure of their ability to function in the world, hang on to the safety of the parental home. Sibling rivalry may continue into adulthood. Add to that the complexities of in-law and step family relationships. It’s a recipe for family gatherings that are anything but relaxing.
Perhaps Mom is domineering and Dad is detached. Or maybe Dad is full of advice about everything and Mom is stressed out, distracted and irritable from trying to choreograph a Norman Rockwell family event.
Maybe you get into the same old fights with your siblings. Or it could be that your lives have followed such different paths that you find it hard to connect at all, so conversations are limited to weather, football and kids.
Perhaps your adult children discount your hard-earned wisdom and you end up feeling like a has-been. Or you find the chaos created by children of multiple families thrown together for a few days incredibly annoying. And you have to contend with it all for a very l-o-n-g weekend.
Overcome SSD and make your family gathering more enjoyable by:
- Letting go of unrealistic expectations. Is there any reason to think that your family members will be different this year than they have always been?
- Accepting family members for who they are goes a long way toward being accepted for who you are.
- Forgiving past hurts heals old wounds and builds bridges.
- Sharing your thoughts and feelings invites others to do the same and opens the door to meaningful conversations.
- Focusing on shared life experiences can strengthen your sense of family. Remember no one else has known you for as long as your parents and siblings have.
- Focusing on the positives such as shared interests or things that make you proud.
Whatever your family dynamics, focusing on the positives can strengthen your attachment, diminish SDD and create an enjoyable family gathering.
I am a North Carolina Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor with 20 years experience in the field and many more years of life experience. I entered the counseling profession in mid-life after putting in time as a stay-at-home mom, a freelance writer, a journalist, and a United States-based missionary. I love walking alongside those who are seeking to find themselves, heal a relationship, or recover from trauma. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, and hanging out with my grandsons.