Creating Family Harmony During the Holidays
We often have great expectations for the holidays. We imagine gathering by a fire with all of our extended family, laughing and sharing special moments. Unfortunately, as we all know, that doesn’t always happen. Families can often bring stress instead. Here are some quotes from frazzled parents about family relations at the holidays:
“I feel like I’m trying to take care of my mother, appease my in-laws, keep my husband happy, and make things fun for my son. It’s impossible.”
“My teenager acts so differently whenever he’s around our extended family. I don’t like his behavior.”
“The holidays make me so anxious. I’m always worried about whether everybody else is having a good time.”
“My spouse and I recently divorced. The holidays just feel overwhelming and sad.”
“I feel like the entire month of December is so hectic trying to prepare for the big celebration, but then when it comes, everyone’s so exhausted and stressed, they bicker.”
To create family harmony during the holidays, parents need to be the leaders in changing their perspectives and making positive choices. Here are some ideas:
Set your own schedule. Recognize that you’re not personally responsible for meeting everyone’s holiday expectations. Rather than allow everyone else to dictate your holiday schedule, hold a family meeting (with your spouse and children, not extended family members) and discuss options. Each family member should identify the most important thing or event that makes the holiday special for them. Schedule these priorities on your family calendar. Then, go through the remaining demands on your time and decide as a unit whether you enjoy it or not. For example, if you have received 5 party invitations, decide together which ones you genuinely want to attend and then, skip the rest. Don’t feel guilty for being purposeful with your time. You will reduce your stress and increase your joy if you will take the steps to say no sometimes.
Move past anger. Your parents may be difficult, your sibling may be unforgiving, or your teen may be distant. Choosing to love them anyway takes patience, determination, and humility. Let go of the expectations you may have for them, and simply accept them for who they are. Tell them you love them and that you will be there whenever they want to talk.
Guard your tongue. Don’t give advice that isn’t requested. Don’t pressure. Don’t criticize. These will only anger your family members and cause conflict. In fact, try to make a holiday resolution that everything you say is an encouragement to the receiver. If it’s not encouraging, don’t say it.
Relinquish control. Things do not have to be done the way you want or the way it has always been done. Life is not lived only on your terms or on your timetable. Traditions can change. New ideas can bring new life to a family. Ask your teenager to offer some ideas for some family traditions during the holiday.
Release the need to be appreciated. Teens are not especially good at appreciating all that their parents do for them. Be sure you choose to do holiday activities that give you joy instead of the ones you think you are “supposed” to do. Your teen is not going to notice the hours you slaved away on making that wreath for the door. If you love to do it, then great, but if you require accolades to derive any pleasure from the activity, don’t waste your time. Find things to do that give you joy, and your teen WILL appreciate that his/her parents are less stressed over the holidays.
Know your limits. Be honest with yourself about the length of time you can comfortably spend with your extended family without feeling bitter, and choose to leave before that moment. Family conflict is very stressful, especially to children. Be aware of everyone’s need for personal space – just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean that your teen wants to share their bathroom with Uncle John. If you’re traveling to a family member’s home for the holidays, seriously consider staying in a hotel. If someone in your immediate family starts acting annoying as soon as they are in the room with Grandpa, then discuss the issue calmly before the big event. You might establish a signal or code word as a subtle reminder. Take proactive steps to reduce the chance for disagreements.
Establish your own traditions. Recall your favorite childhood memories, and many of them probably stem from a tradition your family held every year or on occasion. Traditions are customs that are maintained in generally the same way each time they are performed and are meant to brighten the holidays. Simple things – such as baking cookies or watching a specific movie – can create lasting memories. Adolescents gain a sense of belonging and comfort when traditions are maintained in a family.
Divorce, death, and other family changes during the holidays
The holidays can be very difficult for anyone touched by death, divorce, strong disagreements, loss, or other major family changes. This is especially true for kids and teens. They may have to split time between two households or spend time with new stepparents or siblings. There may be unfamiliar routines. There may be many painful reminders of the past. All these can increase sadness and stress.
If your family has gone through a change recently, it is important to encourage teens to talk about their feelings. Let them know that their feelings are normal. Remind them that it is ok to cry or express their frustration, and that, over time, things will get easier. Suggest they skip activities that are too painful. Allow your teen to start a new family tradition, as a way of making a new start. Emphasize that they can’t force themselves to be happy just because it is the holiday season, and that they should not feel guilty about that.
If seeing extended family during the holidays causes you great amounts of stress each year, it’s okay to say no! You can pick a less stressful time of year to visit family (summer reunion, anyone?). Celebrating the holidays with people who make you happy, such as friends or just the immediate family, can be a wonderful alternative to seeing people who make you feel consistently stressed.
Recall your favorite holiday memories from your childhood and you will likely discover that it was simple things that delighted you. We rob ourselves of the joy when we try to make everything so hectic, intense and over the top. Try to simplify your family’s holidays and recapture the joy that the holidays are meant to share.