It’s a well known fact that we cannot choose our families nor do we have control over the family into which we are born. It serves us well to learn early how to love and negotiate with family members. Personalities are as varied and different within families as there are varieties of ice cream. Aunt Sally may be a colorful character in the family and Uncle Pete may indeed be the perennial “black sheep” of the family; nevertheless, family members should accept family members even with their faults. We all have our faults and quirks, right?
Inevitably, the time comes for a family discussion about a matter that evokes strong emotions from family members. As the oldest child of a large family, several of my siblings, spouses and I had dinner together to give a loving send-off for a sister who was visiting from out of town. We had great food and fellowship with laughter punctuating the air as we fondly recalled memories of times gone by. We watched football and did the usual armchair quarter backing while rooting for our hometown team. Sandwiched between halftime and dessert discussion turned to a more serious matter regarding an issue affecting a close family member. Emotions and feelings rode high and spirited discussion ensued concerning how the matter should be resolved. Making the matter more complicated is the fact that there are no easy answers and if any family member speaks unkindly or thoughtlessly to the caretaker of the involved family member, hurt feelings could result with irreparable damage to our existent strong family ties.
As the discussion continued, opinions were expressed but there were no personal attacks, no cursing and disagreements were stated with courtesy. At the end of the evening, the problem still was unresolved but a moratorium was declared and being a family with strong Christian values, we decided that we needed to keep the matter bathed in prayer and allow God to reveal His will in changing hearts and minds of those involved in the care of our elderly family member. Fortunately, there is no physical abuse or mistreatment of our family member. As I sat listening to my siblings expressing their opinions, I recognized several components that are necessary to have a meaningful, open dialog with family members. I share these suggestions below.
Speak about the issue at hand and do not attack Family Members
Because you do not agree with a family member’s point of view, do not allow irrational personal feelings to influence your pro or con arguments. Allow everyone the time to express his/her opinions and do not finish their sentences or interrupt their comments. Several times during the conversation with my siblings, I had to apologize for interrupting and yielded “the floor” to the one speaking. Be patient and allow the family member to express his feelings even if it conflicts with your opinion. Everyone should have time to speak his/her opinions and concerns.
Listen and do not Shout
Make a concerted effort to listen attentively to the family member’s comments. Restate the person’s position to be sure that you have an accurate understanding of the family member’s viewpoint. Ask questions to clarify their position to minimize misunderstanding the expressed opinions. Be patient, courteous and use a normal speaking voice. You can be more effective speaking clearly and in a normal speaking voice than shouting which only serves to alienate you from your listeners.
Think twice before you speak Once.
Recognize that irreparable damage can be done by a careless remark or thoughtless comment. Be sensitive to family members and their personalities. No family member has the right to willfully hurt other family members and be prepared to apologize if necessary.
Allow a cooling off Period
Accept that the problem may not be resolved in one discussion. In our family discussion, it was agreed that we would wait for the response of the caretaker regarding our recommendations on behalf of our family member. Continuing to call the caretaker of our family member would only serve to divide the family and cause hard feelings.
In our situation, a spouse of one of the siblings suggested that we pray for guidance and wisdom because in and of ourselves we cannot resolve the issue. We agreed that prayer was appropriate and we would let a reasonable amount of time pass before discussing the matter again.
After the discussion dessert was served. When my siblings and I parted company at evening’s end, my brother-in-law dismissed us in prayer, we hugged and bade farewell to one another.
I am not naive to think that all families have the same close relationship that I am fortunate to experience with my family but perhaps the suggestions given in this article can at least contribute to a civil dialog among family members. Keep the peace within the family because there is nothing like family.