I find myself dreading visits home. I love them but
time with my family can be SUCH an emotional drain.
Do you have any suggestions for establishing and maintaining
boundaries? Or quick answers for people asking you to justify your
One woman once said you should never go home for more than two days. Two day visits rock, no space for conflict, just long enough to really enjoy every minute. But, if you need to be home longer…here are some pointers on how not to regress to age thirteen.
1) Spend a night reflecting on what you are doing with your life and why. Make sure you have some semblance of an answer before going home. This answer does not need to be shared with anyone out loud, it is the one you hold on to as the questions start firing.
2) Look at all of this as if you live inside a shell. Inside is all mushy and sweet, outside is the veneer you show people. Another word for this is learning to live like a Washingtonian. Use your best political face to show love and white lies.
3) Only answer when you feel like it. You have every right not to answer a question. Or, what people hate, is “I don’t know.” This is a great answer if you can stand by it and the frustration it will provoke. People who have made commitments they resent, will then resent you for your lackthereof.
4) Learn to see yourself with two sets of eyes, theirs and yours, and train yourself to know the difference. What they can’t see can’t hurt them, and what you remember of who you are is crucial. Don’t confuse their eyes for your own.
5) Boundaries. The only trick here, again, is pre-meditation. Know in advance how far you want to go with information, and set the limit. People hate boundaries. They will try to trick you and knock your walls down. Stand firm if those walls are there to maintain your sanity.
6) Trust your gut and give away only what serves you. Exiting a Buddhist retreat and entering family life from your own independence aren’t such different experiences. One retreat leader explained that you might want to run home and tell your husband or girlfriend or mother everything and then find, upon arrival, that they don’t get it or don’t care. They taught us to guard our experiences and to be slow in unfolding information about the time we spent in silence. You might feel like telling the girl in the checkout line all about your retreat, but never want to reveal a word to your own children. The moral here was learning to trust one’s voice. You might find your mouth cemented shut in some cases, without warning, and running wildly in others. Just listen to your body and proceed with the questions and answers from there. Pain = negative. Warm lull = positive.
So, whatever you have made of your life was done so for a reason. Family sometimes understands, and sometimes does not. They sometimes want to put a leash on you in fear of losing you to the new world you have entered. So spend some time remembering who they are, what their needs and hang-ups are, and also recalling who you are and what you stand for.
For example: One brilliant friend of mine went home to her evangelical parents and they all looked at her, shaking their heads. “Aren’t you worried about rotting in hell for all of those tattoos you have?” they asked. And she calmly answered, “I appreciate your concern, but these tattoos mean a lot to me and connect me to God as I understand it.” Boom.
As you approach each conversation go into it with awareness and self-respect, watching your words and theirs, knowing that everyone’s attempts to cut you down to size have to do, 90% of the time, with their own insecurities.
For family it is even harder, because they were once closest to you and the shifts in intimacy levels as we age unnerve some people. Keep this in mind as they get rough, remembering the origin of their words. Be protective of you. Whatever you have become is probably gorgeous, and needs to be revealed at its own rate.