A Family Holiday Survival Guide

Holidays are often a natural recipe for stress: Take the family member who aggravates you the most, add too many parties that you feel obligated to attend, tack on an uncalled for remark, stir in a wailing child, be sure to include a relative who’s imbibed a bit too much, and baste with a heap of judgment about your food, decorations, or gift choices, and you’ve got a set up for an experience that won’t resemble Martha Stewart’s Christmas.

We think that if we put up the most beautiful decorations, cook the perfect meal, or have our children behave “just so”, that perhaps this year everything will go well and there will be no hard feelings. However, just as there are patterns of behavior within a couple, there are ingrained patterns of behavior within families, and oftentimes, these patterns are painful.

Still, in spite of your family’s dynamics, it is possible to have a wonderful holiday. By following these 6 important tips you can begin to create an atmosphere that encourages good feelings:

  • Adjust your attitude. The shift in your holiday experience begins with your willingness to adjust your attitude. As you approach the holidays, muster up an attitude of openness and warmth, rather than falling victim to the “dread trap” that may have become all too familiar to you over the years.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. Don’t try to re-create “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You already know how your family behaves. You already know that a relative may find something to criticize, or perhaps your house won’t look exactly how you hoped it would. Fortunately, you have total control over how you react to what happens around you. How you manage your expectations will make the difference between disappointment, and having a tolerable – or even pleasant – holiday experience.
  • Take care of unfinished business. If there are hurt feelings or frustrations lurking within your family, discuss them with the appropriate family member before you need to spend time with him or her. You don’t necessarily have to solve the problem, but by acknowledging the issue, you can often soothe things enough to calm the tensions before you gather.
  • Minimize conflict with kindness. To diffuse a situation before it escalates into an unpleasant scene, try responding to a dig or confrontation with grace. Laughter can also be a powerful tool to help shift an uncomfortable exchange. Just be sure the laughter isn’t sarcastic, as sarcasm will only enhance someone’s resentment.
  • Don’t allow someone else’s behavior to ruin your event. Address your feelings about offensive comments or behavior with the offender, either in person or in writing, after you have had a chance to understand your own feelings about what happened. It is helpful to get some distance between you and the offender and wait until you feel a little less triggered before you address an issue.
  • See the good in people. Remember that most people are actually trying to do good – even if they sometimes say or do thoughtless things. This is the time for giving. In the spirit of the holidays, step out of your own gripes and complaints and perform an act of kindness for someone who would otherwise drive you crazy.

The best strategy to deal with family as you go into the holiday season is to hold realistic expectations and choose to rise about the fray.


Written By:Catherine Morris, MFT



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