I just spent three wonderful days in my hometown of St. Louis where I was visiting my family for Christmas. Nothing out of the ordinary. We make this trip every year. But my attitude toward this annual visit recently shifted.
I was hanging out with friends recently and one of them said, “You know, our parents are getting older and if you think about it, if we only see them twice a year, that’s only 60 more visits.”
Whoa. That really hit me.
My mom is going to be 60 in 2020. If she lives until she’s 90, God willing, and I keep up my bi-yearly visits to Missouri, I will only see her 60 more times. She rarely comes to visit me in LA, though my brother just became a flight attendant which includes great perks for family members, so I’m hoping that will change.
But still. 60 more visits with my mom. It’s a crazy realization.
I love her, though we have our differences. She supports our current President, I do not. So does her boyfriend. He loves to tease me about this. It got so bad I blocked him Facebook, something I didn’t even touch in my previous post about social media. As you can imagine, it’s caused plenty of tension over the past two years.
It’s an issue many people face. Families have been divided over politics. It’s nearly impossible to even bring up the topic without being called a ‘libertard’ or whatever, or a ‘snowflake’. I’m not exaggerating. I don’t even try to discuss current events.
For a time, I felt compelled to try and change their minds. There were calls from activists to engage in tough conversations. So, like a good little change maker, I did try. Every time I went home, an innocent discussion would quickly end with name calling and crying. Not very productive or uplifting.
60 visits. Was this how I want to spend my remaining time with my mom? No it is not.
Here’s how to make those 60 visits count.
Let it go.
Just be present and enjoy your time together. There is no sense in arguing over topics neither will budge on. Don’t just sit around and leave space for arguments. My family is notorious for backyard parties that linger on forever. It can be enjoyable, but often times people get bored, (and/or intoxicated) and someone brings up an uncomfortable topic. Learn to let comments slide. And also…
In my experience, this heightens emotions and brings out the worst in all of us. I enjoy a glass of wine or two, but on occasion, I’ve let my guard down or overindulged. This only opens the floodgates for misinterpretation, jokes that don’t land and emotions running wild. Take the advice of Millionaire Matchmake Patti Stanger and stick to a two drink maximum. Keep it classy. If a controversial topic does come up, simply…
Shift the Conversation
Set boundaries and opt out when convos get heated. There’s a great book by Alicia Dunams called “I get to.” In chapter 15, Let’s Shift the Conversation, she says when a conversation turns ugly, simply say “let’s shift the conversation.” If people are unwilling, you may need to go a littler further and say “My invitation was for us to collectively shift the conversation. Since it feels like it’s still moving forward with no change, I respectfully opt out.” Let’s be honest, no one can get under your skin the way your family can. They know what makes you tick. Don’t take the bait. Walk away. And on that note…
To combat this inevitable fall back plan of hanging out in the backyard, I like to schedule activities and treat it like a gift. Last year around Christmas, we all went to the City Museum and had a great day together. This year we went to the Missouri History Museum. Both are interactive, engaging and encourage curiosity / play… something we all need more of. Who has time for political discussions when you’re busy climbing through a skate park or watching a circus act? Experiences make the best gifts in my opinion. Afterwards…
Have your own space
I used to stay with my family to ensure lots of togetherness. But the reality is, it can be too much of a good thing. I love to save money, but my husband and I have realized that it’s worth it to shell out a few hundred bucks for a hotel room where we’ll have our own space and a gym to keep up with our self care. We even brought my nephew to stay the night with us the past two visits. He loves getting to stay at a hotel and we got to spend extra time with him, in our own space. This way, you make the most of hangouts and no one overstays their welcome. Plus, when you have your own space you can…
Set your own schedule
Volunteering and giving back are very important to my husband and I. Even when we’re traveling. We made arrangements to sing holiday carols at an orphanage in St. Louis last year. It made us feel good. It also allowed us to be in charge of our time. When we spend money on a hotel and rental car, we also want to go home feeling like we got something out of the trip. Bringing me to my last point…
Don’t take your time together for granted
Realizing how limited our time truly is has made me much more appreciative of each visit. It’s not worth it to spend our time bickering and arguing. We love each other. It’s okay to agree to disagree. Live and let live. I can go back to LA and get involved with the causes that matter to me. When I’m with my family, I don’t have to focus on changing the world. All I have to worry about is enjoying them, and loving them, just as they are.