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Episode 9: Family Dynamics with Emily Jones

Emily returns to discuss a heavy topic surrounding the holidays- family dynamics! The holidays are not all sunshine (snow) and roses (garland). This isn’t a Hallmark movie. This is real life. Family dynamics are difficult, frustrating, and sometimes even hilarious. Join us for recommendations on how to handle the holidays with challenging relationships.

Contact Information for Emily Jones

Abound Counseling:

Phone: 701-223-1510

On today's episode we are going to be discussing family dynamics. See, we’re really close to the holidays. We’re in the Holiday Season right now, actually and that’s really amazing for some people. It’s also really hard for others and so I thought it would be great to bring Emily Jones back to be able to talk with us about family dynamics, we’ll be able to run through a couple scenarios, talk about recommendations, and what to do from there. You may remember Emily from last week's episode that she was on. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to that, certainly hop back and check that out as well. We are super excited to have her back so she can talk to us about family dynamics.

I also wanted to add that the podcast family is going to be taking a break for the next two weeks to celebrate the holidays with their families and I hope that you’re able to celebrate with your family as well. I also hope this episode will be beneficial for you as you head into these next few weeks but please join us when we come back the first week in January.

We’re going to have some really fantastic guests, some great recommendations and explanations that will be really beneficial when you start the new year. It will not be your typical, “What New Years Resolution can you come up with?” because I’m not a big fan of that but I do want to talk about a couple ways that you can get your New Years started off right.

If you have any questions or have any thoughts in the meantime, you know you can always go to , you can hit the contact tab, send me a message and I will definitely respond back to that.

Thank you so much and I hope you all have a great holiday!

K: Alright, Emily thank you so much for coming back to the podcast. I really appreciate it.

E: Yeah, thank you so much for having me again.

K: Obviously you were just on the last episode but for those who may be didn't listen to that yet, would you be able to give a brief summary of yourself?

E: Sure. This will be pretty short. And if they want to know more call listen to the other one, how is that?

K: Absolutely! (laughing) That works great.

E: So I am a wife of a 24 year Army veteran. I am a mom to a teenage boy and an almost double digits boy. I love my fur babies. I have more dogs than children. I have been a therapist for two years now and that's my adolescence. They're my favorites - really angsty 13 year olds. I see all the way down to age three and currently have a client that is 67 so I see a wide range of ages, a wide range of concerns, I see a lot of kids in the foster care system dealing with trauma and I love those. They are definitely passion project for me as well so that's me in a very short nutshell.

K: Awesome. Well thank you so much for summarizing that for us and sharing that. We're definitely excited to have you on today to talk about family Dynamics which is kind of a tough subject around the holidays and like both of us were saying earlier it's kind of a heavy subject. I thought before we get started maybe we would just go into a few things may be describing family Dynamics. So one thing that people can do is obviously just get on Google if they want to look up exact definitions. I really enjoyed this one thing that I saw I'm Psychology today which I really appreciate how their stuff was saying basic interactions between family members is really the core of family Dynamics. But what I really love that they also said was each member must coexist with every other member and so I like that perspective but I also want to mention that you don't actually have to call exhaust if it's super unhealthy for you. I think that's worth noting.

E: I'm so glad that you brought this up because I think there's this common misconception that just because your blood related that means that you have to maintain communication with someone in your family and that's definitely not true. It would be ideal if everyone was healthy enough to maintain boundaries and be self-reflective but that's definitely not always the case so I'm really glad that you brought that up.

K: I would agree that a lot of times the perception is just that because we are related then we must get along and so I think what's really really dangerous about that is that it forces us to put ourselves in extremely unhealthy situations. At times that is damaging to our mental health and that's where it becomes a problem. So, I'm glad that we are definitely on the same page about that. That was one of the things that I wanted to make sure to mention is that when we think of family dynamics it's not just other people separate from you, it's really about how it affects you as a person as well.

E: I actually heard a really great metaphor one time in grad school. I had a teacher talk about family systems theory which is a theory that we base a lot of in therapy and especially when we work with kids. But to talk about family system areas if we look at one of those old gear games you have that board and it has all the difference gears and you can move things around and there's a little crank. We all operate independently but then it effects change on other members of our family. So one gear might be turning a certain way but that change is going to affect how another person moves within the family and they are all interconnected. I think that's really important to remember.

K: I love that perspective and that visual. Thank you so much for explaining it like that. I think that's really helpful for me and I think it will be really helpful for a lot of other people out there as well when they look at that. One thing too that I think is really important to note is that not all family dynamics are bad. I think he gets a negative view when you say dynamics. It's important to mention that some family dynamics are really positive so I'm wondering if you could speak on that portion of things?

E: Sure. I think that you are so right. I think sometimes we say family dynamics and we automatically have this idea that it's negative. You bring up such a good point in that. We develop ways of communicating based on our personalities and our experiences and it doesn't have to be negative. It could just be how your family functions and I think that really speaks to your level of awareness, your ability to point things out and identify that.

I've had a lot of people say, “She just keeps continuing to do that thing.” And I say, “What do you expect them to do?” And they say, “Well, not that.” Okay, well we can't have a different expectation if you can't identify what you expect them to do differently. I love being able to say, “Does that impact your level of functioning or the way that you function?” They’ll say, “Well, no. It’s just irritating.” Okay well it doesn't have to be bad. Let's manage your expectation of what that other person can do and actually the way that that person is functioning allows you to function in this way and allows you to have control or peace or whatever. I think that we think about family Dynamics and we think there must be a sort of miscommunication or arguing or whatever. We need to be really realistic about her expectations and saying that's families. That is what families do. That's how families form and how families maintain and some of those things can be a little irritating but some of those things can be really really beautiful. The way that an older sibling takes a younger sibling under their wing. Some people may look as if it’s parentification. Sometimes that’s very true, but sometimes it's just a beautiful relationship between an older sibling in a younger sibling.

K: Right. Absolutely. I love that you really went down that route as far as speaking of what are your expectations, what are you wanting instead because I think that you are so right. I think that if we can't identify it, if we don't know how or aren't willing to interact and be willing to look at situations differently because you say everybody has a different perspective of it. I often oh, and I'm sure you have your own form of how you say it, but I often tell people that we all have a lens that we looks through life based on our life experience, based on so many different varieties of where we have been in our life, people that we have been around and people that you interact with can shift those as well. And so I think that somebody, based on their own situation, may view an older sibling trying to parent a younger sibling because maybe that was their experience or maybe they saw that and for whatever reason, that's really frustrating for them and someone else might see that as just a really great healthy relationship. So that is important to note too.

E: Yes, absolutely.

K: I think one thing too that we don't think about a lot is that when we say family dynamics, when we’re thinking about it in a really negative way, one thing that we don't often mention at all that maybe sometimes there are some strained family relationship with one person in your family but that doesn't necessarily mean that your whole family is having functional interactions.

E: Yes. Yes.

K: And the other part of that too is that You may have certain areas with one person that is unhealthy but that does not mean that the whole relationship is unhealthy either which is a little bit more intense to work out those parts of it. I am curious about your perspective I'm not as well.

E: You're so right and I think that we kind of have this lens, as you said, and that is something that I use quite a lot myself. If one thing is bad then it all must be bad. One thing that I want to point out is that that is a cognitive distortion. That is something that you and I would talk with a client about. That's very black and white thinking and let's think outside of this. Yes, this communication patern might not be healthy but look at what this person does for you and what you do for them. There are good parts about this relationship too.

I have a friend that We talked about all of the time where this person did something and that just flipped a switch for me. We kind of automatically jump true saying well you weren't perfect or you mean nothing to me anymore and I think that we see that a lot in our society right now. I would love to develop that more in myself. It's not an easy thing by any means. I am very guilty of that kind of thinking myself but with family is there is so much more emotion there. There is so much more history there. I will say personally that I have had siblings myself...I came from somewhere, you know! (laughing) I lost my siblings very very much and we have grown up and we have grown apart and we have grown back together and we deal with our stuff as it comes. Sometimes our communication patterns are not the healthiest but coming to this place of maturity, of saying that this is my sister, this is the person that I share DNA with. We are so similar on so many fundamental levels but we are so different on so many fundamental levels as well. Instead of me saying, “Because you're not like me I don't want to interact with you.” I want to say, “I want to embrace you for this because you are my only sister and I don't want to let that go.” And appreciating those differences and those similarities as well. Sometime those similarities get us really irritated but we should be appreciating the similarities and not saying she just drove me up the rough so I never want to spend time with her again.

K: That is one of my favorite things to help family members pick out. Especially a parent / child relationship when the parent is really frustrated and saying I can't believe you're doing blah blah blah. When we talked to that it's really interesting to see if I'm thinking about how that's exactly what they do and that's probably what's driving them crazy. I always want the last word, they want the last word oh, I'm stubborn, they're stubborn you know? So it's just really interesting. A lot of times it has to do with similarities as well.

So, we had a few submissions of different family dynamics that we are going to run through but before we do that, is there anything else you think we should make sure that we mention for people when we’re talking about family dynamics?

E: Yeah. I think that, especially since this is the season of togetherness and love and all of that cheesy corny Hallmark cards stuff Karma - grace. we have a hard time with people that don't meet our expectations. Expectations is going to be the word of the day, by the way. Grace and expectations. I think that we don't give family members enough Grace.

I think we are much more willing to give others grace before we will give family members grace and I think that there is a lot of reasons for that, but as we move through some of these family dynamics that you're going to bring up and there are going to be some other things that I bring up as well, keeping grace in there and realizing that your family members are your family members and they are not perfect, just like anybody else that we interact with. When you throw in that family dynamic and it seems to inhibit grace at times. I just really want to throw that out there as we start to move through some of these situations that you're going to bring forward.

K: you're so much. I am glad that you did. That also reminded me of one more thing that I think is really important for us to mention as well. We briefly touched on it earlier but if you have been in a relationship with a family member and they have been extremely abusive towards you, whatever that abuse Definition is by you some of these recommendations comedy stops that we share may not apply to you and I really want to share that because I think that a lot of times when people have had abuse in their past and have such strained relationships we want to have had a different relationship with the person and so when we listen to things like this and we're trying to sort it out I think there can be a lot of guilt and bring a lot of guilt into our lives. But it is important to remind ourselves that if you need to put up a good firm boundary and you need to cut that person out of your life because of the things that they have done to you and the ways that they have hurt you, that is okay too please do not beat yourself up about that. That is healthy to be able to do that.

E: To piggyback off of that, I think that we could have a whole discussion on toxic relationships, right? I think that the tone of this talk today is to be a little bit more light-hearted. A little bit more supportive and empowering which a conversation about narcissism or toxic personalities would require a lot of grace and empowerment but to just kind of take these things with a light-hearted approach and recognize that we are all in the same boat Of being at the Holiday times and sometimes you've got to laugh about it but to have those conversations about a deeper toxic, abusive relationship would be a little bit different conversation.

K: Yes, I would agree. I'm glad that you brought that up. That may be something that we can get into later but I definitely wanted to mention that because I think that it's really important. Okay, so I'm going to read one of these situations. Bear with me here as I read through this. Just to give a little background on the situation with my husband's immediate family - none of us see eye to eye On any major issues and are polar opposites when it comes to our morals and ethics. This alone makes it difficult to form any meaningful relationship. However, prior to the recent issues we are able to be around each other while being mostly respectful and for myself having minimal anxiety regarding visits with them.

However, after we were married things significantly deteriorated.

Shortly after our wedding I was informed that for quite some time my in-laws have been informing other family members about “issues” in our relationship. I put that in parentheses because they were essentially twisting everything we told them and creating false marital issues out of these. Everything from our pet dog to move into a new townhouse. On top of this, we were also told that my in-laws have blatantly lied to other family members about things that I have “said to them.” I have not once talked to my in-laws about any topic other than my job and possibly the weather.

Since our marriage there have been many other microaggressions, passive aggressive comments, not speaking to me when we were hosting them in our own home during the holidays just to give a few examples. More recently my in-laws have made negative comments about other children in the family. Example, calling them chubby and other parenting choices. This, Combined with knowing that everything is we tell them is being Twisted with the intent of making it seem like our marriage is struggling to know that they are capable of creating lies and spreading two others has caused me to have extreme anxiety regarding spending any kind of time with them. that being said, I know that this is still my husband's family and we have spent a great deal of time trying to come to some sort of compromise when it comes to the holidays. First of all I think it has greatly helped that my husband understands and is in agreement with how toxic the family dynamics are especially after hearing about everything that was said regarding our marriage. We plan to discuss this this holiday and any subsequent holidays by limiting the amount of time that we spend with them. for example, we plan to choose 1 holiday being either Christmas or Thanksgiving. Being that we live further away, we plan to stay in a hotel when visiting rather than stay and someone's home and have agreed upon the time that we will be staying at the home for. We also plan to be firm on when we are going to be leaving. My husband has also decided that it will be best for him to be firm in these boundaries as any comments that I would make would be twisted and be causing more of a problem.

I am wondering how others might deal with this?

E: Well, I think that this particular person has done a lot of things that I would actually suggest.

K: I thought that too! I was like, “You’re doing pretty good!”

E: I think that's great. You know one of the things or the piece that I really loved in there was having her husband need the purveyor of the boundaries because I think a lot of times what happens is that spouses can agree on something and then as soon as you put them in front of their respective families it goes out the window. There are family dynamics playing into it, right? But what you've done is you have added another gear to this gear game and everybody goes, “Well, I don’t know how to turn now!”

K: I love that! I love that visual so much! Thank you so much for sharing that!

E: I love that piece and I think that the in-law, the person that married into the situation as the scapegoat. they are the one who gets all of the negativity. They are the one that gets blamed for everything. I think I would need a little bit more understanding of what the husband family dynamic was prior to getting married but it sounds like this particular set of in-laws has been kind of used to running the show and now we have a new person who has a pretty strong sense of boundaries and what's appropriate and what's not and that can really shift things. I think that this particular person has done a lot of things that are really healthy. One, working on it. You know we're not going to take by the way. We're not going to stop talking about it or stop coming to holidays but for our own peace of mind we're going to stay at a hotel. I can't tell you how awesome it is that they are spending a full day with their family. To be able to have some peace oh, you know? Some people love that and want to spend all of their time in that. Stay up until two or three in the morning playing games or whatever. Some people just can't do that and that's okay. It doesn't mean that you don't love those people and you don't want to spend time with them. It just means that you need your time too and I think that that is a great idea. I think that the person's question is kind of funny. I am interested on how other people might handle this. Poorly. I think other people would handle it poorly.

K: (Laughing) Yeah, it sounds like they’re doing pretty good. It's quite a work-in-progress, you know?

E: Yeah, absolutely. I think that because there is a lot of room there to get petty. I think that's what a lot of people would do - butt heads and things like that. I think that the only thing that I would suggest is confrontation and not in a negative way. Saying that you have some concerns and that your relationship isn't quite where you would like it to be. And then really laying out what you would like the relationship to look like. Saying that you would like your relationship to look like this what would you like for me? And that's really vulnerable. It's super vulnerable to open yourself up to feedback. Don't be willing to give feedback if you're not willing to accept it. I think that is the only thing that I would add to that is just to say that the relationship isn't quite what you had pictured and stating that it makes you sad. Then questioning what you could do together to work on the relationship.

K: I really love that recommendation of just taking it one step further if you so choose and say that you're not really thrilled about how this is going. We don’t know if they want to make it better but if they do-.”

E: Right. If they don’t want to make it better, that’s alright. That’s a choice you can make.

K: Absolutely. And it sounds like, what we both said, like they have some really good boundaries put up so if they choose not to go that extra step that’s absolutely okay. But if they do choose to, I think that could really gain some clarity because that could give somebody the opportunity to say, like for the mother in law, this is what I was expecting in a daughter-in-law and then having a discussion pointing out where it doesn't really fit you as a person and saying, “Here's what I can offer to our relationship.” So having some open communication about that. I love that you're recommending that. But I do see a lot of different areas where, like you said, people can become really petty so props to them for being able to work through that for sure.

And we just have a few situations that are just more-so “in general.” One thing that we talked about already is the abuse aspect of things. A lot of people have said you know there was a family member abused me in whatever way and other people in the family don't know and I'm forced to be around this person. Or they feel like they're forced to be around this person and they have to put on a happy face. And the holidays are challenging for so many reasons grief and loss and changes in life and families are always evolving. There are always so many things. Knowing that there is another element and that you are holding onto a secret that other people may not know and you have to go into a situation that is really uncomfortable. I'm wondering what your recommendations would be for being able to put up some clear boundaries even if you feel like you’re not able to discuss the situation with the family as a whole?

E: That's a tough one because I think that that is where you can start to get into conversations about radical acceptance which would be a really hard thing to do in an abusive type situation. But, self-care is number one. You need to be able to pump yourself up prior to and put yourself in a really good place because a lot of times what happens is you start to have anxiety about this interaction and so we start to tell ourselves this is going to be awful and because we told ourselves that it's going to be awful, our anxiety heightens and then it is awful when in reality what actually happened between the two of you during that interaction maybe wasn't so bad it's just that your anxiety was so bad that it becomes completely heightened.

So, number one, I would start with self-care. if you have a family member that you know you've got to put up some really strong boundaries with number one I would look for a support person. is there someone to maybe in the family? Ideally I would say within the family or maybe not in the family that you can go to who knows the situation and knows the dynamic that can give you good thoughtful feedback. And the reason that I say good thoughtful feedback is because sometimes when we go to people it becomes a “Validate me in this situation” and not a, “Can you give me some feedback?” Those are very different things. If you don't have that I think that that is when you look at whether the situation is bad enough that you are considering not even attending. I need to find somebody who can support me in this. If I'm not willing to give up going to this function but my anxiety is that bad then I would say find a support person. If that is a life coach, counselor, a pastor, whomever can support you in that because you can't do this alone.

K: Enable to have that support around I absolutely agree. I think a lot of times in situations like this where we really amp ourselves up for the holiday and then there's kind of like a fallout afterwards that's why a lot of times people will report increased anxiety or depression after the holidays, especially round that January-February time is really hard for a lot of people and so I think being able to have somebody like that, someone you can keep in contact with even after that is great. Another portion is that some families are totally fine with an extra friend coming along or maybe you have a friend whose family doesn't live there or their family was busy so if you have somebody that you can actually take with you I would recommend that as well. Someone that knows you well enough to know when you need to go outside or can at least give you a look of support when you need it. Or the kind of even be a buffer.

E: Or that extra validation of “Yeah, that was hard. But let's do something. Let’s, like you said, go outside, lets go drink a brandy. Whatever you need to do in that moment and somebody that knows you well enough to know that that’s what you need because you might not be able to verbalize what you need in that moment.

So that’s one piece.

The other piece is being aware that not to the point where you're making your anxiety worse, but again go back to that word of expectations. What are your expectations for this person and if they meet those expectations you are prepared for it. Let's say that we know Aunt Susie is going to get pretty drunk at this family gathering and she's going to start talking about the time that you mooned everybody when you were four. And this is really irritating for you. If you know that she's going to do that then you expect that from her. is it really about the fact that she's doing this or is it about the fact that you maybe have a process something to do with the situation? Being very Mindful and aware of what is really bugging you. it could be the fact that you don't mind that she's talking about you mooning everybody when you were four but maybe there's something triggering about her being intoxicated and being really clear with yourself about what the actual trigger is and getting some support in that. Making sure that you have done a really good job of taking care of your own mental health. Go get a massage before and after. And then having support after the interaction. So managing expectations, grace for that person, support, support, support.

K: One thing that I can think of, and it isn't too much of an intense story, but one thing in my life when I was younger...if any family members are listening they're going to be like, “Yup!” I was always called the sensitive one which drove me nuts. So whenever, even later on in life, I would say something and then someone would say, “Oh, you’re just being over-sensitive.” It would be a switch for me. I would get mad. I think even knowing things like that is really helpful because they weren't trying to be rude or harsh when they were saying that I was sensitive but in my mind I thought they were being a jerk and that I really needed to respond negatively back. I'm older enough now where I have that self-awareness. My family is really great now but if anyone ever did say it again I would just say, “You know, maybe that's how you're feeling but right now I'm not being sensitive I'm just sharing an emotion or I'm just sharing that I'm concerned about someone or whatever the situation baby. But I think it's good to remember those things that were really hard for you and, like you said, why is that hard question mark is it really the issue at hand? Is it the feeling that you got from in it? Or it could be a variety of things.

Okay, so this one is a serious one but I think this happens a lot in family is so I'm really interested to hear your feedback about it.

A lot of people say that it may be having a sibling that is really competitive with them so it feels like they are always one-upping them or if there is something really cool that you are doing they are trying to take the spotlight away from you, it just feels like it could be really invalidating for people so I'm just curious on how you feel they would navigate that?

E: Yea sure. what I can talk about in navigating that, what I would like to point out is that that is a pretty typical family roll. That competitiveness and I would tell you that in my experience I have seeing that competitiveness with younger siblings versus older siblings but even plays out with my older children. I have seen that. What that family roll is called is Called the power broker. so that person works at maintaining their position at the family by being the best. When we think about navigating that situation but we really have to do is pull in some empathy. Why do they feel that need to try to do that. Well, typically what we know is people who are really really insecure are the ones that try to typically, not in all situations, but help boost themselves, they're feeling of control, they're feeling of power by constantly competing. I know that I can beat you at this time because I know that when I beat you at this, this makes me feel really, really good about myself because there might be something underneath that doesn't feel so good.

When someone is trying to navigate that kind of dynamic, grace is the word. What is going on underneath this? Where's the insecurities in that? and then managing grace for themselves. Can I let this go? Because you will never win. You will never win that power struggle because it will be constant.

What if their want is to compete because that's what gives them their sense of satisfaction? Now that might be coming from a very real place but we don't have to enable that. You can take the high road and lose because it will no longer feed it.

K: I will sometimes brainstorm with my clients and have them figure out a statement in their mind that they can say to somebody if the situation were to occur. It would help them feel more secure and you're less likely to focus on it so what might somebody be able to say if little Susie says, “Oh! I just got a new job promotion and I'm making $150,000.” I would probably start by asking them if I could come work with them (laughing). You know what I mean? But, what could be something that they could say in that moment?

E: What one of the important things to remember is that this is about them and not about you. So, what that person is looking for you to do is to go. “Oh well yeah I could make that much but I chose-.” Don’t justify it! You don’t need to define anything to anyone. Simply looking at them and going, “That must feel so good. That must feel so good. And you can use that in a variety of ways. So if you're thinking about adults typically is going to come into play with, like you said, money. People saying, “Oh, I did this and I bought this and I’ve got this blah, blah, blah.” That must feel so good! Show excitement and boost that for them because they won't expect that. What they're expecting is for you to get into shame. For you to go into shame roll, shut down, and justify what they view as less than. You take the high road and tell them that you're so happy for them, that they're doing awesome, and good job. I know that you worked really hard for that.

K: I love that. You know what’s really interesting too Is that when you flip how you interact with people they're push-back I often want to call it, sometimes their pushback is really interesting. Sometimes they're caught off guard. Other times they will amplify. I think that that is important to remember that and if you're willing to, I think that it is great to be able to change your reaction to that but to know that it might be amplified until they realize that you're really going to react in this really concrete way multiple times.

E: Yeah. And that amplification can be really scary. One, because you've already taken a different route to communicating in the first place and then their reaction is going to be different, possibly unknown and the unknown is what's really scary. But, you're absolutely right. They could amplify. And that is where you choose or you have to choose to let it go. Remember that it is their stuff, not yours. Don't take it on. And then give yourself a quick affirmation.

K: I think that’s great. That's a great recommendation. I often remind people and I will say this to myself to - it's a reflection of them, not of me. I think it is important for us to be able to own our own stuff and acknowledge when we are playing a part in things but the good majority of times your reactions with the people really are about them. So, if you can just remind yourself of that as well. This is a reaction of them, this does not reflect on me. Kind of helps you to separate yourself from it too. Don't you think that's a part of it? We get so enmeshed in it and it feels like we can't separate.

E: Yeah, absolutely. That enmeshment is the very fabric of your family dynamic. You have literally been woven together to where you can't separate yourself and look at it from an outside perspective of how am I contributing to this, how am I making this better? That's really, really hard to see because you are so entrenched in it.

K: You know, I think too if we think about especially marriage or even really serious significant others that we may have I think that it's like blending two different family is kind of like you were talking about earlier when you were talking about the wheels and adding I'm more. I think it's almost sometimes like adding a whole other person’s family onto yours. Because there are so many dynamics that they bring to the table as well and sometimes I think that it's just a matter of figuring out, like what you said earlier I'm going to go back to the expectations, what the expectations are. my mother-in-law, I don't know if she listens to this or not but this is kind of just a funny holiday story.

When I first started dating my husband, I didn't realize that there were certain meals that you have on Christmas and certain meals that you have on Thanksgiving, right? And you don't interchange them. She has a menu down and the food that she cooks is delicious but she has this very much planned out. On Christmas she has cheesecake. Well, I forgot that. She makes this amazing cheesecake. It's a family recipe and it's delicious. Anyway, I forgot that and so one Thanksgiving I think she had asked my husband what I would like for Thanksgiving. And I said, “Oh my gosh, the cheesecake, of course!” Like who’s going to say they don’t want that? (laughing)

So, I started this new family tradition where they have it Thanksgiving and Christmas and she might still be a little upset. No, she’s not. (laughing) She’s not at all.

Unfortunately we live far away so we can’t even reep the benefits of my breaking family traditions but it’s just kind of funny how that was so set in stone and even with my own family, we have that. We have our traditions that we did. Thinking about somebody else coming in and not really knowing those and not meaning to even, can really break things up.

E: You know, I think it’s really funny that you mention that - the meals. That was a huge deal for my husband and I too. We’re from two completely different parts of the country, two completely different backgrounds for churches that we were raised in and traditions around holidays. For him Christmas Eve is the big deal and Christmas Eve is when you have the big dinner and everything. For me Christmas Eve was not. That is when you have homemade pizza and you watch a bunch of Christmas movies.

It's Christmas morning - that’s the big deal.

And he just could not wrap his head around that. It was really hard, it's always been really hard for my mom to see us branch off and do our own traditions. For her, it feels very much like we're leaving it behind without a thought. That's a completely different road that we could go down but to be able to say that I'm honoring my family tradition and he's honoring his family tradition, even when we now we have our own. At what a beautiful thing that that is that we are giving our children, right? Even though small traditional things can throw such a kink and your family dynamics and like you were saying as soon as you marry something or...marry something (laughing). Sometimes it feels that way. When you marry someone, you’re right. You’re bringing not just them, you’re bringing their entire family into it because you never know how your husbands mom is going to react to the fact that you don’t open up presents on Christmas Eve. That throws such a kink and then that starts to create the family dynamic for your own children.

K: Right, right. I could easily see how one thing what lead into the other for sure. I hadn't thought about Christmas like that but you're right. Certainly my husband and I were talking about things like how both of our moms always put an orange in our stocking and other little things in there too. We were talking about that and where that came from and how we want to continue that but there are some other things that we have changed. Of course, we live further away from family but we just slowly open our presents throughout the day and it's really relaxed. You know, it wasn't always like that. I have a big family on my mom's side and my dad's is fairly large as well. So when you're running from one to the next it's quite an event. Even just noticing the difference in that and how it just feels a lot different, too.

I know for me, I am the same way. I really value so much the traditions when I was growing up. For my husband as well, obviously I wasn’t there for his but I really value what they have as well. I love the fact that we can combine those and be able to build really beautiful traditions for our family together. Although I’m sure, from some people’s perspective, it could feel very much like we just abandon those things, it’s actually incorporating those things and figuring out what works for us. That would be important to note for people to - to not feel like you have to be bogged down by the traditions of your family if you do live close to them because my experience is obviously much different now because I live further. You live quite far too.

E: Yeah, we live very far. My family is mostly in Tennessee. That’s been difficult for me. I mean, you look at the Midwest traditions, the Scandinavian background and heritage and the Native American heritage that’s up here versus where I’m from which is very Irish, Scottish, Welsh backgrounds. They’re very, very different. We did the orange in the stocking too, though. It is really hard and one of the things that I think about a lot is if you’re doing something just because it’s tradition, are you really honoring it?

Have this conversation with my sister many times about many different things and if you're doing something because it's our tradition but no one enjoys it why would you still do it? Somebody is still making a fruit cake and bringing it to Thanksgiving. Nobody eats the fruit cake. (laughing)

K: Nobody likes the fruitcake! (laudhing)

E: Now, if it’s a fun thing, great! You’re excited about bringing the fruitcake and it's a joke and everybody loves it, it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the fruitcake - wonderful. Keep doing it. But if somebody is like, “Who's going to make the freaking fruitcake this year? Nobody's going to eat it, it's just going in the trash.” you should probably it maybe skip that one.

K: Exactly. Maybe at another tradition if you want or just keep the ones you have and get rid of that. That's what's really nice in life is that we all have choices for sure. You know I think we covered, through just many different conversations where we had people write in about family patterns and we've kind of discuss some of that I think that what we've talked about already could be really beneficial for people so I thought it would be really fun if we could have some Christmas talk or holiday talk. We had a meeting earlier and we talked about our favorites toy or our favorite Christmas thing that we've ever received. I wonder if you would feel comfortable sharing your favorite Christmas memory.

E: Oh gosh, my favorite Christmas memory. I'm going to share this Christmas memory. Not because it was like, “Oh my gosh, my heart is so full and I believe in Santa!” It's not like that, but it's now become a joke. So, as an adult, I have embraced this narrative of my life. But for eight-year-old me it was a really really big deal the year that I turned eight was the year that I discovered that Santa’s not a big fat guy that comes down my chimney. Santa is other things and I also had a baby brother that year that was born and my horse died and I did not get Go Go my Walking Pup. So here my horse died in September and that’s when my parents chose to tell me that I was going to have a little brother and then my brother was born in November. Yes, they waited a long time to tell me.

K: That’s not much time to process!

E: No, no! Of course not. Literally, it was within twenty minutes. That’s what they thought was going to make me feel better. And then, for Christmas day, the one thing that I had asked for over, and over, and over again was Go Go my Walking Pup. I wanted this toy so bad. And I didn’t get it! So, I was like yup, this is it, Santa’s not real, all these things happened and that right there is proof because Santa never would have let my horse die and Santa never would have given me a little brother and Santa would have brought me Go Go my Walking Pup. Now, here I am, thirty five years old and it has become the joke because, guess what? They started remaking Go Go my Walking Pup.

K: You’re kidding!

E: So, a few years ago when they started remaking it, it was this big joke in my family of, “Somebody go buy Emily Go Go the Walking Pup because her dream can finally come true. This has become a huge joke in my family of Go Go my Walking Pup and I still give my brother shit.

K: You’ve ruined Christmas! (laughing)

E: You know, I do have a lot of very wonderful Christmas memories especially once I had my children. Just some really beautiful memories. But that one man...yeah, it sounds really negative but gosh, it’s such a funny story now and it’s my favorite, I think.

K: I love that. And I think that’s what’s so great about life is that sometimes bummer things happen but later on you find the humor in them. You can’t do that with everything but in some situations it does become something. Did you ever get one? I need to know. I feel like you need one.

E: I did not.

K: Oh, my gosh! Even as an adult?? You have to have one!

E: Yes, they started remaking them but it wasn’t the same and I thought, “You know what, Emily?” Because I almost did. I’m not going to lie. I almost bought myself one but I was like, “Emily. You’re an adult. You can be an adult and not have ever had Go Go my Walking Pup.” That took a lot of work for me, I’m not going to lie.

K: I’m just laughing because you know why? I probably would have went and bought it and then been like, “Okay. This is cool. Now I’m going to give it to someone.” I definitely would have bought it, I’m not going to lie.

E: That’s a really good idea!

K: I think that with things like that, it’s a really smart idea. I do think sometimes just being able to cross that off our list. You know how we were talking about bucket lists and stuff like that? Being able to cross it off, to say “I owned this, now I can give this to my niece or nephew or whatever.”

E: That is really beautiful. I really like that.

K: I hope you do that! I’m just saying. I was trying to think of whether or not I could determine a favorite memory and the one thing that popped into my mind what's that I remember one time we were coming home from the Christmas Eve service. I really liked the Christmas Eve service. That was my favorite and church and I remember it hasn't snowed in a long time and it just started snowing as soon as we came out and of course the roads are really slick but whatevs. I just remember thinking about how beautiful it was. It was a really dark knight. I just really remember that. This is really funny but our church always gave an apple and an orange and I would have to ask my friend Emily but I think that there was a bag of M&M's and this little brown lunch sack and I've literally remember sitting there with it on my lap and I was holding it under the snow. It sounds so cheesy.

E: I'm picturing this in my head. It sounds cheesy to me at all. It's like the stuff Hallmark movies are made of.

K: I should totally write a story. No I'm just kidding, I'm not going to submit it to Hallmark.

E: it would be like Christmas orange or something! (laughing)

K: The Christmas Orange! (laughing) you know what, I better trademark that because someone is going to steal that. Is there anything else fun Christmas wise, are there any songs or any favorite Christmas CD! Do you have one?

E: I do!

K: Okay, which one? I’m really curious!

E: actually, I have to. Number one is Gene Autry. Do you know who Gene Autry is?

K: I do not!

E: So Gene Autry was The Singing Cowboy. He was around the same time as Roy Rogers and I don't know if he was as big as Roy Rogers but he was pretty big. I even have the Breyer Horse of his horse so he was pretty big. He was called The Singing Cowboy and he had a Christmas album and that for me whenever my mom started playing that...I might get a little teary. Whenever my mom started playing that I just love his version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. And it’s’s so nostalgic. It just hits me right in the feels. I’s not even good. I’m not going to lie to you.

K: So, don’t get my expectations up! (laughing) But you know, there are things like that! Because that is what you knew as Christmas. I want to know your other option and then I’ll tell you a story.

E: So my other one is very similar and it is the Alabama Christmas CD because there is one song on there call Bissell hair The Christmas Bear it is so bad but it was so funny because there's a section of the song at the end where there's a bunch of kids singing and my sister and I make fun of it to this day. But I will listen to that song over and over again. There's nothing you can do to take that song away from me. It's so bad but at the end the kids sing really loud and then they sing really soft. My sister and I make fun of that all the time.

K: Oh my gosh, I love that. That’s awesome. I was actually surprised, just real quick, that you didn't say Mariah Carey Christmas because a lot of people say that. You know there used to be this one that I remember. I think I was a teenager. We were at some store and there was a Country Cares for Kids where all of the money made with this CD went to St Judes. I was like, “Mom, can we donate?” I love Saint Jude's and I wanted to get it. Seriously, I remember that we ended up listening to it right away, both me and my mom and we were both like this is the best Christmas CD ever! I think it was like six bucks and I literally still have it. It's probably 15 years old, I'm not even kidding. No it's probably older than that actually.

E: What was on it?

K: It’s just Christmas songs. There’s nothing really that impressive necessarily. Just a lot of different country artists. But one of the songs at the beginning was called, “Make a Miracle” and it was basically getting a cure is what that was about. It was really touching. One of the last ones was the “Angels Among Us”. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard that one. That’s a really sweet song and it was really beautiful.

E: Well, it’s Alabama!

K: Yeah! You’re right! (laughing) Full circle, there! But one thing I do want to mention that I heard on a radio station that I really like is they were talking about how a lot of times Christmas kind of feels like home, if that makes sense. I think that, not always, but sometimes if you’ve had kind of a dysfunctional growing up, maybe a little unstable situation, a lot of times that still reminds you of that and I wonder if that’s the reason that the holidays are so challenging. You know what I mean?

E: Yeah. I think you can look at people who are in their early to mid-twenties. I know for me that was personally and then from clients that I’ve seen subsequently, they’ve had a hard time so you’re coming through - I’m having this conversation with my almost fourteen year old right now - of life is changing and Christmas is such a fundamental part of our childhoods, no matter what that looks like. There’s some societal expectation placed on that so no matter what your experience is with Christmas, you have very, very deep rooted thoughts and feelings about that so as you get older those things change. You go to college. You go overseas. I will never forget the first Christmas that I didn’t spend with my family. And that was hard. It’s really hard and so then when you finally do come back home, it’s almost like you’ve been away and you could live five miles away from your family, but when you come home for Christmas, it’s like, “I’m home.”

K: That’s such a valid point. Such and absolutely valid point. Wow, that’s deep. Mic drop. (laughing) Just kidding! I love that though, i really do. I love that a lot. I think that that is really very true and I hadn’t necessarily thought about that in that regard. Even if it’s not Christmas, whatever holiday it might be - whatever it might be. I would imagine it would have that same feeling that’s just so deeply rooted in your family and it just feels like being home. That is beautiful.

So, I think on that note that we should wrap it up because that's just a great thing to end on! Don’t you think?

E: Yeah! I think so.

K: Alright! Is there anything else that you want to share? Or maybe talk about how, like the episode previous had your contact information, how to get a hold of you on there in case anybody does want to know - it’s Abound Counseling through Lutheran Social Services in Fargo, North Dakota so you can look up that information but we will also make sure that information is available so people know how to find you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming back to talk to us! Take care!

E: Yes, you too!

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