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Family Holidays:
3 Ways to Deal with Expected Sacrifice

Oct 3, 2015

We mostly all enjoy the arrival of family holidays when many of us have off from work and we have the time to get together with the people we enjoy: our friends and family. But we also know that when these holidays present themselves there are family members who demand our appearance and duty on their time schedule and that it’s not just our elders who do so. Siblings also usurp power from parents and relatives. Since our holidays are usually short in number, visits are often at a premium and this may often preclude planning visits with some of the people we really want to get together with but can’t because some family obligations “take priority” over our own preference and enjoyment. To understand the three ways we must:

  • Understand why capitulation is considered a sacrifice,

  • Understand how we’ve allowed these obligations to “fall” into place and

  • Clearly understand the three choices that we have to “get off the hook.”

Why is it a sacrifice? Remember, your parents were (are) children too and as such their parents demanded certain behaviors from them that were expected, and maybe still are, that are in line with their traditions and the way things were handled with many of the holidays. Don’t think for a minute that they don’t realize that you also see giving up your plans to visit friends to visit Aunt Sarah for the holidays in the middle of your friend’s only available afternoon (remember, they have family “obligations” too) precluding any morning or evening visits to anyone else simply because that’s the way and time that it’s always been done. And to boot, you have to participate because it will look bad for them in Aunt Sarah’s eyes if you don’t.

There are many other ways that sacrifice has become a tradition where the family is concerned and many family members are not above using those traditions as blackmail so you’ll do things the way they want and on their schedule. For example, now-a-days everything seems to be done “for the kids.” It’s as if our kids have become some kind of “pure product” of the family and our last best hope for the family to prosper and shine in the eyes of the world. But, remember too that their “shining” is a reflection on our parenting. As a result, some of the things that you’d like to do as an adult, remember, you’re a person too, “must” be put on a back burner for the benefit of the child and their “welfare.” Otherwise, you’ll be seen as a “bad parent.” That’s where we begin to view our actions as a sacrifice. Your own welfare and preferences are forfeited for the benefit of “the kids.” That benefit is how our culture believes opportunity should be offered to our children. The assumption would be that that’s the way it’s always been. That may be true, especially in nature, but not to the extent that we have taken it. In today’s days and times and due to the rush and survival pressures we have so little time to devote to our children that we end up feeling guilty because they’re not receiving what we received as kids. As a result, we spoil them and they then grow up with an overblown sense of entitlement. But I digress and that’s fodder for a much longer discussion elsewhere.

How have we allowed these obligations to “fall” into place? The answer is very simple. It’s how our parents had to deal with their parents. We’re back to “it‘s the way it’s always been done.” You see, when we arrived into the family these practices were already well underway and very deeply ingrained. They’re not going to listen to what we want. We’re mere children with no understanding of the ways of the world. We must be shown and guided through the best ways to keep the family strong and tightly knit. The key words here are strong and tightly knit; tightly knit because it keeps everyone on the same page with what is expected during, not only the holidays, but with every other area of life. Those expectations assure our duties and position in the hierarchy. The strength comes in bringing consistency which assures family members that they are secure in their assumed dependency on how other family members are going to relate to them. In short, keep everything the same and the same people “stay in charge” and a new “position of power” is only available when of those who are in charge pass on. Tradition and heredity still provide the strongest momentum for family rapport or, at least until the family dissolves, which seems to be more and more the case in our current social structure. Things have been changing much to the chagrin of many of the “old-timers.”

So, what are the 3 Ways to escape the demand of our expected traditional sacrifice? First, we can beat them at their own game. To start with, family members who use the “blackmail” sequence, that is either hint or outright state their disapproval of our alternate choices implying that we will no longer receive their deference and support in family issues, will assume that they have the upper hand in family matters believing that we, and our children, need family approval to get along in our life circumstances. They will insinuate how badly Aunt Sarah will feel when she doesn’t get to see our children due to our “lack of consideration” for her feelings. They may even go so far as to imply doom and gloom about how we are destroying the moral fiber of the family. What they are really saying is that they feel that they are losing control over how the family responds to them, which is probably true. But if you respond with something along the lines of, “Do you really want to deprive the children of participating is such an important game on the holiday (football or something of the same ilk) sabotaging their athletic image and impairing their possible success in the school environment and threatening their academic and social success?” You see, in approaching the family demand in terms of what your child will lose will have a far greater effect on your parents as they don’t want to be seen as threatening the future of “the kids.” This also takes the focus off you and transfers it to your parent’s guilt in depriving your child. I think you get the idea. But you may not want to use this method for fear of the fact that it may make you feel just as manipulative and dishonest as they are. In this case, let’s move on to the next approach.

Second, we can simply define our boundaries as adults and field the recriminations that will follow. Coming of age is a very important head space to arrive at. It’s that point where we have come to realize that we too are now adults and that we have responsibilities to ourselves that go far beyond the comfort and convenience of what our extended family needs to feel secure in feeling that they hold authority over family endeavors. Realize that when our parents lose “power” over the family and its activities there is an underlying fear that they will be left deserted and without support as they begin to feel their survival capabilities begin to dwindle with old age. They see many of their peers dropped into old age homes and ignored or even worse, abused. The thought of this petrifies them, and rightly so. But they too must grow old gracefully as their parents did and we must when we follow them. They must also come to realize that the more their children feel manipulated by them, the more likely this will come to pass. When we have a good and honest rapport with our family, this kind of thing doesn’t occur. THAT is what we want to establish with method two. We want to let them know that we’re going to do the things that will benefit OUR livelihood, convenience, timing and children but at the same time let them know that they will neither be deserted nor ignored. This will teach them to trust us which, if they’ve been feeling the need to manipulate us, they don’t. Their parents felt just as insecure as they do now. If they don’t trust us to honor them voluntarily, and they probably don’t, it will be very difficult for them to come to a point where they do. This will take time. It’s US that need to be strong with resolve to see their “training” into trusting us come to pass. Know also that we will become the brunt of all kinds of accusations from family sabotage to out and out abuse. But we have to realize that in the long run, they and we will be happier with the end result if we can stick to our resolve to create Self-Trust in us, our parents and our children through our honesty and tenacity in following through. So, the second method is to stick to our guns, our preferences and help our parents and children in dealing with the fact that our lives, preference and welfare are also important and should be given equal time.

Third, we can simply acquiesce to their demands. This is probably the easiest and more common path taken by most family members but it breeds a whole host of resentment, destructive emotional undercurrents and self-deprecation. In short, it keeps a traditional blackmail in place and functioning at full strength. In general, I think the normal growth pattern follows through method number three, then to two and finally to method two resulting in a mature and equally respected approach to all members of the family.

So, as the holidays approach we will probably pick one of the above methods or even a combination of them depending on who we’re dealing with and how we feel about them.

That being said, I would like to explore sacrifice and what it means a little further. If I were to address in our contemporary perspective, I would say that it has evolved into becoming a pimp for our ego. Yes. This does seem a bit crude and extreme but I said it in order to first, get your attention and second, to emphasize the importance behind the dynamic of sacrifice. As you read on further you will see why I emphasized it as such as you begin to understand the emotional mechanism that operates buried well beneath our daily consciousness. Let’s begin.

Everything we do, or refrain from doing, has a payoff. I will assume that you agree to at least that much but will you also agree that almost every decision we make is based on at the least two motives: first, appearing to be a certain way to others and, second, to further our wants and needs for comfort, recognition and safety?


The next question I have to ask is how far are you willing to compromise your own preferences in order to receive that comfort, recognition, acceptance and safety from others? Because how much you are willing to compromise is a reflection of how much you believe that you are in charge of your life. How? The more you are willing to acquiesce to the needs, wants and desires of others the more your self-image and identity are dependent on their opinions. This is not to be confused with being humble. Humility appears to be the same as compromise as expressed to others but the underlying motivation can either come from the strength of an independent character or a fear of disapproval. This is a very subtle difference and most people claim the former when they are really reacting to the latter. What does this have to do with sacrifice you might ask? They are essentially the same thing. How many of your personal preferences are you willing to give up (that you’d sacrifice or be “humble” about) in order to be approved of and therefore accepted by others? In addition to that, what values based on the needs of others do you incorporate into your own value system so you can feel that you are a “good” person? This is where the concept of “selling out” comes into play.

The line between respecting yourself and being respected by others is a very flexible boundary and its point of standing is constantly being adjusted by our memory of and new experiences according to those two or more motivations used for taking or not taking an action. Those motivations include how we will look to others which will insure our comfort, recognition, acceptance and safety and how many of our own preferences will be met that run contrary to the wants and needs of those others. So, how does this balancing act relate to sacrifice and being a pimp for the ego? Now that we can see our motivations clearly we can clearly observe the dynamic.

Our ego, which is how we view and value ourselves is a balance somewhere between our personal respect of ourselves and our invested importance in the needs and wants of our family and social group. The more we value our own preferences and are willing to ignore the whims, desires and insecurities of others, the less we are involved in the personal sacrifices that are expected of us by our family and peer group. The currency utilized by that group to insure our acquiescence to group needs and wants is their allowance of our comfort of inclusion, their recognition and acceptance of us and our feeling of safety with them. We might even see this as a form of blackmail. This insures us of our constant support as long as their needs and wants are upheld over our own. Through this our self-image and identity in the eyes of others, or our ego, is purchased through our “humility” and, of course, our “sacrifice.”

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