1. You may still need to feel some stuff about your parent's divorce and the past.
Before you can step out of your old role in the family you may need to
grieve the past and, no, understanding it isn't the same as feeling
it. You may be in your 40's or 50's but still feel hurt or mad at unconscious levels about the split up of your family.
2. You may need to set some limits.
If you have been the emotional caretaker for siblings or parents
then you may need to just say "no" in order to de-role. Examples of
how this might show up is often times younger siblings can "parentify"
their oldest sibling and cast them in the roll of parent whom they
may cling to or act out with in similar fashion a child or teen
might with a parent. Cute, maybe when you are 7 or 10 - not so
cute when you are 50 and your sibling still looks to you to plan all
the family gatherings as if they are incapable or is indifferent to
you when you visit the way a teenager might dismiss their parent.
The same goes with parental care taking - you may become, inadvertently the
surrogate mate or confidant for your parent - especially the
opposite sex parent who is not re married. Setting limits may not
always have to be verbal and confrontational and sometimes they may
need to be. See Ali Miller's posts on Non Violent Communication
more. In the cases where parent or sibling relationships are
tense, there is value going in with a clear understanding, as a
friend recently said, of what you are available for? "I am
available to listen, to love you, to tell the truth, to share the
planning tasks, to hang out" and "I am not available to be dismissed,
parentified, treated disrespectfully". Just setting the intention
may shift your role and at other times you may actually have to say
this stuff and weather the tantrums that may ensue from family members who don't like you stepping out of the old role.
3. Plan ahead for self care.
Don't over do it in your visit. You want to be your authentic,
grown up self, not the child who took on various roles in the
family. But to stay in that head space it is important to have
moments built into your day where you can check in with young
feelings that may come up and need tending. Listen and hear what
the little one inside of you is feeling and needing. Often these
feelings have been dormant until you are around your family and then
the unconscious stirs. The pesky unconscious, I have found, can
often reveal itself in messy ways and at inopportune times. So have
a place you can go to take care of yourself. I recommend you do not
stay at any one family member's house. You need your own space to
refresh and you need time to set aside to do it. You may also need
to plan ahead for other logistics - set exact dates and times and
activities. If you are visiting two
separate sets of family- a mother and new partner or father and new
partner or brothers and sisters - set it all up ahead of time. Even
if you are like me and aren't a planner, it can make a big
difference in keeping your feet on the ground and sense of
4. Mind your longings.
If you have lived through one or many divorces as a kid, you may
still carry many longings with you into your current family
relationships and many/most of these longings are misplaced if you
expect them to be met with this particular group of people. You may
long for family to comfort your old grief or celebrate the adult you
have become or you may long for a stoic parent to be touchy-feely or
an invasive parent to be more hands off. The reality is, and you
have heard this before, we have control over ourselves and our
choices and not others. Choosing to get certain longings met in a riper garden for you and not with a family that is still stuck
in old splintered roles might be a better bet. You may not be
valued for your depth, emotions, view on life, work, politics, or
relationships. Take those aspects of you, then, where they are
valued and enjoy the other aspects of your family. They are there,
I promise, if you can let go of the expectations that are
5. Empathize with and accept yourself and your family
I am going to get a little positive psychology on you here for a
minute not to Polly Anna-out at all but simply to embrace the larger
context. You can read my previous post on blaming your family
all your problems for more on this. Bottom line, family is fraught
with the deepest longings and most primitive animal instincts and so
with it comes the potential for great joy and great pain. In the
midst of that we are navigating a culture that is valuing less and
less deep human connection. Throw in many generations of family
history that have left its mark on parents and their capacity to
parent kids through their emotional lives and you can see that no
one is to blame and everyone is to blame. We all get to be angry
and sad, say yes and no to our family and beyond that we also get to
empathize and accept that this is the family we have. The best
thing about being an adult is you get to choose how to engage as a
member of your family. Enjoy the freedom!
Finally, for those of you who have lived through divorce and had parents parent you well and have come out on the other side better off for the experience, perhaps this blog gives you a new sense of gratitude for them! Divorce does not have to be the end of the world for kids but kids are not alright going through it without guidance.
Traci Ruble,Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist has her private psychotherapy practice in downtown San Francisco specializing in working with couples, adult individuals and mothers. She also works with therapists and corporate sales professionals who want to learn how to grow their business from authenticity and connection. Traci also leads weekly online mothers' support groups for under-parented mothers. You can contact Traci about any of these at 415-520-5567 or firstname.lastname@example.org