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When Family Time Goes Wrong

I realized after I wrote the title that it sounds like one of those Fox specials (“When Animals Attack!”).  But I’m sticking with it because sometimes family time can feel just that scary.

Okay, maybe not that scary.  But I know for myself that sometimes I feel a little anxious before embarking on a family excursion, especially one with more ambition (you drive farther, you pay higher admission prices, you up the ante because today is going to be SO MUCH FUN!)

And then it’s not.  But maybe it can be salvaged.  Here are some thoughts on how.1)  Realize before you go on the outing that something is going to go wrong.  Not probably.  Not maybe.  No, something will go wrong.

What that certainty means is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time and emotional energy trying to prevent problems or mistakes.  Accepting that they will, in fact, happen can be liberating.  It relieves pressure.

Because ironically, pressure is what often creates the problems themselves.  When we expect too much, or when we need things to fit our exact specifications, we’re likely to be uptight.  We’ll be more irritable and less adaptable.

Which leads me to number 2.

2)  Adaptability is key.

Now maybe you’re not naturally the most adaptable person.  I’ll admit, I’m not.  But since having my daughter, I’m getting better at it. That’s just one of the side benefits of parenthood for me, in the realm of personal growth.

The way to improve your adaptability is to recognize that it’s not optional; it’s essential.

When things go wrong (as they inevitably will, in tiny and large ways, remember #1), you’ll need to be able to recover instead of lamenting or declaring that all is lost.

3)  Find pleasure in what is, instead of what you were hoping for.

What I mean is, sometimes we’ll think our kids should enjoy X, but really, they’re all about Y.  And we might stand there going, “Hey, look over here, isn’t X pretty?”  But we’re better off following their lead, and appreciating Y ourselves.  Or maybe even just appreciating that they can find beauty and interest where others might have missed it.

I had a client who was always trying to race through the mundane tasks with her kids to “get to the good stuff.”  A light bulb went off for her when I pointed out that perhaps she was actually missing the good stuff–that is, leaving more time to get her kids dressed so she can be playful with them, or singing with them in the car instead of having road rage over being late.

4)  Work on your sense of humor.

I know, a sense of humor doesn’t normally take work.  But these aren’t normal times.  It’s family time gone wrong, remember?

Sometimes you do have to remind yourself that wrong can be funny.  Often, an epic fail is amusing, when seen in the right light.  You need to try to find that light, and that can be enormously helpful in salvaging  your experience.

Or not (see below…)

5)  Know when to call it a day.

Let’s say you’ve tried your best, but it’s just a disaster.

It’s time to wave the white flag.  GO HOME.

Is this giving up?  Sure.  But sometimes, you’ve got to give up rather than keep putting yourself and your family through a quest for fun that is doomed for failure.

That doesn’t mean you’ve failed.  Or maybe you have.  In that case, you just have to figure out how to do it differently the next time.  But self-flagellation never improved anything, or anyone.

It was still better than “When Animals Attack”,  right?

When Family Time Goes Wrong

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). When Family Time Goes Wrong. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Apr 2014
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