I will be spending a week on a small boat with my dysfunctional family. How can I prepare myself so that this is a tolerable, or even pleasant, experience? My parents, my brother and his family, and I will be spending a week together on a small boat in France. Spending this much time with my parents has always filled me with dread and avoidance as it usually leads to conflict. (This is complicated by the fact that my mother’s relationship with my sister-in-law, who I love and get on well with, is also very difficult.)
In the past, spending any length of time with my family has been a huge challenge for me. My parents, in particular, are very judgmental and have specific ideas about what my life should be, and are very critical of me because the way I’ve chosen to live my life is different from their ideals. In addition, my mother has unfortunate ways of dealing with her emotions, involving attacking other people if she feels hurt or neglected.
Can you help me get through this week? I’m dreading it.
When I graduated from college and moved to Boston, before I left, my dad took me out in the garage and showed me how to change a tire. I’m not really a fix-it type of gal, and at that age I generally assumed I could find a boy somewhere to do stuff like that for me, but I paid close attention anyway. Shortly after I moved, my car was doing something wonky on my way to work one day. It was making a weird sound, and shaking, and pulling in one direction. Luckily, I recognized the signs of a flat tire. Thanks, Dad! So I changed it. All by myself. I even waved off some helpful people who offered assistance. So proud of myself, I got back in the car and drove off toward work, only to find that the car was still acting funny. I pulled over at a service station, and it turned out that I had basically no brakes left on my Hyundai and one more healthy stomp on the brake pedal would have killed me and like 70 other people.
Do you hear what I’m saying? You’re trying to solve the wrong problem.
Do not get on a boat with your family. Spend Thanksgiving with them, go visit for important anniversaries, send flowers on Mother’s Day, rent a house on the Jersey Shore with your brother and his wife during the summer. But don’t travel to a different country and put yourself in a confined space with a bunch of people who like to fight and get great enjoyment out of criticizing you. You’re a grown up. Say no. Don’t go.
And if for some reason you must go (someone is holding a gun to your head?), the only thing that’s going to get you through this is wine. Lots of it.