Every year, I remind you to think ahead about how you will handle difficult family issues during the holidays. Why? Because this is one time of year we want to build positive memories. We intentionally get together despite our conflicts and upsets with each other. Let’s do our best to make this time of year a celebration rather than a burden.

Unhappy memories

That said, I know for some the flooding of unhappy memories begins the moment you pull up the driveway or begin to plan the get together. Unhappy memories of a drunk parent, an abusive relative, a depressed mom or a critical uncle can prompt anxiety and be painful reminders of a not so Merry Christmas.

Dealing with loss/change

Add to this that you may be dealing with loss and changes from a difficult year. This may be the first time splitting the holiday with your children due to divorce. If your mom died, this is the first time she will not be preparing the meal and sitting at your table. Have their been changes in your family due to  children away at college or a move. You may be struggling to find your new purpose. The holidays can be a reminder of losses experienced throughout the year and make this time difficult for you.

Heightened stress

In addition, stress is heightened during the holidays. You may be physically more depleted due to all the busyness and preparations which can leave you more irritable and less tolerant. You’d rather not deal with difficult people, but that may not be an option when they are family. So, now is the time to think about how you will approach this time of year.

What can you do differently this year to make the holidays more enjoyable?

What will you do or not do?

If there are family things you don’t want to do because they are too stressful, consider not doing them. Family members may initially become upset, but they will get over it. For example, if you are expected to cook the turkey and you can’t see how you will do that this year, ask to have another task this year. If you don’t want to visit for 5 days, tell your family you will come for 3 days instead.

What can you change?

Think about what you can change that would lessen the stress and bring more peace to the time together. Don;t say YES to everything you are expected to do. Sometimes it is about having boundaries and sticking to them. And it is always helpful to anticipate the problem (most likely it is the same thing from year to year unless people have been working on change) and have a planned strategy ahead of time that helps you deal with the issue.

For example, if you know Uncle Bob will get drunk and be terrible to you, tell the family that if his drinking gets out of control and Uncle Bob starts on his rampage, you and your family will leave the gathering. Then suggest that perhaps someone should monitor Uncle Bob better so he doesn’t ruin the party. Why should the family be hostage to his repeated behavior every year? Conversations like this are most helpful prior to the gathering. And yes, these are difficult conversations. However, you might as well talk about what everyone feels and doesn’t say in order to develop a plan.

Offer acceptance and grace

Families can be challenging this time of year, but they are family. I would encourage you to accept them, flaws and all and do your best to give grace and forgiveness where and when you can. Keep trying to improve those gatherings by responding differently to predicable problems.

Keep your mood positive

Finally, pay attention to your mood given what you may have gone through this year. Perhaps you need to focus on things that lead to cheer and optimism given all the problems this year. Focus on the good, the blessings and gifts that have been given to you. Focus on the true meaning of this season to center yourself and give you peace.



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