I frequently encounter competing familial obligations. And when it comes to family, I feel a much stronger urge to oblige, often sacrificing my sanity in the process. The trick is to balance these commitments based on their priority, and be proactive in finding solutions or alternatives if you can’t meet them all.
This past weekend we had earmarked for a Halloween tradition of pumpkin picking and carving at Grandma’s country house. About a week in advance, my single and carefree sister, told me she would be flying into a nearby city. She invited me to spend Saturday night and all of Sunday in the city, just the two of us.
This presented me with a very “tricky” situation as we have a young family that we are trying to establish traditions with. It was further complicated by the fact that I do want to work on having a better relationship with my sister now that my children are getting older (not breastfeeding, etc.).
The Decision Making Process
I was racking my brain for a way to try to make it work. I could take a separate car up to the country house, we could carve pumpkins on Saturday, and I could still make it into the city for a late dinner.
But I was dreading cutting into our weekend at the country and aware of how the kids would feel if I wasn’t there for the whole time. And the teen would be especially aware as she was really the driver in expressing how much this family tradition means to her. Not to mention the additional 5.5 hours that I would have to drive to make it work.
Part of this is a consequence outside of my control. My sister lives very far away, and gave me incredibly short notice to make these plans. Had we known earlier we could have potentially switched our plans given they were not time dependent.
Furthermore, I tend to think of my familial obligations in concentric circles surrounding me. So, the first layer would be our nuclear family (husband & kids), second layer would be our parents and siblings, and the third layer including everyone else.
Having this preset idea helps to stay firm in my prioritization of these commitments. No matter how I looked at it, I just couldn’t see how driving into the city would fit into our Sanity Plan.
I talked it over with my husband as well to make sure we were in line. Once we were, I had to approach my sister to let her know the bad news. I was dreading it because I just knew she’d be upset. She has been consistently trying to get time to spend with me alone and I’ve been very slow to accommodate. I accept that this is a normal part of raising babies, but she doesn’t really understand that yet. And she has been really good about putting it aside by spending time with all of us, and being an especially good aunt to our children.
I was armed with two alternatives to visiting her in the city:
- She was welcome to join us for our pumpkin tradition.
- I would be willing to fly to her for a long weekend within the next month.
My heart was incredibly relieved to hear that it was no big deal that I wouldn’t be meeting up with her. She knew it was a stretch, but really had just wanted to throw it out there in case it would work. And she was thrilled with my offer to come visit her instead.
This situation had a great outcome (DISCAIMER: it does not always work out that well). My flight is booked and I am excited for a weekend where I can focus on reconnecting with my sister after being incredibly child and family focused for the past 4 years. And we were able to spend an entire weekend, uninterrupted, enriching a family tradition that I hope our children remember with affection for many years to come.
Have you encountered a situation like this recently? How do you balance your familial obligations?