Here it is, the thick of the holiday season. Between the just past Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and New Years we have so many opportunities to gather in groups and families to celebrate things. Funny how the very celebrations we look forward to all year also bring so much stress and angst! Whether you are the one hosting family or going to someone’s house for a family celebration, being with the people who raised you or were raised with you tends to bring us all “home”, sometimes in ways that aren’t so wonderful.
We generally love these people, so WHAT happens? In an overly simplified phrase, family dynamics. Being with one’s family of origin (the people in the house you grew up in) tends to send us all back to a way of relating that’s reminiscent of growing up years. Sometimes that’s awesome and sometimes not so much. Sibling rivalries for parents’ favor or attention can rise up. Passive-aggressive comments stemming from old wounds can come out. Parents of adult children can forget their kids are parents themselves, treating them like children again.
When humans are under stress we often fall back into old behaviors that may not suit us. Obviously, as fun as they are, the holidays are a prolonged time of stress with many demands on time, energy and money. Be aware that you are set up for old behavior from the get go! If you are resonating with what I just described, you will want some tools to prevent all that garbage so you can focus more on the joy of the season.
Pay attention to the part of you that says “I don’t want to do/say/hear that right now” and stop. It may be important to take deep breaths a lot. Excuse yourself from situations that are going down the rabbit hole and try to connect again in a better way in about 15-20 minutes.
Recognize what is and is not under your control. Do you have a relative whose politics drives you crazy? Does someone constantly make remarks that pick at your sense of well being? Is there someone in the family who just doesn’t help out no matter what? Well, you aren’t going to change the fundamentals of who they are, especially not in an evening or a weekend. Disengage in the political battles. Set limits in a polite but firm way when someone pokes at you with their words. If that fails, distance yourself from that toxic relative. If you are hosting, give everyone a job to help out and decrease your overwhelm but do it in a nice way. That unhelpful relative? Toss him or her a dish towel and say “Come on, let’s catch up over the dishes. I’ll wash.”
Don’t engage in competition. Whether it’s who is the parent’s “favorite” or which is the best parent or makes the best host, just don’t go there. Hopefully your sense of self is solid enough that you know who you are and your value from within, not whether your brother-in-law thinks your kids are well behaved enough. Nothing good is going to come from competition over the holidays so just say no.
Set boundaries and limits. Do the holidays make you crazy because they are too commercial? Require too much decorating, or baking, or socializing? Know what you can handle without feeling overloaded and stick to that limit. If you just feel resentment sending out holiday cards, don’t send them. If your Aunt Ida’s going to complain that her favorite sweet isn’t included in the holiday meal, suggest that she bring it as her contribution and let her know in advance that you aren’t making it if it will put you over the edge of stress.
Remember, family time CAN be totally awesome and filled with love, laughter and memories. Be clear about how you want things to roll, do your best to make that happen, and recognize that “Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you are going to get” (to quote Forrest Gump). Enjoy the good times.