This holiday season, many of us will experience a homecoming of one kind or another. As parents we welcome our family members back home. As children we return to the homes of our childhood. And as spouses we gather with families that have become ours through union. In many ways, that’s what the holidays are about … returning home.
For some of us, coming home is a beautiful event. We reconnect with loved ones. We experience the warmth of family. And we revisit parts of ourselves that are often lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. This is the inspiration behind many a Hallmark card and tender Sunday afternoon movie — heartwarming experiences that need only to be felt and savored in the heart with no analysis or commentary necessary.
For others, though, the experience of coming home is laced with different but equally poignant emotions. We return to people and places that harbor memories of abandonment, judgment, and self-loathing. As adults we may remember painful childhoods, as parents we might hold feelings of being unappreciated and misunderstood, and as extended families we sometimes experience the odd mixture of our own childhood traumas spiked with the additional zest of our spouse’s. To make matters even more difficult, this is usually hidden under a guilt-producing veil of how “darn wonderful” it is to be home for the holidays.
So how can “welcome home” actually be welcoming and truly feel like home?
When going home doesn’t feel welcoming, the holidays become a time of sadness, anger, and resentment. For some this means not going home — and that’s okay in and of itself. For others it becomes an opportunity to explore our feelings, to practice self-love, to make use of the spiritual tools we have learned, and perhaps even to heal old wounds. Everyone has their own way of comforting emotions; here are a few I’ve found helpful in my life.
Welcoming our own feelings. For me, the first step is to welcome my feelings as they are, whatever they might be, and to honor them. So often we repress feelings we perceive as negative or wrong. We quietly tell ourselves it’s unholy not to want to see our family. That act of shutting down our emotions and not listening to ourselves is the beginning of feeling unwelcome. As my teacher Sharon Salzberg taught me, if we’re not welcome to be real with ourselves, where will we ever feel accepted and welcome? I start by allowing myself the freedom to be as I am and to feel whatever I feel. This simple act can be so healing. Like venting the steam from a hot kettle, it prevents us from boiling over.
Being realistic. Similar to welcoming our own feelings, we have an opportunity not to cover up negative feelings, and instead to accept the situation as it is. If you and your parents argue every time you get in the same room, it’s okay to acknowledge that that’s unpleasant. If your children come over just to get a check at the holidays and then head out and leave you alone, it’s understandable to want to avoid that experience. So go ahead and say it. It’s okay. Give yourself permission to be real. Anything less is another act of suppression and unwelcomeness toward yourself.
Seeing ourselves in the other. Having welcomed our feelings and the reality of our experience, we can then apply the spiritual tools we’ve learned to make the situation more joyful. For me, this always begins with the sage advice of my teacher, Guru Singh — “Look for yourself in the other.” This is difficult with family, as we so often — and sometimes desperately — don’t want to be like our family. Equally true is the fact that we are, most often, just like them. This is an opportunity to look closely and find ourselves in their behavior, which can open the door to compassion and understanding.
With this in mind, parents who insist on treating adult children like teenagers can either be seen as bossy and overbearing; or upon closer examination, we might, as parents now ourselves, recognize their bossiness as a deep desire for our safety and well-being. Our siblings who tease us and don’t take us seriously can be unbearable and immature, or perhaps instead give us an opportunity to connect with the child within, lighten up, and have fun for the weekend. Our children who may seem self-centered and unappreciative create an opportunity for us to find the part of ourselves that hasn’t appreciated their independence and accepted them as fully-adult peers, and to begin again. Whatever the situation may be, there’s always a piece of us in our family. When we find it we discover common ground and a place for connection beyond judgment.
Finding a nugget. Sometimes we just need a way to find peace for a weekend. We come home, exhausted from a year of hard work, and we just want to enjoy time with the family. And then the familiar stories start to play out, everyone steps into their roles, and the trouble begins. As monotonously painful as this can be, it can also be a place to find common ground — because no one likes it. Everyone in our homes for the holidays is there for one reason: with the hope of finding love. That desire for love … or perhaps more strongly stated, that necessity for the love of our family … becomes a powerful nugget to hold onto. A big hug and a statement like, “I know we have a lot of issues between us, but right now I’m just really happy to see you and to share a hug with you” can transform a weekend from awkward and uncomfortable to healing and filled with love.
This year as you prepare to go home for the holidays, I invite you to start by welcoming yourself home … truly home. Open your heart, acknowledge your true feelings, and honor your experience. Give yourself permission to be accepted no matter what you feel. When you arrive home, look for yourself in the room. Experience your family as an extension of yourself and see how that generates a sense of compassion. Underneath all the stories and roles, you are together to experience the unique love of family — take a deep breath and give yourself that gift.
Big hugs of love,
Welcome yourself home this holiday season – open your heart, acknowledge your true feelings and honor your experience.