“You’re a turd.”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“You have cooties!”
Ah…the good ol’ days. Remember when you were a kid, and arguing with your siblings was all about who could come up with the best name to call the other? You would have a loud, back-and-forth insult session and then ignore one another for a hour or so. Then, it was pretty much over. A few really heated arguments would result in a line being drawn with masking tape down the middle of your shared bedroom, but even that would be gone by the next day at the latest. And maybe there were a few smack-downs. All in all, though, these scuffles were short-lived and easily forgotten.
And then we grow up.
It’s really hard to have disagreements with family members as an adult. Nothing is easily forgotten. Yelling is considered a weakness. And, maybe worst of all, there is no real back-and-forth. Adults often are passive-agressive and just say, “FINE,” or the ever-popular, “Do whatever you want,” with a huff and walk away. Maybe they commence crying and annouce they are leaving in the morning. Or they can be long-suffering and avoid confrontation. That tactic often leads to the revelation waaaay down the road of years worth of slights and insults.
We’re supposed to act like adults. At Christmas and other family gatherings, we’re supposed to get together, exchange gifts, and take pictures like everything is A-OK. But there is all of this history now. There’s the off-hand comment that hurt someone’s feelings last Christmas. Or the time you forgot to include someone in your group email. And when you shot down your sibling’s group gift idea, it was taken personally. Plus, no one says what they mean anymore because it might hurt feelings or step on someone’s toes. In fact, you may think you are making yourself crystal clear only to discover that your point was totally misconstrued by at least one sibling and a parent.
It gets even more complicated when you throw spouses and children into the mix. Now you have real turf to protect. Plus, the logistics of family celebrations get more complicated, which means there is more that can go wrong. For instance, when Mom and Dad downsize to a condo, they aren’t realitically set up to host the whole extended clan anymore. Unfortunately, to some, it isn’t the “real” Christmas Eve dinner if it’s not held at Mom and Dad’s.
Sometimes I think the families that aren’t close have it lots easier. There is so little contact during the course of the year that feelings can’t get hurt. Holiday gatherings are such a rare occurance that the question of who hosts Thanksgiving dinner is a non-issue. Group gifts don’t happen because there isn’t enough communication to work them out. Hooray! No one feels slighted over a rejected gift suggestion. You don’t attend Nephew’s First Communion; they don’t come to your kid’s Confirmation. Cards are exchanged, and everyone’s fine with that. Of course, the trade-off is that in these families, all hell can break loose over a sudden crisis or death in the family. Then all of the ugly scenes that had been avoided up until that point happen all at once.
To recap: in adult family arguments, no one wins and it is never over. Yeah, it was definitely better when all you had to do was stick your tongue out at your sister or call your brother a really gross name. No one ever held a grudge over cooties.