Top Tips for Dealing with Holiday Family Drama
Ahhhh, the holidays.
Ideally, it’s a time of family togetherness, home-cooked meals, peace, love, and harmony. I hope that, for you, that’s the reality. But for many, the holidays can be associated with painful memories, feelings of guilt, pressure to live up to expectations, and family conflict.
Families can bring out the best and worst in all of us. It’s common for adults to regress around family and revert to old patterns of behavior. Issues you thought you’d worked through in therapy somehow instantly resurface. You get triggered and feel defensive. Your in-laws are overbearing, or you notice your spouse acting differently around them and it drives you crazy.
Every family has its share of problems and quirks. And most families, no matter how dysfunctional, still make a point of getting together for the holidays. So, if the thought of that sends your blood pressure soaring, here are my top tips for dealing with holiday family drama:
Remember that your kids are watching you.
This is the first tip because I think it’s the most important. However you choose to act (or react) at family gatherings, you’re setting an example for your kids. They’ll see you roll your eyes when Grandpa repeats the same jokes he told last year. They’ll notice how you respond when Grandma critiques your cooking. Show your kids that you can rise above pettiness and provocations, and keep your cool.
Plan your responses ahead of time.
If you know that being in the same room with someone will likely lead to an argument, try to anticipate what he/she will say to you and rehearse some responses that won’t lead you down your usual path. Do something different to change your relational pattern and don't pick up the gauntlet. The holidays are not the time to discuss past grievances or address relationship troubles. Something as simple as, “Hey, let’s call a truce for today, ok?” may be all that’s required.
Relax your standards.
Our culture is obsessed with perfection. Great marketing and media leads us to believe that we’ll feel all warm and fuzzy inside as long as we cook the perfect meal, have the perfect décor, select the perfect presents, and cover them in the perfect wrapping paper. And we’re constantly comparing our experience to others' smiling family photos on Facebook and Instagram.
The truth is that those photos don’t show how the turkey was a little on the dry side or that the presents were wrapped in aluminum foil. They don’t show how Uncle Phil got drunk (again) or that little Suzie threw up all over the living room floor.
Sometimes the spontaneous and messy parts of a holiday are the most genuine and memorable. Have realistic expectations that there will be some highs and some lows and it’s all ok. You'll have great stories to tell for years to come.
To keep kid-related drama to a minimum, make an effort to maintain meal and sleep routines as much as possible. You can thank me later.
Have an exit strategy.
If you feel yourself getting frustrated, overwhelmed, or irritable, take a break. Excuse yourself to use the bathroom or step outside for some fresh air. Take some long, deep breaths and regroup before returning to the family.
When you’re a guest in someone else’s home, choose a word, phrase, or signal that you and your spouse can use that’s code for “It’s time to go.” If you’re the host and you’d like your guests to leave, you can start cleaning the kitchen. Many people understand that as a sign you’re ready to end the evening. If they don’t, just politely thank them for coming and let them know you have to be getting to bed.
Look at the bigger picture.
Remember that the holidays only come once a year. They may be awkward or uncomfortable, but you’ll get through it. Every challenging experience is an opportunity for growth and learning for you and your kids. Try to relax, enjoy yourself, and find something – however small – for which to be grateful.
Got any other tips for LESS DRAMA this holiday season? Leave them in the comments below.
Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season,
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