What is love? Baby . . .

03Jan13

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” – George Burns

Over the holiday season, we are all bound to see some extended family at some point. This class of relatives is definitely a source for stress for everyone, good or bad. I can say, as a dad, as a person with a mood disorder, as a Christmas enthusiast, that this is a very difficult time.

I love Christmas, the way I love, say communism or NAFTA; the theory sounds great, but the practical outcome is rarely as good as you think it will be.

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I can say that I looooooved this Christmas as a dad for my kids. I was excited most of the time leading up to the big day (except when depression took hold) and I know that the kids had a blast Christmas morning. With that in mind, I feel like a success. But when it came to the bigger family things (getting together with my side of the family, then my wife’s, our usual annual party), I was filled with anxiety. I love most of these people and for some, I was genuinely looking forward to seeing them, but the idea of all of us sitting in the same place for a set time kind of weirds me out. Am I alone in this?

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“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.“ – Buddha

Family Christmas’ feels like a doctor’s appointment where you arrive at a set time, the appointment always runs late, you expect/hope for good news, you will most likely feel very uncomfortable for at least a little bit, and leave feeling happy to get out of there alive.

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“A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family and, often, is all that remains of it.” – Susan Sontag

Don’t get me wrong, I love many of these people, and I love seeing them, and talking to them, but it’s the appointment and the expectation that we will all be happy for an afternoon that kills me. As a person with a mood disorder, it’s hard for me to know where my mood will be next Tuesday at 4pm, and so I am always anxious, and this always messes with my mood. I’m always exhausted afterward. How do you avoid this without avoiding your family?

“The greatest thing in family life is to take a hint when a hint is intended-and not to take a hint when a hint isn’t intended.” – Robert Frost

It’s funny that I’ve identified a horrible test for people that they cannot pass at the holidays. I find that when I’m anxious, either people are being too insensitive by ignoring me needs for space, breaks, etc., or they are treating me like a child because they are walking on eggshells around me. When I perceive that either of these things is happening, I usually get pretty frustrated. They can’t win, and neither can I with that attitude, therefore with effort, I try to just walk in and let myself be good, great, bad, grumpy, whatever, and know that in the end the people that love me will probably continue to do so, and the people that don’t like me, or don’t deserve my consideration, will continue to be that way also.

I won't win either . . . so I guess we're even?

I won’t win either . . . so I guess we’re even?

To be clear, just in case I’m not making sense, I try to free myself up to be myself, whatever my mood may be, and I try to free everyone else up to be themselves, whatever their mood may be. Makes a lot of sense huh?! Well, I have to be honest, until I said that truth out loud, I couldn’t really see the truth beyond my frustration

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On a side note  Did you know that we are the weird ones. Most ‘family units’ are made up of more than just North American model of Mom + Dad + Kids (+/- pets) = family. Most families involve a lot more members on a daily basis (and in different combinations), and I didn’t want to walk away from this conversation without saying that I definitely recognize this. The great Margaret Mead said that: “Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation.” An inclusive mindset is required here for many definitions of family, and as the definition of ‘family’ evolves, I think that this will free the ‘family’ from its demise. More love, people, more love 🙂

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6 Responses to “What is love? Baby . . .”

  1. Fantastic post. Fantastic in the perspective that was identified, and then resolved. I agreed with pretty much every word. You are not alone in having anxiety about the family get-together. I missed a trip to see family over the holidays for exactly this reason. For me, it would be an 8 hour trip and a 5 day stay. The reason would be one day of a family of 22 people in one house, complete with pictures and turkey dinner. I opted out. I chickened out, I guess. Maybe if I would have had your perspective about me being me and opening the space for others to be themselves as well, things would have been different. Either way, I enjoy your perspective. Thanks!

    • Thank you so much for your kind reply. It really can be quite the trap we set for ourselves and everyone else huh?
      22 people in the house, 8 hours from home? I wouldn’t say that you chickened out! That’s a lot of stress regardless of intentions.
      And you’re right, this never stops being new, and that is part of the blessing 🙂

  2. what an excellent post and your defintion of Christmas hit me square on–the theory sounds great but in practice…..
    so glad to have made your acquaintance–I will be coming back!

  3. LOL like a doctor’s appointment, just beware if someone gets out rubber gloves! … first visit here, glad to see another bipolar dad blogging.


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