Holidays with Families: Festive or Frustrating?

This year, both sets of in-laws are visiting our home for the holidays. It will be an occasion for celebration and good cheer, unless the conversation turns to the recent national election. In that case, we’ll be cleaning pumpkin pie off the walls.

Seasonal family gatherings may be a mixed bag for you. On one hand, you look forward to these reunions while, on the other, you dread their tensions. Here are some common frustrations:

  • differences in the value of certain traditions 
  • pressures of gift-giving 
  • unresolved issues 
  • fear of how others judge you 
  • toxic family members (or ones you just don’t like) 

Combined with the physical exhaustion, financial strain, and seasonal depression that often accompany this time of year, it’s no wonder that family events often cause more anxiety than anticipation. If this scenario is familiar to you, let me give you some hope. You have more control over these experiences than you may realize. Your family holidays will become more pleasurable if you follow these four steps:

Define your limits ahead of time. Write out all of the seasonal obligations you think you have: gifts to buy, food to prepare, services to provide, days to share, etc. Now consider how much of your time and money you can honestly spend and still remain content, healthy, and secure. If you’re married, discuss this with your spouse. Once you’ve defined your limits, write them down and take control by determining to live within them.

Within your limits, focus on giving. Now that you’ve established some boundaries, go through the list of every family member you’ll be with and consider ways you can make the family time good for them. Be a relationship Santa. Decide what gifts of word or deed you can give to each person. Make a list. And, yes, you can even give to the ones who have been naughty.

If you do this, you will be acting with intentional selflessness. If done sincerely, you will likely notice a significant shift in your attitude and experience pleasure in each act of giving.

Ask for help. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or tired, ask for help. Don’t accept the role of saint or martyr. If nobody is available or willing to help, consider leaving some things undone. You may be spending a great deal of energy on tasks that really aren’t that important. What good is insisting on the perfect decorations, meals, or other accommodations if your are left exhausted or resentful?

Change one thing. Established traditions may often include routines you do simply because they have always been done that way. They have become social habits. As you go through another holiday, watch for those practices that have become commonplace, even though they do not strengthen or satisfy the family. If you recognize any of these, pick at least one, write it out on your calendar, and determine to change it next year.

Tim Tedder

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