The Politics of Visiting Family


The festive period, that 6 week duration stretching from Thanksgiving (celebrated in the USA on the 4th Thursday of November) to the first week of the New Year, accounts for some 78% of all family visits made throughout the year. This shows that we are reminded of a need or obligation to make this effort, when we otherwise might never go and see close family relations at all.  Countless movies have been spawned from this very premise, which offers such a comedic seam that can be mined again and again.  I shan’t list them, but I’m sure we can all recount at least several, and all the awkward situations which make them so funny, that we can relate to from our own personal experience.

Even those seemingly perfect families, who endlessly adore each others’ company will have tales of the odd crazy relative they would rather avoid, or at least only see fleetingly.  For the rest of us, with imperfect families, and the usual collection of simmering enmities, this “visiting period” can be fraught with explosive potential, or worse, unspoken, unresolved misunderstandings, criticisms, offences taken and given, and general mistrust of those we once knew intimately in the distant past. “He said – she said” is never far from the surface, but remains at the root of the problem, because unsaid means unresolved. This lack of communication causes each of us to fill in the gaps, and presume to know what everyone else is thinking – and then getting royally pissed-off by it.

Anyone who knows me well, will know these two things about me.  Number one – I am a blurter.  This means that I’m not especially diplomatic, and tend to say what I think, almost as quickly as it has occurred to me (as often compliments as criticisms).  Both naturally and on purpose, I do this so that people don’t need to guess what my opinion is on anything.  I cannot abide anyone who masks their opinions, or appears coy when asked a direct question.  Number two, is that I am one of life’s perennial visitors.  I will visit anyone and everyone, and won’t wait to be asked.

Like it or not, visiting others, or indeed receiving guests, is a power-play.  I see it as an honour and a great compliment when others to come and visit me, and as such have an open-door policy, and make sure that people feel very welcome in my house or my office.  The same politics of location are very much in evidence in business generally, and specifically in recruitment, where of course the applicant (or supplicant) will attend the business premises of the potential employer, and by doing so, observe their rules of decorum, and show due deference to their hosts.  Equally so in families, where it’s just not done to abuse your host, and to do so can start the most almighty rows.

Not everyone is a natural visitor however, and it would be wrong to keep score on who makes the most effort to keep in touch.  Most families have a favoured meeting point; at their parents or the eldest siblings, or even whoever has the brass neck to host everyone for Christmas dinner.  This Christmas, as a result of an operation on the 23rd December, my normal travels have been almost completely curtailed.  It has therefore been my absolute pleasure to have welcomed cousins and in-laws to my home, to drink, laugh, and poke fun at each other.  It was even good to see my craziest sister-in-law Mirella, with whom I’ve had some outrageous arguments in the past.  She’s barking mad, but I love her.

I’ve experienced, and heard of first-hand so many tales of long running feuds, point-scoring, and petty vindictiveness, which is often brought to the surface at this time of year.  It’s never nice to see, and ultimately futile.  So the next time someone suggests “let’s go and visit so-and-so, we haven’t seen them for ages”, get your shoes on, and go make some human contact.  It doesn’t even have to be Christmas, and you’ll be glad you did.

PS. I made up that statistic at the top of the post.  It just seems about right.

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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