Unspoken rules in families are sometimes the strongest rules of all! Here are just a few common "unspoken" rules:
- don't ever voice an opposing opinion
- keep quiet--grandpa (or dad, mom, great grandma, uncle Joe) has the floor!
- we don't talk about so-and so's drinking problem
- don't ever share your genuine feelings
- family loyalty is our #1 priority
- pretending is valued more than the truth
- mom is too fragile to handle any criticism
Do you have any "unspoken" rules in your family? What are they? What would happen in your family if you broke one of those rules?
Could you relate to my client who dreaded the holidays with a father-in-law who dominated the holiday meal "conversation" in my last post? Here's what breaking the rules looked like in their situation.
I recommended they sit down together prior to the holiday and have each member of the family choose several specific topics of conversation:
- a sporting event at school they participated in
- a fun classroom assignment they'd completed
- some new technology they were using
- an interesting article or book they were reading
- a movie they'd seen
- an award they recently received
- a television show that made them laugh
Each person had several topics of personal interest to them, which they were excited to talk about. They agreed that each person would bring up any given topic when the conversation around the table lulled or when one family member finished their topic of interest. They also decided how to deal with grandpa's domination. They would purposely address him prior to commencing their "story" with "hey grandpa, listen to this" or "mom and dad, did you hear about Johnny's recent award?"
If grandpa attempted to divert the topic back to himself, someone would politely say, "wait just a minute, grandpa, I'd like to hear more about this story from so-and-so" or "grandpa, would you like to hear what I learned in history this week?" This type of intervention doesn't exclude grandpa from the conversation, like he's done with others; it helps to provide more of a balance of speakers and listeners.
When the holidays were over, my client reported what had transpired.
"At first," she said, "it was a little awkward because grandpa was totally caught off guard. He didn't know what to do with family members who were engaging in conversation with one another! At times he seemed frustrated, but when the kids directed some questions to him he was able to step into the conversation and feel included. At one point, he jumped in with one of his old stories and one of the grandchildren lightheartedly said, "Oh grandpa, we all know how that story ends...you didn't give up or give in--you finished the race with flying colors!" Everyone including grandpa laughed!
"It was one of the best holiday dinners we ever had and the kids genuinely enjoyed themselves too! We've decided to start this new tradition at every holiday dinner from now on!"
One way to B-E-A-T the Holiday Blues is to Break the Rules!
What might that look like in your family? Can you think of a way to break the rules with gentleness and humor? Talk about this with your family, a friend or someone who can offer some objectivity. Don't try to take on all the "unspoken" rules at once--just choose one and work out a simple strategy and try it out. Don't be discouraged if it doesn't work the first time. You may need to modify it, tweak it a bit or use a more lighthearted approach. Try again!
Sometimes we may need to BREAK the RULES--at other times we may simply need to:
EMPLOY SAFEGUARDS which include things like:
- Setting a time frame
- Using a signal
- Taking a time-out
Stay tuned for this tool in my next post!