Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Keeping up with family expectations

Gatherings with loved ones during holiday season can be exhausting but there's no greater blessing. 

Different Spin – 27th December 2013

After a 2 week hiatus, I am back at the studio and my production team cheerily asks how I’m feeling after the short break I had with family.

It would have been easier to just reply their niceties with an expected, “good/wonderful/great”, but the truth is, I am exhausted.

I peer over the mirror waiting for my makeup artist to work his magic on me.

I look haggard. I notice my dark under eye circles more prominent than before and I think more grey hair has sprouted since I picked the whole clan up to stay with us.

Comedian George Burns once said; “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family…in another city.”

Yes, holidays with your loved ones can be stressful. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my family but lets face it: expectations are elevated during the holidays or during family gatherings because of family rituals and assumptions about “how holidays and gatherings are supposed to be.”

Balik kampung or returning home to be with family can be stressful when one has grown up and ideals and priorities have changed or when has one’s values or expectations about the holidays are now different. Most people prefer to just “go with the flow” with “how it has always been” rather than “rocking the boat”. This longing can be so strong that sometimes, we overextend ourselves emotionally, physically and financially.  From having to attend family functions because we “have to”- to preparing an elaborate, ‘perfect’ meal or celebration.

I’m blessed that my folks are simple folks with simple needs. But I know of some friends who dread the holiday season.

“I have a dysfunctional family Daph… how can I love and hate them at the same time?” cries a close friend of mine.

According to Mary Foston-English, family relationships are complicated because of the expectation that we are all the same because “we come from the same family.” The expectations we have of each other (because we are related) can make it difficult “to be ourselves,” especially if we have different values and goals from the other family members.

Families are deemed as “systems”, and when change occurs within that system or outside of it, the balance is shaken. Keeping that balance is complicated because change is inevitable, people DO change and grow in spite of the pressure to conform and keep the balance.

Like I said, I love my family with all my heart, but I guess things have been overwhelming due to a few factors. For starters, I thought that since I was going to be on holiday, why not allow bibik a break too to visit her family back home in Indonesia? On top of that, my sister decided to coincide the family holiday with her wedding celebrations, and although I am extremely delighted that she’s married such a wonderful man, it was challenging to say the least as expectations and rituals from an extended family has now expanded, yet,  the pressure to keep the “’original” family traditions “the same” still exists.

Having my own little family with its own idiosyncrasies adds on to that complication and I had to take in a few deep breaths (and a few silent screams) to handle and manage the expectations of everyone involved.

I went ahead and compiled a list to make the holiday season with family less stressful, that included identifying and dealing with things about the holiday that (secretly) annoyed me.

For instance, holidays are a wonderful time to get together, to catch up and to reconnect. This also means that holidays can highlight everything that may have changed, like divorce, death and family feuds from another side. And if family rules are to not talk about or talk too much about this, it can lead to more stress during the celebrations. Rebellious me decided to defy this rule this year, and although it didn’t sit well with certain members at first, it felt good to do so.

I have the habit of overspending during the Holiday season, and giving more than what’s expected. This year, I stuck to a budget for gift giving and food shopping. I also stopped worrying about how things “should be” and focused on “what I want to do.”

Finally, I learnt to say NO. When I couldn’t compromise with certain expectations, I decided to walk away from the pressure. It’s akin to the philosophy of flight attendants asking you to put a mask on yourself first before attending to your child. I applied this princip to myself. You must take care of yourself first before you can attend to the needs of others. By doing this, holidays will be much more enjoyable and manageable.

Yes, I’m overwhelmed, exhausted and may have aged drastically since I picked and sent  the family to and fro from the airport. But now that they are gone, I can’t help but feel a bit sad and lonely with their absence. Despite it all, I can’t wait for our next family gathering. Afterall, the best holiday present you can ever give yourself is being surrounded by your loved ones, no?

Daphne and her IkingAzmi clan would like to take this opportunity to wish readers a Blessed New Year. Let’s be kind and continue to love one another unconditionally.

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