Look up the word ‘family’ in any dictionary or on Wikipedia and you’ll find definitions such as “a group of people affiliated either by birth or by marriage.” There is the ‘immediate’ family: children and parents, and the ‘extended’ family: spouses, cousins, aunts and uncles. The Hallmark families, ones depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings, are those who represent how all of us would like a family to feel: warm, comforting, welcoming, non-judging, appreciating, encouraging and proud of every other member.
The word ‘family’ was defined long ago, yet what we consider a typical family has recently changed. No longer do all families consist of a husband and a wife. We recognize that two mothers, or two fathers can also mean family. Adopted children are welcomed into the immediate family. And as the world population grows larger and many families are divided geographically, it’s not uncommon for family members to hold diverse values, follow different religions, marry out of their religion of birth, or race, and lose some of the cohesion we thought was needed for a ‘family.’ Yet family remains.
We use the word ‘family’ more metaphorically these days. Family may be the people in our houses of worship, community, affinity groups or global village. In fact, the modern term for family today is ‘tribe’, a word that used to mean people from common ancestors. Now the urban dictionary defines ‘tribe’ as “close friends, a group of people who are loyal to you and care for you…like family.” Your tribe today not only is like your family (old definition), but may be your family. Richard Bach, author and philosopher famously wrote, “Rarely do members of the same family grow up under the same roof.”
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood but of true respect for each other. A family member is someone who supports you – that teacher who encouraged you to draw or sing, that counselor who thought you should go into medicine, the nurse, social worker or close friend who held your hand in a time of loss or fear.
It’s difficult not to notice the opening of the holiday season. Ads appear for gifts, sales abound, decorations are up in the stores, music has changed and the pace of life has picked up greatly. For many it’s a time of celebration but for some a time of great stress.
What if I buy the wrong gift?
Can’t believe how much the airline tickets have gone up for the holidays.
And most of all…
Will I be able to get along with my family?
The number one reason holiday stress abounds is because we hold expectations of others. There is nothing you can do to change another person except to be an example and realize people seldom change basic characteristics. Your uncle will probably still drink too much at dinner, little children will most likely be too noisy and the two families of inlaws will discuss politics – in spite of their differences. The thought, ‘this too shall pass’ can be very comforting. Also, realize these are the people who gave you life. And if you think carefully, those challenges you had growing up are probably the greatest gifts you’ve ever received. With an absentee parent, you learned independence. Grew up poor? Your work ethic may be high. Always look for the gifts. It makes life much sweeter.
Learning to deal with stress before it becomes a mental and physical problem is a must, especially this time of year. Fortunately, technology in this case, is our friend. You can monitor any oncoming stress before it becomes ongoing. And you can use your WellBe to spot any potential challenge. Keep your stress levels low by keeping watch and enjoy this holiday season. You deserve the best!Dr. Marcia Hootman