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Learn to embrace your eccentric relatives

  • McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Published Saturday, June 15, 2013, at 5:03 p.m.

Do you hesitate to invite certain family members to mingle with your friends or business associates? Maybe you worry that your interesting kinfolk might tarnish your image.

If this is the case, relax. We all have relatives who drink too much, tell off-color jokes and wear Hawaiian shirts to a formal event. Most families have at least one person who’s spent time in jail, another who needs flogging in the Town Square, and one who has failed drug rehab over and over.

But, we can love these people anyway. While most of us need to set boundaries with our eccentric relatives, we can stop apologizing for them. Besides, with love and encouragement, they will feel more like turning their lives in a better direction. These tips can help:

• Stop trying to change people. First of all, it won’t work. They can only change themselves with some kind of personal decision that comes from within.

• Protect yourself from any dangers. If your niece does sell drugs, don’t invite her to hang out at your house, of course. Steer any relatives away from your life who could get you into trouble or cause tension in your marriage.

• Don’t talk about your relatives behind their backs. If you do, soften your words with kindness because your friends probably have similar issues. Your associates might feel uncomfortable around you if you judge your own relatives too harshly.

“I learned my lesson the hard way,” said a man we’ll call Steve. “My niece was pregnant and not married, and I brought this up in the company cafeteria. My boss was sitting at my table. Later, I learned that the boss’s daughter was also going to be a single mother. If I could do a replay of my judgment against my niece, I’d just say I was very concerned about her.”

When it comes to having your co-workers or friends meet your family members, keep in mind that most will enjoy meeting someone who’s a little different. They might even breathe a sigh of relief that your family is just as colorful as theirs.

A friend of ours, whom we’ll call Connie, says her animated, fast-talking aunt was the hit of a party 25 years ago. Connie invited her co-workers over for a backyard barbecue.

“My Aunt Teresa showed up in white stretch pants with those foot stirrups,” Connie said. “Everybody loved her. She had on a pink ruffled top that made her look like a flamingo!”

Connie now knows why her aunt was such a hit. “Everybody at my party probably has a family member similar to my aunt. Isn’t it strange how we all try to hide these people? We worry they’ll reflect on us badly, but that’s not the case. I think most people get a real kick out of other people’s interesting relatives.”

Naturally, there are times when you must keep certain relatives skirted away and out of sight. For example, you don’t want your uncle complaining about his stint in the state prison in front of your new boss. If your cousin is dating a stripper, don’t invite this couple to your annual church fundraiser.

You have the right to set boundaries to protect your own dignity. But, it’s not necessary to apologize for family members you can’t control or change. Focus on your own goals and happiness, and don’t allow eccentric relatives to steal your happiness.

Judi Light Hopson is executive director of the USA Wellness Cafe website: www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.

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