The holidays are here again and you realize that for your family not much has changed over the past few years. Last year you had a get together a couple weeks before Christmas, and you were so happy because all four of your children were home for the first time in years. The afternoon began festive and happy with hugs and smiles all around. But very quickly you realized once again that things were not going to go as well as you had hoped. All your children seem to get along well with each other except for one. Your second to youngest has always marched to a different drummer.
Over the past few years you’ve notice he’s become a heavy drinker and you suspect he uses drugs, but you have never had proof. You’ve had many conversations with your husband and other children about what you should all do about Tommy. He always seems to wreck family events with his drinking. Last year tempers flared and it ended with your husband throwing him out. Within an hour after the blow-up everyone had left, and you were there alone with your husband wondering what had gone so wrong.
So you’re faced with the question, what should you do this year? For the thousands of parents faced with this question, the holidays can be an overly stressful time. You want to continue with your tradition of having everyone together, but you don’t want a repeat of last year’s drama. You think, how can I have a family gathering and not invite one child? You want so badly for your children to get together and just enjoy each other’s company, but history tells you that will not happen.
You may blame the drinking for the problems, but if you look back to when they were kids, the odds are pretty good, there’s always been tension. The substance use seems to have added to the problems, not just because of how your child behaves when drinking, but also because of the harsh judgment he gets from you and his siblings. He knows very well he doesn’t seem to fit in and never has, and it’s likely he suspects that you all talk about him when he’s not there. While you’re hoping he doesn’t drink, he’s hoping that drinking will help him to deal with the anxiety he feels in your company.
There’s this notion that because people may come from the same parents, they have to be best friends, and for many people that is just not reality. Whether the issue is they lead different lifestyles, or hold different political or religious beliefs, or they have completely different personalities, some siblings will never be close. This is truly no one’s fault. But when one sibling engages in heavy substance use, the blame is often placed and that sibling becomes the outcast and the scapegoat. Once family members bond together through their “concerns” and judgments for one family member’s behaviors, this is a perfect recipe for a holiday blow-up.
The best way to ensure you get peace and joy this year is to stop trying to force people to behave as you want them to behave. All parents have concerns about their adult children, and oftentimes siblings may have concerns for each other as well. While you may not agree with your child or sibling’s lifestyle and choices, they are not for you decide.
If you have a child or sibling that is abusive, illegal or harms you or your family, then you have a right to peace in your home. By all means, don’t invite them. Let them know how much you love them, but that you do not want that in your home. Regardless of what you may believe causes that behavior, the fact they engage in abusive or criminal behavior is the problem.
But if you’re primary concern with respect to their substance use is for their health and safety, or because you just don’t approve of it, then perhaps it’s time to realize their lifestyle is not up to you. People engage in unhealthy behaviors and risky activities every day. While it is within your right to not want drinking or drug use in your home, then don’t have it in your home, but it is not within your right to dictate how other people, including your adult children, should live.
So if you want to have a holiday gathering, you can invite whomever you want to be there. You can serve alcohol or not serve alcohol, but let your guests know ahead of time if it will be alcohol free. And if you want the have celebration that stays drama free, it’s important to minimize the judgments, the gossip and drama all year long.
The only perfect family gathering is one where everyone gets to be who they are: from your sarcastic, snarky cousin to your uncle who is always talking politics; to your brother who is half in the bag when he arrives and your mother who tells the same stories over and over again; to your niece who insists on having whatever toy her cousins have and your sister-in-law who caters to her every whim; to your little sister who can’t seem to keep a job, but always seems to have the nicest car and latest IPhone.
Every family has its problems, but there would be far fewer if people just stopped judging each other’s lives and began enjoying each other’s company. No two people are the same, and isn’t that awesome? How incredibly boring (and creepy) would life be if we all thought and acted exactly like each other. So when you think, I wish he would drink less just for this one day, or I hope she isn’t high when she gets here, or I hope he doesn’t ask me for money again, remember — the only person you can control is you. Your happiness is in your hands. Perhaps this year you can think, for this one day, maybe I can stop worrying and judging, and simply be kind, accept people for who they are and enjoy the brief time we have together.