Dear Heidi: Why is it so hard to keep my temper when certain members of my family criticize me?
They are so prone to mishap, families ought to come with a warning label. If something happens, remember to pause; you're in control.
Families are the best things in our lives, and at times, they can be the most frustrating things. Uniquely talented, some family members can push our buttons at the absolutely worst time, and bring our blood to a boil. Further, a single, unkind comment from someone we love can have devastating repercussions, just as a kind comment can an incredible effect.
If a family member makes an uncomfortable statement that causes a rise in your blood pressure, pause. Stop for a moment, and take a deep breath. Then think about your response before you make it.
When you hit that breaking point, pausing reminds you that you are in charge. You are in the driver’s seat. You have the power to change the mood of the moment — or maybe the entire holiday. You can either make it a pleasant experience or contribute to it being a complete disaster. The choice is yours. Of course, I suggest taking the high road, but it isn’t always easy, nor is it always our first inclination.
I am embarrassed and disappointed in myself, but years ago, my sister Hedda and I got into it during Thanksgiving. I don’t even recall what she said, but I remember my response was not optimal. It hurt my sister, as she was working hard on our Thanksgiving dinner. She was by far the best cook — Le Cordon Blue trained, the short course for non-professionals, and she did it in Paris, in French!
Thinking back I can see my sister standing at the counter. She was artfully trussing up our big, beautiful bird with kitchen string. That course really paid off. Hedda was furious with my comment, and the next thing I knew our naked turkey was flying across the counter. It almost took flight, but I caught it before it could fly out of there like I wanted to.
My mother began to cry, and my Dad stormed into the kitchen and shouted, “Another fine holiday!” It was a disaster. I jumped in my car and drove around the block a few times to cool off. I walked back in, and we apologized to each other. I think we all had a glass of wine early. My Mom and Hedda continued to prep my Dad’s favorite Thanksgiving menu. We lived far apart then, and I nearly made a debacle of the entire day. At the time, my emotional intelligence was super low — something I’ve worked hard over time to improve significantly.
Looking back, I let an offhand comment from my sister, something I can't even
remember today, ruin part of that particular Thanksgiving Day. I had the power to let it
go, but instead I took a ride on the highway to hell, and made a big mess of things. My
comments put my Mom into tears, had my Dad yelling, upset my sister and prompted her tears, and angered and embarrassed me.
The holidays are coming up. So, please be mindful that tension can run high when families get
together — either in-person or virtually. Be aware that we, as families, have long histories
together, the ups and downs, and even the unhealed wounds that seem to love making
an appearance at family gatherings.
Understand that flippant comments, perhaps with roots in ancient events, can
make or break an occasion. If you are the unlucky recipient of an unkind remark, muster
the strength to shake it off. My best advice is to let it go, and try to be grateful you have a
family. We are all not that lucky.
My Mom, Dad, and Hedda are gone now, and what I wouldn’t give to have a family event with them today. Your family is one of the most treasured parts of your life, and its certainly not worth a short row.
In the midst of a global pandemic, this holiday season and always, please be grateful
for all and whom you have. Trust me. You will miss them deeply when they’re gone.
Photo: Hedda and Dad, Thanksgiving 1990