It usually goes something like this: We gear up for the perfect time spent with friends and family. We decorate the house so it’s as festive as can be. The smell of homemade goodies fills the room. Holiday gatherings and parties fill up the calendar and everyone is in good cheer. But then it hits us. Someone in the family sabotages the smoothness and it all goes downhill from there. What should have been a holiday bringing the family together over happiness and togetherness has now turned it into a stressful and tense get together filled with conflict.
There are ways to make the holiday season a more enjoyable one, even if that means spending it with the nagging grandmother, the uncle that drinks too much, and the mother-in-law that speaks her mind.
Remember the Reason for the Season
Do you remember being a kid and knowing that Christmas was coming? The anticipation of potentially getting all that you had desired was too much to think about. We all know that the magic of the holidays belongs to the children. They are so mesmerized by the beauty of the season that just watching their faces open up a toy that they have been longing for is enough of a gift for adults. Don’t lose sight of the kids. Your main goal is to be sure they have a memorable and special holiday. If you feel that conflicts arise when the holidays are housed at other people’s homes, make it a tradition to have it at your house or agree to all have Christmas dinner together. No one is going to argue with you if you want to have your children wake up in their own beds for Christmas morning.
Set Limits on Holiday Spending
Financial stress can bring on lots of conflict. Remember to only spend what you have and not charge any of the gift s unless you are able to pay them off . Keep presents simple. Many times a child will love a present that is ten dollars just as much as one that is one hundred.
Opportunities are All Around
Distance yourself from the person in the family that brings you the most animosity. Look instead to those family members that you share similarities with and look at that as an opportunity to strengthen those relationships with each visit.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Being around family that you may not generally see very oft en brings with it some challenges. Grandma may want to say something about how much weight you have put on or the in-laws may have something to say about your parenting skills when the youngest one decides to have a tantrum. Keep yourself grounded and calm. Don’t get into debates or disagreements.
Try to crack a joke or just smile and shrug it off . Find a quiet place where you can debrief for a while – walk the dog, take the kids outside, play games. Find an appropriate place to vent your frustrations like calling or e-mailing a friend.
Accepting that certain family members are never going to change is difficult but will help you in the long run. Every family has their own set of dynamics. Understanding those and reminding yourself prior to a get-together can help with the stress. Don’t go into the holidays with expectations because we all know what happens when we assume something.
If things get bad enough, belly up to the nearest eggnog station and make yourself a stiff drink. Sometimes those conversations with family seem to roll off your back when you are more relaxed. Be careful though, drink too much and you just may tell grandma where to go when she comments on your recent spike in weight!
ANN NERI GAUSE has been a middle school counselor for 5 years with Loudoun County Public Schools. She graduated from Ferrum College in 2002 and went on to complete her Master of Arts Degree in Psychological Services K-12 from Marymount University in 2005. Ann currently resides in Leesburg with her husband Joey, their son Ashton, and dog Charlie.