Surviving the Holidays with Family

The holiday season has quickly descended upon us and for many, it can be a time of tremendous anxiety over people pleasing, getting the perfect gifts, and trying to make everyone’s family happy with your choices of how you spend your few precious days off work. For others, it may mean navigating an extended break from school with your family and introducing that special someone to the family for the first time. No matter how chaotic, stressful, or conflicting your holiday time may be, here are a few simple things to think about and reflect upon before excessive turkey and shopping consume every ounce of free brain capacity. I will sum it up in four words: Remember, Set, Form, and Reflect.

1.     Remember

It may sound simple and shallow, but you will need to remember. It’s so very important to changing your holiday interactions, if you desire to change them, to create time to reflect on what is happening. Many times we get sucked into the family machine and get spit out into a January of regret. Regretful of the what we said or did not say, gave or did not give, ate or did not eat, and the list goes on. But, if we make intentional time to remember that we are adults or emerging adults (not children anymore), remember what we felt like last year after being spit out by the family machine, and remember that our feelings, thoughts, and desires are just as valid, we can take steps to set boundaries with family this holiday. So take 10 minutes right now and set out some reminders on your phone to have reflective time at least weekly, if not daily, amidst the holiday chaos.

2.     Set

Set boundaries. This can look different for different people. For some, it means saying “no” to your family because you have said “yes” far to often. This group tends to be full of regret and commonly hides it in one more helping of food rather than simply stating their wishes and desires. It is okay to take care of you and cease people pleasing. Self sacrifice for family is understandable, but not a requirement. Yes, people are “family”, but that entitles no one to have their needs and wants neglected. When I think of family, I think of someone that would want what is best for me, not what makes them happy. “No” is okay, even if it does not make everyone “happy”. And “yes” is permissible as well, especially if you continually say “no” and avoid all holiday interaction with your family, or have the kind that looks like an episode of Jerry Springer. It is possible to have an enjoyable holiday and not get everything you want and more. It is a potential way to love your family by showing some degree of compromise if you have a family tradition steeped in conflict, yelling, and stubbornness. So take a moment (See #1) and reflect on what boundaries you need to set this holiday season. Do not go into the time “wishing” and “hoping” for it to be different. Be assertive and do what you can to make it different to interact with you in your family. You cannot change them, but you can change the way they relate to you. So give yourself the time to but thought to what you need to say or not say this holiday.

3.     Form

Form new traditions and rhythms for the holidays. There is not a legal ramification that I can think of for breaking tradition or starting a new one. That feeling you have right now is not the police coming for you, it is more than likely that shaming family member that pours on excessive guilt for your absence or desire to break tradition. It may seem worse than a legal proceeding, but it is not. So think about how you would like to make Thanksgiving or Christmas special for you and your loved ones, and let traditions die when they have been dead for some time. Form rhythms and traditions to center your family on the real reason for celebrating and cease being a willing participant to holiday madness that is perpetrated by an inappropriate guilt and the fear of “what if we don’t…”. Some examples might be deciding where to have Thanksgiving, especially if you desire somewhere other than where it usually happens, or involve others in the meal prep and clean up, or create activities for family before and after meals. For Christmas, discuss gifting expectations in advance, plan for some family members to be their usual selves and work around them (ex. Limit the amount of available alcohol to keep the intoxicated one from getting too intoxicated), learn to build a supporting cast for the Christmas coordinator, whomever that is in your family, and find ways to slowly engage the disengaged family member by giving them one or two tasks to help out.

4.     Reflect

Take some time to reflect in January about the holidays. Don’t be overly critical, but don’t just assume all was well either. Think about what you might like to change for next year and go begin to work on sowing the seeds of change now with your spouse or family so that others in the family may be better prepped to change with you in the coming season.

For more about family, I encourage you to read Bill Doherty’s The Intentional Family. If you would like help dealing with your family or your spouse’s family for the holidays and beyond, inquire about my services here.