I went to the airport yesterday to begin a journey that had nothing to do with getting on a plane. No, I went to the airport to pick up my mother! This is the first time she has travelled to see me. It will be the very first time she meets my friends and my regular life. She will be staying with me in my small house. Yikes! Yes, definitely a journey and one of unknown destination or outcome!
My brother is also here and that brings its own dynamic — some lovely, some super challenging. It’s safe to say there is a lot of emotional charge between the three of us.
Like so many families mine has been a navigational odyssey. There has been a lot of pain and a lot of love. There were long years with very little contact followed by surprisingly warm, deep reconnections.
For many, many years I believed I had no need of family. I had, in fact, created a “family” of trusted friends, loved ones who I consider my non-DNA family to this day. And yet, whether I wanted to admit it or not, the desire to be connected with my parents and siblings was always there like a subtle magnetic field pulling toward a distant object.
I am very grateful that over the past several years the rifts between us have been closing and love is growing. However in these life-long, yet very new relationships lies tremendous vulnerability. It is, in fact, with family that we are often at our most vulnerable. Old hurts, tired patterns, and assumptions based on things that happened long ago.
Just before my family’s arrival I had asked for some help for the first time in decades and was met with rejection, judgment and conditionality and I was STINGING from it! I felt exposed, embarrassed, wildly uncomfortable and angry.
I knew this meant that I was likely to be even more highly sensitive and defensive toward them than usual as we came together for the first time on the home turf of my everyday life. But I also knew that if I could set aside the hurt, focus on the love, and at least somewhat objectively observe our interactions I could learn some things about my family and myself.
There is probably no better mirror into one’s own state of being and development than our responses when we bump into family dynamics and personalities! I know from personal, and truthfully often painful experience that there are huge growth opportunities in learning to change how we react to those interactions.
Being open to such learning was the strong intention I was holding as I, my mom and brother sat down to dinner and the first joint conversation of our visit. The tension was strong. Old sibling rivalries and control games rippled just beneath the surface. We spoke mostly of fairly safe subjects and the few times that went deeper ended in silence. I realized with a stab of tremendous insecurity how much I wanted them to really hear and understand and approve of me. And then, a nuanced expression, a fact one tried to conceal showed me that they too were masking insecurities. They too were navigating triggers and emotions and old baggage.
In that moment my heart softened. I was able to see past the judge to the flawed, but genuinely good person I loved. I recognized that the only criticism that really hurt me was in places where I was harshly judging myself. Looking into that mirror I saw areas where I had been viewing myself as unworthy. With this new insight I can change those self-defeating judgments. What a gift!
And so, sitting here with a bit of alone time in between the charged episodes of family immersion I am making a vow that, over the next two weeks, as these rubs and irritations occur I am going to do my level best to switch from angrily thinking, “Here we go again …” to opening my heart, trusting myself, loving my family and saying, “Here I GROW again!”
Wish me (and us) luck!
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