How To Survive A Family Visit

People say that time travel isn’t possible.

But every time we visit our families, it’s like stepping into a time machine. We are whisked back in time to our childhood in the blink of an eye (or, perhaps more aptly, the roll of an eye). All of a sudden, the fact that we have full-time jobs or our own kids or a Nobel Prize doesn’t matter. We’re kids again.

Even if you had an idyllic childhood, it doesn’t feel right to feel like a child when you are an adult. For those of us whose childhoods were difficult* in some way — meaning for most of us — feeling like a child can mean feeling powerless or angry or depressed or rebellious or anxious or sad. Since everyone else in the family was transported back in time in their own time machines, all of the old family dynamics and quarrels are right there for us to visit again.

The only thing you have to do to survive a visit with your family is to remain an adult.

As an adult, you have more power than you had when you were a child. As an adult, you know better how to take care of yourself. As an adult, you don’t have to rely on your family’s opinions to know what you think or feel.

Here are four suggestions for things that might help you remain an adult when you are with your family.

  1. There’s no point in berating yourself for being transported back to childhood. Instead, cultivate an attitude of bemused curiosity and an intention to increase your awareness. When you find yourself feeling irritated with a family member, stop and think to yourself, “Oh, here I am, a kid again!” Then, very intentionally, take a deep breath and try to take the time machine back to your adulthood. From your adult perspective, the behavior of your family members probably has very little to do with you. Responding as an adult will feel better than responding as a child.
  2. Bring something with you on the visit to remind you that you are an adult. It can be helpful to have something you can carry in your pocket all the time, such as a photo, a piece of jewelry, your business card, a rock from your front yard, or a house key. In difficult moments, you can reach into your pocket and touch the object you brought to remind yourself that you are an adult.
  3. If possible, bring a support person with you who knows you as an adult, eg. your partner, spouse or friend. You can prepare with your support person ahead of time and anticipate things that are likely to be difficult. For instance, you could make a plan with your support person that if Aunt Gertrude is criticizing you as she usually does, your support person will politely and assertively change the subject. Also, it can be helpful to have a support person with you who can listen to you and sympathize when you are upset.
  4. Pay attention to your self-care. Think ahead of time about how you need to take care of yourself. Do you need to make sure you take a walk alone every day? Do you need to stay in a hotel away from your family? Do you need to make sure you eat well? Do you need to have a daily phone call with a supportive friend? Do you need to meditate? Make your self-care a high priority.

Surviving your family visit is possible with a little forethought and advance planning. If you can take care of yourself, you might even find that your time travel to your family brings you moments of peace and happiness.

  1. * For people who are survivors of childhood abuse, while the suggestions in this post still apply, the situation is more complex. I suggest that trauma survivors consult with their therapist to do safety planning in advance if they are going to be revisiting the scene of the trauma or seeing the abuser. []

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