How to Manage Family Relationships

Family. We all have some. We don't always like them. We may not always get along. Sometimes we have to make the choice to separate ourselves from them temporarily or permanently. Sometimes they are related by blood and sometimes our family members are people we have chosen to be in our lives that fill those roles.

For a period of time I had the privilege of growing up in my father's childhood home with my Irish grandmother, Mary Margaret. My sister and I were named after her (Molly and Maggie) and we always held her in special regard.

The strong, silent type- my grandmother was a true matriarch. A faithful Catholic woman, she attended church multiple times throughout the week, volunteered with the Sisters, and administered to the sick and restricted that could not leave their homes. 

She never learned to drive and had to be chauffeured to and from church, the grocery store, and to her few social engagements with siblings or life-long friends. She was proud and humble at the same time. She didn't believe in family feuds but didn't try to solve problems for people. She was an advocate and a protector. She was everything I needed exactly when I needed her. 

My grandmother was the matriarch of the family. Her passing is a loss still felt today as I attempt to channel her gentleness in my parenting and her patience when maneuvering extended family relationships. 

As women, relationships are often our currency. Some women are more skilled (naturally or had great teachers) in managing all the personalities that comprise a family. Others may only know how to rule by leveraging members against one another. 

My own relationship with my mother has been tenuous at best. Raising my own daughters- I definitely find myself longing for that relationship. While that relationship is not to be, I have had some amazing relationships with strong women who have given me a model to work from.

I know and understand family relationships are complex even when everyone gets along! Personally, I can only hope to grow into the leader my grandmother was. 

So how do we survive get-togethers, holidays, and family reunions? How do we become matriarchs that our children and grandchildren look to for guidance?

  1. Use empathy. Your ability to understand and share feelings with others will foster feelings of connection and will diffuse highly-emotional interactions. 

  2. Manage conflict productively by communicating boundaries, determining the real issue, and agreeing to disagree. We don't have to understand someone else's perspective- but we do need to be respectful. Compromise when and where you can! 

  3. Understanding we all have different value and belief systems that color how we see the world. Understanding that we have to devote the time and energy necessary to build relationships on a deeper level.

  4. Set intentions before you get together with family. How do you want your interactions to play out? How do you want to behave? What is the best possible outcome? 

  5. Use respectful communication. Dropping F-bombs and name calling can be inflammatory. Think: de-escalation. Be confident in your ability to remain calm and prevent emotional hijacking. 

  6. Finally- be aware. We don't know what people are going through behind closed doors. Even with family members- we may only see their highlight reel. Don't make assumptions. Moreover- be aware of your own physiological and emotional responses to any conflict. Remove yourself from any situation that may become volatile.

As always, please feel free to contact me with questions concerns or for feedback and suggestions.

I also have created a quick guide to spotting healthy relationships for you to download and use as you will.