Meaningful summer fun: family barbecues without the drama
Are you looking forward to spending time with your loved ones this summer—or are you dreading the drama?
BY BOB AND JUDITH WRIGHT
Most of us keep our family close over the summer, whether we are travelling with our spouse, dining al fresco, or spending time with the grandkids during a family reunion, barbeque, or vacation.
Interacting with your family in purpose-driven ways can really strengthen your connections with them.
Sometimes in our family get-togethers, however, we lose sight of a central purpose and fall into a realm of miscommunication or just hanging out in a way that doesn’t nourish, sustain, or move us forward in our relationships.
How to truly connect with the g-kids
So how DO you truly connect with your family? Your kids? Your grandkids?
If you want to have meaningless interactions, by all means, ask the questions we were all trained to ask like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
These kinds of questions to kids, although well-intentioned, actually limit the child’s potential. Asking a child what they want to be when they grow up, implies that they should know what they want to become which is ridiculous and limiting.
But what is the alternative? If you really want to have meaning and purpose and learn and grow with your grandkids while contributing to their lives, try to relate on their level. Ask about their friends, who do they like and who don’t they like? Why? What they have been doing lately? What they are interested in?
Being a witness to a child’s unfolding, watching them grow up and seeing what they choose to become while discovering along the way with them is far more interesting. We may want to offer up guidance, but many times, unsolicited interference goes a step too far.
Call out: The reality is, we’d all have a better time and even learn from our grandkids if we’d just relax and embrace a chance to play like a child.
Many parents and grandparents feel awkward with young kids. The younger they are, the more awkward many adults feel. The less language skills kids have, the tougher is to relate to them on their level or to know how to “click.” So instead of interacting with them (yes, even having FUN, letting loose, and playing with kids), grandparents hold back, fuss, and hover. The reality is, we’d all have a better time and even learn from our grandkids if we’d just relax and embrace a chance to play like a child.
How to connect with our adult “kids”
And as much as we may be awkward with young kids, the same dynamic can happen with our adult kids, too. Often, we expect the interaction to go a certain way, so we inevitably set ourselves up for anxiety and even failure. We want to share with our adult children. We want to guide them, as we did when they were young…and yet, we need to recognize our adult kids have left the nest. They no longer need us to tell them what to do.
The best gift you can offer anyone is empathy. Relate to them. Lend an ear and really give them the opportunity to express their feelings. Treat them with respect. Every single person, from birth to seniority, wants to know they’re competent and capable. Suggestions only disempower.
So, do an honest inventory for yourself. Do you hover too close and tell kids what they should and shouldn’t do? Or do you know how to ask open-ended questions?
Your job isn’t to give advice. Your job is to listen.
” If you do want to offer up advice, ASK first! Simply say, “Are you open to a suggestion?”
When you ask the meaty questions and then sit back to really listen to them, you are bringing purpose and meaning to all your interactions. And if you don’t have a lot of practice interacting with adult kids this way, don’t worry. There are plenty of questions you can turn to consistently that will always be fresh. What are their challenges? What are the highlights of their relationships (or their parenting, their job, etc.)? Ask and then simply listen.
When they do share with you, thank them for filling you in. Bite your tongue and resist the urge to pass judgment or offer up help. Many times, when someone is expressing their feelings, it’s because they want us to listen, not provide guidance or swoop in to “fix” the situation.
If you do want to offer up advice, ASK first! Simply say, “Are you open to a suggestion?” or “Would you be receptive to my thoughts on that?” Or better yet, offer up your own experience. Talk about your problems, without offering a solution. Relate rather than dictate.
Avoid the drama triangle
No matter how you ask or interact, there is one pitfall you can at least plan to avoid. This pattern is called “the drama triangle” and it shows up quite prevalently in many family dynamics. These are the situations where we may find ourselves inadvertently falling into old patterns and arguments. In the drama triangle, there are three roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer.
- The Victim feels sorry for themselves. They’re the one who “gets picked on.”
- The Persecutor in the situation is the one who blames, finds fault, and criticizes.
- The Rescuer swoops in to solve problems and smooth over the situation. While the Rescuer role feels good (you’re the peacemaker!), it comes at a cost. Rescuers are often great at solving others’ problems but not examining their own. They falsely think, “If I rescue you enough, you’ll take care of me,” but it never works quite that way. The Rescuer is taking on responsibility that’s not theirs.
In a family situation, you may see yourself in one role, but often these roles rotate based on the situation. You might see yourself as a Rescuer, sharing advice and doling out wisdom, but to those around you, you might be the Persecutor! Unsolicited advice and well-meaning suggestions are often a subtle form of persecution. Persecutors may also blame others, put them on the spot, or accuse them. The Persecutor puts the responsibility onto someone else.
It’s also easy to feel like the Victim. No one appreciates you and everyone is against you. Taking on the role of the Victim suggests you feel you aren’t capable and you need help. Yet, each of us is empowered to learn, grow, and share in every situation. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the role of the Victim. The Victim is just absolving him or herself of responsibility.
Remember: We can only control our own actions and reactions.
In all three roles, there’s a shifting accountability. Yet, as we discuss in our book, The Heart of the Fight, everyone is 100% responsible for themselves in every situation. We can only control our own actions and reactions.
As we learn to bring more meaning and purpose into interaction, the drama triangle is a place to avoid. Drama creates a lot of energy. It’s fiery and passionate, and it makes you think your interactions are productive, because you’re “saying your piece” or “getting it out there.” In truth, these interactions don’t nourish us or strengthen our connections. The drama churns, but no satisfaction or growth comes from it.
So, if you want to create meaningful summer fun and interactions, take a step back. Avoid the drama. And avoid the advice. Instead, be curious and discover. Learn what is going on with your grandkids or adult children. Don’t save them or tell them what to do or ask them questions they can’t answer meaningfully. Instead, find out what matters to them, what are they up against, what do they care about. And given the chance, join them in their play on their terms!
Family reunions and summer get-togethers are about more than eating hotdogs and wearing matching t-shirts. Rather than focusing on managing everyone’s agenda, sit back, relax, and enjoy learning about each individual person. Listen to what they really have to say and enjoy the experience!
For more ways to strengthen your relationships, connect, and live a life of greater purpose, please click here
ABOUT THE AUTHORS – BOB AND JUDITH WRIGHT
The Heart of the Fight: A Couples Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean & How They Can Bring You Closer.Judith Wright and Dr. Bob Wright, are a husband/wife duo and Chicago-based relationship counselors. They are award-winning authors and trainers and have appeared on numerous TV and radio programs including ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, the Today Show, the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Marie Claire, Better Homes and Gardens, and Vanity Fair. They are the co-authors of “The Heart of the Fight: A Couples Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean & How They Can Bring You Closer.