DRAMA can be inherited without effort. Things, wisdom, wealth - all have to be intentionally passed down to the next generation, but our opinions and conflict in our relationships,"that's something that can be easily overlooked, but unintentionally transferred. With every eye roll, snarky comment and uncomfortable moment we are passing on our own complicated dynamics to our children. I have been both the receiver and the perpetrator of drama and I have made the conscious decision that this has to stop. My kids deserve to have their own relationship with their family members, unmarred by my opinions and past hurts, and I deserve the same when it comes to the generation before me.
Why is it that I think my kids can’t hear us when we are In the front seat of the car, and they are in the back? Is it just me that forgets that I can’t talk about whatever I want without young ears hearing every word? It was like when our kids were babies and toddlers, and we had girls days out with kiddos in tow, they sat in car seats or high chairs occupied with Netflix while we talked about EVVVVRRRYthing unfiltered because they didn’t comprehend what we were saying. The problem is we can’t keep talking that way as they get older, they totally get it and they internalize it and take on our offenses super easily. We may be able to vent to our spouses when they move on but our kids take every word and body language to heart, want to defend us and take on that relationship burden (possibly even more so than we do). It’s like we just dropped off all of our baggage on them, but they don’t know where anything goes to unpack it so they just keep carrying it along with them and it gets heavy.
We are unknowingly teaching our kids what kind of relationships they can have with
various people by involving them in every negative conversation or connotation we have. I have lots of experience with this. My extended family dynamics are what you would call “interesting” and I married into to an interesting dynamic with steps and halves and exes etc. so we have a whole lot of “interesting” or let’s be real, “complicated” dynamics.
You know those times when you are scared to bring up that you saw Aunt T to your dad then it happens just as you expected, dad goes straight to 1955 when Aunt T said she didn’t like his hat and “can you believe her….”Or you just get the eye roll or “you know what she did to your mom” with a confusing tone and laugh that would suggest a happy conversation although the words hurt. It’s painful to a child who wants a connection with their family to feel the pressure of the previous generation’s offenses. Usually, a child will give up and go years without grandpa or grandma. Often mother or father may not have been a great mom or dad, but if you give them a chance, they may show up as a grandparent. Probably not to the level of our expectations but perhaps to the level of our kids’. Hurts, bitterness, and offenses can go on for generations having nothing to do with the current generation, what is the point of pain is passed down, ask yourself is it worth it?
Years of awkward childhood moments have built up to feeling like I am on eggshells around specific family members. Some are inevitable, believe me, I get it, and guarding our kids against that anxiety has to be intentional and is undoubtedly not easy. It’s easier to let it fly and deep down inside I think we all want our kids on our team. The thing is, it’s not fair for them to have to choose sides or feel anxious and, unless it is an abusive situation on any level, it isn't helpful for us to dictate (either intentionally or unintentionally) what kind of relationship our kids have with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc..
Like many of you, I am no stranger to painful family dynamics. I have three half siblings that I didn't grow up with that I have always desired a strong relationship with. In addition when I was 14, my parents moved me away from one side of the family without telling them where we were going. My mom passed away suddenly when I was in my early 20’s after not seeing her family for 10 years. Past hurts and challenges have dictated the wellbeing of many relationships from both sides of my family while growing up and present. I always had a deep desire to have a relationship with my cousins, aunts and uncles, and siblings that was unique to who I was without the influence and bias of my parents.
As a 16-year-old, shortly after getting my license I begged my parents to take me to a family cabin in the mountains, where I knew my mom’s side of the family would be spending Christmas, so I could reconnect on my own. Though they weren't going to accompany me to the cabin, they graciously set aside their own feelings and drove me to the nearest coffee shop where they handed over the keys, and allowed me to drive the rest of the way on my own. Though the drive up to mountain was not without commentary on the negative family dynamic, they were supportive of me wanting to have my own relationships with my family.
Since then I have continued to pursue relationships with each of my family members, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, separate from my relationship with my parents. Some have been able to embrace me, and for the most part ;-) not bring up other family dynamics; others have not been able to separate past hurts that the generation before me imparted despite them having nothing to do with me. That fact is one of the most painful realities I've had to come to terms with. I don't ever want to judge someone or a relationship I have based on my experience with their family member. They are not their dad, mom, brother or sister or whoever their pain came from, they are their own person who deserves a chance to have their own relationship and to be seen as an individual.
One of the most beautiful relationships I get to witness in my life is between my dad and my stepson. They have a special bond over track and field, similar personalities, and lots of car rides to school with hot chocolate stops while I was nauseous and pregnant. My stepson is now 18 and continues to have a special relationship with my dad. Recently on Thanksgiving I found myself grumbling over a situation with my father in the front seat of the car, I suddenly felt a knot in my stomach when I realized that my stepson was in the seat behind me. I know my stepson loves me and would want to protect me if he ever felt I was hurt, but my situation had nothing to do with him or his relationship with my dad. I would never want to take the bond that he has away from either him or my father. Relationships are priceless and people have so many layers to them. We each get to see different layers to different people based on our relationships. Maybe the layer that you see it isn't beneficial or edifying for you, but your children may see other layers in that person that allows them to have a specific kind of relationship with that person and that is special.
- Teach your kids boundaries and healthy relationships. So when they are old enough to reach out, they recognize emotional abuse or unhealthy relationships and are well equipped to set healthy boundaries.
- Try your hardest to not speak badly of the family in your child's life. This doesn’t mean you don’t share valuable information with them that they need to know to guard themselves, but try to keep them out of the dynamics that have nothing to do with them
- Notice your attitude, facial expressions, and projections that you are demonstrating around your kids.
- If you have a relationship with your niece, nephew or another person in your life apart from your sister/ brother etc. try to not include them or put any of the stress of that relationship on them. They are their own person and they need you in their lives.
- We are only responsible for our own relationships and our own actions. Trying to make people change doesn’t work. If others don’t respond we might have to move on and be okay with that.
- Forgiveness is essential to our wellbeing. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or allowing someone to continue to hurt you but forgiveness is a lot more for ourselves than the person who wronged us, to release bitterness that hurts our lives and our kids' lives. Practice forgiveness ourselves and demonstrate it for our kids.
This season as we may be spending more time with family than usual let's exercise self-control and keep our eye roles and trash talking to the privacy of our own kid-free space for the sake of their own special Family dynamics. You may have an issue with Aunt L but Aunt L's son is your child's cousin and they’re best friends and when Aunt L can't see your child neither, can their cousin who may be the person who is meant to make a positive impact on your child. So this holiday season let's evaluate our relationships and decide what family dynamics are negatively impacting our children and if there are issues that can be resolved with forgiveness and conversation - let's put in the effort to do so! Some things are meant to be left in the past so that the next generation can move forward together.