When our family therapist told us that family relationships were wholly repairable, I was dubious. At the time, it felt like we would never fully escape the chaos, fear, and unhappiness that an eating disorder had brought to our family. We didn’t know how to communicate, to adjust, to support, and to manage in this new situation. But the biggest gift of the holiday season was the joy of seeing rekindled love in my children’s relationships with one another and seeing how we are all learning how better to be happy together.
At this point, I know that family get-togethers rarely live up to the ideal, but even if I forgot to serve the horseradish sauce with the roast beef; even if the boys spent too much time on the Xbox; even if my daughter had to be coaxed out of her bedroom each day; and even if my brother made snarky comments about my children, I was determined to be a force of peace at our gathering. I had been inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful book, Being Peace. In its first chapter, Hanh, a Buddhist monk, writes, “If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we can’t share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof.”
So, as our children—ages 15, 19, and 21—returned home from school in three different states, I resolved to be happy and peaceful in the hope that this would have a positive impact on all the relationships within our family. Last Christmas had been marked by illness, separation, and disappointment, and I was determined to overcome those memories and any hard feelings.
My secret weapons of peace were three mantras that I gleaned from Hanh’s book. The first is I am with you. I used this to focus my attention on anyone with whom I was speaking. It helped me to attentively listen and to keep my mind from wandering, judging, and problem-solving. The second is Understanding is the source of love. This helped me seek insight into the feelings of my family members. If I didn’t seek to understand them fully, I realized, I couldn’t love them fully. Finally, I savored happy experiences in my mind with the mantra, Calming. Smiling. Present Moment. Beautiful Moment.
Honestly, I found myself using these mantras multiple times a day, and now they are becoming a part of my life. I can’t give them up because they are so effective. They have enabled me to think in a more positive and realistic way about myself and others. I am better able to accept, to trust, to affirm, and support.
Over the holidays, I was also able to see all the positive things that my children were doing for one another—the thrift store Christmas shopping, the hugs, the playtime, the cooking, the driving, and, of course the good-natured teasing that assured me that they are also making the effort to be present for one another again. Yes, we will survive all that the eating disorder brought to our family, and I believe that we will have improved our relationship skills in the process.