‘Tis the Season…for Fighting With Your Family
Being with family has a funny way of making us devolve into children
“Of course you took the biggest slice,” says my adult boyfriend, as his adult brother takes a slice of ready-made pizza from the center plate.
“Dude, what is your problem!” he shouts back.
“Arghhh,” says their mother. “Again with this. I said no fighting this year!”
“I wasn’t fighting. He’s the one yelling,” replies my boyfriend.
I sit back quietly chewing, trying to not let their aggression ruin the cheesy goodness in my mouth.
At my boyfriend’s home in northern Germany, there has been regular bickering over what music is playing in the background while we eat, who will go food shopping, and who gets the last serving of pasta (yes, most of the fights are food-related.)
Despite the fact that everyone present is over the age of 25 and a self-sustaining adult, everyone seems to be acting like they are about seven.
The thing is, his family is not unique. When I’m with my own family back in New York, things can look pretty similar.
It seems many of us have a tendency to devolve into children when we are back home with our parents. We become unreasonable and childish in the comfort of the ones we love. We let our guards down and just spit out whatever emotions come up without a filter.
We don’t make any effort to show the type of respect we might show to friends, colleagues, or even strangers.
Old habits die hard
One reason might be that we are simply used to it.
We were whiney children and subsequently annoying selfish teenagers in this very place with these very people. And so given one stimulus (the home, the presence of the mother) the usual reaction results (neediness, a desire to complain).
Neural connections representing our past selves come alive when in this environment.
Just as a dog’s mouth starts watering when it hears a bell, we start complaining when we hear our mother’s voice calling us to the table from the kitchen. It’s just what we’re used to.
We can get away with it
Another factor is that we know we can get away with it. We know our family’s love is unconditional, and we can take it for granted without consequence.
When we will be accepted no matter what, we can become quite immature. We have nothing to prove, so why make an effort?
Better to just let our animal brain take over and act like a child.
But despite this temptation to start yelling or whining at the faintest hint of the unjust size of our slice of pizza, a too-loud television, or a request to do the dishes when it’s “not our turn,” we should all try our best to be mature even with our family.
Even though we can get away with being jerks, doesn’t mean we should. Even though we know every year we will see each other no matter what, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to be empathetic and gracious.
Especially this year. We might not know what our other family members have been through.
As an outsider, I can see through my boyfriend’s family’s complaints. As I watch them plot to give their mom little gifts every day for her Advents calendar, play board games, cook for each other, and make sure to sit down together for meals.
I can see through the fights to the love. So why not show this side more often? In our routine interactions?
In the end, our families deserve that side of us more than anyone else in the world does. These are the people who, despite all the bickering, will love you.
These are the people who you will miss the most when they are really gone for good. These are the people who really matter. So let’s do our families and ourselves a favor and start acting like it. Merry Christmas, everyone.