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Spring & Easter

“If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring.” Victor Hugo

I noticed some signs of spring this week when I had to help move some big boxes that were delivered to our front door. As I carried the boxes around to the back of our house, I took the opportunity to connect a bit with the nature around me and try to experience one of those “awe inspiring moments” I’ve written about in the past. I noticed the sky was nice and blue, the sun was out, the grass is starting to turn green, and there are and new buds and bits of green on the branches of the trees and bushes planted around our house.

I’ve never been a big fan of spring actually, or summer for that matter. My all-time favorite season is autumn so be sure to check back here in about six months when I’ll write a great article about it! Spring on the other hand - always symbolized work to me. Time to cut the grass, time to clean stuff, plant stuff, mulch stuff, paint stuff – way too much to do and too little time to do it.

I can’t really complain about all the work to do anymore though because I’m quite fortunate to have reached that season of my life where I can pay someone else to do that work so I don’t have to take precious time away from the short weekends I get to be piddling around with outdoor work and yard projects. For the first time in my life, I don’t even own a lawn mower or any outdoor yard tools – it’s awesome actually! When it comes to outdoor work, I just say “No.”

Keep in mind I’ve cut more grass way more than the average Joe. I started my own lawn cutting business when I was just twelve years old. By the time I was fourteen I had about twenty-five properties I cut grass and did yard work for around suburban Philadelphia. In high school and college, I was an outdoor groundskeeper at a hotel and I’ve planted more trees and shrubs around the various houses we’ve lived in than anyone else I know. So I’m not unfamiliar with the enticing aroma of fresh cut grass or the satisfaction of seeing a well-manicured lawn after a hard day’s work. I’m just at a place in my life now where I can say “I’ve been there and done that” and more importantly I can say “No” now, as I emphasized the joy of doing a few weeks ago here in this space.

The other thing I must confess that I’ve never liked about spring is Easter. It’s that holiday when you kind of have to get together with relatives AGAIN after you’ve kind of already gotten your fill of those people at the family gatherings you already survived at Thanksgiving and Christmas which are still way too fresh in your mind. Wouldn’t it be better if those mandatory attendance holidays were spaced out more throughout the year?

Of course, I’m writing this a bit facetiously to more accurately represent the views of so many people I talk to in counseling and psychotherapy who are really struggling sometimes by this time of year. And of course I’m not saying myself that I don’t enjoy those forced family gatherings with my own relatives - as far as you know, right? But there are enough people who feel this way that I think we should talk about this. Is there anyone else who could really just take a pass on the Easter gathering?

I’m not opposed to the fun that Easter has become for little kids and in fact my wife was great at making Easter a fun event for our kids with massive Easter Baskets and way too much candy everywhere. Somehow that later turned into Easter gifts, and it eventually morphed into a mini-Christmas sometimes with all the gifts the kids received to open.

That was a stark contrast to my own experience in life when I only ever received an Easter Basket once as a child and then once when I was eighteen when my awesome new girlfriend (who later became my wife) made me a most thoughtful Easter basket. But other than that, I never went on an Easter Egg hunt or received gifts at Easter. Usually by this time of year it was mostly just that unpleasant feeling of knowing I had to get dressed up for yet another family gathering when I had just seen those people several times in the past few months.

So I guess it might be a little apparent then as to why spring isn’t my favorite season traditionally. Thoughts of too much work to do and then thoughts of more family togetherness when maybe some of us have had our fill by this time of year. I really think if there was just one more family holiday with mandatory gatherings around May or June, then the proverbial gloves might come off and some of those events might become real grudge matches between adult siblings.

So what is it then about family gatherings that can be stressful for many people? Well, consider that sibling relationships are among the most formative and enduring connections people establish in their lives. While the bond between siblings can be a source of immense support, love, and camaraderie, it is not immune to conflict and discord. In adulthood, the dynamics between siblings can become particularly complex due to numerous factors such as shifting family roles, diverging life paths, and unresolved childhood issues.

As siblings grow older, they embark on different life paths, often leading to disparate values and priorities. Career choices, romantic partners, and even religious or political affiliations can create rifts between adult siblings. When these differences are significant, they may lead to disagreements, misunderstandings, and even resentment. In some cases, siblings may feel disconnected and struggle to maintain a sense of shared identity, thereby straining their relationship.

In my more than twenty-two years working as a psychotherapist, I’ve never heard more stories about discord between adult parents and children and between adult siblings on these points as I have in just the past few years. Hearing how politics and cultural perspectives and social values have pitted family members against each other reminds me very much of the history I read when I used to live in Gettysburg about how divided the nation had become which eventually led to civil war.

Financial disparities between adult siblings can exacerbate tensions and breed jealousy or resentment. Whether the result of differing career trajectories, educational opportunities, or financial management, these disparities may generate feelings of inadequacy or frustration. In some cases, siblings may feel the need to compete with one another to prove their worth or success, further straining their relationships. I hear far too many stories in counseling about how parents created rivalries between siblings which started in childhood and persist well into adulthood.

I wish this were not the case but my father created difficult feelings between my own brother and I for reasons I’ve only come to understand as a psychotherapist. For most of my brother’s life my father would compare him to me and use my life as an example to my brother of various ways he never measured up in my father’s eyes. Whether it was the number of merit badges we earned in Boy Scouts or the fact that I became a Commissioned Officer in the US Army with a college degree while my brother had enlisted after high school in the US Air Force, it seemed my brother could never measure up to my father’s expectations.

Even today long after my brother died in 2007, I can still see the pain in his eyes when I look at old family photos of all of us growing up together. To my brother’s credit though, he never held any of that against me, but rather internalized his pain in other ways. That pain though was handed down from my father as he himself had grown up as the middle child in a family of an adult alcoholic and no matter what my father ever did, he could never measure up in his parents’ eyes to that of his older brother or younger sister.

Inheritance disputes are also a common source of conflict between adult siblings. The division of assets, property, and seemingly simple items which can invoke strong sentiments can lead to feelings of injustice, resentment, and betrayal. These disputes often escalate when siblings perceive favoritism or unequal treatment from their parents. Additionally, the responsibility of caring for aging parents or managing family affairs may disproportionately fall on one sibling, leading to feelings of resentment or burden while other siblings may be far away geographically or separate themselves emotionally as not able to handle the weight of family affairs.

Sibling rivalry and competition often have their roots in childhood experiences. As adults, unresolved issues from the past can resurface and create animosity. Childhood traumas, such as parental favoritism, bullying, or exclusion, may cause adult siblings to harbor lingering resentment or hostility. These unresolved emotions can hinder the development of a healthy, supportive relationship in adulthood.

All too often too are those families I hear about where the “no talking” rule permeated the generations and carried over into those mandatory holiday gatherings where sometimes things unsaid can be as hurtful or devastating as the barbs, “zingers” (as my dad used to call the comments from his brother) or jabs which convey far stronger meanings than a lack of courage keeps hidden from open discussion sometimes for generations.

So if you want to make Easter a better experience, then consider taking the initiative to establish healthier relationships. This is will require effort, understanding, and empathy from all parties involved but it could improve things and enhance joy and pleasantness for years to come.

Here are some strategies to help foster healthier sibling relationships and create a more harmonious environment during Easter or any family holiday season:

Open Communication: Encourage honest, open, and respectful communication between siblings. Share your feelings, thoughts, and concerns without judgment or blame. Listen actively to one another and try to understand each other's perspectives.

Establish Boundaries: Set clear boundaries with your siblings regarding personal space, time, and involvement in each other's lives. Respecting these boundaries will help prevent conflicts and maintain a healthy relationship.

Plan Ahead: To avoid unpleasantness at Easter, discuss plans and expectations beforehand. This includes deciding on the venue, menu, and any activities or traditions to be observed. Ensure that everyone's preferences are considered and that responsibilities are shared fairly.

Focus on Common Ground: Find shared interests or activities that can bring siblings together, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared experiences. This could be cooking a meal together, playing board games, or participating in a group outing.

Acknowledge and Address Past Conflicts: If unresolved issues are causing tension between siblings, consider addressing them privately before the Easter gathering. This may involve seeking professional help, such as therapy, to work through lingering resentments and establish healthier patterns of interaction.

Practice Empathy: Put yourself in your siblings' shoes and try to understand their feelings and experiences. Show compassion and support for their struggles and achievements, as this can help strengthen the bond between you.

Create New Traditions: Start new Easter traditions that involve all siblings, fostering a sense of unity and shared memories. This could be a yearly Easter egg hunt, a family potluck, or volunteering at a local charity event.

Avoid Controversial Topics: To maintain a pleasant atmosphere during the Easter gathering, steer clear of contentious topics that may trigger disagreements or conflicts. Encourage light-hearted and inclusive conversations instead.

Embrace Change: Accept that sibling relationships will evolve over time as individuals grow and change. Embrace these changes and be open to creating new dynamics that foster healthy and supportive relationships.

Be Patient: Improving adult sibling relationships is a gradual process that requires time, effort, and patience. Be prepared to invest in the relationship and be patient as you work through challenges and navigate the complexities of adult sibling bonds.

By applying these strategies, you can create a more harmonious environment for your Easter gathering and work towards cultivating stronger, healthier relationships with your siblings. Life is too short to endure forced events that can end up being hurtful. Take charge and establish some new traditions which could enhance the rest of your life!

Have a great week!

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