Grandparenting

Reviving Love Lost in The Festive Season

Reviving Love Lost in the Festive Season

By Jamilah Samian

[NOTE: Article below was published in “Passage”, the Malaysian magazine for seniors and grandparents]
Photo by Cobalt123 on Flickr

Photo by Cobalt123 on Flickr

 

Family business is funny business. As they say “Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.” No matter how perfect someone’s life appears to you (stunning and charming spouse, brilliant children, home is a mansion replete with fast cars, maids and drivers to order), everyone has something. By this I mean, situations which are less than pleasant only known to kith and kin, particularly in terms of relationships. It could mean the family matriarch not being in good terms with a daughter-in-law, or cousins not seeing eye to eye over personal matters. Or a sibling who feels he has always been unfairly treated by another. In some cases, these situations give birth to strained relationships which may lead to avoidance or withdrawal or worse, of one or more of the parties involved.

Interestingly, the festive season is a period when these strained relationships are tested to the full. Particularly because inMalaysia, the festive season is the time when most family members young and old convene. Usually, this is done at the paternal or maternal grandparents’ home. Even if the venue is spacious, having several adult children along with their little kids and maids under one roof is not exactly comfortable when everyone knows someone is not on talking terms with someone else. It might mean a sister-in-law quietly getting up to find another spot to sit the moment the in-law she’s having issues with appears in the dining hall. Or one of the adult children checking when his elder brother is arriving and leaving the venue of a family get-together to minimize possible interactions.

I firmly believe that the elders in the family, especially grandparents, can play a crucial role in diffusing potential landmines such as those mentioned above. To be specific, as an elder, you can:

  1. Choose to be a buffer. As an elder, you can play this role ever subtly. For example, your daughter and son have not been talking to each other for months. You know that there’s a dish that they both like and your daughter was supposed to arrive on Sunday and your son, the following day. Cook extra. As your daughter is enjoying the dish the day she arrives, you could gently suggest to her, “Hmmm … You brother will be here tomorrow. Shall we keep some for him, dear?” Now, since you have already cooked plenty of that dish (more than your daughter could ever eat), she doesn’t have much choice but to respond with a “Yes”. Even if it’s a grunt, it’s all you need. Then, when your son arrives, tell him “Your sister said to keep this for you. She knows it’s your favourite as much as it’s hers.” Believe me, it will help thaw the ice between the two.
  2. Do not compare one family member with another. More than likely, you would have kids who do better than the rest. Never make remarks that highlight this already known fact. Your thirty-year-old son who drives a rundown motorbike and rents a room downtown doesn’t need any reminder that his younger brother who owns three BMWs and resides in a penthouse is much wealthier than him. Such remarks only add to the discord and envy between the two.
  3. Avoid putting anyone on the spot or adding salt to the wound. If you know that two or more family members are at odds with one another, don’t add to their discomfort or to the sourness of their relationship by throwing negative comments or enquiring about the state of their relationships, unless in such a way as to help them feel warmer to each other or to help resolve the conflict.
  4. Appreciate and acknowledge. Some families have a tradition of having potluck dinners to celebrate the festive season. This means that each family contributes a dish to reduce the preparation that the host needs to do. Or, in some other families, the adult children will contribute cakes or cookies to serve guests. It is not unusual to hear remarks made by the elders praising a certain dish / cake / cookies in front of guests / in-laws / other family members while putting down another. How much better if you acknowledge and appreciate each and every contribution made, regardless of how it looks or tastes, as it’s the thought that truly counts.

In Malaysia, the festive season is a time of giving. It’s customary for working adults, for instance, to present angpow or duit raya or pocket money to the younger ones and their elders. Tangible gifts like money, cakes or cookies may be spent and disappear as quickly as they change hands. More  important, however, is for us to be giving of ourselves in as many intangible ways as we can, to assist in improving broken relationships or enhancing already good ones … and to leave a legacy in ways that only grandparents and well-respected seniors can.

 

About Jamilah Samian

Jamilah has written 540 articles.

Jamilah Samian is an author and speaker.

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