Media images of the holidays are often exaggerated and, before you know it, you\’re trying to conform to unrealistic ideals. Combined with the added pressures and demands on your time, this can lead to emotional overload. Just remember that nothing is perfect.
Now that the holiday season is swiftly approaching, perhaps you\’re worried that your dysfunctional family dynamics will surface as soon as you get together. Do you think that your mother\’s inquisitive nature may scare off the first boyfriend your daughter\’s had in years? Or that your new son-in-law\’s parents will wonder why your 35 year old son has moved back home again? Following these common sense strategies will help you create a more serene holiday season for you and your family:
Realize that the anticipatory anxiety you are experiencing is common. Financial burdens around gift giving and extra chores when entertaining can make you feel apprehensive and stressed. Accept this as a normal reaction.
Make sure that you have realistic expectations and don\’t take everything personally. Some family members may be struggling with financial, business or marital issues that have nothing to do with you.
You don\’t have to be all things to all people all the time. If your favorite aunt doesn\’t get along with her ex-husband\’s new wife, don\’t invite them to dinner. It will make it easier for everyone to have an open mind and an accepting heart.
Put aside differences and avoid hot button issues. Sibling rivalry and unfinished family business are bound to surface. Despite how hard it may be, go for the higher ground and walk away from misunderstandings. But agree to finish the conversation at a later time.
Conversely, with a relationship that matters to you, bury the hatchet. If in the past you have stifled your feelings and then blown up later, don\’t let your emotions fester. Admit the part you play in the conflict, privately, and deal with it.
If there is tension in the room, take the focus away from the specific toward the abstract. For example, talk about the value of apologizing for some wrongdoing. Then encourage others to discuss how this kind of quality has enhanced their other personal relationships.
Consider what you love about your family and let them know how grateful you are they\’re a part of your life. Be sure to point out their positive qualities and personal strengths rather than focusing on the negatives.
Practice letting go of childhood pain and longings when family members are not with you in person but in your memories. And realize that having feelings of gratitude and forgiveness are a gift you give yourself.
Be a role model for your children. Teach them by example as you take care of your aging parents, lend a helping hand to a neighbor or work on having a positive attitude.
If you feel ready to pass the baton to the younger generation, do it. Encourage your kidults as they preserve the old family traditions. Express your appreciation and support while they create new holiday customs of their own.
In the midst of taking care of your family\’s needs during this hectic season, remember to pay attention to your own well-being. Arrange to plan ahead and, when they offer, accept help from others. If it\’s in line with your values, put the focus on giving as well as receiving – encourage social responsibility by visiting an elderly uncle or volunteering at a local food bank. And try to include fun and laughter in all that you do. During the holidays, while you may wish for peace on earth and peace in your family, don\’t overlook the importance of your own peace of mind.
© 2009, Her Mentor Center
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are family relationship experts who publish a free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones. Whether you\’re coping with acting out teenagers, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law, we have solutions for you. Visit our website, www.HerMentorCenter.com, and blog, www.NourishingRelationships.blogspot.com, for practical tips about parents growing older and children growing up.