Around the holiday seasons, it’s completely valid to feel like you’re missing family gatherings, especially with restrictions. Also, it can be tough to look back at holidays in the past, when everyone was able to get together and celebrate, catch up, and reunite.Today’s family gatherings have taken a different shape. Since the pandemic, it’s been harder to get everyone in the same place. Safety has taken precedence, and it can feel a little lonely to be apart from our loved ones for too long.
What Happened to Family Gatherings?
Restrictions on how many people can meet at one time means that we have to split up who we see, when, and where. It’s made the process of a reunion more stressful and disjointed. For some, family gatherings are already a stressful event, but with the lingering of COVID-19, even more so.
Making sure we’re testing before seeing people, then the added issue of constantly talking about the pandemic. Both can have different effects on people’s mental health. It’s important to stay safe, but it is also important to salvage the connection between our relationships, especially if they’re relationships that bring you joy and you’re missing family.
How to Reconnect When Missing Family?
- Technology: Getting grandma and the family to learn to use WhatsApp video or Zoom is one way of reconnecting with family. Of course, it’s not ideal when missing family as we would love to see them face-to-face. But it’s so lovely to still be able to see them and catch up.
- Walks: Social distance walks are a great way to move and see people. Depending on the restrictions, you can go to a cafe or even a restaurant to enjoy food together.
- Personal Items: If there’s someone you miss at the moment, try recreating your typical family gatherings through items. Bake a cake and bring it to someone in the family, write a letter and send it, create something that will put a smile on someone’s face.
- Activities: There are still plenty of activities you and your family can participate in, from volunteering to going to the theatre, even just having an online family bake-off.
- Open Communication: Remember that family gatherings aren’t always easy for everyone in the family. Perhaps practising open communication about how we feel can reignite the love and compassion you all have for each other.
Expectations & Family Triggers
“Are you still single?!”
I know from personal experience, coming from such a huge family, that this question is bound to pop up when speaking with relatives. When the usual response is something like, “I’m just focusing on myself and my career.” If your family are as blunt as mine, then you might get reminded that you’re getting old, the clock is ticking, and all sorts of pressures.
The critical thing in diffusing the pressure of these situations is noting that these comments come from a place of love. It comes from them wanting to see you settled and ultimately happy. If you currently feel happy, then share that with them. Otherwise, if you seek a relationship, tell them you’re on the lookout and remember to be gentle with yourself in these moments. If you need to share fewer details or take a walk to clear your mind, then take that time for yourself.
Some of the funniest moments can arise from awkward moments with your family. For example, if your aunt has had one too many and starts explaining her sex life, or your mum starts divulging, in way too much detail, the time you did something embarrassing.
Moments like these can be uncomfortable when they’re happening, but they can also be a source of laughter, of bringing the family together. Funnily enough, I know I’m missing family when I miss those moments.
When it gets way too awkward, it can become a little more challenging. For example, when differences in political views arise. Another example would be an argument between two or more family members ensues. In these moments, try to ground yourself into your body.
What does that mean?
Well, try to feel your feet on the ground, then feel your body on the chair or couch. Slowly start to notice your body and your breathing. Moments that become uncomfortable can make us feel unsafe in our bodies. That’s typically when we grab the bottle of wine and fill up! So try instead to notice what you’re feeling at that moment, remain calm and try to communicate that feeling if you think it could diffuse the situation.Everything Will be Amazing & Wonderful!
This is an expectation we can have when gathering with the family again, after missing family. Especially during Christmas, we have high expectations of what that holiday looks like from the media. But, expecting the best can be unrealistic and can make us feel worse when things don’t go to plan.
We can get so wrapped up in the making up for the lost time, creating a happy and fun experience for everyone. That the pressure of “we’re going to have a great time” can fill our minds and set us up for failure.
Instead, accepting that we can’t change our family or control their fun metre is a start. Then remember to look after yourself during family gatherings. To engage with the lovely and the dysfunctional family members, you’ll need to put your boundaries in place.
How do you do that?
You need to ask yourself what boundaries you will need in place to remain positive. Whether that’s getting away to another room (or home) every now and again. Also, you could go for a walk to clear your head or speak to a mental health professional in between.Even just spending a few extra moments in the shower or bath to relax.
Painful Past Memories
In some cases, missing family gatherings can trigger painful memories. This is especially true when someone (or many people) in our family have caused us trauma. This can be particularly stressful, and boundaries are once again a massive helper.It’s perfectly okay to express not wanting to see a family member who has caused a lot of pain and suffering. If you have any violent, abusive, or verbally abusive family members, gatherings feel unbearable. But, here is what you can do:
- Communicate your boundaries with your family, and explain that if they cross them that you will remove yourself from the situation
- Try to avoid alcohol consumption, as that can only escalate situations
- Stick to topics of conversation that keep the mood light
- Try not to change anyone, instead be present with what is happening
- Put your wellbeing first, and ask for help from friends, professionals, if need be
- Notice if you can let go and forgive some conflicts
- Contact the proper officials if things become violent or aggressive
The Loneliness of Living Abroad & Missing Family
When you first arrive in a new country, the excitement can spur you on for a while. But after a time, it can get lonely, especially being apart from family and friends. However, once you settle in, you notice that life has remained relatively the same. Only many of the people you love are elsewhere, and you can begin missing family so much.
Starting from scratch with a new language, new friends, and visiting family sporadically is a challenge. Especially in countries where borders have been opening and closing, or even been shut for the full three years!
It can sometimes feel super lonely to talk to your family if they’ve all gathered and you’re sat in your kitchen, alone, on video. But it’s vastly better than actually being in your kitchen alone. Sometimes we can begin to get separation anxiety, so it’s crucial to focus on what we do have around us and find ways to reduce stress.
The Importance of Family Gatherings
Laughter: Sharing food and discussing our lives together, and laughing can be immensely healing. Whether it’s your blood relatives or chosen family, it’s important to share these moments with one another to feel connected truly.
Stories: Personally, there’s nothing I love more than seeing family discuss memories, funny stories, and discovering more about the lives of the generations before me. Family stories connect us to our roots and give us insight into the world before we are born.
Conflict Resolution: Learning how to keep the peace at family gatherings is a useful skill. Understanding every individual in the family, their needs, their dislikes, and what triggers them, comes hand in hand with the next paragraph.
Compassion: Learning to be compassionate with family members goes hand-in-hand with becoming compassionate towards yourself. Yes, your grandma might be as fiery as mine. But she is a part of me, and she deserves every compassion and patience for the incredible life she’s lived.
Love & Support: Although we may feel ostracised from our families in this modern pandemic age. Their love and support are always there. Learning to express that love with each other, putting differences aside, and creating change together is wonderful. Looking at each member like a lesson you have to learn about the world and yourself can really help.
Self-Care When Missing Family
Remember that you can’t change others, but you can begin to shift your perspective and that it can potentially change the dynamics. Also, if you can’t see your family right now, that there are ways you can stay in touch and stay connected.
Lastly, take care of your well-being. Because the more we nurture compassion and love towards ourselves, the more we’re able to spread it. Take time to relax during the holidays, tend to your physical and emotional needs. Also, speak to friends ormental health professionals to realign your wellness.