Monday, 6 December 2010
Managing Expectations When Visiting Home- An Expat's Struggle
Cue the whirlwind visit home. It's an action packed drive-a-palooza where the husband and I try to see and stay with everyone in a short two week period. A bit like pool balls on a billiards table, we obediently drive all over the state of California. The goal is to try and make sure we get in "quality time" with our various family members who don't even have the decency to all live in the same place.
After the driving (7 hours between southern and northern California) comes the visits. Now normally when you see your extended family it's in short bursts. A dinner for a birthday, or a Sunday lunch, or a meal for a holiday. But rarely (unless you're still living with them) do you go from not seeing someone at all to being on top of them 24/7 sleeping in their guest rooms and sitting our their couches "visiting." I find that within an hour or so of each of these visits I'm ready for a break. I've missed these people all year and couldn't wait to see them, but now I'm starting to remember the things about them that drive me crazy.
So much pressure is put on these visits as well. Trying to squeeze in a year's worth of experiences into a couple of days is exhausting. Any suggestion of doing things not with the whole group is instantly taken as rejection. "I don't want to go to the park," is taken to mean, "I don't want to spend time with you." When really I just don't want to go to the park and watch people happily playing with their babies when I've just lost mine. Wanting to spend some quiet time reading a book is seen as, "you don't want to spend time with me," when really it's just that I need a few moments of quiet in my day. It's an exhausting balancing act where we try and make everyone happy and end the time feeling like we didn't get a vacation at all.
Then add onto it that this particular visit was the first one after losing our son. I don't know what I was expecting from my family, but quite a few of them let me down. Somehow I was expecting more sympathy and questions about how we are coping. But instead I got the same old conversations about the same old things. A few family members even opted to take our time to talk all about themselves.
I left the US very disappointed. But now that I've had time to reflect, maybe I was just expecting too much. After all, they only get to see us once a year and I'm sure they just didn't know what to say. It's not like there's a manual on how to help a family member who's lost a child. Perhaps they didn't want to upset me with questions? Perhaps they wanted our memories of the visit to be happy? Perhaps they were waiting for me to bring it up?
Perhaps I need to give them a break??