For nontraditional families, including same-sex couples, single parents, and people raising their grandkids, the ways in which holidays like Father’s Day are celebrated continue to evolve. Jacqueline Hudak, PhD, clinical director of the Penn Center for Couples and Adult Families, explains how these family dynamics grow and change.
Each year around this time, conversations with clients turn to the predictable stress of time with family over the holidays.
Like ghosts in the night, old issues, long dormant, reappear at holiday time. How is it that an adult with partner and children can walk into their parents’ home and instantly feel 10 years old again? The anticipation of a holiday encounter can lead any adult to feel slightly unhinged in a way that few other situations do.
Let’s face it, no one can upset you like a family member.
Here are some ideas to try on this holiday season. They are born of basic tenets of family therapy theory and are utterly applicable to a variety of anticipated holiday situations:
1. Plan and be strategic.
It’s always a good idea to warn someone that you are going to make a change before you actually do:
“I was thinking about the holiday, and this year I might do something a bit different.”
You don’t even have to be sure of what specific change you’re going to make, the point is to warn others first. That way, you can attempt to avoid their shock and surprise when you decide not to follow the family script – you know, ‘the way it’s always been and everyone (but you) wants to continue’.
This can be particularly useful when, for example, you have young children and want to begin to create your own traditions around the holidays. Perhaps you feel the stress of traveling with small children in an effort to please everyone, or because ‘you’ve done it every year, and they’re counting on you.’ So let people know in advance and find allies to support your change.
Which brings me to the next point.
2. Expect a reaction.
It is true that relationships have much in common with physics: for every action there is a reaction. Families attempt to maintain a homeostasis – a state of balance, maintained by familiar patterns and expectations. Think of the tremendous impact it has upon relationships when a family member joins or leaves the system; these points of normative developmental crises, birth, adolescence, marriage, or death, each require a renegotiation of previous roles and rules in the family system. Holiday traditions are valued as markers of continuity, so changes, however minor, can feel disruptive and unsettling.
3. Focus on yourself.
You can change only your behavior, not the behavior of others.
Admittedly, this is a tough one. It’s the balancing act between giving up the dream of what can be, and accepting what is. There is much integrity in changing one’s own behaviors in a respectful and compassionate way, and it’s sad to realize that, for now, others may just not be who you want them to be.
Developing a curiosity about yourself may help. This might be a good time to entertain the questions: Why does this person still hold so much power over me? Why do I still need my mother/father/sibling to compliment or recognize me? How is it that I have come to this place in my life carrying that old wound?
4. There’s always next year.
Your opportunities to practice being different in your family are boundless. Try to think of this as one of many steps toward change. It will most likely take more than one conversation and there can be complicating factors: addiction, trauma, divorce, remarriage. Relationships take time, so keep in mind the long term; families are full of surprises and unpredictability as the family life cycle inevitably moves into the future.
When I hear a person in their 20’s or 30’s say “I’ll never have a relationship with my brother, I respond, “Well, let’s think about this for a moment. If you both live until you’re 80, are you telling me nothing will happen over the next 50 years? Most likely, your parents will predecease you, and you and he will together become the oldest living generation in the family. You may each partner with someone, and perhaps become aunt and uncle to each other’s children.”
There are endless circumstances that create opportunities for us to evolve in our family system.
Lastly, I try to remember at this time of abundance and giving thanks, that to even think about the quality of relationship is, of itself, both a blessing and a privilege.
With all my best to you and yours during this special season,
Join colleagues at Penn Medicine and CHOP for this exciting panel, lead by transgender activist and family therapist, DR. ELIJAH NEALY. They will address the importance of family therapy in the treatment of transgender young adults.
Dr. Nealy will be joined by Jacqueline HUDAK, PhD., LMFT, The Center for Couples and Adult Families, Perelman School of Medicine, Linda HAWKINS, Ph.D., Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic, CHOP, and Benoit DUBÉ, MD, Perelman School of Medicine.
Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
16th Fl., 3535 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
A light dinner will be served
For the past 25 years, Elijah C. Nealy, PhD, M.Div., LCSW has worked extensively with LGBTQ adolescents and adults in both pastoral and social service capacities. Currently an assistant professor of social work at the University of Saint Joseph, West Hartford, CT, his clinical practice has focused on transgender and gender diverse youth and their families. Ordained with Metropolitan Community Church, Dr. Nealy regularly preaches and provides trainings for clinicians, faith communities, and organizations. An openly identified transgender man, Dr. Nealy lives in West Hartford with his partner and is the proud father of three amazing young people. He is the author of Transgender Children and Youth: Cultivating Pride and Joy with Families in Transition [Norton, February 2017].
CCAF Clinical director, Jacqueline Hudak, will present on a panel about “The Changing Family” during Penn Spectrum Weekend.
Held during alumni weekend, Penn Spectrum “brings together alumni for dialogue centered on issues of cultural identity. We welcome alumni and allies from all backgrounds as well as current Penn undergraduate and graduate students. The conference focuses on issues pertinent to the Black, Latinx, Native, Asian, and LGBTQ alumni and student communities.”
For a full schedule of events, check out the link here.
Join us for the next CPSP
Engaging Family Supports
Learning Objectives – Participants will be better able to:
CME: You can earn 1.25 CME credits
When: Thursday, April 21, 2016
|Course Directors:||Wesley Sowers, MD
Robert Marin, MD
Ellen Berman, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine, and Founder and Director of Training, Center for Couples and Adult Families, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
John Sargent, MD, Director, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Tufts Medical Center and Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA
*Community Psychiatry Forum: Free online videoconference offered twice each month. Continuing Medical Education credits
The Center for Couples and Adult Families extends a warm welcome to Michelle Jackson, a seasoned Couple and Family therapist who joined our Clinical Faculty last month.
There are many reasons I’m thrilled to have Ms. Jackson aboard, not the least of which is our ability to serve more couples and families at CCAF. Her arrival is evidence of our growth; clearly the word is out that there is couple and family therapy available at Penn.
Ms. Jackson’s sensitivity to issues of diversity in clinical work is in concert with the CCAF mission, as well as our curriculum in Culture and the Family that takes place across all four years of residency training in psychiatry.
Ms. Jackson’s life trajectory informs her fluency with individuals who have chosen or invisible identities, or who are part of biracial/bicultural couples, and multi-racial families. Her work provides a context in which to normalize alternative developmental pathways and strengthen resilience in the absence of cultural validation.
Welcome to CCAF, Michelle!
I’m so happy to have you as part of our team, and know that couples and families will be enriched through their work with you. I look forward to a long collaboration together at CCAF.
To schedule a meeting with Ms. Jackson, please call Bryn Farrelly, 215-746-5900.
Research findings from a team at Emory University Medical School provide evidence of “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” – that environment can affect an individual’s genetics and then be passed on.
As a family therapist I have intuited this often in my consulting room. There are times when a young adult with severe sadness sits with me, and I can sense that the sorrow is somehow lager that she is; it is too big a sorrow for someone that age. When together we craft a genogram, we can find the relative, sometimes generations back, that bore the original wound. History, culture, and family intersect to create a transgenerational pattern – for dealing with fear, or loss, and even what one dares to hope. These patterns are born of the narratives that pass from one generation to the next.
For the full BBC article: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-25156510?SThisFB