As you are probably aware from my lack of blog posts, my parents made a trip down to Kansas City to see me last week. I am happy to say that it was one of the best visits we have had in a long time. Not that their previous trips to see me have not been enjoyable, but this one was definitely better than most. The funny thing is, we really didn’t do anything. We watched some movies, ate at some great restaurants, and they did a little shopping, but the majority of the time we were just relaxing in my apartment, talking, and watching the World Cup. My mom and I had a good time reminiscing as we went through some old photos (which you will be seeing on the website soon), and we all caught up on each other’s lives for the last six months, but that was about as exciting as it got. And you know what? It was wonderful. We were all relaxed and happy the entire time, even when we had a minor miscommunication about one of my lifts. This incredibly enjoyable four days made me realize how comforting it is to be with people you can completely relax around and the potential negative consequences of having expectations.
Since we are social creatures that are hard wired to want to be accepted by those around us, we are all very careful about how we act when anyone is watching. We even go so far as to alter our behavior in order to “fit in” or agree with others, so that we will be accepted. You may be the “strong, silent type” at the bar, the respectful “yes man” at the office, and the ruthless competitor at your weekly basketball game. While this is an important social tool that can serve you well, it is also exhausting to constantly be worrying about what other people are thinking about you. That is why it is so nice to have people in your life that you feel comfortable enough with that you can actually be yourself. You can do or say whatever you want, because you know that no matter what, they are going to feel the same way about you regardless.
As I always have someone around due to having nursing around the clock, it can be very difficult for me to feel comfortable enough to truly be myself. While I have had nurses over the years that I felt at ease with and could let my true colors show, it takes a long time to get to that point, and it doesn’t happen often. That is why when my family visits and takes over my care for a while, I find it so comforting and relaxing. When I am with my family, I know that I can be me, and no matter what stupid things I say or do (and I do), they will love me just as much. For someone who is never alone and constantly has “strangers” in their home, this is an extremely liberating experience. This feeling has helped me come to appreciate the close, unconditional relationship I have with my family and value this bond for the amazing gift it is.
The second thing my parents visit helped me realize is the damaging effects that expectations can have on our lives. Anytime we enter into any situation or scenario, mentally, we have already imagined some sense of how it should go. This could be as specific as writing out a detailed itinerary for a weekend trip, or as vague as just planning when and where you will be going, but either way you have some expectation as to what is going to happen. This is an important tool, as it allows you to plan ahead to try to create the best possible experience or outcome. However, when you have expectations and things do not go according to plan, you can end up feeling a lot of mental stress that can be difficult to cope with. As a result, unmet expectations often result in anger and frustration that can ruin whatever situation you are in.
Ever since my siblings and I have reached adulthood, my family has struggled with this idea of unmet expectations from time to time when we get together to visit. We all have our own mental picture of how the visit should go, and obviously since each of our expectations are different, we cannot all be satisfied. This has caused numerous fights over the years, complete with slammed doors, yelling, and tears. Over time though, we have discovered the secret to avoiding this issue, stop having expectations. It sounds simple I know, and it is, yet hardly anyone does it, despite consistently suffering the negative consequences of unmet expectations. When my family decides to visit one another, beyond the essentials like what days to visit, sleeping accommodations, and mode of transportation, we don’t plan anything. We just get together with the only expectation being to enjoy each other’s company. This not only provides us all with an expectation that is easily met, but it also ensures that we all have the same expectation, which means we will all be working towards the same goal. By approaching our family visits this way, we have not had any more family squabbles, and our time together has been much more relaxed and enjoyable, which is important since we are not able to get together very often.
During my parents visit last week, we had absolutely no plan to do or go anywhere. We just got up each day (whenever we felt like it), and then decided how we wanted to spend the day. When we got hungry, we would go eat. If we got tired, we would take a nap. We just went wherever the day took us and focused on spending time together and enjoying each other’s company. While this may seem boring or like a waste of our time together, I assure you that this was an extremely enjoyable, relaxing, and fulfilling visit for both my parents and myself. We laughed and smiled a lot, caught up on the details of the last six months, and most importantly, we didn’t fight at all. I don’t know about you, but in my book, that is pretty much a perfect family visit. I am so happy they came, was sad to see them leave, and I am already looking forward to visiting them in August.
Now that my brother, sister, parents, and I are grown and living in four different cities, the time we get to spend with one another is really limited. Since we don’t get to see each other very often, it makes it that much more important to make the most of the time we do spend together. By feeling comfortable enough to be myself around my family, I can completely relax and enjoy their company while we are together. Through eliminating expectations during our visits, we can guarantee that we all have a good time just being with one another. These two simple ideas have had a huge impact on the quality of my family’s get togethers, and I am so thankful they did. I no longer worry about making sure everyone is happy with how things are going or whether someone’s expectations are being met, and this has allowed me to instead concentrate on enjoying my family, appreciating our time together, and just being in the moment. This is something that is priceless to me, since I never know how much more time we will get to be with each other.
I hope that after reading this that you will take some time to reflect upon your own family gatherings. Think about the time you get to spend together, and whether you are getting the most out of these precious moments as you can. Keep in mind that the important thing is not what you do together, but simply that you are together, enjoying each other’s company. Most importantly, remember that the time you get to spend with your loved ones is limited, and that there will come a time when you will no longer be able to visit them. Make the most of the time you do get with them, be in the moment, and cherish every second of it. These are the moments you will remember with a smile years from now that will fill you with love and happiness.