My pregnant daughter just called me to complain (again) about her paternal grandmother. This has become a daily phone call. Then my son called me from work: "Mom, isn’t there a way for us to see our aunt and cousin and this once leave her home?" Our nephew doesn’t make a habit of phoning me; however he did tell his mom that he wasn’t coming down to visit this time if they had to stay with her. My sister-in-law popped for a hotel room.
Every family has a member that rubs the rest of the clan the wrong way. I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of Biblical rule. If not, then it must be in the bylaws passed by the government of every country.
Now. I’m not a psychologist or a family counselor. But thanks to my two now wonderful adult children, I have been through enough therapy to give advice on the subject of getting along with difficult people. Especially those we love (or have to tolerate):
1. PICK YOUR BATTLES CAREFULLY. Decide what you can ignore and what you can’t. For example: I hate when people aren’t honest. I don’t mind if you disagree with me. I don’t care if you don’t like me. But I won’t put up with duplicity. Just tell me the truth. For some people, the big issue is laundry, or money, or a personal dress code. Whatever you do, don’t chose every little nitpicky event and yell about it. Oh, and when you go to war, do it quietly. I’ve found my low voice or even silence is a very powerful tool .
2. STAY AWAY AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. That’s right. There is always another room or someone else you can talk to. Or just bow out of the event, if you have to lower yourself to the main offender’s behavior.
3. USE THESE TWO PHRASES, AND THEY WILL END MANY A PROBLEM. My husband and I learned these words from a family therapy seminar, and they became our favorite rebuttals during the teenage years:
a) "Regardless of…/Nevertheless…"
I know these sound simplistic but picture this: Your teen doesn’t want to do homework and starts to yell at you.
You respond, "Regardless of how you much you hate English, you have to do the assignment." Or your mother-in-law hates that you won’t take her on your vacation. You respond, "Nevertheless, our plans have been finalized and you are not going."
b) "If you have nothing new to add…"
When the challenger rebuts you, you respond, "I have heard what you had to say. If you have nothing new to add, we are done here." Then simply walk away, read a book or newspaper, make a phone call, or retire to the bathroom. The key to making these steps work is to react by not reacting.
Oh, I used these phrases on my pregnant daughter just now: "Sarah, I know your grandmother is extremely trying. Nevertheless, for your father’s and aunt’s sake, you’ll have to put up with her for a visit. I have heard how much you dislike her. If you have nothing new to add to your long list of complaints, we’re done." Then I added, "This is really good practice. Pretend you have to take care of your two-year-old, who is just about to throw a tantrum. Stay calm, quiet and ignore the bad behavior. It goes away eventually."