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Family Reunions: Blues or Blessings?June 1, 2016
I was once speaking at a Virtues Project Mentorship conference in Long Bay north of Auckland, and during a break, I took a walk in a beachside park. I could hear loud laughter and someone at a microphone giving directions for a tug of war. Rounding a bend in the path, I saw a huge group of Maori families, from infants to mamas and papas sitting on the grass on blankets, arranging food on picnic tables, and holding babies; dozens lined up on either side of a post, holding a very long rope. The laughter and shouts of encouragement swelled in volume as the tug of war began. They all looked so happy and carefree. Family reunions are a major part of life in the Cook Islands, where we live now. Many islanders wear T-shirts with the dates, location and special logo for one of these reunions. Preparations begin months before family descends on our islands from New Zealand, Australia or America, and for months afterwards, stories are told about the reunion.
I am about to go to one myself, in Palm Desert, California. Family members are flying in from Puerto Rico, Italy, England, and other US cities. The games have already begun.
Honestly speaking, it isn't all fun. Personal tugs of war between family members, triggering old patterns, can be hurtful. Thankfully, there are virtues that can help us to avoid the blues and receive the blessings that can only come with family. We can keep the joy and let go of the pain by having a positive attitude with Love, Flexibility, and Acceptance. We need to be mindfully open to teachable moments that call us to these virtues. Our family get-together has already begun with my younger brother and I staying in close quarters. He has already accused me, quite accurately, of being a micro-manager as he speeds his way through Los Angeles traffic, suddenly veering across several lanes, causing honks and curses. It's terrifying, and fear brings out the control freak in me, but criticism only makes things worse. Now that I'm aware of that familiar pattern in our family dynamic, I choose to accept what comes, (even my untimely death if need be), and to accept my brother as he is. I love him and I have the ability to be flexible and go with the flow, including I guess, the flow of crazy traffic. Contrary to my old habits from childhood, it is not my job or my right to change his ways. This morning, as if he read my spirit and my renewed commitment to be a better, more trusting sister, he gave me a long, loving hug. It's not midday yet, but so far so good.
If you have a family reunion coming up, or want a better family life day to day, consider giving up the "Troubled C's" of Control, Criticism, Contention and Contempt for the unifying virtues of Acceptance, Appreciation, and oddly enough Assertiveness. The Assertiveness is about setting boundaries around what you need. My brother knows someone who has a mansion, someone I have never met, and expected me to go with him for a late dinner at her home. He warned me that they usually talk until midnight. Since I usually go to bed by 9 PM, I knew I would be exhausted the next day, when I had an evening commitment to give a talk. So to protect my priorities, I said I wouldn't go. A long, um, spirited "discussion" occurred, (in other words we duked it out), but since my brother was also practicing Flexibility and Acceptance, he accepted that his expectations and my needs were different. He had a lovely time with her and her husband, and I had a peaceful evening. She decided to come and hear my talk the next night, and we had a lovely connection. Whether a family reunion or day to day family life, practicing these virtues creates intimacy without enmeshment, bringing the blessing of a sweet and healthy togetherness.