PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
PAM: So, this month on the Living Joyfully Network, the theme is Navigating Family Gatherings. And with the holiday season quickly approaching, we felt that that was a pretty timely topic. With that said, our exploration will definitely be applicable throughout the year, from birthday parties to weddings to family reunions, all manner of family celebrations. So, we thought this would be a really fun time to tackle this one.
PAM: All right.
The first idea up for discussion is that attending family gatherings really is a choice, because so often, we can feel heavy with obligation and expectation and really just thinking we have to go. And just that step to remember, oh, we really do have a choice, can be so empowering. It truly is a choice. And now, we get to start digging a little bit deeper, exploring our “why”. Why might we want to go? What might happen if we don’t go? And just playing around with that idea, I feel like weight is lifted off of me. Even before I’ve decided whether or not we’re going, just to even realize that it is a choice is a great first step, right?
ANNA: Yeah. I just think it’s so important to start here. With all of it, set it aside, start here. Because we can have so many voices in our head when it comes to family gatherings. But the truth is, it is a choice. And we just have to remind ourselves of that sometimes. We can attend. We can not attend. Switch it up. Change the day. Whatever it is, it’s all a choice that we can make. And when we come from that place of choice, we feel so much more empowered. And this we talk about across different realms, but it definitely applies here.
And I do want to add quickly, though, for people that are coming from abusive or traumatic environments, choice is even more important or just as important. Because you don’t ever have to put yourself or your children in harm’s way, period, to please someone else or to fit a role or to do something that you think you’re supposed to do, period. So, that’s why we start with choice.
And so, we can really check in with our “why”s, like you said. Why are we going? Where is this drive for us to be there? And often it’s because our kids enjoy it and we like it and it’s a family celebration. There are some bumps. And we’ll talk about those along the way. But so often, it’s that. But if it’s something more, feel strong in yourself that you can make decisions for yourself and your family that really work for you and just really embody that idea of choice.
So, back to more generalization, I think we need to acknowledge that we can be really humming along with our unschooling lives and we’re feeling great and then suddenly, an extended family gathering pops up and, like you said, it can be wedding, birthday, anything. But it can really shake us. And so just being aware of that and choosing to stand in our power, you know I like to say it, as grown ass adults, parents, and partners, that allows us to cultivate the environment that we want.
And so often, we have this fear there’s going to be backlash or reaction or something like that, and what I’ve found over the years is that people respond best to confidence. And they’ll just follow our lead on that. And if they don’t, that’s a time to check in and say, huh. There are some things about this dynamic and relationship that don’t feel great, because they’re not hearing me. They’re not hearing my children. And so then, we may want to address that. And maybe we’re dipping into that territory of there’s some abuse or trauma or other things that shouldn’t be happening.
But what I have found is so often, the people that love us, they do respond to our confidence and they’re like, “Okay, I see why you’re making that choice. It’s not about me. It’s about your child needing this or you needing that or your husband needing this,” or whatever it is. And so, when we can present things that way, I feel like it goes so much more smoothly.
PAM: Yeah. And for me, it was really important to first start with my choice. And then, the next step was to get to how it might be received, because when I got to my choice, that’s where I got that confidence, that grown ass adult, this is my choice. And by peeling back the “why”, I understood why. That gave me that confidence, and then I was in a much better place to start dealing with what reactions might be to whatever my choice is. But first, getting really strong in my choice was really important.
And you know, something that really helped me, certainly early on, was remembering that if something happened, if I got a bad flu or my kid got sick or some emergency came up, we would not be attending and there would not be an eye batted. It would just be like, of course you’re not coming. Your kid’s throwing up in the bathroom, or whatever. That reminds me that it truly is a choice, because something could come up that we weren’t attending, and all would be well. So, that was always a good reminder for me, just to help me stand in the fact that this really was a choice for me.
ANNA: Yeah. And I love what you’re saying about grounding in your purpose. And so, just really taking that moment to take stock in yourself first, because I feel like when we’re grounded in our purpose, then everything just flows from that, the conversations with our kids and our spouse, and the conversations with the extended family, because we just feel really sure.
And I think if we don’t take the time to do that, then that’s where we can be buffeted around by all the different voices and the different needs of people. But as we stand in our purpose, it feels easier. And then we bring more people into that circle. How does it feel for you? All of that. And we’ll talk more about that in a minute.
PAM: Yeah. And your point before, too, about it is our choice to distance ourselves from family members, whether it’s abusive, traumatic, or just a real discomfort that we feel, that it is okay to choose not to go. And then also, at some points, too, certainly earlier on in our journey, where I still felt the obligation really strongly, to realize that it’s still a choice. I’m choosing to accept that feeling of obligation and choose to participate from that point.
So, you can give yourself so much grace around all of this, realizing that this is a choice, but the context and all the different things that we’re weaving, this is also just one moment. It’s just one year. There will be another birthday, another Christmas, another holiday, whatever it is. And this is going to be yet another experience. Whether we go or we don’t go, it’s just another experience to add to our bucket of experiences that will inform the next time we’re making a choice like this.
ANNA: And I’ve always gotten this from you, and I always love that, this idea of, yeah, we’re making a decision for right now and it may look completely different next time. And I think that also is calming to the extended family. It’s not working for us right now, because we have this nap going on or we have this illness going on or we have this project going on, or whatever it is, but we’re still going to prioritize seeing you.
Or, we’re going to make it work a different way. Or, it could look completely different next year. So, sometimes we get stuck in, this way is going to be what it is forever. And it’s not. So, I always appreciate your reminder about that that we’re going to switch it up and change and keep checking in.
PAM: Yeah, which leads us very nicely into the next thing we wanted to talk about, which is how fun it is to play with traditions. Extended family gatherings, like you were talking about, but also the things we choose to do at home to celebrate any event.
It is just so much fun to realize, we get to start fresh each time. That’s just a bigger picture human thing, a great thing to remember on your unschooling journey. We’re going to try this. We’re going to play. We’re going to see what happens, and then we see what happens. Nothing is set in stone. Oh, I did this now, so I’m going to have to do this forever and ever and ever. That’s more of a curriculum-y kind of way. But that we get to have these experiences. We get to make choices, see how they unfold, and learn from them.
So, I really think this is a great opportunity, when we’re playing around with traditions, to start talking with our kids and with our partner, our spouse, and just start chatting. What is it that you love about this celebration or this event? What is it that you don’t particularly like? And then we can just start brainstorming ideas. It’s just so fun to start now having that conversation within our own family.
ANNA: Yep. And I think just back to the tradition piece, they can be carried as a weight sometimes. And so, that’s that check-in moment to say, does this tradition bring me joy and lift me up? Or am I carrying it like this giant pack? And so, if you are feeling the weight of that, then this is, again, the choice. We can just push that aside and look at it with fresh eyes. We can involve our kids and our spouse in finding out, what makes your heart sing about this gathering? Be it your birthday, be it Christmas, be it Thanksgiving, whatever holiday it is. And when we can throw open and hear all the different ideas, it gives us so much insight into the people that we love and their hearts and what they enjoy about it. And so, I love that piece of it.
And just a couple examples from that, it’s like, my girls did not like big birthday parties. That was a thing with a lot of their friends, but they didn’t love it. My youngest wanted to do it a couple of times, but she wanted it the day after her birthday, because she really loved her quiet family birthday that we had a tradition of having her favorite meal all three meals and we’d play games and my sister would come and my mom and that kind of thing. And so, that’s what she wanted. And she tried on the big party the next day, but it was like, eh, not my thing. But so many people love big parties, but it’s finding out those nuances.
And I’ve known some friends that have switched to opening their presents on Christmas Eve. And it let go of all this stress. And I thought it sounded super fun. So, I took it to the girls when they were younger and I’m like, “We could open everything on Christmas Eve.” And they were like, “No, we want open in the morning.” But then they were like, “But could we open one thing?” And I’m like, “Yes! We can open one thing,” and so that’s the fun of it. How do these things feel? And trying on all the different pieces is just so great.
And then when you’re talking about how, again, just finding out what people love about an event, I like that idea, because I feel like that’s the way we can maximize it for fun. And that makes it better for everybody involved, not just you and your family. I mean, for everybody involved. And so, it’s things like, they love their cousins, but they don’t like the food. Or they love seeing everybody, but it goes too long sometimes. Or, they don’t like leaving their new toys if it’s a holiday or whatever. I like cooking, but I don’t like the cleaning up afterwards. So, I like when people can swoop in and do that and I don’t mind making a meal for 15 people. And I found that I like being with the kids and kind of popping in and out of the adults more.
So, these are things if we can kind of talk about and know, we can maximize all these things to make this gathering so fun for everybody.
PAM: Yeah, I love that.
And I love the piece that just asking these questions helps us learn so much more about our kids, and our partner. It is so fun to hear the bits that they love, because sometimes it’s a surprise! Because we’re busy planning the whole thing, and to know what connected, what resonated with both of them, is just really fun to hear. And it makes it fun, the planning piece, so fun moving forward. Because it’s like, okay, there’s this bit and this bit and this bit. And they get to know each other, too.
Even if you’re having conversations individually with them, it’s like, “Oh yeah. So, we’ll definitely do that. And your brother thought this piece was really cool. So, we’re going to do that too,” you know? Then everybody also has a heads-up as to what things are going to look like, so it’s not a surprise or anything to them. I think that is just so helpful and fun to learn a little bit more about what they like and it’s so fun to see how it meshes with their personality. So, that personality then rolls into things that they like. It’s just knowing them as a person.
ANNA: And that’s just so fun.
PAM: It’s so fun. And so many of those ideas that you were talking about there, let’s dive into that a little bit, which is how we want to set the stage for this enjoyable gathering. So, we’re gathering all those pieces, the things that they didn’t like, the things that they maybe like. And this is, of course, going back to the fact that, whatever event that we’re thinking at the moment, we’ve chosen at this point, for whatever our reasons, and we’re grounded in our “why”.
We’ve chosen to go ahead to this family gathering. But now, it’s a whole new creative energy I find that I bring to it, because now we’ve chosen and I know why we’re choosing. So, now it’s all about making it more fun and more enjoyable within the context of whatever the gathering is.
It’s just the whole idea of just moving beyond that “have to.” Even if nothing’s literally changed from anybody else looking out inside. “This is Thanksgiving and we all expect you to show up,” and I played around with the fact that it’s really a choice, and I’ve discovered why I would actually like to attend, so I know I’m coming with a choice, even if everybody else thinks I’m just showing up because I’m supposed to. Now I have this cool new energy to make it fun because I actually want to be there. I am not showing up. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have to come, blah, blah, blah.” Now I’ve got all this creative energy and now we can dive into all these little pieces of making it fun for us.
First thing for me that was a big thing, is just thinking of things that we enjoy, like you were talking about. They have fun playing with their cousins. So, some things we’ve done is bring board games or bring card games. Some years, I brought things like word searches. I just printed out a bunch of stuff. Little games, pen and paper games that we can have on the table for people to do. And sometimes those have been a big hit. One year, on Christmas Eve, I brought little baggies of make-your-own ornaments.
ANNA: Oh fun!
PAM: And wire. And I cut it, put it in little tiny Ziplocs and brought a couple dozen of them and put them on the table after dinner. And a lot of people had fun just putting those together.
So, it’s just like, what might be fun for all of us to do that my kids would enjoy, too? How can I bring more people into the things that my kids enjoy? So, for me, that was a big one.
ANNA: I love that. And we definitely found the prep work to be so valuable. And for us, just because of the makeup of my kids, it would look like talking about the environment. What kind of space are we going into? It was really important for my oldest to have a place where she could get away. And so, we would talk about that ahead of time. And we would confirm with the host when we got there, “Is this okay for her to have this space if she needs to pop away and have a few minutes?” So, things like that.
Food was a biggie for us. So, we’re super particular about what we eat and a lot of times it didn’t fit well into the big gatherings. So, I choose to bring our favorite food to share with everybody. And often, the kids would eat ahead of time so that we didn’t run into hungry emotions because the food was delayed or somebody was late getting there and we had to push things back. So, we tried to think ahead about things like that.
And then we, too, would bring the favorite games and think about things we wanted to share from our life. Because what I found was so funny is we would do really cool, fun things all the time in our life. And they just seemed like everyday things to the kids. And I’m like, no, this is really interesting. I think they’ll really want to know that you did this cool thing or you learned to do a flip on the diving board or you played this whatever. And so, they were like, oh, okay. And so, it just gave them things to connect and share about. So, we just enjoyed thinking about those things ahead of time. And again, bringing that joy.
I loved what you said about the things that you would bring. Because when we would bring our favorite games, it was fun for the kids to be telling people how to play the games and, “Oh, let’s do this and this is what we love about it.” And my family likes to play board and card games. And so, it would always really go over well. And so, that prep work is fun prep work.
So, again, you’re going to spend energy on these gatherings, period. Because they just do. But it’s so fun to spend that energy ahead of time connecting and talking and learning more about each other, to then just have a fun gathering, instead of having to pick up the pieces afterwards, because maybe we haven’t done the prep work. I mean, at least for me. That’s where I want to spend my energy.
PAM: Well, I think that is such a great point, because, the fact is, we are probably going to be expending energy because, even if we go resistant to it, if we go just feeling like it’s an obligation, and we don’t do any prep and organizing for it, it’s like, “Okay. Look, we’ve got to go today. It’s today, let’s get dressed. And off we go.”
Oh my gosh, the recovery time when we got back, it would be sometimes two and three days, because things would butt heads, people made comments that we hadn’t thought about and prepared and got ourselves ready for, and back pocket responses for, and we would literally get knocked off our game, like you mentioned earlier. Just knowing you’ve got to go enter this different kind of environment than we’re used to, the worry about it can knock us off our game, and then actually showing up can knock us off our game. So, you’re going to be spending that energy likely recovering from the event.
So, to minimize the recovery, I’m not saying it’s going to be perfect, there will likely be some recovery after, but when we can put more energy into the prep and go into it feeling joyful and confident, I think that is really important. And we’ll get there in a moment.
I just wanted to touch reiterate your food idea. That was something that we did, too. Sometimes, I would just bring snacks and keep them in my purse. I wouldn’t keep them obvious to people. So, if food got late, I’d be checking in with the kids. “Are you hungry? Here. I got you a snack. Food got delayed. It’ll be half an hour, whatever, whatever,” and share that. Because then I can be that buffer. So, food was a big one, too.
There’s another one that was important for us or valuable for us at some point, which was the choosing when to leave. So, we would have discussions like that, too. It’s like, “Dinner will last this long, but once we’ve had dessert, then we’ll be able to leave.” And then it doesn’t mean that you have to, because if things are going well at that point and everybody’s happy, tickety-boo, then you wait till things wind down.
But having that discussion like, “Oh, I don’t like that it lasts forever,” or, “I have something that I would like to get back to.” But knowing that even when you leave is a choice and is open to play with, that was a big, helpful thing for us. If one of us said, “This is kind of enough now,” we could be out in the car in three minutes.
So, everything is up to play with, the things that you bring. You were talking with your daughters about the things that they might share when people ask questions. Because very often, when you’re going into these larger extended family gatherings, it’s the same typical kinds of questions. So, you can prep answers and say, “Grandma has been really into puzzles lately. You can ask her about her puzzle,” or things like that, so you can help your children. But it helps us, too, preparing back pocket conversation starters for ourselves. So, just that thought and energy to make it more joyful, to set it up that way, is really helpful.
So, now let’s move into to showing up. So, we’ve done this prep work now, and we’ve got our toolbox of possibilities, because there were times when I brought stuff and an opportunity just didn’t arise, and that’s totally fine too. Because you want to show up without the expectations. I did all this work and now we’re all of a sudden expecting everybody else to fall in line with what we thought? No, that’s not going to work, either. Because we don’t want to walk into their expectations and we don’t want to come in with expectations, but we’re coming in with the bag of tricks, full of possibilities.
At that point, what really helped me was, okay. Now I am out of my head from all that prep work and everything, and now I’m just going to be present and I’m going to be in the moment and see how that flows. But I’m coming in with a joyful and grounded kind of presence. And for me, that positive energy that I came in with so often made a huge difference in how the events played out.
ANNA: Yeah. I mean, that’s it. We’ve done that prep work. It’s like, we’ve made our choices and we’ve picked our traditions. And it’s like, yeah, at that point, I just want to enjoy it.
And what I’ve found is that’s all about my energy. That’s the driver there. And so, the one last tool that I think about before I’m going in is just, I remind myself, what do I love about this gathering? What do I love or enjoy about the people that we’re going to see? Because there are things, or I wouldn’t have made the choice to go. So, when I can remind myself what I love about it, that gets me to that energy place. That gets me where I want to be so that when I arrive, I feel like it’s kind of like when we talk about meet your children with love when they come down the stairs, like your face lights up.
That’s the energy I want to come into that gathering with, because again, it’s a place I’ve chosen to go. There’s something there that I love or that feeds me or my family and so, I just want to really meet it with that energy. And I just found that when I think the best of the people there and of the environment, that’s what happens. That’s what shows up. And so, I just love that.
And so, then I can just rest assured we’ve had these conversations, we’ve done that, and we’re walking in with that happy, grounded energy. And so, it just helps set the stage for my kids, but also everybody else. I think it’s just that my joy and excitement are contagious.
And I think about the crafts that you’re bringing and the things that you’re doing, I just can imagine people really look forward to that, like, “Oh, they’re going to bring a cool game this year or they’re going to whatever.” Then that lifts the energy. And so, we talked about this before, but this is one of those moments where it’s, get out of your head and into the moment and just enjoy all the stuff that you’ve done to bring here and the things you want to share with these people that are in your family that you love.
PAM: Yeah, that just reminded me, that point, because that was the fun thing. Because I was the one with the younger kids. Their cousins were all a dozen years older than them. So, we celebrate Christmas, and I started bringing Christmas crackers. It’s just something to break the mundanity of the celebration and they would be watching for me to come in with the crackers. The table was already always set up and it was just so much fun to just bring those little pops of fun to it.
And a good chunk of them would actually wear their hat and all. But that is the whole point. And I think it’s something that if you haven’t experienced yet, it sounds a bit weird, but it’s very human nature. When you’re coming in and looking at things through the lens of having fun, I’m choosing to be here, this joyful presence, you’re going to notice those reactions to it.
Our brains are looking for patterns. And when we’re looking through the lens of fun and connection, we’re going to see that, see those messages when we see somebody’s connection. If we’re coming in with that weight of obligation and, “Everybody else just thinks we’re weird. They don’t like us,” we’re going to see those reactions. And it’s not that all of them aren’t happening. But if we are really looking through that negative lens, our brain is really only going to register the negative reactions.
It’s not going to see the little smile over here. “Oh! They’re here!” That’s just going to pass. We’ll maybe see it, but it’ll pass right by. It won’t connect, because that’s not what we’re looking for. But we’ll see the little eye roll over there. Or we’ll see somebody turn around and walk away. It doesn’t matter. Those things are about them. They’re not about us. And if we want to enjoy it, we can come in with that energy.
And, like you said, so many people respond to that, are attracted to that, because you know what? They’re showing up at events and celebrations, hoping to have fun, too. And when you see that, it builds, and then that energy builds and so often, it can turn other people too. Those negative reactions at first, because they’re here because of the obligation, it’s like, “What? We can have fun here? We can enjoy this?”
So, you may turn a whole bunch of people around, too. And there may be some people that you’re just going to keep your distance from, because you’re not going to have a fun, positive interaction with them. That’s okay. They’re probably grumpy sitting there over in the corner. Maybe there’s two of them nattering back and forth and back and forth. That’s fine. They can have their world. I don’t need to change anybody, but I can still be myself. I can still be that joyful, grounded presence, and I’m here to have fun and to help people, and just to soak in that more positive, fun energy of it.
So, when you come in with it, it can have a really cool ripple effect on the whole thing, can’t it?
ANNA: Yeah. I mean, I see it all the time. So, yeah. It really is powerful.
PAM: So, it’s probably then good to chat about when things do go sideways. So, yeah, we’ve left them nattering the way in the corner. But sometimes people will make comments or just talk to our kids in a certain way that we’re not comfortable with. So, part of that being present, too, is also me being open and curious as to what’s going on. I’m not tunnel vision. I’m paying attention to what my kids are doing.
I’m checking in with my kids. I’m checking in with what’s going on. So, maybe I’ve talked to the kids and said, “There’s going to be a meal. There’s going to be a big dinner. And it’ll probably be around such and such a time and we’ll sit down and we’ll eat.” And maybe that’s delayed. So, I’m checking in with the kitchen or I’m helping out, and then I can go update them on things that I think they might be expecting that have turned. So, just having some idea of what we can do in those situations, so that we don’t get taken off guard.
Now the classic one is the “pass the bean dip” kind of thing, because it is so important to remember that we don’t have to engage. That, again, is a choice, right? So, “pass the bean dip” is basically when you’re in the conversation, somebody asks something negative, or says something negative, we can have like a little quick one-liner and then, “Pass the bean dip.” You can change the topic. You can go to the bathroom. “Oh, I got to go get a drink.” “Oh, I’m going to go check on the kids.” Just so many things.
Oh, one of my favorites used to be, when somebody was saying something maybe a little bit negative, that conversation changer or a conversation starter, it’s like, “What do you do for fun lately?” Or, “What’s your big hobby right now?” Oh my gosh. That used to be just so fun to watch their reaction, because like we said, they come in with these standard questions, standard conversation topics. And to see them like literally stop for a second and have to think. And sometimes it’s so interesting because they would say, “I don’t really have a hobby.’ Or, “I don’t know what I do. I work and then I watch some TV and that’s it.” But even just planting that little seed that, you can have fun. You’re an adult. Or you can have a hobby outside of work.
So, it was just so fun to have completely different questions, easy back pocket ways that I can change the conversation when I choose to stay in the conversation with them. So, that was one of my big ones.
ANNA: Yeah. Well, so I was thinking even in terms of the kids, because we’ve all been there. You know, the best laid plans and all of that. And for me, you did mention this, the presence was the key, in terms of, I wanted to hang out with the kids. At the very least, I was checking in frequently. Especially if we had a lot of kids or cousins or friends, if it was a birthday party, because so often in those things, you’ll see adults over here and kids in a completely different space. And I think it’s important to realize, it’s a lot to ask kids to negotiate at extended gatherings when they’re with people that they rarely see, that they don’t really know how the dynamics work and all of those pieces.
And so, it really is helpful to have some facilitation and just somebody that’s kind of just there to check in and see what’s going on. Because just simple things like, while we might’ve eaten before we came there, I know I remember times when cousins were melting down because the meal was delayed, and they were starving. But me kind of keeping an eye and checking in and validating the kids, then I could help them get their needs met, too. Because everybody wants to have a good time, but it’s hard when you’re hungry and you’re in a new space and your parents are doing something else and not listening to you, so being present was just really important to me to manage if there was any kind of upset.
And, like I said, we had that space carved out ahead of time. And so, if things got rough or somebody was melting or having problems, it’s like, “Hey, let’s go, all of us, the three of us, or the two of us, whoever needed to go, let’s go regroup.” And maybe we would play a game on the Switch or at the time it would be the Nintendo, or, “Let’s play a game or read a book or let’s just hang out and snuggle for a minute,” to just kind of regroup.
And this is from what you said before, but we really kept an eye on the length of things, because if things had gotten long, that was also where things started to take a turn. And so, I could then see, okay, it’s getting too long. And like you said, we’re out of there. I can say the goodbyes. David could be packing up the car. We can go, and that calmed people to know, I’m being heard, I’m being seen, this is getting too long, and wanting to go.
And so really, I think what’s super important to bring into these is HALT, because it’s hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. And any or all of those can happen at a holiday gathering. And so, when we’re really staying connected to that, it’s like, okay, we can think about food. We can think about new dynamics with friends or cousins. We can think about lonely. Mom’s been in the kitchen doing stuff with the adults and I haven’t had that connection time. And tired, it’s just been too long. We’ve just been here too long.
So, just keeping that in the back of our mind then really takes the sting out of it, because I think if our child is having upset in a gathering like that, it can start to feel tough. People are looking at us and what are they thinking? And so then when you can just go, “She didn’t eat earlier,” or, “She’s really tired,” or, “This is just a long day for her. We missed our nap,” or whatever, then that takes the focus off of the problem being you or the child or whatever. You’re able to give a label to it, something that they can understand. And honestly, they’ve all been there. They’ve had kids that needed naps or were tired or were hungry or whatever. So, then it just changes that energy.
And I guess the last thing I want to say about this is just, we always, always, always come back to connection. And so, keeping my connection throughout the gathering was so important because then when things went sideways, it was so easy to reestablish. I had just been there a few minutes before if I was popping in and out or whatever. And so, when we can keep those connections, that keeps a slight sideways from just being the full-on disaster.
PAM: That’s the value of checking in.
PAM: So, I had two things that popped up while you’re talking. So, the first is totally that connection piece. And, you know what? At this point, I forgot that it’s not normal to hang out with the kids, because for me, by the time the main part of dinner was done, I was kind of done with the adult conversation that was going on and I would go hang out with the kids. I wanted to have fun, too. And nobody really said anything. I don’t know what they were thinking. But anyway, I would go hang out with what they were doing, because I had excused them from dinner. That was an example of one thing that I did to handle the constraints and the expectations of the host.
So, we would go over to my mother-in-law’s. And being excused from the table was a big thing for them. But me knowing that, and me also knowing by the second or third course, my kids were full and they had had enough of sitting. They’re not going to stay sitting there when they’re full and they don’t want any more of the food that’s coming. So, I would excuse them. I might be saying it as they’re half out of their chair. “Yes! You can be excused. Off you go! Have fun!”
That did two things. It helped in the moment, because they wouldn’t challenge that right there, because I’m the parent. Of course, I get to excuse my kids. But also, if they were frustrated with that or whatever, if they thought it was too early, it was me making the decision.
PAM: So, they would have that conversation with me. It wouldn’t be about my kids. So, I could play that buffer role.
So, hanging out with the kids is totally okay. It’s fun. And it’s important to regularly check in and see how things are going and keep that connection going.
Another thing we used to do, like you mentioned a bunch of things, for the space, when we found we needed space, when things were getting overwhelming, we would often go for a walk. It was really helpful at Christmas, because we could say, “We’re going to go for a walk in the neighborhood and see the lights,” because we lived rurally, but they didn’t. So, just a bit of fresh air, a bit of quiet, because then there’s not the echo-y of inside a house or inside a building. And we could just get out there. And then, at this point, often it’s dark. So, then you’ve got the moon to look at and you do have the lights and stuff. And then we could just have free flowing conversations by ourselves. We didn’t have to worry about it. It just felt more open. So, that was a trick that we used.
The other thing I wanted to mention, because I don’t think we’ve brought this up yet, in the vein of things going sideways, when we’re talking with people, for me, this was not the place to bring up things that I was feeling challenged by. So often, they’re catching up and people like to complain. People like to complain about their lives and, in that sense, they like other people to complain. So, we can, in trying to commiserate with them, we can, without thinking, get pulled into maybe complaining about our kids or complaining about something. “I’m feeling a little bit frustrated about X, Y, or Z,” or whatever’s going on in my life.
But truly, this was not the place to bring that up because they weren’t trying to live the same lifestyle that I’m trying to live. So, obviously the responses I’m going to get aren’t going to be very helpful for me. Most often, if your kids aren’t going to school and you’re going to a larger, more conventional gathering and you complain about something, the first answer is going to be, “Yeah, you should send them to school. You get so much more time, blah, blah, blah.” And from their perspective, that seems like such a logical answer. And so, you can understand. But it is not helpful for us at all because that’s not the choice that we want to make. So, we’re not really going to get any helpful suggestions.
So, coming in with that joyful presence, with that confidence that this is what we’re doing. It’s like, “This is working really well for us right now.” When people ask, “How are things going? Oh, it must be so hard. You’re home with the kids all the time.” “It’s working really well for us right now. We’re having a lot of fun. We’ll see how it goes.”
ANNA: That was it. I agree.
PAM: So, yeah. I wanted to bring that piece up, because it’s not about not asking questions and stuff, but there’s better places to ask questions.
ANNA: For sure. Yeah. To process, that is not the place.
But that reminded me, so we just recently had a small gathering, but there were children there. And it started to go the direction of that, like complaining about the children. And what I was able to do is connect with the children and get excited about what they were sharing, because it was kind of this like, “No, the grownups are talking,” kind of thing because there wasn’t a lot of the kids there. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, tell me about that. Is that your baby?” And then, it was so interesting to see the change in the parents, because they love their kids and are connected, but they just thought they were supposed to not be interrupting or not be whatever.
And so, that’s the other power that we have at these gatherings is to be that joyful voice, to be excited about the kids, to share the things they’re interested in. And oh my gosh, those kids loved telling me all these things that. And they’re younger, so much younger than mine, so it was kind of fun for me to hear what were they into and what were the things we’re excited about. And so, yeah, it’s just that “know your audience.” I love that piece. Do not bring unschooling or parenting questions to a gathering like that. There’s plenty of places to ask those questions, but also just know that you can change the energy around those discussions and complaining times. And people really then want to jump onto that, too. It can spiral or you can keep it lifting up.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, and that reminded me, too, just how many fun conversations we have with the kids. So, I’m going to check in with my kids and there’s a whole bunch of other kids around and you could end up staying there for half an hour, an hour just having conversations. Because all of a sudden, somebody is listening to them.
PAM: An adult is listening to them and is excited about what they’re excited about. It’s just so fun when they get to talk about something that they love. They’re likely going to school and they’ve got all that kind of pressure. They don’t have a lot of time. Whether or not their parents are having those deeper conversations with them, you don’t know. But to have an adult who’s excited and just connects with them over that …
ANNA: It’s really beautiful.
PAM: It’s so beautiful, right?
PAM: Well, best of luck to everybody as they navigate first their choice to attend family gatherings during this holiday season and at any time of the year. It really is a choice. Lean into that choice and really decide. And remember, I’m going to try this for now, and we’ll see how things go, right? We’re going to learn more with every choice that we make. And best of all, have so much fun with your prep work and do your best to have fun when you’re there. Because, like you said, we have reasons why we’re showing up, things we want to enjoy. Go and enjoy them, right?
ANNA: Yes, definitely.
PAM: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Anna, on this. And I found that so inspiring. It reminds me to do all those things.
ANNA: Yes. It’s getting me excited about all of it, so yeah, it’s great.
PAM: Have a great day. Bye.
ANNA: Take care. Bye bye.