I am currently sitting in the car, with a load of groceries, waiting for my 16 month-old miracle baby to wake up.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and in this very moment my heart is so full of joy and excitement, thinking about all of the amazing family time that is coming over the next few days.
I can’t wait to watch Elias eat all the food, shimmying his happy “yummy food” dance in his high chair. I can’t wait to watch him crack up at all his older boy cousins as they run around and play together.
I can’t wait to talk about all the mom things and toddler-life things, and hear stories from the matriarchs in our family.
It hasn’t always been this way, though.
After missing out on Thanksgiving for the 5 years I lived in Colombia, we were finally able to participate when we moved here 6 years ago. Right after my sister had her baby…. and my cousin was pregnant.
I felt like I had absolutely nothing to give to any conversation. I felt so out of place. Truly, most of Thanksgiving Day, I just avoided any conversation and hung out with the younger kids in the basement, hiding.
On top of culture shock, I was having anxiety about my place in the family, my value; and truly struggled to even be happy for how the family was growing. I found myself feeling jealous and bitter that it wasn’t happening for us.
When I voiced some hesitation and anxiety I was feeling to a family member, it was countered with “why can’t you just get outside of yourself and be happy!”
Yeah… not really helpful.
I know that I have friends who might be feeling anxious in these days as well. It might be for different reasons… maybe you aren’t happy in your job, in your marriage, or in your singleness… or maybe you’re just not feeling joyful and you can’t put your finger on “why”.
In my counseling sessions leading up to the holidays the following year, my counselor told me 2 things that helped me.
1) Find my “safe person”… someone I know loves me no matter what I bring to the table. Someone who either won’t ask me the hard questions, or someone who I feel comfortable talking about the hard things with.
2) Breathe in “I can do all things”…. breathe out “through Christ who gives me strength”.
As I breathed my way through one holiday after another, I realized that I was able to show up for my family members.
Instead of feeling shame and anxiety about what I was lacking, I was able to be a non-distracted listener. And, while family members shared their struggles, especially when it came to kids, I was able to stay calm.
(Don’t get me wrong… in my head I was still saying “at least you can have kids”… but I was able to keep that thought to myself and just keep listening.)
What I learned as I would ask questions and listen, is that ALL of us feel like we’re missing out on something… we all have pain from life not turning out as we thought it would… even those who seem like they have it all together.
So, if you’re dreading family time like I did for years, know that you’re not alone. You don’t need to give anything that you don’t have. It’s ok to just.show.up.
I promise you will find joy in a tiny moment, if you’ll just have courage to look for it.
And, if you’re one of those annoying family members, (like we are this year) for whom things are all going pretty well, be the safe person for your struggling family members.
Make inclusive, memorable moments.
Be the person that your struggling family members are grateful for.