The kitchen was packed with friends and family. The cat had just attempted, quite bravely, to jump onto the counter and eat the turkey. My mom was trying to dazzle her guests with anecdotes and drinks as my father rushed this way and that with charred ovenmits tending to gravy and potatoes and other piping hot dishes bubbling on the stove.
“Things are seriously never this hectic in Montreal,” I thought.
It’s not like every time I go home things are so chaotic. Winter holidays are so unique perhaps because of the increased expectations all mixed in with the nostalgia of holidays past.
I had been anxious about my return home for the holidays. After I had wrapped up my work, enjoyed some yummy food and drinks at the lab Christmas party, and finally packed my suitcase, it sank in: Oh my…here we go.
Sure enough, the whirlwind of parties and planned family activities began almost as soon as I walked in the door of my parents’ home, and they didn’t stop until I had my suitcase packed again about ten days later.
Throughout the whole visit I stumbled upon some realizations—applications of which reach beyond mere holiday drama management. Interestingly, most pertained to setting healthy boundaries:
For one, my holidays were not restful. The Irish Catholic guilt that is gnawing on me as I write this would have something to say about turning down family engagements for some alone time, but seriously: we all need a break. I think in future years I’ll set firmer boundaries around the necessities of alone time and rest.
But, this can be difficult if there isn’t any space left at home to call your own. Unlike here in Montreal, where I have my own room and lots of cafes and libraries to retreat to for some alone time, my parents’ place is like a public square. There are always guests, and people walk in and out of rooms, barely respecting closed doors. The latter I chalk up to their unrelenting friendliness and parental eagerness.
Next year, I am making a mental note to seek solace in walks, and little moments such as showers or late at night after everyone has gone to bed and the house is still.
We’re all adults, right?
As adults, it’s important to know our limits and respect them—for our own health and well-being, and that of all those around us. As adults, we are also responsible for the communication of our personal boundaries. Realizing this is the easy part, putting it into action is what’s challenging.
Taking on the role of an adult within a family is difficult. No matter how old I get, I am still my parents’ daughter. It’s like everything I express gets read through a mysterious parent-filter that likes to take my credibility down a notch or two.
I wish I didn’t, but the limbo between being someone’s child and seeking so hard to be recognized as an adult makes me get all uppity sometimes. I am embarrassed by how quickly I revert to being 16 again when I’m at home.
I am told that unlearning family dynamics (and reverting back to teenage angst land) requires a lot of self-reflection combined with a healthy dose of empathy.
From our families we learn so many behaviours, some of which are acceptable, others not.
I can make lists of things about my holidays that I would like to change, but I’m also grateful for so many things. Sure my Dad was stressing me out with his tight turkey-baking schedule, but he also got up at 5 am and cooked a giant bird.
So, here’s to 2014: a year of healthy boundaries, empathy and patience, and… escapes from the family for a few hours to go see The Hobbit.