Holiday Baggage



Imagine the scene: a holiday family reunion for mother, father, son, and daughter at the baggage claim at the airport.  Trying to make small talk, the daughter asks the father about his luggage, did he like it, did it get too heavy because there were no wheels, etc…

“It’s only as heavy as I make it,” he replies in a that’s-a-stupid-question tone.  Then he picks on his wife for not being able to correctly pull the handle up on her roll on.

The son, feeling triggered, confronts the father. “Dad, what is wrong with you?  Why are you talking like such a jerk?!”  At that very moment, a porter approaches and asks, “Does anyone here need a cart?”  “No!” the daughter quickly responds. “What we need is family therapy!”

Why do our best communication skills evaporate when we are with family?  As the holidays approach and more family time might be in your future, please remember that you’re not alone.  When completing assessments, participants in my courses frequently ask me if they should be thinking about how they communicate at work or at home.  For many, there is a large gap between the two.

But back to family/holiday communication stress.  I recommend having realistic expectations for yourself and your ability to communicate effectively when with family.  These are people that may have been formative in how you think about conflict, how you cope with difficult conversations, how you handle stress.  And if they weren’t the best role models, just remember that.

I also wouldn’t assume that because you may have changed, that they have.  But if you feel confident in new ways of communicating, by all means, give your new skills a whirl and see what happens.  Enlist help from others who may also want to improve their family communication or at the least, support you.

And what of that family at the airport?  They all laughed (even the porter!) at the therapy comment and that helped break the ice.  It was a good reminder of the power of humor and how helpful it can be.  Their “baggage” at the baggage claim seemed less heavy after all.