How can I manage family socialising better post-lockdown?
June 14, 2020 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm close to my family and, until lockdown, met up with some of them once a week for an evening meal. Lockdown is easing in my country and they want to start doing this again. I'd like to make it more enjoyable and less stressful for me. How can I do this?

I tend to feel marginalised in my family as a single person without children. I also don't share that many interests with them. I have some niche interests which, although I mention occasionally, I know others would find it difficult to have much interest in. I have mental health issues I don't talk about with them - we are not a family that discusses our emotions much. I have some frustration about some of the ways our family works, such as me doing more of the caring for an elderly family member. And I have some guilt about some of my behaviour to family members decades ago. And some shame about being less successful in life (career, partner) than other family members. Also they are night owls while I get tired quickly in the evenings.

Previously I found I felt tired and wound up after spending time with them. This is partly just because I live alone and am unused to spending time with a group. I don't want not to see them at all. I do care about them and enjoy some of our interactions, and they are sometimes kind and thoughtful to me. But I'd like to do things differently. I have previously tried to push back on the timing of when we meet, but not successfully. I don't want to make waves by saying "I can't or won't come unless we do things in a different way". I'd like not to feel that when I see them I'm working hard to manage my emotions and be careful about what I say. I'm currently feeling a lot of pressure from them to start meeting regularly again. I have a small window in which I can say I don't want to do that because of concerns about the virus. How can I plan to make meeting more positive?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are going to their house you arrive, put in an appearance and leave again. As long as you don’t arrive five minutes before they serve a meal and leave immediately after every gathering (so you’re clearly interested in spending time hanging out/helping etc) do your thing. If they all meet for six hrs and you would find two or three more manageable you pick your window and time your arrival/departure accordingly. Will they push back, sure. But it’s just not possible for you to be there earlier, stay later. You’ll just become known for your quirky ways.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:51 AM on June 14, 2020

It sounds like you want to set a new boundary but hope not to have to actively enforce it - which, in a lot of mainly dynamics is unrealistic. I know, it sucks.

You are unlikely to change family traditions that work for the majority of attendees (evening meals that drag in for too long for you) so you need to make new traditions. Suggest brunch (and an appointment or event after that is solo for you as an excuse to leave if they want to make brunch into brupper). Find local things to do that have a time limit, go for walks that loop back to the starting point (so it isn’t endless wandering), and, as already mentioned, participate in just a part of their late dinners but not the entire thing. When declining/leaving be brief, firm and friendly. You will most likely get pushback but that their poor behaviour to own, not you. Repeat that till you believe it, it isn’t you.
posted by saucysault at 11:10 AM on June 14, 2020

What are your goals here, exactly? Maybe something like "feel less stress but continue to engage with my family"?

I think your chances of getting people to change the big weekly family meal are likely very low, unless a significant percentage of the rest of the group secretly feels the same way you do. The way I see it, your options are things like:
  • Change your expectations for the meal. Go, but know that it's likely to be an unsatisfying conversational experience for you and that you may leave feeling kind of tired and wound up.
  • Change the way you do the weekly meal - leave early, or only go every other week, or something like that.
  • Find other ways to interact with your family outside of the weekly meal - e.g. try to engage with family members on an individual basis, maybe on small areas of mutual interest.
You can do these in combination. You may get pushback. But ultimately you're not going to be able to change your family's behavior, only your own.
posted by mskyle at 12:12 PM on June 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Therapy for the guilt and shame you feel, and also ask your therapist to help you with boundary setting. It can be powerful to have someone outside the situation (ie. your therapist) tell you that the boundaries you want to set are reasonable. And they can even help you practice saying the words: "I love you all, but I'm so tired, I'm heading off now. Thanks so much for a great night, bye" - or whatever. And they can help you think about what people might say to stop you ("Don't be such a party pooper!") what that'll make you feel, and how you'll keep your resolve in the face of them.
posted by penguin pie at 3:57 PM on June 14, 2020

Can you offer to host an event occasionally where the timing works for you? Like brunch or a tea party? Or some kind of activity where people can get together for a shared thing - trivia evening, croquet, or board games - so the focus is on the activity, and not the family dynamics? Or a craft afternoon? Or even karaoke? (assuming it's safe to sing together?)

For me, sometimes, it takes shaking up the pattern/agenda of the get-together to shake up the emotions involved. Plus, if it's something you enjoy doing anyway, you get to spend a set amount of time doing a fun activity, and get low-stress family time to boot.
posted by dancing_angel at 8:33 PM on June 14, 2020

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